“Policy process is a narrative” – audio recording

In this audio recording, Dr Temba Masilela from HSRC shares his perspectives on the problem of ‘evidence-based policy-making’ speaking about policy processes in South Africa. Having worked as a policy advisor and journalist and prior to this been an exile in Kenya, Temba speaks about how we should approach policy not just in terms of research, but as a narrative; it needs to be contextualised.

Dr Temba Masilela speaks on the opening panel at the Power of In-Between conference

Dr Temba Masilela speaks on the opening panel at the Power of In-Between conference

Taking an example of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, he asks what are the issues and imperatives underlying what happened – migration, crime, poverty, competition for resources? People see different narratives and framings and we need to analyse policy based on this.

Temba outlines a definition of the public policy process: “it’s a narrative about the authoritative allocation of values and resources”. It’s a narrative because it’s a story with many questions and answers:

  • It has particular context, actors, relationships, plot and perspectives
  • It is a story about why, who benefits, how should it be done, who bears the consequences and costs?
  • It has an ending, happy or sad
  • It is interactive, iterative and about engagement
  • It has a history to it, a present and a future
  • It requires some suspension of disbelief as well as trust that it is beneficial and will result in desired outcome

Temba explains how this definition highlights issues of power, decision-making, problem-solving, politics, trust and legitimation. Often external eyes do not appreciate that policy is about making tough decisions and timeliness. The story of politics and contestation behind policy is also left out. People struggle with the outputs of policy processes as they are often dry and bland, they do not give you a picture of the intrigue behind the scenes, the different scenarios interrogated and the extent to which it is fought over.

Dr Temba Masilela, is Executive Director at the Policy Analysis and Capacity Enhancement Unit, HSRC.

Listen to Dr Temba Masilela’s 10 minute presentation
Read the blog of the session

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