October 11, 2018

'From Policy "Frames" to "Framing" - What can we learn from an academic perspective on policy frames?'

(This is based on van Hulst, M. J., & Yanow, D. (2016). From Policy “Frames” to “Framing”: Theorizing a More Dynamic, Political Approach. The American Review of Public Administration, 46(1), 92–112, available here).

  1. Policy framing should be seen in the broader context, in which framing is a general form of communicative behavior. We frame things: we provide an understanding of the situation that is dynamically built and altered through interaction.

  2. Frames are rooted in roles, interests, perspectives and access to information of actors - the concept of framing shows that the same issue can be defined ("framed") differently by different actors. Looking from the perspective of policy frame theory, policy debates are often about "What's the problem represented to be?", rather than "What's to be done?".

  3. Through framing, we can: 1) highlight certain features of a situation, 2) ignore other features, 3) bind selected features into a coherent pattern.

  4. Framing is about 1) sense-making, 2) naming and 3) storytelling.

    1. Sense-making is about collectively "making sense of an uncertain situation that initially makes no sense". In this sense, frames "model prior thought and ensuing action, rendering that action sensible in terms of pre-existing thinking". Sense-making creates a model of the world, and a model of action in this world. It allows a leap from "what is" to "what ought to be".

    2. Naming is about selecting and categorizing. The features that are selected for attention need to be named. "The initial framing or operational “def- inition” of a policy situation is a way of making a world one can act in, and upon."

    3. Framing also entails storytelling: “bind[ing] together the salient features of the situation . . . into a pattern that is coherent and graspable”.

  5. "In policy processes, framing (and reframing) operate on three kinds of entities: the substantive content of the policy issue, the identities and relationships of situational actors in the policy pro- cess, and the policy process itself. "

  6. A dynamic perspective suggests that we should talk not about a frame, but a process of framing: frames need to be constantly developed, supported, negotiated, adapted. "The political dimension of this approach emphasizes the ways clusters of selecting, naming, categorizing, storytelling, identity-maintenance (and change), and, indeed, the policy process itself gain or lose credibility during and as a result of framings’ use in various moments in policy- making processes."