What is “policy”, a problem-solving definition or a process conceptualisation?

Hope Nudzor


An investigation into the usage of the term ‘policy’ suggests that the term is elusive owing to the very many ways it is used to refer to a highly diverse set of phenomena. This paper reviews conceptions explicated in education policy literature to provide conceptual insights into the meaning of the term and an understanding of the dynamics of the policy process. The traditional problem-solving definition views policy fundamentally as a thing, a guide and a document of some sort, containing a page or flips of pages indicating policy choices reached by policy makers and which policy implementers or actors are to follow in dealing with a recognised problem of concern, and is thus criticised for two main reasons. Firstly, the view is criticised for neglecting the socio-cultural dynamism of policy processes. Secondly, it is criticised for its implicit over-determinism. The process model pays attention to the social agency of the policy process and is thus criticised for not focusing on policy-making, but on understanding actor interactions within the process. Based on these explorations, and in gauging a working definition of policy, the paper adopts a theoretical eclecticism approach whereby education policy is conceptualised as neither the product of policy making nor a process, but both. Significantly, policy in this context is conceptualised as referring fundamentally to the exercise of power and the language that is used to legitimate the process.

Nudzor, H. (2009) What is “policy”, a problem-solving definition or a process conceptualisation?. Educationalfutures, [online] Vol. 2(1). Available at: https://educationstudies.org.uk/?p=481 [Accessed 15 Apr, 2024].