Normative ethics and the concept of social construction are important in this essay’s exploration of how our pre-understanding of our social world causes us to construct issues in a way that limits the selection of possible policy solutions. Burke’s terministic screens are used to understand the method behind Yanow’s interpretive policy analysis. (Burke 45; Yanow 25).
Normative ethics refer to a branch of Philosophy which we can use in a practical way for determining what is morally good or bad. When public policy decisions are being made this kind of ethics is useful in determining how the balance of the action which may be applied sits on the scale of ‘good and bad.’ The ‘action’ proposed is considered the abstract object which demonstrates the importance or worth of the values under discussion.
Social constructionism is a sociological knowledge theory that an artifact of a certain group such as the language, objects and actions a public policy proposes is dependent on our pre-existing social values. (Yanow 22).
Kenneth Burke has given an example of his terministic screen concept of a filtering device in his discussion “Directing the Attention” (Burke 44) which helps visualize his concept as a filtering device. A terministic screen can be described as a filtering device which determines how attention in “directed” from a certain point of view to an audience.
Burke suggests thinking of terministic screens as a series of photos of the same object when the series contains only the same object as the subject of the photos but the object is photographed using different color filters (Burke 45) The objects when viewed in the different colored photographs changed texture, form and other properties were changed so the eye could not discern the “real” or “original” object.
Dvora Yanow has taken Burke’s concept of terministic screens and applied the concept to the construction of public policy not only using his concept of focusing attention, but also adding another screen – that of intention. She analyzes the differences between attention and intention when a social construction is used to promote an action pertaining to public policy in terms of the different players including the community which will be impacted by the public policy.
The formulation and implementation of public policy essentially follows the same four steps as described by Yanow (20). The first two steps may be done in concert or one following the other.
Step 1. Identify artifacts such as language, objects and acts that have significant meaning to all of the players including the makers of the public policy to the community which will be impacted. In mixed ethnic communities there will be a variety of meaning to the same artifacts by the individual groups in the community because like Burke explains in the above example they will be using different terministic filters.
Step 2. Identify the communities considered relevant to the public policy due to their interpretations of the artifacts and meaning. As mention earlier Yanow (20) suggests Step 1 and Step 2 can be done at the same time or in either order. The difference with Step 2 is that the players using terministic filters will be those who are designating the relevant communities as a function of the public policy, the political policy analysts.
Step 3. The way communities “talk and act” in other words their “discourses” to the public policy under consideration must now be taken into account. The artifacts have to be recognized and assessed because most of the discourse between the community members and the groups within the community will be at an implied level between members so verbalization isn’t necessary.
Step 4. Now the political policy analysts must sort out the “meanings” between (or among) the communities that conflict with each other. Then they must attempt to understand the ideas behind the meanings that are causing the conflicts.
Step 5. This is the recommended place to add Yanow’s Interpretive Policy Analysis method to the process (Yanow 20) which introduces the concept of intention and how the intention is interpreted.
She refers to this step as the intervention or action which continues the process where traditionally it stops. She continues the process in order to take into account that many policies have failed from not taking into account the conceptual ideas the impacted community have towards the policy. What happens in Step 5 differs depending on each situation.
A policy analyst can point out a potential stopping block or obstacle in community of acceptance of the policy and interpret the reason a community’s or group’s perception of the policy is due to their understanding. Their understanding may be based on preconceived ideas, ethnic interpretations or many other causes which the analyst should determine.
Step 6. Yanow (21) suggests this step could take the form of educating players about conflicting interpretations in order to facilitate negotiation or mediation. This step is very important in whether the public policy succeeds or fails.
In the essay I have tried to demonstrate in a step-by-step process how the design of Yanow’s Interpretive Policy Analysis honors the need for Burke’s terministic filters in the first four steps as well as the need for the intention of the policy to be clearly understood by the stakeholders in the process.
Yanow has made a valuable contribution by using the reliable foundation of discerning terministic filters upon the biases of the decision/policy makers and balancing it with the biases towards the policy intention of the communities which will be impacted. She has developed a practical approach to policy analysis which can ensure more successes for policies made.
Burke, K. 1966. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Yanow, D. 2000. Conducting Interpretive Policy Analysis. Sage University Papers Series on Qualitative Research Methods, Series Vol. 47. Thousands Oaks, CA. Sage.