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1. 5 The data PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dolf Tops   
Sunday, 21 February 2010 00:00

1. 5 The data

In the empirical parts, III and IV, different types of documents data are analysed. The differences and the grounds for their selection will be discussed below.

Given my theoretical starting point that the problem definition process ends up in a governmental bill or memorandum, they constitute the bulk of the empirical data. It is at the top level of the policymaking process we can expect to find the problem definitions that received acceptance by the parliament. From the perspective of the arena model, i.e. if one wants to identify important actors in the definition process, a governmental bill or memorandum does not give much guidance. They are the outcome of a compromise. In this respect records of parliamentary debates are much more rewarding. Debates in the parliaments also reflect the controversies that might appear between competing problem definitions. Furthermore, we hear the metaphors that were used to place the unknown phenomenon in a frame that is comprehensible to the population:

Even if the speech of MPs is largely a matter of political tactics and rhetoric there is good reason to believe - at least at a general level - that conventions and conceptions that are most important for national consciousness and morality are deeply embedded in that speech (Hakkarainen et al, 1996: 83).

Standing committees play a crucial role in both parliaments. However, as data sources they vary considerably in quality. This is due to their different positions in the political policymaking process. The Swedish parliament functions better as an arena for deliberations than a forum for debate and critical control of the government (Petersson 1998: 47). Instead, the governmental policies are discussed and negotiated in standing committees. Unfortunately, the meetings of the Swedish standing committees are not open to the public or press. Only the results of deliberations between the members are published in a committee report. However, reports from standing committees can be a source to identify dissenting opinions by reservations against the committee's decisions.

If the members of the committee make no reservations against the outcome of these negotiations between political parties, a debate in the parliament is not necessary. The vote in the chamber means a formal registration of a decision that has previously been arrived at in the committee (Sannerstedt 1996). In the Netherlands, the government is controlled by the parliament in a different way. Standing committees scrutinise the government by criticising and questioning a bill or memorandum until a bill is ready to be discussed in parliament. This dialogue is recorded and an important data source that is unknown in the Swedish system. This is just one example of the diversity of types of data that occur in a cross-cultural comparison.

Other central data sources are reports from governmental working groups. In the Netherlands, a report is send to the Lower House and followed by an official statement from the government on the report. Subsequently, the parliamentary procedure begins with the work of the standing committees. In the Dutch model, consultations between the government and interest groups are institutionalised in advisory councils that advise the government, whether called or uncalled, on a specific policy area. If such advice is referred to in governmental documents, it is part of the data used in this study.

However, there are also other roads of consultation. In the case of drug policy, the big cities had direct deliberations with the government on drug-related issues. In Sweden the consultation path is different. A report from a committee of investigation appointed by the government is distributed for a referral round to organisations and authorities that are judged important by the government. The opinions of these bodies are weighted in the final governmental bill. The considerations discussed in the governmental bills are included as a source in the study.

As pointed out before, a drug policy as manifested in an action programme involves a number of actors. The co-ordination of actions was from the very beginning of the programmes pointed out as a decisive factor for a positive outcome. In both countries co-ordination bodies were appointed, although on different levels in the state bureaucracy. In the Netherlands, a co-ordinating body was established on the departmental level. Members of the body were high-ranking officials from sections in departments involved in the drug policy area and the body was in office from 1973 until 1993. In Sweden, the composition of co-ordination bodies and their directives have changed a number of times. The main characteristic is the participation of state authorities such as the national police, customs, correctional treatment, the national board of health, etc. Records from meetings of these coordination bodies are included as a data source.

In summary the types of data are:

•   governmental bills and memorandums
•   reports from standing committees
•   protocols of parliamentary debates
•   reports from state committees
•   minutes from meetings of co-ordination groups and commissions, and documents that were discussed in the meetings.

Furthermore, several of the previous studies mentioned above are used as secondary sources. Part II in which the contexts are depicted is wholly based on secondary sources.

Some questions need to be discussed with respect to the type of data involved in historical studies based on documents (Platt 1981). Concerning the authenticity of the documents, there is no reason to question their accuracy as official records of parliamentary debates, committees, or workings group. Their availability has not been problematic either. Parliamentary documents are available in university libraries and from governmental co-ordination bodies and committees in the archives of the National Archives in Stockholm and the Department of Social Affairs in The Hague.3 Other contemporary data sources have been obtained during numerous visits to second-hand bookshops in Amsterdam and Malmo. Many such artefacts could also be found on the bookshelves of colleagues.

Language

The bulk of documents that have been analysed are written in Dutch or in Swedish while the thesis is in English. As Allan Cochrane (1993:6) pointed out, even when language is not a problem, for example with an Englishmen in the US, the same words can have different meanings in different countries. In a comparison based on qualitative data, this is an insurmountable problem. Some words are not translatable to English, and I use the original words in italics when it adds a meaning to the text because of its specific cultural bearing. For example the Dutch word for "society", samenleving, means living together, while its Swedish equivalence, samhalle, means keeping together. These different words for society are closely related to the history of the Netherlands as a heterogeneous society (samenleving) and Sweden as a homogeneous society (samhalle).

As the reader will also notice, in the empirical parts I stay close to the texts in an effort not to lose too much of their original meaning. It is one way to delimit the problem of interpreting words and events in a particular historical context with today's eyes.

A final issue that needs to be addressed in relation to the data and language is how to identify and categorise different components of the problem definitions that achieved recognition at the central political level. Words are essential in identifying a problem definition and its character. How can I find the important words? How can they be categorised? What do they tell me? Who is using them? How do they influence the shape of the drug policy and the action programme?

Actions speak louder than words, it is commonly said. However, in the world of politics and policymaking this is not necessarily so, and in any case the two are inextricable; actions and words influence and even stand for each other as embodiments of the ideas, arguments, convictions, demands, and perceived realities that direct the public enterprise (Rochefort and Cobb 1994: 27).

This assertion by two American scholars in the field of policy analysis, Rochefort and Cobb, emphasises the importance of identifying elements of rhetoric, i.e. the terminology that was used to legitimate the problem definition and the action programme. To dissect the problem definition, Rochefort and Cobb (1994: 15-26) composed a range of categories that can be used to analyse the rhetoric in the texts and the classification of problem definition claims. Causality points out the origin of the problem, which can be considered as intentional or accidental. The perception of the severity of the problem and its consequences is pivotal to capture attention from public officials and the media. Furthermore, an issue that is described as novel attracts attention. Perceptions of the incidence and prevalence of a problem are important to achieve the status of a social problem. Images of linear or even exponential projections tend to create the most pressure for quick public intervention. If the problem is depicted to come close to the vicinity of people, it raises public attention. The rhetoric of crisis can be used when advocates of a problem see attention for their case waning. Other problems can be presented as mere symptoms or effects of the subsuming crisis condition. Problems are not only given a descriptive definition; the problem populations are also pointed out. There can be sympathetic or threatening populations, but some kind of categorisation of target groups takes place. To this list of categories the places of dissemination should be added that were also the subject of discussions. It also is important to examine which perspectives and coherent solutions seemed to be unthinkable and end up being excluded from the agenda. Bergmark and Oscarsson (1988: 190) discussed a DOXA model, i.e. a discursive field in which the governing images of the problem outline the content of and borders for the discursive space, the DOXA. Rivalling and competing images can co-exist as long as they share basic values that are taken for granted and are not questioned. The DOXA is related to a world of traditions that are experienced as natural.

3 The excellent service provided by these archives has saved me a lot of time.

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 January 2011 21:04
 

Our valuable member Dolf Tops has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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