Tag Archives: scottish approach to policymaking

We all want ‘evidence based policy making’ but how do we do it?

Here are some notes for my talk to the Scottish Government on Thursday as part of its ‘inaugural ‘evidence in policy week’. The advertised abstract is as follows:

A key aim in government is to produce ‘evidence based’ (or ‘informed’) policy and policymaking, but it is easier said than done. It involves two key choices about (1) what evidence counts and how you should gather it, and (2) the extent to which central governments should encourage subnational policymakers to act on that evidence. Ideally, the principles we use to decide on the best evidence should be consistent with the governance principles we adopt to use evidence to make policy, but what happens when they seem to collide? Cairney provides three main ways in which to combine evidence and governance-based principles to help clarify those choices.

I plan to use the same basic structure of the talks I gave to the OSF (New York) and EUI-EP (Florence) in which I argue that every aspect of ‘evidence based policy making’ is riddled with the necessity to make political choices (even when we define EBPM):

ebpm-5-things-to-do

I’ll then ‘zoom in’ on points 4 and 5 regarding the relationship between EBPM and governance principles. They are going to videotape the whole discussion to use for internal discussions, but I can post the initial talk here when it becomes available. Please don’t expect a TED talk (especially the E part of TED).

EBPM and good governance principles

The Scottish Government has a reputation for taking certain governance principles seriously, to promote high stakeholder ‘ownership’ and ‘localism’ on policy, and produce the image of a:

  1. Consensual consultation style in which it works closely with interest groups, public bodies, local government organisations, voluntary sector and professional bodies, and unions when making policy.
  2. Trust-based implementation style indicating a relative ability or willingness to devolve the delivery of policy to public bodies, including local authorities, in a meaningful way

Many aspects of this image were cultivated by former Permanent Secretaries: Sir John Elvidge described a ‘Scottish Model’ focused on joined-up government and outcomes-based approaches to policymaking and delivery, and Sir Peter Housden labelled the ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’ (SATP) as an alternative to the UK’s command-and-control model of government, focusing on the ‘co-production’ of policy with local communities and citizens.

The ‘Scottish Approach’ has implications for evidence based policy making

Note the major implication for our definition of EBPM. One possible definition, derived from ‘evidence based medicine’, refers to a hierarchy of evidence in which randomised control trials and their systematic review are at the top, while expertise, professional experience and service user feedback are close to the bottom. An uncompromising use of RCTs in policy requires that we maintain a uniform model, with the same basic intervention adopted and rolled out within many areas. The focus is on identifying an intervention’s ‘active ingredient’, applying the correct dosage, and evaluating its success continuously.

This approach seems to challenge the commitment to localism and ‘co-production’.

At the other end of the spectrum is a storytelling approach to the use of evidence in policy. In this case, we begin with key governance principles – such as valuing the ‘assets’ of individuals and communities – and inviting people to help make and deliver policy. Practitioners and service users share stories of their experiences and invite others to learn from them. There is no model of delivery and no ‘active ingredient’.

This approach seems to challenge the commitment to ‘evidence based policy’

The Goldilocks approach to evidence based policy making: the improvement method

We can understand the Scottish Government’s often-preferred method in that context. It has made a commitment to:

Service performance and improvement underpinned by data, evidence and the application of improvement methodologies

So, policymakers use many sources of evidence to identify promising, make broad recommendations to practitioners about the outcomes they seek, and they train practitioners in the improvement method (a form of continuous learning summed up by a ‘Plan-Do-Study-Act’ cycle).

Table 1 Three ideal types EBBP

This approach appears to offer the best of both worlds; just the right mix of central direction and local discretion, with the promise of combining well-established evidence from sources including RCTs with evidence from local experimentation and experience.

Four unresolved issues in decentralised evidence-based policy making

Not surprisingly, our story does not end there. I think there are four unresolved issues in this process:

  1. The Scottish Government often indicates a preference for improvement methods but actually supports all three of the methods I describe. This might reflect an explicit decision to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ or the inability to establish a favoured approach.
  2. There is not a single way of understanding ‘improvement methodology’. I describe something akin to a localist model here, but other people describe a far more research-led and centrally coordinated process.
  3. Anecdotally, I hear regularly that key stakeholders do not like the improvement method. One could interpret this as a temporary problem, before people really get it and it starts to work, or a fundamental difference between some people in government and many of the local stakeholders so important to the ‘Scottish approach’.

4. The spectre of democratic accountability and the politics of EBPM

The fourth unresolved issue is the biggest: it’s difficult to know how this approach connects with the most important reference in Scottish politics: the need to maintain Westminster-style democratic accountability, through periodic elections and more regular reports by ministers to the Scottish Parliament. This requires a strong sense of central government and ministerial control – if you know who is in charge, you know who to hold to account or reward or punish in the next election.

In principle, the ‘Scottish approach’ provides a way to bring together key aims into a single narrative. An open and accessible consultation style maximises the gathering of information and advice and fosters group ownership. A national strategic framework, with cross-cutting aims, reduces departmental silos and balances an image of democratic accountability with the pursuit of administrative devolution, through partnership agreements with local authorities, the formation of community planning partnerships, and the encouragement of community and user-driven design of public services. The formation of relationships with public bodies and other organisations delivering services, based on trust, fosters the production of common aims across the public sector, and reduces the need for top-down policymaking. An outcomes-focus provides space for evidence-based and continuous learning about what works.

In practice, a government often needs to appear to take quick and decisive action from the centre, demonstrate policy progress and its role in that progress, and intervene when things go wrong. So, alongside localism it maintains a legislative, financial, and performance management framework which limits localism.

How far do you go to ensure EBPM?

So, when I describe the ‘5 things to do’, usually the fifth element is about how far scientists may want to go, to insist on one model of EBPM when it has the potential to contradict important governance principles relating to consultation and localism. For a central government, the question is starker:

Do you have much choice about your model of EBPM when the democratic imperative is so striking?

I’ll leave it there on a cliff hanger, since these are largely questions to prompt discussion in specific workshops. If you can’t attend, there is further reading on the EBPM and EVIDENCE tabs on this blog, and specific papers on the Scottish dimension

The ‘Scottish Approach to Policy Making’: Implications for Public Service Delivery

Paul Cairney, Siabhainn Russell and Emily St Denny (2016) “The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking: what issues are territorial and what are universal?” Policy and Politics, 44, 3, 333-50

The politics of evidence-based best practice: 4 messages

 

 

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Localism, partnerships and new forms of governance beyond the centre #POLU9SP

Local government in Scotland is important. It employs 45% of the Scottish public sector workforce, (245,700 of the total 545,600), spends a similar proportion of the Scottish budget, is the main delivery body for key devolved policy areas (including education, social work, housing, leisure, planning, roads, and social inclusion/ justice), and is an often-influential partner in other areas, such as police, fire, mental health, and public health services.

Consequently, we often talk of an interdependent relationship between central and local government: local authorities enhance the legitimacy of Scottish Government policies by providing important policy advice, tailoring delivery to local areas, and supplying an additional electoral mandate; and, the Scottish Government largely determines the levels of legal, financial and political autonomy that they enjoy.

Sometimes, we also highlight a tense relationship regarding the levels of autonomy afforded to local authorities, measured in terms of the extent to which they are subject to (a) detailed legislation and regulation, and (b) limits to their ability to raise revenue and decide how their budget is spent.

Two images of central-local government relations in Scotland

The first, summed up in the phrase ‘Scottish approach’, discussed in the previous lecture, suggests that the Scottish Government devolves a meaningful level of authority to local authorities, which increasingly make policy in cooperation with their public sector partners and non-governmental stakeholders.

The second suggests that Scottish local authorities are subject to Scottish Government control, through financial and legal instruments.

You can see these images play out below, in a discussion and qualification of the devolution effect on central-local relations.

A key part of the first story is that things are better than they once were, either after 1999 or after 2007. To reinforce this image, we can refer to:

Post-1999 developments

Devolved central-local relations are often compared to the period of UK Conservative government (1979-97), in which central-local tensions arose following many central government reforms, including a broad challenge to the primacy attached to public sector delivery, and specific measures, including: the introduction of the ‘poll tax’ to limit local authority spending, ‘compulsory competitive tendering’ (the delivery of public services), the enforced sale of/ ‘right to buy’ (council housing), public/ private partnerships (e.g. to build schools); and, the reform of local government boundaries and functions (e.g. the 1996 reform which introduced 32 unitary Scottish local authorities).

In that context, there is some evidence of:

  • a better central-local relationship in Scotland (than in the UK) before devolution, based on closer personal networks and a sense that some ‘wet’ Scottish Office ministers often tried to reduce the impact of reforms;
  • a sense of common purpose, during the campaign for Scottish devolution between the leaders of local authorities and the parties which were to form the first Scottish Government (‘Scottish Executive’)

Both factors may have contributed to a ‘honeymoon period’ in which devolution enhanced or replaced previous relationships, the Scottish Government became more open and consultative, local authorities and COSLA became more involved in policy formulation, and this relationship helped produce reforms – such as the replacement of compulsory competitive tendering with ‘Best Value’, and the development of local government community planning powers – that suited local authorities.

However, many policies associated with the Thatcher government were maintained or extended under Labour (such as the ‘right to buy’ and PPP), the Scottish Government maintained control over most sources of local authority income and, although the Scottish Government used performance management in a less punitive way than the UK government, it still held local authorities to many short term targets (what about the introduction of STV in local elections – is it relevant to this discussion?). Opinions on the central-local relationship were mixed, and the idea of a partnership was often ‘aspirational’.

box 7.3 PPP

Post-2007 developments

Some accounts use the latter argument to suggest that most of the big changes only happened when the SNP entered government in May 2007, highlighting:

  • The Scottish Government’s Concordat with COSLA in 2007, which suggests that the former will not seek to micromanage local authorities or use regulations, performance management, and funding to produce compliance with short term, specific proxy targets.
  • A proposed reduction in 2007 – from 22% to 10% – of ‘ring-fenced’/’hypothecated’ funding (the proportion of local authority budgets which they have to spend in accordance with specific Scottish Government requirements).
  • Alex Salmond signalling a ‘culture change in the relationship between central and local government in Scotland. The days of top-down diktats are over’ (p130).
  • Former COSLA President Pat Watters talking in 2007 about local government now having greater responsibility and ‘the freedom and flexibility to respond effectively to local priorities’ (p130).
  • The development of the ‘Scottish approach’

box 7.4

However, many of the same caveats apply: the Scottish Government still provides about 80% of local government budgets, it still has a major influence on the rate of local authority council tax (to ensure its ‘freeze’ since 2007), and its proposed local income tax would have increased its budgetary control.

Further, have a look at how some people in local government describe the new relationship:

  • Current COSLA President David O’Neill in 2014, as chair of the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy: ‘Over the decades, we’ve seen a culture in which more and more services and decisions been taken away from local communities and put into the hands of distant bureaucracies’
  • The Improvement Service’s Mark McAteer: ‘Scotland continues to operate a largely centralised, top-down and de-localised local government system’. McAteer’s paper identifies an unusually low number of local authorities per head of population and high Scottish Government control over its budget, and suggests that low electoral turnout reflects low levels of local government power.

So, local government is important, and the Scottish Government tells an important story about its crucial role, as part of the ‘Scottish approach to policymaking’, while others tell a story of continued Scottish Government control and limited local government subsidiarity. We can discuss in the lecture which story seems most convincing.

Further reading: to combine our discussions of complexity theory and the limits to local government/ public sector discretion, see The language of complexity does not mix well with the language of Westminster-style accountability

 

 

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The Scottish Government and the ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking’ #POLU9SP

A ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking can refer to two things. The first is an academic description of the ‘Scottish policy style’, in a lot of the academic literature, which describes the Scottish Government’s reputation for two practices:

  1. A consultation style which is relatively inclusive and consensual (see previous lecture).
  2. A ‘governance’ style which places unusually high levels of trust in public bodies such as local authorities.

The second is called the ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’ (SATP) by the Scottish Government. It largely describes its approach to ‘governance’, which developed from 1999 but appeared to change markedly in 2007 and 2013.

See Greer and Jarman for an interesting account of the period from 1999-2007, which I summarize here:

greer jarman summary

greer jarman biblio

My summary of the post-2007 developments draws on accounts by the former and current Permanent Secretary (the most senior civil servant) of the Scottish Government: John Elvidge’s Northern Exposure and Peter Housden’s ‘This is us’.

The ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’

An early version of the ‘Scottish approach’ developed before 2007. Elvidge (2011: 31-5) describes a ‘Scottish model of government’, linked to the potential to exploit its relatively small size, and central position in a dense network of public sector and third sector bodies, to pursue ‘holistic’ government, in which ministers – and their equivalents in the civil service – had briefs which spanned traditional departmental divides and came together regularly to coordinate national strategies.

Elvidge (2011: 31) describes ‘the concept of a government as a single organisation’ and “the idea of ‘joined up government’ taken to its logical conclusions”. He links this agenda to his belief that ‘traditional policy and operational solutions’ based on ‘the target driven approach which characterised the conduct of the UK Government’ would not produce the major changes in policy and policymaking required to address major problems such as health and educational inequalities and low economic growth. Instead, they required:

more integrated approaches, such as the approach to the early years of children’s lives … which looked across the full range of government functions [and] offered the scope for some significant and unexpected fresh policy perspectives (2011: 32).

Elvidge (2011: 32) suggests that this approach took off under the SNP-led Scottish Government, elected in May 2007, partly because his ideas on joined up government complemented the SNP’s:

manifesto commitments to: i) an outcome based approach to the framing of the objectives of government and to enabling the electorate to hold the Government to account for performance; ii) a reduced size of Cabinet, which was an expression of a commitment to an approach to Ministerial responsibilities that emphasised the collective pursuit of shared objectives over a focus on individual portfolios with disaggregated objectives.

By 2007, the ‘Scottish approach’ combined the pursuit of joined up government with the SNP’s ‘outcomes based approach to delivering the objectives of government’, a ‘single statement of purpose, elaborated into a supporting structure of a small number of broad objectives and a larger, but still limited, number of measurable national outcomes’ (2011: 34).

The Scottish Government introduced a government-wide policy framework, the National Performance Framework (NPF), based on a single ‘ten year vision’ and a shift towards measuring success in terms of often-long term outcomes. The NPF has a stated ‘core purpose – to create a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth’. It seeks to turn this broad purpose into specific policies and measures of success in two main ways.

First, it articulates in more depth its national approach via a ‘purpose framework’ – linked to targets gauging its economic growth, productivity, labour market participation, population, income inequality, regional inequality and (emissions based) sustainability – and five ‘strategic objectives’:

  1. Wealthier and Fairer – Enabling businesses and people to increase their wealth and more people to share fairly in that wealth.
  2. Healthier – Helping people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.
  3. Safer and Stronger – Helping communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life.
  4. Smarter. Expanding opportunities to succeed from nurture through to lifelong learning ensuring higher and more widely shared achievements.
  5. Greener. Improving Scotland’s natural and built environment and the sustainable use and enjoyment of it.

These objectives are mapped onto sixteen ‘National Outcomes’ and fifty ‘National Indicators’.

Second, it works in partnership with the public sector to align organisational objectives with the NPF. In some cases, this involves public sector reform and/or some attempts at centralisation: it obliged non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs, or ‘quangos’) to align their objectives with the NPF, after reducing their number, and it created a single police force and single fire service.

In the case of local authorities, its approach was different. It required them to produce ‘Single Outcomes Agreements’ (SOAs), in partnership with their stakeholders (and public sector partners), but with local government discretion to determine the balance between a range of priorities as long as their outcomes were consistent with the NPF’s vision.

The Scottish Government reinforced this sense of discretion by signing a Concordat with COSLA which contained a package of Scottish Government aims, but also its agreement to halve the amount of ‘ring fenced’ budgets (from 22% to 11%) and reject a tendency to ‘micromanage’ local government – albeit within the context of a system in which the Scottish Government controls almost all of local authorities’ total budgets (we can discuss this in the next lecture).

Since 2013, the Scottish Government has sought to reinforce the ‘Scottish approach’ with reference to three broad principles:

  1. Improvement. The pursuit of ‘improvement’ in public services, to help it deliver on its holistic government agenda, in partnership with stakeholders. For example, it has overseen the development of the ‘Early Years Collaborative’, in which the Scottish Government identifies promising policy interventions and asks practitioners to experiment with their own projects in their local areas. This approach is designed partly to address the idea that local policymakers are more likely to adopt interventions if they are developed locally and/ or tailored to local circumstances.
  2. Assets. A focus on people’s ‘assets’ rather than their ‘deficits’. Housden (2014: 67-8) suggests that, ‘we look always to build on and strengthen the assets and resilience of individuals, families and communities. Community grant schemes and devolved budgets can build assets and stimulate local action and decision-making. Recovery programmes for those seeking to exit drug use look to draw on the resources and potential of those in recovery themselves to assist others on the journey’.
  3. Co-production. Housden (2014: 67) suggests that, ‘we put a real premium on the idea of co-production, with services designed and delivered with service users and organisations. This ranges from self-directed care for elderly people and those managing chronic conditions or disabilities, to the networks of support for children with learning difficulties with parents and voluntary organisations at their heart’.

Overall, the ‘Scottish approach’:

  • began as a broad idea about how to govern by consensus in a new era of devolved politics
  • developed into a way to pursue: holistic government, an outcomes-based measure of policy success, greater local authority discretion in the delivery of national objectives, and several governance principles built primarily on localism and the further inclusion of service users in the design of public policy.

According to Elvidge and Housden, this approach contrasts markedly with UK policymaking and, in particular, the UK Labour Government’s approach from 1997 (as described by Greer and Jarman, above).

In the lecture, I will try to describe these developments and principles, and we can discuss the extent to which they are specific enough (in other words, not too vague, and specific to Scottish policymaking) to describe a distinctively ‘Scottish approach’. For example, don’t other bodies care about coproduction?

 

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The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking

This is an introduction to the Open Access journal article – “The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking: what issues are territorial and what are universal?” by Paul Cairney, Siabhainn Russell, and Emily St Denny, in Policy and Politics.

The ‘Scottish approach’ refers to the Scottish Government’s reputation for pursuing a consultative and cooperative style when it makes and implements policy in devolved areas (including health, education, local government and justice). It works with voluntary groups, unions, professional bodies, the private sector and local and health authorities to gather information and foster support for its policy aims. This approach extends to policy delivery, with the Scottish Government willing to produce a broad national strategy and series of priorities – underpinned by the ‘National Performance Framework’ – and trust bodies such as local authorities to meet its aims. In turn, local authorities work with a wide range of bodies in the public, voluntary and private sector – in ‘Community Planning Partnerships’ – to produce shared aims relevant to their local areas. ‘Single Outcome Agreements’ mark a symbolic shift away from ‘topdown’ implementation, in which local authorities and other bodies are punished if they do not meet short-term targets, towards the production of longer-term shared aims and cooperation.

Yet, however distinctive a government’s approach may be, its actions are constrained by factors faced by all governments. For example, when we elect governments, or choose a completely new kind of government, we expect ministers to solve problems for us. Yet, they can only pay attention to a tiny proportion of the things for which they are responsible. No individual, or small group of people at the heart of government, has the ability to understand or control the complex government of which it is in charge.

In Scotland, one of those key issues is about how to organise, deliver and reform public services. It demonstrates two main problems that you find in any study of government and policymaking. First, there is an inescapable trade-off between a desire to harmonise national policies and to encourage local discretion. Policymakers and policy participants understand this problem in different ways; some bemoan the ‘fragmentation’ of public services and the potential for a ‘postcode lottery’, while others identify more positive notions of flexible government, the potential for innovation, and the value of ‘community-led’ policies or individualised, ‘co-produced’, services.

Second, policymakers have a limited amount of control over this trade-off. They do not simply choose a level of fragmentation. Instead, they face the same problems as any government: the ability to pay attention to only a small proportion of issues, or to a small proportion of public service activity; the tendency for problems to be processed in government ‘silos’ (by one part of government, not communicating well with others); the potential for policymakers, in different departments or levels of government, to understand and address the policy problem in very different ways; and, ‘complexity’, which suggests that policy outcomes often ‘emerge’ from local action in the absence of central control.

These problems can only be addressed in a limited way by government strategies based on: the use of accountability and performance measures; the encouragement of learning and cooperation between public bodies; and, the development of a professional culture in which many people are committed to the same policy approach.

In our new article, my colleagues Emily St Denny, Siabhainn Russell and I look at how the Scottish Government addresses these ‘universal’ problems. We describe the ‘Scottish approach’ and wonder if it could help address problems associated with ‘silos’, ‘ambiguity’ and local discretion, if policy is ‘co-produced’ and ‘owned’ by national and local bodies. Or, if the ‘Scottish Approach’ implies a decision to encourage discretion, the production of a meaningful degree of local policymaking, and perhaps even the acceptance that some policies may ‘emerge’ in the absence of central direction and traditional accountability measures, it may create problems of its own.

To show how complicated government is, we select problems and strategies that seem more likely to exacerbate these ‘universal’ problems more than others. We outline two policy areas, on prevention and transition, which cut across many government departments, involve many levels of government (local, Scottish, UK, and perhaps EU) and types of government (including education, social work, health and police authorities), and seem particularly difficult to define and manage. In both cases, the problem is not one of partisan disagreement. In fact, there is a widespread commitment to both issues, and to achieve a ‘decisive shift to prevention’ in particular. Rather, the problem is often one of ambiguity – for example, people are not quite sure what prevention means in practice, when applied to different kinds of policy problem – or ‘fragmentation’, when a range of public bodies have to work together to produce more specific aims and objectives.

These ‘universal’ points are important when we consider Scottish policymaking in the context of constitutional change: a shift of policymaking responsibility from the UK to Scotland may reduce one aspect of complex government – such as the link between the social security system (currently reserved to the UK) and public services – but many would still remain. In cases such as prevention, further devolution could have an impact on budget and policy priorities. It would not, however, solve the problem of how to define and address a cross-cutting and ambiguous problem.

The article can be accessed here: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/pap/pre-prints/content-EvP_060

Direct access to the full article is here: Cairney Russell St Denny 2015 P&P Scottish approach

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