Public policy for long-term societal challenges? The reframing of policy narratives and the 'Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe'

  • Michal Miedzinski

Student thesis: Phd


This research examined how public policy addresses long-term societal challenges. Thecase study focused on policy narratives and frames of resource efficiency in the 'Roadmapto a Resource Efficient Europe' of the European Commission (EC).The study followed an interpretive constructionist perspective on public policy andassumed a research strategy based on a single critical case study. The literature reviewexamined perspectives on policy narratives, frames, knowledge and social learning in theinterpretive policy analysis and organisation studies literature. Foresight and futuresliterature also provided insights on the use and nature of knowledge and policy learning inthe process of deliberation of future visions. The empirical enquiry was based on a seriesof in-depth interviews with policy stakeholders, formal EU policy documents and speechesas well as participation in targeted policy events.The thesis makes contributions in three areas. First, the study developed and applied a newconceptual and methodological approach - a policy narrative framework analysis(POLFRAME) - to examine different discursive and narrative layers of policy narrativesof the resource efficiency agenda. The framework can lend itself to interrogate any policynarrative, notably ones with explicit or implicit future scenarios and vision.Second, the policy case study contributed to knowledge on the evolving EU policy area ofresource efficiency, addressing challenges of the sustainable use of natural resources. Theresearch provided insights into how a complex societal, economic and environmentalchallenge of resource efficiency was understood by different stakeholders and intentionallyframed in the official policy narrative. The emerging EU agenda on resource efficiencywas intentionally reframed to advance a broader approach to environmental policy thatmoves beyond a traditional goal of environmental protection towards a systemic transitionof economic system to achieve decoupling of economic growth from environmentalimpacts. While the study found evidence of a significant shift in scoping the challenge, thereframing has not led to radical changes in underlying normative assumptions on therelation between nature and society or on the central role of economic growth in transition.Third, the research discussed theoretical implications of introducing a long-term challengedrivenperspective to public policy narratives. Introducing a future vision to policynarrative added a stronger normative orientation to policy argumentation. The case studydemonstrated that an inclusion of a long-term societal challenge to the resource efficiencyagenda influenced the selection, interpretation and use of evidence in policy narratives.The design of challenge-driven long-term policies bears a family resemblance to theperspective of post-normal science.Finally, the thesis puts forward messages and recommendations for policy makers andpractitioners interested in the process of radical policy reframing. It also suggests furtherresearch encompassing a comparative dimension and longer periods of enquiry of policyframes, which would allow for better understanding the effects of the reframing of policyon various phases of policy cycles.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJoe Ravetz (Supervisor) & Ian Miles (Supervisor)


  • long-term planning
  • resource efficiency
  • policy roadmap
  • policy narrative analysis
  • EU policy making
  • policy frames

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