P16 Making politics visible through interpretive methods

Panel Chairs:
Prudence R Brown, Sarah Warner and Tari Ajadi

Corresponding Chair:
Prudence Brown, p.brown3@uq.edu.au

The panel will explore “central questions in understanding how knowledge and the politics of public problems take shape and change” (Moore 2017, 1491). In so doing we seek to examine ways that interpretive methods can illuminate the role of politics in the processes which underpin innovation leading to ‘smarter’ ways of doing business.

To develop smart public services, policy actors need to challenge and replace existing “characteristics and artefacts in the public policy domain, such as policy objectives and measures, instruments and resources, alliances and institutions” (Duijn 2018, S35). To do so requires judgement. Understanding the norms, values and ideologies which underpin those judgements provides fresh insights into understanding change processes.

Interpretive methods allow critical ideas to emerge. Interpretive methods can highlight the normative biases that underpin contemporary discussions of smart public services – problematizing the ways in which discourses around themes like innovation and sustainability are framed and articulated (see for example Bibri & Krogstie 2017). They help us to understand the ways problems are constructed and understood, the way that ideas about causes and solutions are limited, and the way that change can be constrained through framing.

Interpretive methods can be used in any area of analysis and are increasingly combined with other methods to allow a broader scope of policy analysis. Despite this, they continue to be overlooked by public management researchers and practitioners wedded to more traditional approaches.

We invite papers that use interpretive methods to explore the politics involved in innovation, particularly relating to smart public services. We take a broad approach to interpretive methods, because we acknowledge it is in this diversity that fresh insights are made possible.

Contribution to the field of public management:
Understanding the normative biases underpinning public management discourse around smart public services provides insights into enabling and constraining factors for transformative change. The panel will explore these important issues through application of a broad range of interpretive methods.


Bibri, S. E., & Krogstie, J. 2017. “On the social shaping dimensions of smart sustainable cities: A study in science, technology, and society”. Sustainable Cities and Society, 29: 219–246. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2016.11.004
Duijn, Michael. 2018. “The value of reflection on the evolving individual and collective practice of public policy innovation in water management: An action science approach.”  Journal of Cleaner Production 171 (S):S34-S44. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.09.193.
Moore, David. 2017. “Making visible the politics and ethics of alcohol policy research.”  Addiction 112 (8):1490-1494. doi: 10.1111/add.13812.