Every day (unless it is ferociously stormy, which happens seldom in Adelaide) I take a 45-minute morning walk and listen to the Australian public broadcaster, Radio National. I am a creature of habit! This morning (Dec 3, 2021) two items caught my attention.  They both mentioned “data”, and this is the topic I’ve been thinking about. I was prompted to reflect on “data” by a question/comment in the “Kick-off” event for the scheduled International WPR Symposium in Karlstad, August 2022 (https://www.kau.se/statsvetenskap/forskning/international-symposium-critical-policy-studies-exploring-premises-and 

The researcher noted that she had been challenged to explain how she used “data” given that WPR is an interpretive approach. This question of the relationship between “data” and research methods is highly topical and will be pursued in subsequent entries. 

Returning to my morning walk and the radio program, in one item, a Melbourne academic, Dr Lauren Rosewarne, commented on the Federal Government’s proposed “anti-trolling” legislation. Under the proposed legislation, the laws would require social media companies to collect personal details of current and new users, and allow courts to access the identity of users to launch defamation cases. 

Dr Rosewarne raised several concerns. The proposed legislation, she noted, was complaint-based, and hence relied upon individuals having the resources to pursue complaints. She also asked if the listeners wanted social media companies to hold “data” on them. At one point she made this additional point: “The solution doesn’t seem to match the policy problem from my perspective”. My ears pricked up at the mention of “problems” (trolling) and “solutions”. Those familiar with WPR will be able to see its thinking at work in the analysis produced. 

Dr Rosewarne pointed out that the “postulated solution” (the policy) produced the “problem” as defamation. She elaborated on the inadequacy of this approach. Defamation of character, she explained, which politicians assume characterizes abuse online, does not cover the forms of harassment trolling entails. Things are missing from this analysis (WPR, Question 4), with severe limitations for the usefulness of the intervention (WPR, Question 5; see Chart below.).

I would like to suggest that the terms “problems” and “solutions” serve as “red alerts”, stopping us in our tracks and impelling us to apply WPR thinking.  The hope is that such a strategy produces a useful form of political thinking. 

The second item that caught my attention, reported in the Radio National News on 3 Dec 2021, was on emissions measurement (I was still walking!). It was based on a Dutch study which claimed that the Australian government was underreporting levels of emissions (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-03/new-data-suggests-australia-could-be-underreporting-methane/13660496

The headline, indicated in the link, read: “New data suggests Australia could be underreporting …”. One point jumped out in the summary of the Dutch report – it seems the Australian government received its emissions data from the oil companies. So “data” proved useful in questioning “data”. The point resonated with some of the reading I have been doing around “data” – that they [note the plural usage; explained in next Research Hub entry] can be useful to some researchers and that, at the same time, “data” are not simply inert “facts” but that they are produced in social processes. These are themes I intend to pursue in subsequent entries.

The point of this very brief interlude is to suggest that I was sensitized to the political relevance of “data” by my recent reading and by the appearance of the issue as a topic of concern at the “Kick-off” event. For me, “data” is now a “red alert” term. I now notice the term “data”, whereas previously it had operated as a taken-for-granted concept that escaped attention. I wonder if readers might like to share with us some other “red alert” terms. I could post them in a subsequent entry. I would also love examples where WPR became useful for you in your daily encounters with the news or some political announcement, where it prompted what I would like to call political thinking

What’s the Problem Represented to be? (WPR) approach to policy analysis 

Question 1: What’s the problem (e.g., of “gender inequality”, “drug use/abuse”, “economic development”, “global warming”, “childhood obesity”, “irregular migration”, etc.) represented to be in a specific policy or policies? 

Question 2: What deep-seated presuppositions or assumptions underlie this representation of the “problem” (problem representation)? 

Question 3: How has this representation of the “problem” come about? 

Question 4: What is left unproblematic in this problem representation? Where are the silences? Can the “problem” be conceptualized differently? 

Question 5: What effects (discursive, subjectification, lived) are produced by this representation of the “problem”?
Question 6: How and where has this representation of the “problem” been produced, disseminated and defended? How has it been and/or how can it be disrupted and replaced? 

Step 7: Apply this list of questions to your own problem representations.

C. Bacchi and S. Goodwin (2016) Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 20.