Using policy network analysis to understand ideological convergence and change in educational subsystems




policy network analysis, ideological politics, market-based policies, policy change


In recent years, education policy scholars have begun to utilize social network concepts and methods to describe contemporary policy changes across P-16 levels. While many insights have emerged from this growing literature base, we argue that a more formal network approach rooted in policy network analysis (PNA) is needed to fulfill its conceptual and analytical ambitions. Policy network analysis integrates concepts from social network analysis with theoretical assumptions developed in the field of political science. Toward this end, we first argue that a more rigorous treatment of policy beliefs is needed to analyze the impact of ideas on the policy agenda. Existing literature on the ideological dimensions of market-based reform movements tends to define them largely within the bounds of neo-liberalism and thus far has failed to systematically explain how policy beliefs emerge and converge in this context. Second, we contend that previous work has generally lacked theoretical grounding in formal policy network analysis (PNA). Although there are clear links between the concepts and findings in traditional PNA literature and educational research – particularly the use of networked governance as a concept for understanding the interconnectedness of educational reform networks – a more diligent application of PNA theory and methods would enable educational policy scholars to gain deeper insights into the explanatory processes of policy change. We pay particular attention to the usefulness of these approaches for examining two-mode network data and for modeling ideological policy change.


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Author Biographies

Sarah Galey-Horn, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Sarah Galey-Horn is a research associate at Capital City Partnership as a University of Edinburgh TRAIN@Ed fellow. Her research is focused on using social network analysis to examine school-based family welfare services. Her research interests include teacher learning, community networks, policy implementation, and educational politics.  

Joseph J. Ferrare, University of Washington Bothell

Joseph J. Ferrare is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell. His research focuses on the ways that public policies and social/organizational networks shape patterns of social inequality and mobility in the education system.




How to Cite

Galey-Horn, S., & Ferrare, J. J. (2020). Using policy network analysis to understand ideological convergence and change in educational subsystems. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28, 118.



Researching 21st Century Education Policy Through Social Network Analysis