Photo by Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) on Unsplash

Policy Narratives & Policy Change

The Case of Pill Testing

Marty Bortz, University of Melbourne

Policy Narratives and Policy Change explores the use of narrative in the politics of pill testing in New South Wales and New Zealand. Pill testing (a.k.a., drug checking) is a service sometimes offered at music festivals. It is a harm reduction strategy that scientifically analyses the contents of illicit substances so that users are informed about what they are taking. New South Wales has proven itself as being particularly resistant to introduction of this measure, with the current Coalition Government arguing that it will provide users with a false sense of security. On the other hand, the Federal Government in New Zealand has been more supportive of this approach, with pill testing being trialled at several events around the country.

The project examines the different narratives used by advocates and detractors of pill testing in the two jurisdictions, trying to understand which narratives have been used by advocates and whether they have led to any changes in policy. The role and importance of narratives in public policy has been recognised by researchers for the last two decades (at least). Here, both individuals and collectives use narratives as to simplify a complex reality and interpret what ‘ought to be done’ in response to a given social problem. However, while the importance of narratives is generally recognised, there has been relatively little research that has been done to understand how and whether narratives are capable of producing changes in public policy as well as any barriers to this occurring.

Marty Bortz is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Melbourne School of Government. In addition to his work on narratives, Marty’s current research is investigating community self-governance, management consultants, and transformative festival culture.

In addition to his academic research, Marty works as a policy practitioner. He has worked in multiple portfolios including education, health, justice and Indigenous affairs. This work has included several evaluations, targeted policy advice, detailed literature reviews, organisational reviews, and research to support service improvement. He has worked in local and state government, academia, and private consulting.

Marty has undergraduate qualifications in Law and Arts (both from Monash University), a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and Management (from the University of Melbourne) and a PhD in Public Policy.


Feature image: Photo by Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) on Unsplash