Poster Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Understanding how policymakers draw on essentialist social constructions when designing health policy for socially disadvantaged groups (#314)

Tony Kiessler 1 , Sharon Friel 1 , Kathryn Henne 1
  1. School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Disparities in material resources and levels of empowerment for different social groups can lead to inequities in health outcomes. An emerging challenge is how to address the underlying ‘causes of the causes of disease’. One such cause is the relationship between political empowerment, inclusion and health, and particularly the differential status between social groups, which unfairly denies equal participation in the formulation of policy. Consequently, public policy presents a means to address the social and cultural determinants of health equity. However, there remains little research on the mechanisms for inclusion and exclusion within the policy process–how does the policy process perpetuate social disadvantage?

The worldview of policymakers plays a critical role in shaping the way that policy problems are identified and prioritised, as well as how target groups are represented. Policymakers have the capacity to interpret and define aspects of society, culture, people and the health issues they face in different ways. These subjective vantages inform the parameters for how target groups are considered and engaged in policy processes and for the measures of success used to evaluate the policy outcomes.

This policy focused research considers whether or not and how policymakers draw on essentialist social constructions as they design health policy for socially disadvantaged groups. The presentation provides the conceptual framework for the research, highlighting how it attempts to capture the introduction of essentialist social constructions into the policy process. In doing so, this research seeks to identify spaces where other forms of knowledge might be incorporated to counteract limited understandings of marginalised groups. The broader aims of the research are to provide an empirical case that identifies how essentialist social constructions can inform policy design and implementation, investigates the formal and informal mechanisms and processes by which these social constructions enter health policy designs, identifies their effects on health policy design and implementation for marginalised groups and offers insight into reforming aspects of the policy process. It is hoped that the knowledge produced through this study will help improve inclusive policy development for Indigenous people in different parts of the world.