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The Relationship Between (Practice) Theory and Policy Intervention: An in-progress framework

Research output: Working paper

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Abstract

This short paper focuses on a challenge commonly thrown at those working with theories of practice on issues of sustainability: what is the potential of theories of practice, and empirical studies that draw on this work, to inform government policy? The paper argues that to unpick this question, we need to take a step back and think about the relationship between theory, empirical research and policy per se. I start by outlining an in-progress framework that identifies several of these theory-research-policy relationships, namely: framing problems – a relationship in which theory enables the systematic critique of taken-for-granted assumptions, as well as the proposal of alternative framings; policy influence and change – a relationship in which theory and research seeks to understand the potential role of policy within social change; the use of new kinds of data for intervention design, which come from empirical research that ‘operationalises’ aspects of theory; and policy evaluation, which focuses on the success or failure of particular interventions or programmes. The framework is applied to the recently published ‘Developing DECC’s evidence base’ (DECC, 2014), showing that these different roles of theory are often conflated in policy documents. The framework also provides a tool to evaluate research on theories of practice and policy and identify where future work could focus.