Monthly Archives: May 2022

Why is there high support for, but low likelihood of, drug consumption rooms in Scotland?

This is my interpretation of this new article:

James Nicholls, Wulf Livingston, Andy Perkins, Beth Cairns, Rebecca Foster, Kirsten M. A. Trayner, Harry R. Sumnall, Tracey Price, Paul Cairney, Josh Dumbrell, and Tessa Parkes (2022) ‘Drug Consumption Rooms and Public Health Policy: Perspectives of Scottish Strategic Decision-Makers’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(11), 6575; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19116575

Q: if stakeholders in Scotland express high support for drug consumption rooms, and many policymakers in Scotland seem sympathetic, why is there so little prospect of policy change?

My summary of the article’s answer is as follows:

  1. Although stakeholders support DCRs almost unanimously, they do not support them energetically.

They see this solution as one part of a much larger package rather than a magic bullet. They are not sure of the cost-effectiveness in relation to other solutions, and can envisage some potential users not using them.

The existing evidence on their effectiveness is not persuasive for people who (1) adhere to a hierarchy of evidence which prioritizes evidence from randomized control trials or (2) advocate alternative ways to use evidence.

There are competing ways to frame this policy solution. It suggests that there are some unresolved issues among stakeholders which have not yet come to the fore (since the lack of need to implement something specific reduces the need to engage with a more concrete problem definition).

2. A common way to deal with such uncertainty in Scotland is to use ‘improvement science’ or the ‘improvement method’.

This method invites local policymakers and practitioners to try out new solutions, work with stakeholders and service users during delivery, reflect on the results, and use this learning to design the next iteration. This is a pragmatic, small-scale, approach that appeals to the (small-c conservative) Scottish Government, which uses pilots to delay major policy changes, and is keen on its image as not too centralist and quite collaboration minded.

3. This approach is not politically feasible in this case.

Some factors suggest that the general argument has almost been won, including positive informal feedback from policymakers, and increasingly sympathetic media coverage (albeit using problematic ways to describe drug use).

However, this level of support is not enough to support experimentation. Drug consumption rooms would need a far stronger steer from the Scottish Government.

In this case, it can’t experiment now and decide later. It needs to make a strong choice (with inevitable negative blowback) and stay the course, knowing that one failed political experiment could set back progress for years.

4. The multi-level policymaking system is not conducive to overcoming these obstacles.

The issue of drugs policy is often described as a public health – and therefore devolved – issue politically (and in policy circles)

However, the legal/ formal division of responsibilities suggests that UK government consent is necessary and not forthcoming.

It is possible that the Scottish Government could take a chance and act alone. Indeed, the example of smoking in public places showed that it shifted its position after a slow start (it described the issue as reserved to the UK took charge of its own legislation, albeit with UK support).

However, the Scottish Government seems unwilling to take that chance, partly because it has been stung by legal challenges in other areas, and is reluctant to engage in more of the same (see minimum unit pricing for alcohol).

Local policymakers could experiment on their own, but they won’t do it without proper authority from a central government.

This experience is part of a more general issue: people may describe multi-level policymaking as a source of venues for experimentation (‘laboratories of democracy’) to encourage policy learning and collaboration. However, this case, and cases like fracking, show that they can actually be sites of multiple veto points and multi-level reluctance.

If so, the remaining question for reflection is: what would it take to overcome these obstacles? The election of a Labour UK government? Scottish independence? Or, is there some other way to make it happen in the current context?

See also:

What does it take to turn scientific evidence into policy? Lessons for illegal drugs from tobacco

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Filed under agenda setting, Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), Prevention policy, Public health, public policy, Scottish independence, Scottish politics, tobacco policy, UK politics and policy

We are recruiting a lecturer in International Politics at the University of Stirling

Update 16.6.22 The panel received 87 applications, with around 25 applicants having substantial track records in teaching and research. As such, around 20 people did not make the shortlist despite being appointable at our grade 7 or 8 level. We also received applications from many early career applicants who showed great future potential but were relatively unable to show how they would ‘hit the ground running’ in terms of this particular post. In that context, not making the shortlist is primarily a sign of the competitiveness of the field at this level.

‘The Division of History, Heritage and Politics wishes to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced Grade 7/8 Lecturer in International Politics. International Politics is a core element of our interdisciplinary research in relation to politics, including human rights and justice, and policy, including climate change, energy, security, resource conflict, and health. The appointee will pursue a programme of research, including research outputs and funding applications, in that context. We are open to applicants with regional specialisms (such as European or Asian politics). We also welcome a critical focus on gendered and racialised dimensions of international politics’.

Please see our Vacancy page for the full details: https://www.stir.ac.uk/about/work-at-stirling/list/details/?jobId=3088&jobTitle=Lecturer%20in%20International%20Politics

I am one of the pre-interview contacts and these are my personal thoughts on that process, which blend background information and some helpful advice. These notes are also there to address a potentially major imbalance in the informal side to recruitment: if you do not have the contacts and networks that help give you the confidence to seek information (on the things not mentioned in the further particulars), here is the next best thing: the information I would otherwise give you on the phone. This approach is also handy under the current circumstances, in which (a) the vacancy will run for a short period (28 days, with a deadline of 7th June, and interviews on 20th June), because (b) we need someone to start in September.

Here are some general tips on the application and interview processes.

The application process:

  • At this stage, the main documents are the CV and the cover letter.
  • You should keep the cover letter short to show your skills at concise writing (I suggest 1-page). Focus on what you can offer the Division specifically, given the nature of our call and further particulars.
  • Lecturers will be competing with many people who have completed a PhD and have some publications – so what makes your CV stand out?
  • We take teaching very seriously. Within our division, we plan an overall curriculum together, discuss regularly if it is working, and come to agreements about how to teach and assess work. We pride ourselves on being a small and friendly bunch of people, open to regular student contact and, for example, committed to meaningful and regular feedback.
  • You might think generally about how you would contribute to teaching and learning in that context. In particular, you should think about how, for example, you would deliver large undergraduate modules (in which you may only be an expert on some of the material) as well as the smaller, more specialist and advanced, modules closer to your expertise. However, please also note that your main initial contribution is specific:

The appointee will contribute to our successful Masters Programme in International Conflict and Cooperation (ICC) and BA programmes in International Politics, as well as doctoral and dissertation supervision. An ability to deliver the introductory undergraduate module Introduction to International Politics (POLU9X3), as well as design an advanced undergraduate and ICC module, is essential. The ability to teach qualitative and quantitative research methods is welcome’.

The interview process

The shortlisting should be finished by around the 13th June so, all going well, you will know if you have reached the interview stage by 14th June. The interviews will take place – on Teams – on 20th June. 

The interview stage

By the interview stage, here are the things that you should normally know:

  • The teaching and research specialisms of the division and their links to cross-divisional research.
  • The kinds of courses that the division would expect you to teach.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to articulate why you want to come and work at Stirling. ‘Why Stirling?’ or ‘Why this division?’ is usually the first question in an interview, so you should think about it in advance. We recommend doing some research on Stirling and the division/ faculty, to show in some detail that you have a considered reply (beyond ‘it is a beautiful campus’ and ‘I need a job’). Since it is the first question, your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview. You might check, for example, who you might share interests with in the Division, and how you might  develop links beyond the division or faculty, since this is likely to be a featured question too.

  • Then you might think about what you would bring to the University in a wider sense, such as through well-established (domestic and international) links with other scholars in academic networks.
  • Further, since ‘impact’ is of rising importance, you might discuss your links with people and organisations outside of the University, and how you have pursued meaningful engagement with the public or practitioners to maximise the wider contribution of your research.

The interview format

For open-ended contracts, we tend to combine (a) presentations to divisional (and other interested) staff in the morning, with (b) interviews in the afternoon. They will almost certainly be on Teams. The usual expectation is that if you can’t make the date, you can’t get the job. In addition:

  • We recommend keeping the presentation compact, to show that you can present complex information in a concise and clear way. Presentations are usually a mix of what you do in research and what you will contribute in a wider sense to the University.
  • The usual interview panel format at this level is five members: one subject specialist from the Division (in this case, me), one member of the Faculty (in this case, our Head of Division), the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Humanities, a senior manager of the University (in the chair), and a senior academic in another Faculty.
  • So, only 1 member of your panel will be a specialist in Politics. This means that (at the very least) you need to describe your success in a way that a wider audience will appreciate. For example, you would have to explain the significance of a single-author article in the top-rated journal in your field.

It sounds daunting, but we are a friendly bunch and want you to do well. You might struggle to retain all of our names (nerves), so focus on the types of question we ask – for example, the general question to get you started will be from the senior manager, and the research question from the divisional representative. There are often more men than women on the panel (although no more than 3 to 2), and they are often all-white panels, but I hope that we are providing other more useful ‘signals’ about our commitment to equality and diversity.

I am happy to answer your questions, via email in the first instance  p.a.cairney@stir.ac.uk

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