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The Communication of Policy Meanings: Implementation as Interpretation and Text

Author(s): Dvora Yanow

Source: Policy Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), pp. 41-61
Published by: Springer
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The case for interpretiveimplementationanalysis
Implementationstudies to date have focused, in large part, on organizations
or on individualsactingwithin organizations,the analyticdomain of organizational studies.The centralityaccordedto organizationaltheories in implementationanalysismay have broughttheir conceptualattributesinto a position to shape our understandingof implementation.Among these attributesis
the essentiallypositivistontology which characterizesmuch of the organizational literature(Burrelland Morgan, 1979; Yanow,1987a). The analysisof
implementationis typicallypresented as a set of factualpropositions,where
those facts are treatedas explicitand objectiverealitiesthatcan be discovered
by directobservationand perception(Yanow,1987b).
There are, however,other attributesof implementationthat are not understandablethroughobservationalone and factual analysis;they can only be
known through interpretation.Specifically,agency staff, clients, and other
policy stakeholdersmay form interpretationsof policy language,legislative
intent or implementingactions;and these interpretationsmay differfrom one
anotherand may divergefrom the intentof the policy'slegislators(if that can
even be established - a question raised within the domain of interpretive
analysis).These multipleinterpretationsmay facilitateor impede the policy's
implementation.Such interpretationson the part of policy stakeholdersare
not entirely open to analysis as objective facts: much of their meaning can
only be elicitedby an act of interpretationon the partof the researcher.Interpretation,then, mustbe engagedon at least two levels:thatof the actorsin the
policy situation, and that of the researchermaking sense of those actors'
meanings.2Moreover, an interpretiveapproachto implementationanalysis
allows attentionto the role that tacit knowledge(Polanyi,1966) plays in the
policy process, a subjectnot given to positivistanalysis,which insists that we
only know that which can be made explicit.Multiple stakeholderinterpretations may hamperthe implementationof a policy'sexplicit mandate.On the
other hand, such interpretationsmay aid implementationof its tacitlyknown,
yet no less intended,mandate.
Such an approachis useful in analyzingthe case that follows, wherein an
agencywhich,by manymeasuresaccepted as objectiveand factual,mightbe
seen to have failed to implementits policy mandate,was instead acclaimeda
success by most of its stakeholders.For this we need a differentset of analytic
tools than those affordedby a positivistanalysis,ones that would allow us to
focus on the makingand interpretationof meaning.
An introductionto the case follows immediately,afterwhichI elaborateon
an interpretiveapproach that attends to types of organizationalartifacts
which represent policy and agency meanings. This typology of symbolic
objects, language, and acts is then illustratedby additional case material.
Analyzingthe case from the interpretiveapproachoutlinedhere suggeststhat
acts of implementorscannot be other than interpretiveacts. That is, since
organizationalsymbolsmaybe interpretedby multipleaudiencesand accom-

modate multiplemeanings,acceptingthatpolicy meaningsare communicated
throughsymbolicartifactsmakesit impossibleto restrictpolicy languageand
other symbolsto only one intendedmeaning.We cannoteliminateinterpretation fromthe implementationphase of the policy process.
Furthermore,when analysisfocuses on the meaningsof interpretiveacts to
actors in the situation,an additionalview of policy-makingand implementation emerges. Actors who make meanings of a situationinclude those at a
further distance from the immediate site, including legislators or potential
voters who might derail continued policy support.These distant audiences
also become "readers"of policy meanings communicatedthrough agency
artifacts.In this view,the policy process maybe seen as a "text"throughwhich
membersof a polity tell themselveswho they are and what they value.Partof
the work of implementationanalysts,then, maybe to constructthese texts,by
turningtacitknowledgeinto explicitcritique.
The IsraelCorporationof CommunityCenters, 1969-1981: A case study3
The Israel Corporationof CommunityCenters (ICCC) was establishedby
the Knesset (Parliament)in 1969 as an independent,government-sponsored,
public organization,to implement social and educational policies.4 These
explicitpolicies were two-fold,as statedin agencyAnnual Reports and other
literaturefrom its inception through1972, when it opened its firstbuildings.
First, it would 'improvethe quality of leisure time' for residents of urban
housingprojectsand geographicallyisolateddevelopmenttowns,therebydiscouragingresidentsof those towns frommovingto the crowdedmetropolitan
areas. This it would do by providingan outlet for recreationaland cultural
activitiesin each neighborhoodor town.5Second, it would integratethe two
major ethnic and socio-economic divisions of the State'sJewish population:
the Middle Eastern groups (sometimes called Orientals or Sfaradim),who
immigratedprimarilyfrom North African and Middle Easterncountriesand
who lived mostly in the developmenttowns and urbanprojects;and the comparativelymore prosperousand politicallyhegemonicWesterngroups (Ashkenazim)of Europeanand Americanimmigrants,who lived predominantlyin
the cities and kibbutzim.6Suchintegrationwas knownas 'narrowingthe gap.'
Israeli feeling in the late 1960s was that the development towns were
failuresand would continueto fail, because they lackedthe jobs, medicaland
social services, housing, and recreationalfacilities necessary to attractnew
immigrantsfrom the West and to retaintheir own youth who had completed
army service and universitytraining.'The few who are successful, leave,'
wrote a newspapercolumnistat the time. Most of the towns, he wrote, were
doomed to 'a long life of poverty'and should be shut down (Tevet, 1970).
This negative self-appraisalwas shared by many of the developmenttown
residents themselves, who often encouraged their grown children to settle

At the same time, the Israeli'establishment'discoveredthat what they had
assumedto be a homogeneousnationalculture-in-the-making
was in fact not
cohering. In an interview,Dr. Ya'el Pozner, a founding member and later
Chairmanof the Boardof the ICCC,recalled:
It was as if we awoke suddenly to find that two Israels had developed
between 1950 and 1960. We didn'texpect it; we didn'tanticipateit. In the
'first'[Western]Israel,the childrenwerewell-integrated;but in the development towns, in the 'second' Israel - a tremendous gap was revealed
betweenthe two populations.8
The ICCC was created,at least in part,to narrowthe gap. By bringingsome
of the culturalactivitieswhich markedurban,middle class life into the development towns and neighborhoodsof the 'secondIsrael,'it was hoped to make
them more attractiveto theirresidentsand stem the out-migration.
The ICCC's founding Executive Director, Haim Zipori, translatedthese
nationalpolicies and the concernsthey reflectedinto a programto provide:
1. Social integration,by creatinga [common]meetingplace for all sections
of the population;
2. Social and culturalvalues;
3. Enlighteneduse of the individual'sand family'sleisuretime;
4. Improvedcultural,recreational,and entertainmentservices.
The agencywould do this comprehensively,accommodatingall ages, all family stages, all ethnicities, and all activities under one roof, controlled and
guidedby agencystaffin a culturedand pleasantatmosphere.The community
center would replace the cafe as a gatheringplace and fill residents'leisure
hourswith culturalcontent (Zipori, 1971).
Other goals were added to the ICCC's mission as the years passed, in
response to new events (e.g., the Yom KippurWarof 1973; the IsraeliBlack
Panthers'demonstrationsin 1975; the Report of the Prime Minister'sCommission to StudyChildrenin Distress,issued in 1978; ProjectRenewalof the
early 1980s) and new articulationsof the public social agenda which these
events broughtwith them (e.g., 'comprehensivesocial services, 'underprivileged youth, 'the battle with poverty').Rather than replacingearlier goals,
these later goals were graftedonto and interwovenwith them, such that 'narrowingthe gap' and 'providingactivitieslocally'continuedto be the basis for
agency goals. The ICCC undertookto achievethese goals with some combination of three approaches:individualchange throughlearning;community
social change through group development;and raising the level of social
serviceconsumptionby providinghigherqualityservices(Zipori, 1972).
By 1981, the ICCC had opened over 100 centers (most of them new construction),staffed them with directorsand assorted programheads (among
them librarians,youth counsellors, community organizers,adult education
supervisors,arts and craftsteachers,sports directors),co-sponsoredexternal
and on-the-jobtrainingsessionsfor new staff,expandedits headquartersper-

sonnel from five to more than 50, produced Annual Reports circulatedat
Annual Meetings,and budgetedthe above and more. The agencyhad established the role of CommunityCenter Director as a new, professionalcareer
path, and had seen the creation of a post-baccalaureate,university-based
trainingprogramto qualifymore directorsfor the ever-increasingnumbers
of positions.Organizationalsize, budget,and amountof activitywere impressive.

At the same time, the assessmentof most center directorswas that their
buildings remained largely under-utilizedand most programs,under-subscribed. Several centers found that they were drawingmost of their participants from nearby Western,middle-classtowns and neighborhoods,rather
than from their target populations.Moreover,the social and economic gap
between the two populationsremainedunchangedin 1981 and became even
more vociferously divisive subsequently,during the election campaigns of
1982 and later.
Twelveyears afterits founding,by some objectivemeasuresthe ICCC had
not accomplishedits stated goals:the gap had not been narrowed,the crosssection of townspeoplewere not integratedall underone roof, social services
were on the whole not more comprehensivethanthey had been in 1969, and
'cafe culture'remainedas popularas ever.Indeed,Peled (1990: p. 348) notes
that the gap is considered to be widening even more. Within the agency,
debate continued over the years about its mission;at each Annual Meeting,
the questionwas asked, 'Whatare our goals and objectives?'Althoughone of
the agency's objectives was to involve local residents in programmingand
direction,by 1981 this had not been significantlyachieved.There was major
internal dissent over the integrationof communityorganizationpersonnel
and principles. Community organizers found it difficult to mobilize the
human and materialresources needed to carry out center programsimplementingthe policy mandatewhich had launchedthe ICCC.This was despite
the fact that the agency had a 'fixer'(Bardach,1977) in the person of Haim
Zipori, its founder and ExecutiveDirector,who (until his untimelydeath in
1983) was remarkablysuccessful in corrallingthe funds and inter-agency
cooperation necessary to implement the 'technology'(buildings, budgets,
personnel,programs)of the ICCC.
Despite these implementationshortfalls,neither local residents nor the
generalIsraelipublic accused the ICCC of failure.On the contrary,residents
of center-less development towns and city neighborhoodsmarched in the
streets calling on the governmentto build them communitycenters.And, in
1986 the Histadrut (the General Labor Union) declared its intention to
develop a chain of multi-purposecommunitycenters in developmenttowns
throughoutthe country(Kantor,1986), therebydemonstratingthat the concept whichthe ICCC had pioneeredhad caughta toe-hold in the Israelimind
as somethingworthyof emulation.

Interpretationand meaningin policyimplementation
How mightwe explainpublicacclaimfor the ICCC,giventhatthe gap was no
narrowerafter 12 yearsof operation?One readingof this case is as a story of
success and failure:success in establishinga largenew agency,seemingfailure
to accomplishthe explicitgoals of its policy mandate,as measuredby various
numerical indicators.And yet this failure was not attended to. The most
publicly salient feature of the organization'sidentity 12 years after its
foundingwas its imageas a desirableentityfromthe perspectivesof both rival
organizationsand potentialclients, as seen in demonstrationscallingfor the
establishmentof more centersand in the Histadrut'sannouncedplansto erect
similarcentersundertheirown aegis.
Over these 12 years, then, the ICCC succeeded in creatingnot only an
agency and its physicalembodiment,but also an identitywhich embodied a
certainstatusas a desirable,attractiveentity.It succeeded, in other words,in
creating meaning and communicatingthat meaning to distant publics other agenciesin its organizationalenvironment,residentsof other neighborhoods and towns - as well as to organizationalmembers and clients. That
meaningcapturedpart of the tacit mandateof the agency'senablingpolicy elements which were known and shared by legislators, agency members,
clients, and policy-relevantpublics, but which could not be expressed explicitlybecause there was no explicit social consensus to supportthem. Had
they been made explicit,they are likelyto haveraisedexplicitopposition.
An interpretiveanalysisallowsus to get at these issues, in thatit focuses on
the creation and communicationof context-specificmeanings,both explicit
and tacit. This is done throughartifactsof the policy and its implementing
agency which are vested with meaning.These meaningsare conveyedlargely
tacitly,withoutmakingthem explicit,in part because that is the natureof the
communicationof meaning, and in the case of the ICCC, in part because
some of the policy rested on 'verbotengoals' - goals which could not be
spoken of publiclybecause they were not girdedby explicitpublicconsensus,
often because they were incommensurable.These goals were communicated
tacitly, and supported by a tacitly known, although unspoken consensus
As a new agency,the ICCC had to create and communicateits organizational meaningsfrom scratch.While many organizationsare concerned with
the need to recruitnew membersand attractnew customersor clients, new
organizationsdo not have an existingidentityto work with (or against).In the
case of the ICCC, its product- a communitycenter repletewith programswas a new notion in the country,and highlyabstractin concept.In developing
the concept, the foundersbegan to create organizationalartifacts- the agency names,its buildingsand programs,AnnualReports and AnnualMeetings,
and so forth - and these were the vehicles throughwhich policy meanings
were communicated.

Organizationalartifacts:Bearersof meaning
Dress codes, agencynames, programand space design, and so forth are artifacts of an organization.Each organizationcreates these things in a way
unique to that organization(althoughorganizationswithinthe same industry
may create artifactswhich bear a family resemblanceto one another;see
Cook and Yanow,1993 or Weiss and Delbecq, 1987). The artifactsembody
the values and beliefs of the organization,and they are meaningfulfor organizational members in ways that are particularto their context. Artifacts,together with their underlyingbeliefs and values, constitutethe cultureof the
organization.Analytically,these artifactsare categorizedby such labels as
symbols,rituals,ceremonies,stories,myths,and so forth.9
Culturalartifactsof differenttypes work in similarways.First,they constitute symbolic- i.e., representational- relationships:they standin as concrete
referencesfor more abstractvalues and beliefs and are short-handways of
communicatingthose meanings.We are used to thinkingof objects as symbolic: the dove is a symbol of peace, the flag is a symbol of nationhood.Language is symbolic. Metaphors, for example, find similarity between two
seemingly unlike things, one of which represents a concept or concepts
present in the abstract.'Greenhorn,for example, draws on 'green-ness'as
Actions may also be symbolic.
symbolicof newness, freshness,unknowing.10
Rituals and ceremonies are patterns of activities which typicallyare enactments of the values and beliefs which they represent.Organizationalstories
and legends narratea set of eventswhichrepresentsome meaningor value of
importanceto both teller and listener;both the story and the act of telling
may be symbolic. Organizationalmyths temporarilyreconcile two or more
incommensurabletruths;they end furtherinquiry,and also convey a sense of
something of value. These categories give us an analytictaxonomyof symbolic objects,symboliclanguage,and symbolicacts.l1
Second, artifactsare 'read'in a particularcontext:they carrythe meanings
of a particularpoint in time, or of a particularsocio-culturalenvironment.
This means, third,that artifactsaccommodatemultiplemeanings.Meaningis
not universalor determinate;it depends on context and on the perception
and interpretationof the participant.When meaningis shared, the artifacts
create a feeling of unity amongthose who sharethe same or similarinterpretations of them and demarcatethose people from others who hold different
interpretations.Since artifactsaccommodatemultiplemeanings,it maynot be
self-evidentthat two partiesdo not share similarinterpretations.Such differences maynot become apparentuntilsome latertime.
Finally,the humanartifactuallandscapeis read tacitly.An agencymember
invited to an Annual Meeting usually would not say to her colleague, 'Now
I'm going to attend a ritual, which will reinforce my ties to the group and
reiteratethe collective values of the organization.'2 The meaningsof the gift
of the gold watchto the retiringemployeeare typicallynot made explicit.The
presenterwould not say,'Wespent $250 on this watchas a way of tellingyou

how much we value your service to the company'- without riskingvoiding
the meaningsembeddedin the ritual.Nor would the honoree say,'Butyou do
this for everyone,it doesn'tvalue me in particular.'Or, 'Whydid you get me a
Bulova? You gave Joe a Rolex!' And yet the meanings of such actions are
known,tacitly,and communicated,even thoughthey are not made explicit.
The ICCC conveyedits identityand purposeto its stakeholdersthroughat
least two types of symbolic objects:physicalsymbols (the communitycenter
buildingsand their landscapingand internaldecor) and programmaticsymbols (in the choice of center activities).Two kinds of symboliclanguagewere
also used: the agency's choice of name, and the adoption of a particular
organizationalmetaphor.In addition,the agencyused two forms of symbolic
acts - rituals and myths - in the same process.

Symbolicobjects:Physicaland programmaticsymbols
Organizationsuse variousaspects of the builtor createdenvironmentto communicatetheir identity and self-image:physical design of headquartersand
other organizationalbuildings;constructionmaterials;internalspatialallocations (scale, or distancefrom the center of power);decor (art work, furnishings, color schemes);dress codes; design of products,logos or awards,and so

For the ICCC, building design and landscaping,as well as construction

materialsand furnishings,set the communitycenter apartfrom its surroundings in every town or neighborhoodwhere a new buildingwas constructed.
(In a few cases the agencytook over pre-existingyouth clubs and inheriteda
site design; this analysis does not apply to them.) Siting and landscaping
establisheda physicaldistance:to entermost centers,one had to cross a plaza
or a stepped expanse which set the building apart from the street. Such an
approachmade enteringa centerbuildingpurposiveand intentional;one did
not enterby accidentor error.
Other design choices created a feeling of psychologicaldistance, which
reinforcedthe sense of physicaldistance.The buildingswere constructedof
materialsnot used in adjacentresidentialarchitecture:costly interiorwood
panels and stone and glass exteriors.Most other nearbypublic offices were
built of materials and in a design similar to surroundingresidences. The
centers' massive scale and design also distinguishedthem from both local
residences and most other public buildings.The typical entrance hall was
cavernousand imposing,with much 'wasted'space, unlike other clubhouses
which were typically single story, utilitarian,spare, and sparsely decorated.
The most dramaticexampleof the contrastbetween centers and 'indigenous'
architecturewas the internationalstyle of the ICCC's104th center,opened in
1980. It was designed by a Mexican sculptor who believed, accordingto a
local architecturecritic (Ronnen, 1980), that buildingsshould be 'emotional
sculpture.'In the center'sdesignhe used the sharpangleswhichwere his hall-


mark- which,the criticnoted, had influencedI. M. Pei'sdesignsfor the John

HancockLife Insurancebuildingin Boston and the NationalGalleryaddition
in Washington,D.C.
These elements of the physicaldesign carriedmeaningsfor agency executives and managerswho made the design choices, as well as for policy stakeholders (clients,constituents,and other publics).The most basic messagewas
'difference,'otherness':the communitycenterbuildingwas differentfromthe
general experience of local residents, differentfrom their homes and their
local public buildings.This 'otherness'was enhanced by the interior design
choices of scale, materials, and decor, which indicated greater financial
resources and implied higher social status. The meanings carried by these
buildingsfor agency executivesand founders are strikinglyexpressedin the
words of the Chairmanof the Board in May, 1973 in his Report to the
Second AnnualNationalConference:
The [communitycenter]building... is often a contradictionto the houses
surroundingit. Its cultured,spacious, restfulatmospheremakes the acute
social and culturalproblemsstandout. Despite this,when it was decided to
build the centers, it was clear... that the center itself and its programs
would belong to the world of a higher level of aspirations,which would
serve as an exampleof whatcould be the legacyof its visitors.
This suggeststhat,at leastfromthe point of view of the Board,the gap between
the two Israelswas to be narrowedby erectinga physicalrepresentationof the
valueswhichthe firstIsraeldeemedworthyof aspiration,for the second Israel
to emulate.The second Israel would learn to aspire to these values - if they
attendedcenter programs.This depended on the staff's abilityto bringlocal
residentsinto the buildings,wherethe programswerecarriedout.
The sense of otherness embodied in the physicalsymbols was reinforced
by the centers'programs:balletclasses for school-agedgirls;judo, karate,and
tennis; photography;weight reduction clubs for adults; performances of
Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding,Beethoven String Quartets, etc. Such programs representeda middle-classWesternlifestyle,in contrastto local residents'lower-classMiddle Easternand EasternEuropenlifestyles.As a member of the ExecutiveCommitteeof the Boardwrote:
How proud some of the citizens of [thisdevelopmenttown]must now feel
that even their youngsterscan studyballet.... It is not ballet that is important,but the fact that in this little God-forsakentown, the youngstersof the
poor have an equal opportunityto be exposed to today'sculturalactivities
as arethe youngstersof [metropolitan]
Communitycenterprogramson the whole echoed the messageof foreignness
and distancewhichthe buildingsand landscapingcommunicated,ratherthan
creatinga common ground.Ratherthannarrowthe gap,they emphasizedit.


Symboliclanguage:Organizationalnames and metaphors

In its symbolicobjects,the ICCC looked primarilyto an externalaudienceof
potentialclients and stakeholders;organizationalmemberswere a secondary
audience.In its choice of symboliclanguage,the ICCC addressedboth more
distant audiences and internal ones. In its choice of internationalname, it
sought an identityfor donors;in its local names,it soughtan identityfor cognate social service agencies as well as for potentialclients.Its organizational
metaphorwas solely for internaluse.
Although the ICCC, duly constitutedas a GovernmentCorporation,was
supportedby the governmentbudget, it depended on privatecontributions,
primarilyfrom overseas,for its majorbuildingexpenses.In Englishlanguage
materialsdistributedto potential donors overseas, the agency translatedits
name as the Corporationof CommunityCenters. It was soon informedby
overseasfundraisersthat 'Corporation'connoted a meaningunsuitablefor a
non-profitorganizationwhichhoped to raisetax-deductibledonations.Association' was the more suitable term in English, the fundraiserssaid, and
requestedthat the agency change its name. The ICCC consulted its lawyers,
who determinedthat changing'Corporation'in its title would endangerits
legal statusat home. After some discussion,the agencyand its overseasadvocates reacheda compromise:the agencyuses Corporationin its own publications, and the fundraisersuse Associationin theiroverseasliterature.
This story illustrates potential differences in interpretationof meaning
which can occur. Agency names convey a sense of identity and purpose
which,if interpretedto its detriment,may affect the agency'simplementation
A generic name for its community centers presented another problem.
'Communitycenter'is an Americanconcept;the idea to createsuchcentersin
Israel came from people who were familiarwith centers in the U.S. In the
Israeli context of the late 1960s-early 1970s, it was an abstractconcept.
Translatedinto Hebrew, the words do not have a native sound. Moreover,
there is no indigenousnotion of a secular'community'in IsraeliHebrew,nor
of a 'center'to such a community.The agencyneeded a name for its buildings
thatwould capturethe essence of their activitiesand sound correctwithinthe
logical structureof the Hebrewlanguage.For some time,the centershad been
referredto as 'culture,youth, and sports centers,'in no small part perhaps
because those were the three branches of the Ministry of Education and
Culturewhich provided the bulk of the ICCC'sprogrammaticfunding.The
name stuck in its acronym- 'matnas'(accent on the second syllable,pl. matnassim)- and the ICCCitself came to be calledthe Agency of Matnassim.
This accomplishedmuch in terms of setting the agency'sself-imageand
identity both. Matnas was a new entity. While there were other buildings
which functionedas activitycenters - People'sHalls on the kibbutzim,Cultural Centers in the cities, Scout Halls, etc. - never before had there been a
'matnas.'This meant that the ICCC could claim that it was not duplicatingan


existing function; that was importantin garneringbudgetarysupport from

over-extended ministries. In its own eyes it was a pioneering enterprise,
important for tapping personal energies and commitment and attracting
entrepreneurialpersonnel to fill the positions of center directors.The new
name also meant that its productwas somethingnew and different,a selling
featurein its marketing.And it could attemptto allaythe fears of local agencies, such as the welfareministry,thatit was encroachingon theirturf.
The same name thatwas such an advantageto externalaudiences,however,
presenteda disadvantageinternally.Since the 'communitycenter'was clearly
a foreign transplantboth in sound and in concept, few knew what it was,
meant, or should be. While it was clear what ICCC headquarterswork was
(staff the centers, train new personnel, identify funding sources, engage in
public relations, etc.), the unknown and abstractquality of the community
centeridea made it difficultfor individualcentersto know how to functionon
a dailybasis.The adoption of the new matnasname gaveno hint as to how to
proceed. In an early planningmeeting, an organizationalmetaphoremerged
which helped do this. Adopted by agencyfounders,executives,and management, it gave shape to the centers' self-image,structure,and tasks (Yanow,
The idea that the center would be 'a functionalsupermarket'grew during
the agency's planning years and gave form to the abstraction.The supermarket metaphor helped determine an administrativestyle, as well as a
proper role for clients and personnel.By applyingto the centers some of the
language that is common in describingsupermarkets,we may see how the
metaphorhelped give form to center activities.Centers would offer a 'large
variety'of programs;programswere 'pre-packaged'and 'ready to serve' most centers offered identical programs,since program funds and advice
were usuallymade availableby Headquarters;clients were to come into the
center, with 'shopping lists' (lists of desired courses), to 'consume' center
offerings;staffwould 'sell'programsto clients inside the building;and center
success would be evaluatedby 'turnoverof goods' (numbersof registrants,
inquiriesor attendancefigures).
Although'supermarket'was also an importedidea, supermarketshad been
in the countryfor some yearsand had become familiarto many.As a Western
idea, they carred some cachet that made them attractive;and supermarkets
also representeda Western,middle-classlifestyle, as distinct from the daily
shoppingat open-air stalls common to poorer people who didn'town refrigerators.
Symbolicacts: Myths and rituals
Myths and ritualsalso contributedto the establishmentof the ICCC'sidentity. In this case, the audience was internalalone. An organizationalmyth is
created to accommodateincommensurablevalues, beliefs or points of view;

by deflecting attention from the contradictionstoward itself, it resolves, at
least temporarily,the tension between them (Yanow,1992b). Rituals are the
more visible embodimentsof myths;that is, they are acts which are repeated
regularlyand give expressionto the valuesthatmythsattemptto reconcile.
One of the ICCC'sritualstook place yearlyduringthe period of this study
at the Annual Meeting, at which time the Executive Director would initiate
and lead a lively discussion of the question, 'Whatare our goals?' Since the
goals were set when the agency was created, were made explicit in written
public relations materialsand in internal agency documents, and were discussed at monthly meetings of directorsand of staff communityorganizers,
one might ask why it was necessary to ask the question in the forum of the
Annual Meeting.Why discuss agencygoals in a groupof 100 or more participants,all of whom were familiarwith the writtenpresentationof agencygoals
and had participated in at least one prior discussion of those goals?
Moreover,havingasked it once, why repeatit regularly,and why in this particularforum?
Seeing this activityas a ritualsuggeststhat,as with other artifacts,it represents and communicatesparticularvalues. As a ritual,the agency'sannual
askingof itself aboutits goals carriedseveralmeanings,includingthe agency's
effort to renew itself, to involve all organizationalmembers in goal-setting,
and to indicate the ExecutiveDirector'scommitmentto the goals and to the
process. In additionto this, the annualritualdivertedattentionfrom the substantive difficulties posed by the goals themselves:narrowingthe gap, for
example,was an immensetask to pull off, especiallywhen laid at the feet of a
new agencystrugglingto establishitself and whichconstitutedbut a smallpart
of the polity whose problemit was;and the gap was not beingnarrowed.
Moreover,by engagingin the ritualsof goal-setting,the ICCC createdthe
image that it was a rationalagency.In lightof tacitlyfelt uncertaintyaboutthe
extent to whichcommunitycenter activitiescould, in fact, addressthe myriad
social problems they were expected to solve, engagingin an activitywhich
participantsrecognized as rationalreassuredthem, as well as more remote
audiences, that the organization,and hence its programs,were rational.In
engaging in this ritual, the ICCC created a 'myth of rationality'which
resolved,at least temporarily,the tensionbetweentwo incommensurables:the
agency'sinability(throughno fault of commission)to implementits explicit
mandate,and its abilityto make this failureexplicit,because that would have
requiredmakingtacit goals explicitand wouldhaveunderminedits continued
More specifically,the agency'sexplicit mandate requiredit to narrowthe
gap between two ethnic groups and retain residents of one group in their
remote, small, undeveloped towns. But the towns often lacked an industrial
base which could provide jobs and incomes to allow residents to improve
their economic and physical status. The ICCC was not given resources to
addressthis aspect of the problem,and it is not clear that the resourcesit was
given (funds for ballet lessons and other social, educational and cultural

undertakings)were of the right type to address the problem. On the other
hand, the enablingpolicy entailed a tacitlyknown mandate- to convertthe
second Israel into the first Israel. It was perceived that this could only be
accomplishedby educatingthe second Israel to the values of the first Israel
and that the way to do this was by using the social, cultural,and educational
activitiesof the first Israelwhich embodied these values.ICCC foundersand
staff tacitlyunderstoodthis mandateand accepted it, as did membersof the
general public and some members of the client group - these are the ones
who frequented the centers. Yet this tacitly known mandate could not be
made explicit because there was no public consensus to support it; had it
been made explicit,that would havegeneratedmore publicdebate and opposition thanthe Israelipopulationwas preparedto accept at the time.15
The ICCC, facing verbotenpolicy goals, needed to forestallfurtherdiscussion of an irresolvableissue, which it did through the development of the
rationalitymyth and its enactment in the ritual of annually asking, in the
forumof the large,organization-wideAnnualMeeting,in a session led by the
founderand ExecutiveDirector,"Whatare our goals?"
Interpretiveapproachesto implementationand policyanalysis
This articlebegan with a set of questionswhich are posited as centralto the
developmentof interpretiveanalyses of policies and policy implementation.
Takingthe role of meaning as the key characteristicof interpretivepolicy
analysis,I suggestthat we need to ask how policies mean in general,and use
our understandingof these processes to explore what a policy means and to
whom. Whata policy means can only be answered meaningfullyabout a
specific policy, and the exampleof the ICCC illustrateshow such an analysis
The IsraelCommunityCenter Corporationfailed to alter the gap between
the two major population subdivisions,but it succeeded in validatingthe
'under-dog's'claim to governmentattentionwhile at the same time validating
the values associatedwith the 'establishment.'The gap of 1981 was no more
narrowthan the gap of 1969, but no one claimed that the ICCC failed to
implementits mandate.On the contrary,communitycenters came to be very
much in demandin center-lessdevelopmenttowns and poor neighborhoods.
Seen from this point of view, the policy'stacitlyknown elements were implemented successfully:communitycenters became identifiedwith a particular
qualityof life, and that lifestyle and its values became seen as desirable.The
implementingagencysuccessfullyused symbolicartifactsin theirmanyforms
as representationsof the values of the identity and status it wanted to communicate,and variousstakeholders,includingmanyclients,came to sharethe
meaningsand the underlyingvalues of those symbols.One mightsay that the
presence of a communitycenter in a neighborhoodbecame itself a symbol of
a certain status and, thereby,of individualand group identity,without the

individualor group necessarilyhavingattainedthat status.The development
town is still a developmenttown, not (with rare exception)a desirablesettlement, and its residentsby and large still earn less than urban residents,are
less well educated and housed, and follow differentpatternsof consumption
and leisure-time activities.Yet, the presence of a community center made
residentsfeel that they belonged to the 'desirable'elementsof the Israelipolity. The symbol of the goal became the goal itself:the public demonstrations
called for a matnas,not for a highersocial statusor for more materialmeans
to acquireit.
Acts of implementationnecessarilyentail interpretationsby actors in the
situation,whether by implementorsof policy language,by clients of implementors'acts, or by more distantaudiences.The ICCC policy togetherwith
these interpretationsmay be 'read' in their broadest sense (that is, at the
second level of interpretation)as a text about conceptions of the desired
Israeli identity. The nature of this identity was, however, never explicitly
stated,because to do so wouldhavemeantmakingcertainsocial goals explicit
in the absence of general consensus to do so. 'Narrowingthe gap' and 'improvingthe qualityof leisure time' were publiclyacceptablegoals. They and
otherslike them,therefore,could be, and were, explicitlystated.However,the
agency was not providedwith the means to tackle socio-economic problems
(e.g., to createjobs or to determineindustrialpolicy). It was in a position to
encourage adoption of the symbols of a lifestyle, replacing the explicitly
stated goal - narrowingthe gap - with a tacitlyknown one, expressedtacitly.
In this case, the tacitlyknown goal was sharedby many policy stakeholders.
This is what accountsfor the fact that the matnassim,despite theirinabilityto
implementthe explicitpolicy with whichthey were charged,becamea desired
entityon the partof residentsof towns and neighborhoodswithouta matnas.
Symbolicmeaningsalso accommodatenuance and difference,and they do
this also tacitly,withoutnecessarilymakingdivergencesexplicit.For the first
severalyearsof their operation,matnassimby and largeattractedthe middleclass, Westernresidents of neighboringtowns and villages and some local,
upwardly-mobileadultsand their children.These people did recognizein the
community centers' artifacts a set of meanings which matched their own
values. Other local residents did not identify with those values and did not
participatein center activities.Some of them made no meaningof the symbols when asked about them (they could not identifythe agency,the building
or its activities)or interpretedthe symbolsto mean somethingother than the
meanings that agency staff intended them to represent (e.g., identified the
center as a place for children'sactivities,as a cafe, as an adjunctto the apparatusof a local politicalparty,or as something'notfor me').
The fact that symbolicartifactsaccommodatemultiplemeaningsmay both
hinderimplementationand facilitateit. The Corporationname carriedmeanings which made fundraisingdifficult.That difficultywas rather easily resolved, once it was identified.The matnasname enabled implementationby
declaringthe uniquenessof the new agency,indicatingthat it would not dupli-


cate services or compete for resources, thereby heading off inter-agency

sabotage;but it impededimplementationbecause the name carriedno operationalmeaningsor identity.
The supermarketmetaphoraided the shapingof the centers,therebycontributingto implementation.But the same metaphorcreatedother problems,
which impeded implementation:the conception of center activitiesand personnel roles suggestedby the supermarketmetaphorconflictedwith the professional practice of a unit of communityorganizerswho were broughtinto
the ICCC to carry out an important aspect of its work. The community
organizersfound the principlesof theirprofessionalpracticeto be in opposition to the dictates of the metaphor.This created organizationaltensions at
the local level between individual organizers and center directors, and at
headquartersbetween the head of the CO Division and the ExecutiveDirector, tensions which diverted energy from implementationand impeded the
process, as both organizersand managersthought each was implementing
policy correctlyand the other was in error.Whilethis clashmightbe seen as a
problem of coordinatingmultipledecision points (Pressmanand Wildavsky,
1973) or controllingstreet-levelbureaucrats(Lipsky, 1979), an interpretive
approach would see it as the result of an organizationalmetaphor which
accommodateda set of meaningssharedby one group,but not another.
How does a policy mean?In general,it does so throughthe artifactsof the
policy languageand throughthe symbolic objects, language,and acts of the
implementingagency,in a given societal context.The meaningswhichaccrue
to a particularpiece of legislationfrom the legislativeand idea historyof that
policy issue are embedded in its language.They may become the object of
researchers'interpretationsmuch as they are the subjects of stakeholders'
interpretations.Much of the implementationliteraturehas assumedthatpolicies have a single goal or express a single, identifiablelegislativeintent (as
Love and Sederburg,1987, also note), ratherthan seeing that the symbolic
natureof theirlanguageand other artifactsmayaccommodatemultiplemeanings, includingthose inheritedfrom earlierdebates on the same policy issue
(see also Baier et al., 1986 on this point).Criticismof the ambiguityof policy
languageaddressesthis multivocalityof meaning;but calls to eliminatesuch
ambiguitiesignore the fact thatlanguageis symbolicand inherentlysubjectto
Positivistapproachesto implementationare likely to search for univocal
policy language and other elements - those which have only one meaning that can be established clearly and that will carry legislators' intent
unambiguouslyto implementors,ideally (from a positivist point of view)
leaving no room for interpretation.From an interpretivepoint of view,
multiple meanings and multiple interpretationsare anticipatedas the norm
ratherthan treatedas the aberrantexception.Suchmultivocalitybecomes the
reason for and the explanationof implementationdifficultiesas well as successes, and the task of implementationanalysis is to uncover or anticipate
these multipleinterpretations.The examplesabove of symbolicobjects,sym-

bolic language,and symbolic acts in one agency suggestthe range of agency
actions and events which may carrymeaningsand requireinterpretation.In
some cases the meanings which they carry are agency meanings;in some
cases, policy meanings;in some, the two are intertwined;and in some, the
meanings are read by different audiences, aside from legislators'or implementors'meanings.
In suggestingthat a legitimaterole for policy and implementationanalysis
is a focus on how meaningsare communicated,successfullyor not, I am also
suggestingthat the net of stakeholdersneeds to be more widely cast than is
traditionallysuggested.Not only are we interestedin the actionsof traditional
implementors(agency directors and bureaucrats,fixers, and so forth), but
also in non-participantobserversof the policy issue:membersof the greater
publicwho have an interestin the issue and who are also involvedin the creation and sharing of policy meaning. While not standing to gain materially
from the success of the policy, they are part of a policy process that is also
about the expressionand validationof values,and whatthey valueis corroboratedby the policy'ssuccess and defeatedby its failure.
A positivistview would be powerlessto evaluatethe ICCC'spolicy implementationin terms of its popularsuccess:in measuringoutputsor outcomes
againststated intentions,one would find only slippagewhere those affected
by the agency found a fulfilling expression of their largely unstated goals.
Whenwe limitourselvesto policy 'facts'whichmayor maynot be implemented, we omit much that maybe of interestfrom a meaning-fulperspective.The
Californiacities of Oakland,Berkeley,Hayward,and SantaCruz, along with
Cambridge, Massachusetts have all passed local ordinances barring the
transshipmentof nuclear materials.They have posted street signs declaring
themselves'nuclearfree zones.' Yet none of these ordinancesis implementable, because nuclearmaterialsare primarilycarriedon federalhighways,and
federal policy supersedes local policy. From an interpretivepoint of view,
these legislativeacts are symbolicforms throughwhicheach communitytells
itself and other audiencessomethingabout its identityas a polity.The legislative acts are statementsof meaning,to be interpretedby actorsin each situation as well as by onlookers. The acts and their interpretationsbecome
In the context of implementationanalysis,we need to expand our focus
beyond the capacityof languageto representand convey meaning,to include
the symbolic objects and symbolic acts of the implementingagency.All of
these are ways in which a policy may acquire and communicatemeaning.
They suggest a role for policy analysis in discovering and analyzing the
multiplemeaningsconveyed in policy languageand in agency acts. They are
the subjectsand tools of interpretiveanalysis.

The author thanks David K. Cohen, MurrayEdelman, Michael Lipsky,and
Gary T. Marx for their comments on an earlier version of this paper, and
editorDoug Torgersonfor his astuteinsightinto "texts."
1. In asking how a policy means I am borrowingfrom the late poet and English professor
John Ciardi,who in 1959 publishedhis book How Does a Poem Mean?In it he explores
various ways in which poems acquireand communicatetheir meanings.It has taken me
nearly 25 years to parse the meaningof Ciardi'stitle (and I still don't completelyunderstand structurallywhy it is so linguisticallytroubling).Let me reassurethe readerthat it is
grammaticallycorrect,thoughunusual,usage (the adverb'how'modifyingthe verb'mean').
I am intentionallyplayingoff its awkwardnessin the hope of joggingthought.
2. This correspondswith Schutz's(1962) notion of firstlevel and second level interpretations.
3. Data reportedin this section were collected throughparticipantobservationin two ICCC
communitycentersfrom 1972 through1975, followedin 1980-81 by six monthsof observation of several centers and of Corporateheadquarters,interviewsof governmentand
agencyofficialsand center directorsand staffs,and documentandjournalanalysis.These
data are presentedin greaterdetail in Yanow(1992a, 1992b, 1993). The analysisapplies
only to those centers built in the Jewish sector of the country.Centerswere also built in
Arab neighborhoodsand towns;they were not includedin this study,for reasonsof languageand access.
4. The ICCCwas establishedon May4, 1969 by the PrimeMinister'sCabinetCommitteefor
Economic Affairs, and later ratifiedby the Government,as a GovernmentCorporation.
The translationof its legal nameis 'Corporationfor Cultureand SportsCenters(for Youth
and Adults), Limited.'The name 'IsraelCorporationof CommunityCenters'was developed subsequentlyas an Englishrenderingof the legal name.The legal statusof a Government Corporationrefers to a non-governmentalagency establishedby authorityof the
Knessetunder the aegis of a Ministry,its shareswholly owned by the Government,directed by a Board appointed by the supervisingMinisterand chairedby the Ministeror a
designatedsubstitute.The ICCC's21-memberBoardwas to consistof 10 governmentofficials and 11 membersof the public.
5. Israel's development towns are comparableto Britain's'New Towns.'They were built
between 1950 and 1963 on geographicallydispersedsites to house immigrants,most of
whomcame fromSpanishand FrenchMorocco,Tunisia,Libya,Iraq,Iran,India,Romania,
and Polandin 1948-1951 and 1955-56. On theirarrivalthese immigrantswerehoused in
transit camps (ma'abarot,tent cities later converted to tin or wood shacks) until their
resettlementin the developmenttowns, some of which were built adjacentto the transit
camps. The locations of the towns were chosen to disperse the populationaround the
country,in order to decreasemetropolitancrowding,optimizethe use of waterresources,
and secure distantborders.'Developmenttown'is not a legal determination;it is used to
referto non-agriculturalplannedcommunitiesbuilt after 1948, but criteriafor identifying
a settlementas a developmenttown vary from one ministryto the next. Accounts of the
total numberhave varied from 19 (Spilermanand Habib, 1976) to 34 (Shachar,1971),
depending on which criteria are used. See also Comay and Kirschenbaum(1973) and
Spiegel (1966) for furtherdiscussionof the economic and demographiccharacteristicsof
developmenttowns.The importantpoint for the analysisof the ICCC,however,is, as seen
in the case and as Goldberg(1984: ch. 1) has noted, thatthe combinationof immigrantand
economic characteristicsassociatedwith developmenttowns has turnedthe towns into a

categoryof ascribedidentificationin Israelisociety.Residencein a developmenttown is a
stigmatizinglabel which implies low social status and economic and educationalattainment.The label attachesto all developmenttowns;residentsof more 'successful'(meaning
economicallyindependent)towns do not escape the negativeconnotationsattachedto the
term.See note 6.
6. Althoughin common understanding'developmenttown resident'connotes a lower class
person of Middle Easternbackground,the categorizationof classes by countryof origin
and by place of residence(developmenttown = Middle Eastern,lower class;city = European, middle class) is not factuallysupported.Most developmenttown populationswere
split 60/40 between Middle Easternersand EasternEuropeans.The traditionalappellation for MiddleEasterners('tribesof the East'or Sfaradim)includespeople fromBulgaria,
Greece, Italy and other countrieson the Europeancontinent,whose lifestyles are more
similarto their Westerncompatriotsthan to people from ruralparts of Morocco or Iran.
Also, amongthe ranksof the urbanmiddleclass were manyprominentfamiliesof Middle
Eastern origin. Moreover,dividing the Jewish population into Middle Easternersand
Westernersignores the viable culturaldistinctionsamong the various subgroupswithin
each division. Nevertheless, development towns have become identified with Middle
Easternimmigrants.The high rate of welfaresupport,the low educationallevel, and other
factorshavemarkedthese towns,in popularperception,as lowerclass,undesirableplaces.
The labeling problem has been exacerbatedby the refusal,both academicand general,
until recentlyto addressethnicdifferencesas real,for a varietyof politicaland ideological
reasons.As this changes,however,the implicationsof the second class categorizationof
developmenttowns is becomingrecognized.See Avruch(1987) and Goldberg(1987) on
the meaningof ethnicityin Israelisociety and Ben-Ariand Bilu (1987) for the relationof
ethnicityto developmenttowns.
7. Ben-Ari and Bilu (1987) present a fascinatinginterpretationof how residents of some
developmenttowns have transformedthe negativestigmatizationby creatingshrinesfor
religiousfiguresthat attractpilgrimsfrom throughoutthe country,therebycreatinga new,
positivestatusfor the townsandtheirresidents.They write:
The appearanceof a saintin a developmenttown maycontributeto (as well as reflect)a
changein the imageof the place.... [T]heinhabitantsof these areas(once the reluctant
or passive victims of arbitrarypolicies promulgatedby the centralgovernment)have
activelycontendedwith their situation.... [Pilgrimagesto the sites] reflectthe growing
confidenceof an emigregroupin being partof the contemporaryIsraeliscene while, at
the sametime,indicatinga strongsense of ethnicdistinctiveness(pp. 264-65).
8. Dr. Yael Poznerbecame Chairmanof the Board of the ICCCin 1976, a position she held
at the time of our interviewin 1980. In 1966 she had set up and headed the Ministerof
Educationand Culture'splanningcommitteeon communitycenters,becomingVice-chairman of the ICCC'sBoard and Chairmanof its Executive Committeein 1969 when the
agencywas established.
9. Definitions of what constitutesorganizationalcultureare a subject of debate within the
field. This definitionrepresentsa phenomenologicalor hermeneuticapproach,which sees
human meaningembedded in artifactsand using artifactsas reinforcingtheir meaning.
See Ouchi and Wilkins(1985) or Smircich(1983) for discussionsof the rangeof definitions. It is importantto note that properlyspeaking,symbols,rituals,myths,etc. are not
the artifactsof a culture;annualreports,retirementcelebrations,organizationchartsare.
Caremustbe takennot to reifythe analyticvocabularyas the experienceitself.
10. Metaphorshave been the subject of much discussion and debate. See Black (1962) or
Ortony(1979) for collections of views on the subject.Lakoffand Johnson(1980) discuss
the implications for behavior of the metaphoricalroots of American English. Miller
(1985), Rein and Schon (1977), Schon (1979), and Stone (1988) expand on the role of
metaphor in policy analysis. Indeed, Stone argues that policy-makingis 'strategically






crafted rhetorical argument'carried out by way of analogy and metaphor.Elsewhere

(Yanow,1992a) I have elaboratedon the implicationsof an organizationalmetaphorfor
operationsand management.
Symbols,rituals,ceremonies,stories,sagas,and mythshavefiguredprominentlyin recent
studiesof organizationalculture.See Pondyet al. (1983), Frostet al. (1985), and Kilmann
et al. (1986) for some generalexamples;and Hummel(1991), IngersollandAdams (1986),
and Maynard-Moodyand Kelly(1992) for publicagencyexamples.
But see Kunda(1992) for an example of a companywhere culturalelements have been
made explicitto this degree- resultingin employeefeelingsof bitterness,alienation,inner
This section drawson Yanow(1993). Muchhas been written,notablyin the field of architecture, geography,and environmentalpsychology,about the social meaningsof space,
whetherin the naturalor the built landscape.One interestingexampleof the use of space
to communicatesocial valuesis that 19th centuryNew Englandfactoriesand schools were
built with cupolas and bells, resemblingchurches,conveyingto workersand childrenthat
they shouldbehaveat workand in school accordingto the normsof quiet,orderand deference to authoritywhich they were taught in church (Smith, 1979). See also Appleyard
(1979), Cooper (1976), Giovanni (1985), Goodman (1985), or Lyndon (1984). For an
analysisof work-spaces,see Steele and Jencks (1977). Less has been writtenlinkingthe
meaningsof open or builtspace to participantsin and observersof policy implementation.
Treatingrelatedmattersare Burke(1945) on appropriatenessof settingsto acts;Edelman
(1964) on settingsfor politicalacts;Lasswell(1979) on the power messagesconveyedby
city buildings,public and private;and Goodsell (1988) on the meaningof city council
Fombrunand Shanley(1990) addressthe role of corporatereputationswhichpublicsconstruct based on signals about performance,conformityto social norms, and strategic
postures.As they indicate,reputationbuildingis necessaryin a competitivesituation.The
ICCC, which was a new concept, was not competingwith rivals over its own operations
base. Yet as a new agency,it needed to communicatefunctionor purposeto attractdonors,
clients,and staff.
Goldberg(1987) alludes to the tacit natureof these sorts of policy issues in Israelin his
discussion of the meaningof ethnicityto Israeli society. Until the mid-1960s, he writes,
ethnic differences were played down: 'the very division of Israeli Jews into categories
seemed to portendfragmentationand facilitatethe preservationof customsinappropriate
to the newly establishedsociety' (p. 42). As attentionto 'the ethnic gap'grew throughthe
1970s and into the 1980s, 'therewas an unexaminedpremisethatethnicinfluencein Israeli society was somethingthat had to be neutralized'(p. 43). When a label was developed
for a set of educationalproblems- te'uneitipuach,meaning'those deprivedof nurturing'
(referringto those called in the U.S. 'culturallydeprived')- 'it was tacitlyunderstoodthat
the educationproblemsreferredto were those in the urbanneighborhoodsand development townswith a high percentageof childrenfrom MiddleEasternbackgrounds'(p. 43;

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