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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A procedural framework for reflective problem setting in policy research : the case of schools Owen-Clarke, Patricia


This study was prompted by the currently troubled state of public schooling in Canada and the United States; and by the perceived need for an analytical technique that would enable policymakers to pay conscious attention to the task of problem setting—as a critically important precursor to the task of problem solving. Inquiry was, therefore, directed at developing, and applying to the case of schools, an approach to reflective problem setting proposed by Rein and Schon (1977). Premised on the notion that the framing of problems depends upon metaphors that are often unwittingly, and consequently, uncritically used to make sense of troublesome social situations--this approach is concerned with subjecting to scrutiny the deep metaphors found to underlie the 'stories' told about problematic social situations. Accordingly, a procedural framework was developed for uncovering, and analysing such metaphors, and for examining their policy-related utility. These procedures were applied — in the case of schools--to the analysis of a major policy-influencing document of our times, namely, the 1983 Report by the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education titled, "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." The findings of this analysis suggested that the Commission had (metaphorically) viewed the school as an industrial workplace with a mass production mode of technology: one whose level and standard of productivity had slipped, and whose need was for the implementation of more rigorous quality control measures. In response to the critical appraisal of this metaphoric frame, the problem of schools was reframed as one involving the need for second-order system change; the school being seen (metaphorically) as a mass production workplace in need of gearing-up to a 'process' mode of technology (focussed on the continuous 'flow' of learning). The organizational characteristics found in workplaces having a 'process' mode of technology were projected to suggest the analogical implications for the school of tomorrow. Given the positive nature of these implications, it was concluded that this metaphor for change merited the attention of educational policymakers; and that the procedural framework used to frame it warranted further investigation by policy analysts.

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