How to wedge an issue in education policy: a description of the populist policy techniques of the Atlas Network.

Year: 2021

Author: Barnes, Naomi

Type of paper: Individual Paper

This paper centres opinion as a political force needing increased scrutiny within education policy research. Education policy researchers are concerned about the role of think tanks as policy elites and influencers in the political and public sphere. Therefore, it is timely that research more closely consider the communicative techniques of opinion-shaping associated with such influencer practices. This theoretical paper brings the sociology of risk and media communications proposed by Luhmann together with the reported populist strategies Atlas Network think tanks use to discover, target, and operationalize wedge issues in the policy sphere. The Atlas Network is a global network of libertarian organisations that enables the sharing of policy advocacy and development strategies. A significant portion of organisations within the Atlas network now function as media organisations in all by name and tax status. In Australia, the Atlas Network organisations include the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute for Public Affairs, and in the UK, the Adam Smith Institute and Institute for Economic Affairs -- four think tanks that speak into education policy development. Responding to the current socially mediated policy environment by using their connections and media savvy to discover and drive home wedge issues, the Atlas Network has made significant inroads into how education policy is advocated for in Australia and the UK. With specific examples from education, this presentation hopes to open up discussion about the role of academic policy research, specifically education policy research, in an environment of transnational fast and populist policy where competition for evidence-informed policy making includes the Atlas Network.