Tag Archives: scottish policy style

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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Filed under ESRC Scottish Centre for Constitutional Change, Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), public policy, Scottish politics, Storytelling

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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Filed under POLU9SP, Scottish politics