Policy work: Thinking through complex relationships

Year: 2016

Author: Ferguson, Angela, Thompson, Greg

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education research is broken in our country . . . and Congress must work to make it more useful. . . . Research needs to be conducted on a more scientific basis. Educators and policy makers need objective, reliable research. (NRC, 2002, p.28)Education policy has many stakeholders. Two of the most significant are the policy bureaucrats/administrators, usually found in education departments, and academic policy researchers working in universities. Historically, these two stakeholders have engaged with each other in complex ways, sometimes as advocates and supporters, other times as reviewers and consultants, and still other times as adversaries. Whitty (2006), writing from the UK perspective, has argued that these relationships are often characterised by “conflict or at least a site of mutual misunderstanding and even suspicion”. Recently, it appears that these complex relations are being mediated by policy itself, as various initiatives such as the innovation agenda and the emphasis being placed on academics to secure outside funding. In Australia, policy work is also changing as our recent issue of The Australian Education Researcher argued. In a prescient piece Ball (1998, p.120) suggested that policy work as “the form and scope of state activities in many Western economies” was changing due to “contracting, deregulation and privatisation” of that policy work. While academics are keenly aware of the impact that policy has on their work, they may not be as aware of the pressures and expectations of policy within departments. In this presentation, Dr Angela Ferguson, Director, Research Services, Department of Education and Training, Queensland and Dr Greg Thompson (QUT), will use a Q&A format to lay bare some issues with education policy from both bureaucratic and academic perspectives. Questions covered include:• understanding education policy contexts, • understanding the use of evidence, • the policy work departments do, • the practical limits on what a) policy can do and b) research can do. Finally, the presentation will address the issue of research collaboration: how is it done? when is it most effective? and what lessons can be learnt from previous collaborations?ReferencesBall, S. (1998). Big Policies/Small World: An introduction to international perspectives in education policy. Comparative Education, 34(2), 119-130.National Research Council (NRC). (2002). Scientific Research in Education. The National Academies PressWhitty, G. (2006). Education(al) research and education policymaking: is conflict inevitable?, British Educational Research Journal, 32:2, 159-176.