Workshop on the use of evidence in public sector policy

Workshop on the use of evidence in public sector policy

17 May 2013 0 By JuanParki

I am sitting on stage, next to Dr Ruth Hussey, Chief Medical Officer for Wales. There is a large audience looking expectantly at us. Sir Adrian Webb of the Big Lottery is directing questions from the floor. Someone has just asked how we can get politician’s to be more accepting of research evidence when they make policy decisions. I don’t know the answer. I hope Ruth does.

Actually, all is not lost. It seems nobody has the answer. Politician’s are unto themselves when it comes to great ideas and new policies. This was one of the issues debated at ‘What Works Wales’ a Workshop run by the Alliance for Useful Evidence held in the Millennium Centre Cardiff. The core theme for the session was the use of evidence informing public sector policy. A second theme was how to innovate in the public sector and whether Wales could be at the forefront of such innovation.

I travelled down on the once-a-day Citywing flight from RAF Valley – an experience that, carbon footprint excepted, I’d highly recommend for the fabulous views of Welsh geography.   They say that the journey is as important as the destination and I have to say that the skinny latte (at Cote Bistro on the Quay looking across at the Millennium Centre) was fabulous. (As were the views on the flight.)

At the initial session, we were asked to outline our thoughts on the state of the public sector but also where we thought it might go – what was the future, could we innovate, how would that look? Mixed feelings but a sense of a disconnect between science and policy. But is that because the science isn’t in the right area or because the politician’s don’t listen? Adam price was there – innovator and ex-MP in South Wales. He thought it was a bit of both and we wondered whether politician’s have a blind spot for evidence because they got to where they are, not through evidence, but through intuition and gut feelings. It brings us back to the classic ‘behaviour change’ dual process model of an implicit and explicit decision-making system. one based on emotion and experience, the other on evidence and rational thought. Intuition helps you navigate a complex environment – the public sector is certainly complex! But to roll out a population-level policy you need hard evidence. So a role for both systems really.

Another question was how to innovate – should we try to build systems to promote innovation, or instead recognize the small pockets of innovation going on already and try to help them bubble up to the surface. In fact, historically, much of the innovative progress in Wales (and beyond) has come from individuals or small groups who have pioneered particular ideas, or solved specific challenges (I’m thinking Bevan, Cochrane…). So maybe we can get the conditions right and then support the regionalised pockets of ideas that spring up (I am getting a gardening metaphor developing here… don’t try and manicure the whole garden, but look for where promising shoots appear and then apply fertilizer! or loving care and attention…).

Ultimately, there are opportunities here. I got the sense that there wouldn’t be a top-down strategic approach from Welsh government. That instead we’d each have to lobby for our causes. But that’s okay, as long as there are plenty of us – especially if a few have the ears of the policy-makers. The Alliance for Useful Evidence could be a great facilitator in this as it has a broader remit across the UK and is connected to many relevant organisations and networks (such as Nesta).

During my presentation I talked about the MUD.BASE of Andy Goodman’s Enterprise by Design and how one can enable innovation by the way one manages physical space, organisational space, and project teams. Something we’re further exploring with IQ@BU (I’ll blog on that soon).

Andy Goodman’s BASE prototypology for systematising innovation

Based on the various discussion, here’s my shopping list of opportunities:

  • Using Complexity theory to understand Wales and the Welsh public sector
  • Explore the practitioner model. Offer placements to public sector staff in IQ@BU – no cost to them but lots of potential for cross-fertilization.
  • Explore a role for WCBC in the public sector – this might be to help develop the evidence base for policies. Or carry out contract research-like work on small scale pilots.

All in all an excellent trip resulting lots of ideas and potential future leads. And here’s the video of the presentation I gave: