In this post, CPN Executive member and physiotherapy lecturer Nicky Wilson discusses Hendrik Wagenaar’s book Meaning in Action: Interpretation and dialogue in policy analysis.
Policies are conventionally seen as a way to solve problems. As such, they are action driven; they direct our thoughts and behaviours to produce certain ends. Public policy is therefore about power and, unsurprisingly, is an area rife with contestation! In Meaning in Action: Interpretation and Dialogue in Policy Analysis (2011), Hendrik Wagenaar highlights the deeply pluralistic and value-laden nature of policy making, implementation and interpretation, and brings to the fore the benefits of interpretive approaches over and above more traditional rationalistic and technocratic means of investigating and understanding public policy. At the centre of these approaches is a focus on human meaning making and how it shapes and constitutes political action, institutions and our realities; realities that Wagenaar brings into view through exemplars in mental health public policy.
I came across this book for the first time whilst undertaking a discursive analysis of a contemporary health policy issue in the UK as part of my PhD. As a practitioner in the UK’s National Health Service I had become frustrated by what I perceived was a significant mismatch between the rhetoric of English health policy and my reality in practice. This text offered me new ways to think about policy and the slippage between the intended meaning of policy and the meanings constructed in practice, enabling a critical understanding of why things appeared as they did. Don’t be put off by the title of this book – it is a fascinating read for anyone who is even just a little bit curious about the oft unintended consequences of policy, particularly in the context of health and social care.
Fisher F. (2003) Reframing public policy: Discursive politics and deliberative practices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.