Posts Tagged 'public policy'

3 critical steps we need to take to save democracy

henry-tam

Henry Tam

Henry Tam, author of Time to save democracy: How to govern ourselves in the age of anti-politics, discusses the decline of democracy and the three critical steps that must be taken in order to save it.

“In the 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ending of the apartheid regime in South Africa, there was a time when democracy seemed to be in the ascendant. But the new millennium has not brought good tidings, more the reverse.

George W. Bush played his part with his ill-conceived wars to make people recoil from any talk of ‘spreading democracy to the world’. On both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Third Way’ attempts to blur the left-right divide managed to consolidate one thing – the indifference of a third or more among those eligible to vote to stay away from the polling booth whenever there’s an election on. And then came Brexit and Trump in 2016 to demonstrate how ready millions of people were prepared to cast their vote irrespective of what the clearest evidence and expert analyses might say, so long as they could vent their frustration and anger at a few easy targets.

“We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government.”

We need democracy as a bulwark against the threat of arbitrary government. But when the mere form of electoral selection is mistaken for the substance of an equitable system of control by the people, our political health is in trouble. Any superficial framework for vote-casting can all too easily be exploited by charlatans with wealthy backers. To save democracy from terminal decline, we must take action in three critical areas.

First, democracy has to take roots in a polity with a broad sense of togetherness. Neoliberal individualism and divisive tribalism in their respective ways attack civic solidarity, and blind people from recognising the need to prioritise their common good. But social polarisation is not inevitable. Governments around the world have used engagement techniques, familiarisation activities, and reconciliation processes to bring people with diverse backgrounds together to develop shared understanding and joint objectives. Rejecting both the ‘anti-political correctness’ brigades who celebrate discrimination as their heritage, and the ‘rights-override-all’ warriors who refuse to accept that rights can ever be diminished by wrong-doing[1], the state should stand firm on guaranteeing respect for all who respect their fellow citizens, and stamp out invidious attempts to stigmatise ‘others’. Furthermore, we should not weaken civic cohesion by giving public subsidies to schools that inculcate beliefs in the supremacy of their own faith, but instead strengthen it through teaching democratic consensus-building and the importance of pursuing the public interest.

Secondly, the rule of law must be backed by a collective system for distinguishing truth from falsehood. For too long, concessions have been made to the relativist notion that all claims are as valid as each other, thus giving succour to demagogues, extremists, and corporate propagandists to pretend what they say are inherently beyond criticism. And when their version of ‘reality’ is contradicted by objective evidence, they invoke the freedom of speech to keep spreading their lies in the hope that they can fool enough people enough of the time to win power. But no country refrains from setting and enforcing legal limits on irresponsible communication. Even those who declare there must never be any restriction step back when what is communicated involves, for example, words and images that encourage the targeted audience to commit atrocities in the name of some deity, consume what is above the accepted safety level, or promote paedophilia. In addition to applying the law against irresponsible communication consistently and rigorously, especially in relation to those are prone to lie to expand their economic and political influences, schools must be given the duty and corresponding resources to teach to a high standard the skills for objective reasoning, debunking misdirection, and evidential examination.

“…we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making.”

Last but not least, we must reverse the wealth inequalities that have since the 1980s increasingly corroded the civic parity needed for democratic decision-making. The unscrupulous among the rich and powerful use their resources to back candidates and policy proposals that favour them at the expense of everyone else. And money matters. For example, between 2004 and 2012, in each of the five bi-annual contests in the US House of Representatives, over 80% of the candidates who spent more than their rivals won[2]. Spending on federal campaigns in 2012 alone was over $6.2 billion, with 68% of that money coming from just 0.26% of the population[3]. For many people, there is no point getting involved when the rich will ultimately have the last say. In the 2016 US presidential elections, 48% of those who had registered to vote did not actually cast a vote – that’s 95 million people who simply abstained.

Beyond restrictions on campaign donations and spending, other ways should be considered for reining in plutocratic influences. Many more public decisions should be delegated to deliberative forums structured to curtail opinion manipulation. A decent level of public service and basic income should be provided to protect people from being politically marginalised by socio-economic vulnerabilities. There should be better resourced and more transparent investigative agencies to hold both those holding and seeking political office to account for their actions. And to give all those who work in any organisation a real say over their pay differentials, more support should be given to the development of multi-stakeholder cooperatives that are far less likely to tolerate inequitable income gaps.

[1] Otherwise the ‘right to freedom’ would shield every criminal from punishment.

[2] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 11)

[3] Prokop, A. (2014) ’40 charts that explain money in politics’, Vox: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949581/money-in-politics-charts-explain (Chart 2)

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A missed opportunity: Why the Law Commission got it wrong on hate crime

Jon Garland, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Jon GaJG picrland and Neil Chakraborti are co-editors of Responding to hate crime: The case for connecting policy and research, published by Policy Press last month.

 

Recently the Law Commission published the results of its year-long investigation into the efficacy and scope of hate crime laws. The consultation, a reference from the Ministry of Justice, had the specific remit of examining the ‘aggravated’ offences and incitement to hatred legislation in order to see if these should be extended to include groups that were not previously protected.

That the Law Commission was asked to undertake this review at all was a reflection of the increased social significance of hate crime and also (and relatedly, of course) the heightened importance of hate crime legislation. Supporters of this legislation argue that it has a specific, symbolic importance in that it reflects society’s condemnation of the victimisation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. However, one of the issues examined in this process was the inequality that exists in the provision for different victim groups within the mish-mash of hate crime legislation. The criminal justice system currently recognises just a handful of different identity communities as hate crime victim groups – the so-called ‘five strands’ of race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity – about which the police are required to collect hate crime statistics. Surprisingly, though, some of these ‘five strands’ receive more protection from the law than others. For example, the aggravated offences provision within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 currently covers race and faith groups, but not those relating to disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, in the case of the incitement to hatred legislation, race, faith and sexual orientation groups are included, but not disability or gender identity.

So how has this rather odd situation come about? Well, the explanation is, in some ways, quite simple: there is no single all-encompassing ‘Hate Crime Act’ that covers different types of offences and all identity groups, but instead there exists a number of different pieces of legislation that have been drawn up over time which have, gradually, included one group after another in a rather piecemeal fashion. This has resulted in the disparities of provision that the Law Commission was asked to investigate.

Under a degree of expectation, the Law Commission therefore published the findings from its extensive investigations at the end of May. The Commission concluded, perhaps rather disappointingly, that a further, Government-sponsored review into a wider set of questions surrounding the aggravated provisions was necessary. It also, rather frustratingly for some disability campaigning groups such as the Disability Hate Crime Network, declined to recommend that the incitement legislation be broadened to include the strands of gender identity and disability. The Commission’s reasoning for this was that it had not been persuaded of the ‘practical need to do so’, that prosecutions might in any case be rare and that new incitement legislation might ‘inhibit discussion of disability and transgender issues’.

This verdict means that disabled and transgender communities still find themselves ‘out in the cold’ regarding the incitement laws. It also means that some groups appear to be accorded a more ‘privileged’ position than others within the five strands, which is an unfortunate outcome of the Commission’s work. Although the justification provided by the Commission for declining to make this recommendation  has some logic, it does seem a shame that it failed take the opportunity, in the words of the Disability Hate Crime Network, to extend the law’s coverage to ‘capture a unique, specific and grave type of wrong’.

 

 

 

 

Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems?

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza discuss their article Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems? from the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free until 30 November.

Reflecting on developments in public policy over the last forty years, we argue that collaboration has become a hegemonic discourse and partnerships a dominant feature in the local governance landscape. However, there is still considerable debate about what makes for good partnership working. Some scholars believe that governance networks are self-organising and self-sustaining. Seen from this perspective, external steering by national governments is not just an insult to local democracy but also an impediment to local collaborative efforts. But others have argued that local partnerships inevitably operate in the shadow of hierarchy and that external steering is helpful, perhaps even essential, for them to succeed.

We analysed these arguments through an investigation of the factors that influenced the ability of three local multi-sectoral public service partnerships to address complex public policy issues (or ‘wicked problems’). These case study partnerships served contrasting areas of Wales, they focused on very different types of wicked problems, and they adopted different integration strategies. However, in spite of their differences, all three needed external support. The Welsh Government eschewed what we call ‘hard steering’ (attempts to dictate how the partnerships operated through the imposition of top down targets and performance regimes). Instead, it provided funding, information and expertise, what we call ‘soft steering’.

This soft steering was important, but it was not the whole story. The success of the partnerships also depended on the actions of local actors. We found that partnerships needed a combination of soft steering and self-steering capacity to establish and mobilise collaboration, and to enable them to begin to address ‘wicked problems’. But whilst the type of self-steering they required varied according to the contexts they operated in and the kinds of collaborative activities they attempted, all three partnerships needed the same kinds of government support.

We argue that theories of local partnership working should pay more attention to the positive impacts of the right kind of government support, and we put in a plea for future research to test out our findings in other countries and contexts. On a gloomy note, we speculate that austerity could pose a threat to the ability of local partnerships to address wicked problems if it means that national governments are no longer willing or able to offer the kinds of support which our case studies benefitted from.

Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems? is available free until 30 November as part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics.

Where is public policy? And where next?

Alex Marsh

Alex Marsh

by Alex Marsh

This blog post was originally published on www.alexsarchives.org on November 3. If you would like to read more on this topic, Alex’s article, Reflections on contemporary debates in policy studies, written with Sarah Ayres, can be found in the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free until 30 November.

There seems to be quite a bit of reflection on the current state of play in the study of public policy at the moment. I have recently offered something on the topic myself.

A couple of months ago Peter John posted a draft paper online entitled New directions in public policy: Theories of policy change and variation reconsidered. The paper offers a perspective on the state of the debate and identifies what may constitute a novel way forward. As always with Peter, the paper is thought-provoking and well worth reading.

The thought it provoked in me was that he is both absolutely right and very possibly not quite so right at one of the same time.

Peter’s paper divides the history of the study of public policy into three. The focus is on policy continuity and episodes of policy change, so the paper leaves out quite a bit that is interesting about public policy – for example, implementation theory or processes of adaptation.

But, accepting the focus upon policy change, Peter maps out the three phases as the early classic studies – encompassing rational decision making, but also incrementalism and Simon’s bounded rationality – a second phase focused on the synthetic approaches of the 1990s – multiple streams, punctuated equilibrium, advocacy coaltion framework – and the current phase. John’s argument is that the current phase has been characterised by a relative lack of theoretical innovation. With the exception of a rise in interpretative policy analysis and behavioural public policy – which are, one has to concede, rather large exceptions – nothing has emerged that has had an impact similar to that of the three big beasts of 1990s US policy studies.

Peter then proceeds to argue that if you look over the fence at other subfields within political science and at the intersection of political science and economics then you will find there is interesting and innovative work going on. It is seeking to shed light upon the determinants of public policy. Hence, public policy scholars have much to gain from expanding their horizons.

At one level I agree with Peter’s analysis of the state of play. But at another level I would say that it implicitly relies on some rather heavy-duty boundary work. You could argue, for example, that some of the most interesting work relevant to policy that has been done since the 1990s draws on historical instutitionalism. I’m thinking of the 2005 collection edited by Streeck and Thelen or, in particular, the 2010 collection edited by Mahoney and Thelen which develops the case for taking endogenous incremental change seriously. But this work does not tend to make any reference to the big three, or much else from the canon of the ‘public policy’ literature. While the application of these ideas to policy is relevantly straightforward plenty more needs to be done to work them through in a policy context.

We can conclude that research in public policy has been a little moribund only if we are prepared to draw the boundaries of what constitutes ‘public policy research’ quite tightly.

The other interesting aspect of Peter’s argument is that he works towards the conclusion that a potentially fruitful way forward for public policy research is political economy, and comparative political economy is particular.

Now I am absolutely in agreement that expanding the compass of explanation to locate policy processes more explicitly in their socio-political context would be a valuable theoretical sophistication. But “political economy” is a treacherous concept. Or rather it can mean very different things to different people.

Peter favours the version of political economy that flows from the encroachment of mainstream economics into political science. This is the sort of field where political economy is as likely to carry the prefix “positive” or “constitutional” as it is “comparative”.

It is undoubtedly true that this flavour of policy economy has thrown up some interesting findings. These findings can be used to critique some of the myths and taken-for-granted assumptions that underpin contemporary political discourse. Peter briefly reviews some of them.

But I would argue that if we are to expand the analysis of public policy into the realm of political economy then there is an urgent need to embrace the sort of political economy preferred by social scientists who are not mainstream economists – human geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, institutional economists.

Here the focus is much more clearly upon the impact of values and ideologies, structures of power, agnotology, the ways in which local decision making is framed and stabilised by global discourses, or where – drawing inspiration from Polanyi – the idea that there is a meaningful binary divide between “the state” and “the market” and that policy processes are constrained by “the market(s)” is challenged as a fundamental misunderstanding of structure of society.

That is a route that would, it strikes me, be just as likely to prove illuminating. But would it be “public policy”? I’ll leave it to others to adjudicate on that point. Personally, I’m happy to look wherever the mood takes me and wherever it looks like there are theoretical resources that offer the potential to advance our understanding.

Reflections on contemporary debates in policy studies is part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics, available free on Ingenta until the end of November.

What is the impact of evaluation research on public policy?

Evaluation for the real world book imageEvaluation research findings should be a key-element of the policy-making process, yet in reality they are often disregarded. In this blog post, Colin Palfrey, one of the authors of Evaluation for the real world, looks at the history and impact of evaluation:

“The formal evaluation of public services has a history of little more than 50 years. Discovering what impact various social policies, programmes and projects have had on the intended beneficiaries makes political and economic sense. Why, one might ask, has evaluation had such a relatively limited pedigree?

Part of the explanation could perhaps be explained by the response from several medical practitioners in the 1970s and 1980s who considered the movement towards evidence-based medicine as an unwarranted assault on their professional wisdom and integrity.

Nevertheless, in spite of initial opposition from some quarters, evidence-based medicine, with its emphasis on the randomised controlled trial as the primary, if not the sole method of producing cogent evidence, became widely accepted as the ‘gold standard’ on which to base professional practice.

Although academic articles and books began appearing in some numbers in the USA during the 1960s, there was little academic or political interest in formal evaluation in the UK until two decades later. It would appear that in the UK, for example, the formulation of a policy, particularly when enshrined in legislation, was deemed sufficient to ensure its full implementation and once implemented to have the intended effect.

However, it is highly probable that the movement towards evidence-based medicine impinged on the world of civil servants and politicians. Certainly with the Thatcher government in the 1980s questioning the value of the public sector in terms of its efficiency, major projects and initiatives – notably the National Health Service – came under close scrutiny. Government spending on public sector services now had to prove its cost-effectiveness.

In the UK this concern with efficiency and cost-effectiveness spawned a number of government documents directed at policy advisers. Politicians now needed to know ‘what works’ and at what cost. This emerging culture of evidence-based policy prompts the question of how evaluation research commissioned by governments influenced or even shaped central policy.

It is on this question that our book focuses. Given the plethora of learned articles and books on the subject of evaluation over the past 50 years or so, what evidence is there that evaluation research in its many manifestations – commissioned project evaluation, policy evaluation, theory-driven evaluation – has had an impact on public policy at central and more local levels. In short, how cost-effective has evaluation research been?

The book looks at the possible reasons why academics, in particular, appear somewhat sceptical, if not despondent about the outcome of their research-based findings. Those who make decisions about allocating taxpayers’ money to a range of policies and their embodiment in programmes and projects, are not bound by any contractual arrangements to act on the results of evaluation research  – whether this has been designed and delivered by academics or by research-oriented private companies. .

We contend that the exploration of the impact of evaluation research on public policy is long overdue.”

Evaluation for the real world: the impact of evidence in policy making, by Colin Palfrey, Paul Thomas and Ceri Phillips was published on 13 June 2012 by The Policy Press. You can order a copy at 20% discount here.

Police leaders and resignations

In 2008, Sir Ian Blair, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, resigned and there was a consequent sigh of relief throughout policing. He had clung to office for so long that his tenacity had become an embarrassment and that had threatened the public’s often fragile respect for the police. When Sir Paul Stephenson, Blair’s successor, resigned on Sunday 17 July, citing the ‘distraction’ which criticism of him would cause the Metropolitan Police, there was, by contrast, considerable dismay and regret. Actually, his action is typical of the man; his honesty and strong sense of public probity would not have allowed him to continue if he felt that he had himself become the story.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), known in policing as “the twenty/twenty hindsight brigade”, is investigating allegations against the former Commissioner, so it’s probably premature to come to any conclusions about the ethics of the relationship between police leaders and senior editorial staff at The News of the World, as it also may be about the wider question of newspapers paying police officers for information. Now Assistant Commissioner John Yates has also resigned (18th July), citing similar reasons to Sir Paul’s for his departure, after a week of heavy pressure and publicity. Two former chief officers at the Met, Andy Hayman and Peter Clarke, are also in the frame for the IPCC to look at.

This all seems to lend substance to media claims that policing is in crisis and that the police are led by inept, malign or naïve people. But there are some things we would do well to bear in mind: first, the Met is not the police. It likes to think it is sometimes, because it has some national roles, but policing is more than what happens in London. The second point is that policing goes on, whoever is at the top. Someone will step in and mind the shop, while the police go about their daily, routine, necessary and unglamorous tasks. The third point to make is that none of the allegations against any of the police leaders is yet proved and the cloud of speculation may be as evanescent as mist before sunrise.

The final point is this: when I did my research a year or so ago on chief police officers, what came across most strongly to me was that people at the top of policing cared very much about the image of the police and about how the public perceived them. It really matters to them that they are trusted and that people can rely on their fairness and neutrality. This relationship is not something that any good cop would willingly put at risk and we would be daft to join the current feeding frenzy engendered by the media and politicians – neither of which trades comes anywhere near policing in the public’s sense of moral worth.

Bryn Caless is the author of the forthcoming Policing at the top (September) which can be ordered at 20% discount here: http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447300151

Policy & Politics: Why do windows of opportunity close?

Quite apart from its practical importance, policy is an endlessly fascinating subject of study. A core theme in the analysis of policy is stability and change. Why do we witness extended periods of stability followed by episodes of change or periods of rapid change? In his 1984 book Agendas, alternatives and public policies, John Kingdon proposed a model based upon multiple streams. The alignment of the problem, policy and politics streams opens a window of opportunity for change. This model has been widely applied, including recently to US health care reform by Kingdon himself in the 2010 revised edition of his book (Kingdon, J.W. (2010) Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Updated Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care), Longman).

An illuminating application of the model is offered by Annesley, Gains and Rummery in their recent paper analysing New Labour’s legacy on engendering politics and policy. The election of New Labour in 1997 appeared to open a window of opportunity for significant progress in the engendering of both politics and policy – and the authors are careful to maintain the distinction between the two. For reasons of both electoral calculation and values the New Labour government recognised gender as a significant policy issue. Annesley et al argue that New Labour’s attempts to engender politics could claim significant success. However, they examine two specific policy areas – change to leave for new parents and action to close the gender pay gap – and argue that the achievements in engendering policy were considerably more limited. They identify three broad reasons why policy change was modest, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap. All three speak to issues of great interest in the contemporary analysis of policy more generally. The first reason is the way the policy problem was framed: the focus was narrowed to the issue of women’s labour market participation and poverty, rather than the broader gender division of paid and unpaid labour. The second reason was the extent and speed with which the institutions of governance adapted to a new agenda. Effectively they couldn’t keep up. The third reason is the extent to which it is possible to pursue policies that run against the presumptions of broader (neo)liberal and pro-business economic policy. And the move to recession in 2008 dissipated what limited momentum there was behind the push to level upward on pay or introduce more flexible maternity and paternity leave: economic imperatives – and reducing the burden on business – take precedence.

The concept of the window of opportunity has given good service in the analysis of policy change. This case study of New Labour’s attempts to engender politics and policy provides a valuable additional dimension to our understanding of precisely how propitious the circumstances need to be before significant change can occur.

Annesley, C., Gains, F. and Rummery, K. (2010) Engendering politics and policy: the legacy of New Labour, Policy & Politics, vol 38, no 3, 389-406.

Alex Marsh, Management Board, Policy & Politics


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