Translations between policy and practice : the case of providing positive activities for young people

Thomson, Louisa Maynard (2013). Translations between policy and practice : the case of providing positive activities for young people. PhD thesis The Open University.



The 'interpretive turn' in policy studies has emphasised the unpredictable and often incomplete nature of the policy making process, and helped to focus our attention on the level of practice. The idea of translation is a recent one in the literature, capturing the sense of fluidity and the ongoing interpretation around policy. This thesis examines one particular policy journey through the lens of translation, to evaluate the contributions that the use of this concept can make to understandings of the policy process. There have been very few ethnographies looking at particular sites of policy making and what happens to policy at different levels as it moves from central government to local enactment.

The research has been conducted through a case study approach, taking a particular youth policy from 2007 - Aiming High for Young People - which had a controversial goal of increasing the participation of young people in positive activities, and one local authority area. The analysis focussed on the policy texts; what happened to Aiming High in practice; the role of practitioners in interpreting new policy; and the local authority processes that all influenced the translation of policy into practice.

The concept of policy in translation has demonstrated that, in this case, the meanings in policy texts are inherently unstable. Translation illuminates the strategies practitioners adopt, how they talk about their work, and the influences and knowledge they draw on. It also emphasises the disconnects and disturbances in the process. Overall, translation advances an understanding of policy work in practice, but with some limitations - in particular around micro processes and routine practices that are part of daily work. The research highlights the need to account for translations more effectively in the policy process in the future.

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