The WPR Approach
WPR: What's the Problem Represented to be?
The acronym 'WPR' stands for 'What's the Problem Represented to be?'. The approach assists researchers to develop & organize research projects through positing six interlinked questions that foster an enhanced critical engagement with a topic.
Initially designed for policy analysis, the approach is now being applied in a wide range of fields, including health sciences, geography, law, accounting/finance, psychology, drug & alcohol studies, and occupational science.
On this page we give you the opportunity to get to know WPR in more detail, and to explore the approach for yourself by 'sitting in' on the live video of an extended (4.5 hour) WPR workshop. You can work through this program in your own time and at your own pace. To assist your learning, a comprehensive set of references, and links to other resources, are also provided.
What is WPR?
WPR stands for What's the Problem Represented to be?'. It is the name of an approach to policy analysis developed by Professor Emerita Carol Bacchi, Department of Politics & International Studies, University of Adelaide. The approach assists students to develop and organize research projects in a wide array of fields. It consists of six interlinked questions that allow a critical engagement with a topic or area of research interest. In tune with contemporary research practice it highlights the importance of researcher reflexivity or self-problematization.
Where is it being used?
The WPR approach has attracted wide interest among PhD students & other researchers in a number of countries, including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Initially designed as an analytic strategy in policy analysis, it is being applied in a wide range of fields, including health sciences, geography, law, accounting/finance, psychology, drug & alcohol studies, and occupational science.
What kind of approach is it?
A novel approach to policy analysis, the WPR approach challenges the conventional view that public policies are responses or reactions to problems that sit outside the policy process, waiting to be discovered and solved. By contrast, it argues that policies contain implicit representations of the 'problems' they appear to address. The goal of the approach is to subject these problem representations to critical scrutiny. Transferred to other fields, this way of thinking encourages a critical questioning of all forms of proposal or purported 'answers', and how they constitute 'problems'.
How can I find out more?
Visit the website of Professor Emerita Carol Bacchi:
The website of Carol Bacchi contains additional information including a section addressing Frequently Asked Questions, resources and a section on details of useful books.
Download the collection of readings:
Engaging with Carol Bacchi: Strategic Inverventions and Exchanges is a collection of readings intended to illuminate the WPR method and to make it accessible to a wide range of audiences. This book contains several articles explaining the purposes and uses of WPR; see in particular the chapters by Bletsas, Goodwin and Marshall. It also includes this short (3 page) summary of the approach. Edited by Angelique Bletsas & Chris Beasley, and published in 2012 by the University of Adelaide Press, it is available as a free download.
Buy the textbook/ebook:
Professor Bacchi has published a textbook which introduces the WPR approach in an accessible manner and which provides many examples of application. See Analysing Policy: What's the problem represented to be? (2009, Pearson). This is now also available as an ebook.
'Sit in' on the workshop.:
The workshop videos that are presented below take you through the WPR approach step-by-step. Sit in with fellow postgraduate students & researchers as they are exposed to the key ideas and set about investigating their complexities and applications.
The workshop videos will enable you to engage with WPR in considerable detail. Filmed in April 2014 at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, the videos provide you with some four and a half hours exposition, application and discussion of the approach, and capture for you the experience of being part of a live course.
Work through this material at your own pace, and make sure that you do so as an active learner - pause/review the video stream as necessary, in order to reflect on and consolidate your understanding of the content, and to check up on links and references.
Before watching the workshop videos you should work through the preparatory readings, which provide a useful initial grounding in the concepts and terminology that you will encounter.
All references cited in the course of the workshop can be found in the course bibliography.
1. Introduction: locating the WPR approach (51 mins)
The first video introduces you to the thinking behind the WPR approach & thus is essential viewing. It locates the approach in relation to existing social theory.
2. WPR step by step (77 mins)
The second video explains the purpose of each of the six questions in the WPR approach and how they interconnect. It also considers the importance of the undertaking to apply the approach to one's own proposals (ie. the importance of self-problematization).
3. Key concepts: problematization, discourse, governmentality (45 mins)
This third video offers additional theoretical guidance on some key concepts in the WPR approach, highlighting their interconnections, and assisting in the understanding of the specific meanings and roles of these concepts as applied in WPR.
4a. Applications & reports (25 mins)
This video offers postgraduate students and other researchers an opportunity to apply the WPR approach to two cases - one on European Union drugs policy, and another on lifelong learning. The video includes a brief introduction to these exercises in applying WPR, and the reports from four group leaders who participated in the course at the University of Adelaide in April, 2014.
4b. Case study analysis & conclusion (50 mins)
The final video presents a summary of the kinds of issues raised by applying the WPR approach to the case study material. It also draws some conclusions about the uses and usefulness of the WPR approach.
Reading, links, resources