Tripartite theoretical frameworks and metaphors are common in policy theory. We argue that these frameworks have been misapplied, being construed ontologically when they are, in fact, categories of questions. The ontological reading generates a theoretical obstacle in presupposing an assumption of independence of the three categories. We illustrate this in the case of the Multiple Streams Framework. A philosophical analysis rejects the ontological reading to ground the tripartite framework in a generalized meta-categorical framework, grounded in questioning and argumentation. A philosophical method is used to subject the meta-categorization to a relational transformation. The three constituent constructs of the framework become three concurrent facets of relational distance. The meta-categorical framework is applied to the public policy Multiple Streams Framework. The result is that the independence assumption and the streams metaphor are abandoned. Problem, policy and politics become three overlapping dimensions of relationships. This addresses critiques of the MSF, allowing the theory to support institutionally separate as well as overlapping processes. More generally, this serves as an interpretive method to re-imagine a range of theories in the social sciences and support more interpretive-relational theory development.
Nick Turnbull is Senior Lecturer in Politics at The University of Manchester. He works on philosophically informed research in interpretive governance and public policy studies, with a particular focus on rhetoric and argumentation. He is the author of Michel Meyer’s Problematology: Questioning Society (Bloomsbury 2014) and Editor of Interpreting Governance, High Politics, and Public Policy: Essays commemorating Interpreting British Governance (Routledge 2016). He is currently co-authoring a book on theories of the policy process and policy practice with Rob Hoppe, Policy Action: Problems, relations and performance (Edward Elgar 2024). This talk is based on a paper co-authored with Rob Hoppe.
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