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Picturing Policy Implementation: An Ethnography of a Local Network

Case
By: Pam Carter Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Abstract

Ethnography involves “being there” as a witness in a particular field. This unusual form of social interaction can feel uncomfortable but the opportunity to gather rich qualitative data in real time is a major strength of the method. Limitations of ethnography are that this method is restricted to particular situations—there will always be practical constraints on ethnographers in terms of how much time they have to devote to immersion in a particular field. This case examines ways in which a local policy network made sense of their task of implementing a project linked to early years childcare policy. The case demonstrates how ethnography showed the network juggling creatively with time and money and making sense of their task using pictures and other artifacts. Project management is a rational linear approach that usually regards time and money as fixed resources, but this study revealed how the future was creatively symbolized, how time sped up toward financial year end, and how resources were variously presented as meager or plentiful. Power relations meant that the project manager who took responsibility for the timetabled targets thereby controlled much of the network’s activity. The case sets out the importance of theory when analyzing data, in this case the analysis transformed mundane objects into sociological artifacts and to “made the familiar strange.”

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