1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

New Directions in Social Policy: Methodology Workshop

Date: 15 - 16 Jan 2015

In order to understand the nature of changes in social policy in developing countries in the midst of widespread economic crisis and uncertainty, UNRISD is undertaking a three-year research project New Directions in Social Policy: Alternatives from and for the Global South. Following the Inception Workshop, held on 7-8 April 2014, an open call for research interest was held, from which the UNRISD research team selected five country and two regional cases for in-depth research.

To build a coherent basis for the diverse teams to work from, a methodological workshop was held in Geneva on 15-16 January 2015.

The purpose of the workshop was to support the country and regional research teams as they further develop their research plans. The workshop aimed to:
  • identify relevant concepts and theories;
  • identify appropriate and feasible methods for country case studies;
  • establish an overarching comparative framework;
  • establish a strategy to communicate the research findings; and
  • explore the possibilities of extending country case studies and developing spin-off projects.

At the workshop, the country and regional teams will present research proposals of their own cases. Invited experts will enriched the discussion through feedback on concepts, theories, approaches and methodologies, each expert with a specific area of focus, including:
  • interactions between global social policy actors and national governments;
  • the politics of informality in the social policy sector;
  • decentralization and inter-governmental relations;
  • the roles of the state and market in the production and delivery of public goods and services;
  • institutional complementarity and synergies between social policy and other policy sectors; and
  • the evaluation of comprehensive and immediate outcomes of social policy.

Introducing the Case Studies

China and Russia
These case studies investigate the participation of civil society organizations in the development of social policy. They seek to answer questions around the changing relationship between the state and civil society in welfare delivery, specifically regarding welfare service, beneficiaries and impacts on user engagement and social inclusion. Research in diverse field sites explores the correlation between authoritarian political regimes and weak civil society; bureaucratic policy responses and poor policy outcomes; an energy-dependent economy and high inequality; and greater participation and more effective outcomes.

India and South Africa
The Indian and South African case studies share a similar research question: what are the reasons for the underperformance of specific social policy sectors despite the establishment of constitutional frameworks strengthening rights-based approaches and increased social investment and spending? The Indian case study focuses on conceptualizing new relationships between the state and the population that emphasize the importance of rights, while investigating the reasons why policies have succeeded or failed. The South African case considers the health and education sectors which have seen high spending but highly unequal and weak outcomes, asking to what extent policies in these sectors are moving toward comprehensive and effective coverage and away from stringent approaches to public expenditure.

The case study on Indonesia rests on the assertion that in many countries, including Indonesia, understanding new phenomena in social policy requires an understanding of their links with global influences and contexts. The methodology in this case consists of combining national and international levels of analysis alongside bottom-up and top-down approaches. The research question behind this case asks how Indonesian social policy has changed; to what extent it is new; and what the dynamics have been between actors at the national and international levels.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
The project includes two case studies in the MENA region. The first focuses on Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain. It aims to question the dominant paradigms of area studies on the MENA region that have emphasized Arab Islamic exceptionalism and thus a lack of comparability with other regions. This UNRISD research provides a comparative framework for social policy that focuses on functional equivalents for social policy, or “social policy by other means”.

The second MENA study is on Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco and examines the implementation of social policy in the region through the lens of decentralization to understand how different reforms have impacted social policy development and implementation, and what opportunities may exist in the future. These two teams aim to tell a story of the complete process of policy making and implementation in diverse countries in the MENA region.

These case studies build on previous UNRISD research on social policy in the MENA region (Social Policy in the Middle East, 2006 [LINK]) conducted by Massoud Karshenas.

Methodology Discussions: New Litmus Tests for Social Policy?

To ensure easier cross-country comparisons, a session on methodology and conceptual frameworks was held. Contrary to prevailing techniques of analysing and evaluating social policy, Bruno Amable introduced the concept of ‘institutional complementarity’ which considers the synergies between social policy and other policies and institutions. This framework intends to ascertain how certain combinations of policies and institutions can be mutually reinforcing, and whether this can be said of new social policy trends that are emerging. Michael Samson introduced new methods of measuring social policy impacts that moved beyond ‘culmination outcomes’, or the given measurable impact of specified inputs, to ‘comprehensive outcomes’ which allows for cross-sectoral analysis and the inclusion of context.

Workshop participants

Bingqin LiCrawford School of Public Policy, ANU, AustraliaChina Research Team
Lijie FangInstitute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social SciencesChina Research Team
Sanjay RupareliaThe New School for Social Research, New York, USAIndia Research Team
Alexandra KaaschUniversity of Sheffield, UKIndonesia Research Team
Linda CookBrown University, USARussia Research Team
Elena VinogradovaHigher School of Economics, Moscow, RussiaRussia Research Team
Sophie PlagersonUniversity of Johannesburg, South AfricaSouth Africa Research Team
Marianne UlriksenUniversity of Johannesburg, South AfricaSouth Africa Research Team
Rana JawadUniversity of Bath, UKMENA Cluster: Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain
Adam CouttsUniversity of Cambridge, UKMENA Cluster: Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain
Daniel TavanaPrinceton University, USAMENA Cluster: Egypt and Tunisia
Bruno AmableUniversity of Paris, FranceMethodology presentation
Adebayo OlukoshiUN-IDEP (African Institute for Economic Development and Planning)Methodology presentation
Michael Samson (presenting remotely)Economic Policy Research Institute, South AfricaMethodology presentation
Rina AgarwalaJohns Hopkins University, USAInvited Expert
Dele OlowuIndependent consultantInvited Expert
Smita SrinivasColumbia University, USAInvited Expert
Nicola YeatesOpen University, UKInvited Expert
Massoud KarshenasSOAS, UKInvited Expert
Peter UttingCentro para la Economía Social (CES), NicaraguaInvited Expert

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