This paper argues that the study of social policy can be enriched by a greater focus on the dynamics of the policy process itself. Such a focus needs to transcend the usual descriptive accounts of institutions and implementation methods. The paper draws on a range of theoretical approaches that illuminate the shaping and delivery of policy, from classic theories of power and the state to analyses of the micro-dynamics of the policy–action relationship. The paper explores the contribution of recent developments in governance theory, and assesses contemporary debates about the ‘modernisation’ of the policy process and the focus on evaluating ‘what works’ in social policy.
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