This is a series of posts on why social policy should be developed by and with the people who use and provide public and voluntary services. We welcome your comments.
Social policy would be better researched, more credible, more reliable, and more grounded in real life if it was routinely developed by and with the people who use and provide public and voluntary services.
Whether policy ‘lives’ and fulfills the objectives set for it depends in part how easy it is to implement and operationalise, and whether a community of stakeholders who want it to succeed has been recruited to champion it. The best way for both of these to happen is to open-up policy research and development to a much broader range of participants.
We face a significant and growing public disillusionment and disengagement from mainstream politics. One way to repair trust and improve participation would be to develop new ways in which a greater diversity of the people who use and provide public services can more directly inform policy based on their own expertise and experience.
Public and voluntary services on the ground would be better if the policy that shaped and informed them was developed by and with provider organisations, practitioners and the public. This would also allow and encourage more improvement and innovation at the frontline.
Policy research and development could be faster and more timely as well as more credible if we made it more open and if we used readily available technology to facilitate it. Through policy development being more open at an earlier stage and to more participants, we could more easily root out the bad ideas that should be killed off quickly.
At the moment many valuable potential contributors to better policy such as smaller charities are effectively priced out of the ‘market’ due to a lack of resources and capacity. A cheap social network-based platform would these organisations to develop policy with their frontline practitioners and service users.
With more voices able to participate in policy research and development, policy would be more representative of who we are. In addition, a much more open approach to policy development would greatly enhance the range of intelligence that informs policy, better capturing the reality of public and voluntary services.
With less money and, in the case of ‘rising tide’ issues such as an ageing society, less time as well, we need plenty of new ideas in social policy – but where they come from matters. Many of the most exciting ideas in public services over the past few years have come from practitioners and service users. Practitioners are also typically better placed than policy wonks to identify how policy could be reformed to create a more supportive environment for innovation.
As a result of social and technological change, policy research and development has to change. We increasingly expect and demand that our voice is registered and to some extent listened to. We view those institutions that don’t use the technologies we use everyday as out-of-date and out-of-touch. This project is about what we can do right now to improve policymaking, but it’s also about anticipating and responding to a future in which we participate directly in policy.
In this series we’ve suggested that we need a new approach to developing social policy, one that involves the people who use and provide public and voluntary services in the research and development of policy. We’ve put forward a range of benefits that we think this approach would produce. There’s one last reason to add to this list: it’s the right thing to do.