In their efforts to professionalize, contemporary governments have embraced the idea of evidence-based policy. They draw legitimacy from science, basing their ideas for new policies on ‘what works’. A particular wave of evidence-based thinking that is very vivid at the moment is ‘Behavioural Insights’. This is the subject of my recent research article in Policy & Politics entitled: Brokering Behaviour Change: The Work of Behavioural Insights Experts in Government. Continue reading Making policy in the era of Nudge
Chris Mason and Michael Moran
Social enterprise has emerged as an important vehicle of public sector reform globally but has received particular attention from policymakers in ‘liberal regimes’ such as the UK and Australia.
In our recent Policy & Politics article we set out to understand why two similar policy contexts – loosely-shared political cultures, institutional arrangements and importantly a common language – ended up engaging differently with a common policy idea, social enterprise.
To do so, we developed a unique policy data set constructed around social enterprise as it applied to a broad range of policy fields – from health and social care to resourcing the non-profit and voluntary sector – and policy initiatives. Continue reading Mother tongue? Policy language, social enterprise, the UK and Australia
Huanming Wang, Rui Mu and Shuyan Liu
Since the late 1970s, governments in many countries have adopted privatisation reforms, including contracting-out public services, transferring functions and responsibilities to the private sectors, and selling enterprises to private interests. The practice of privatisation in some developing countries has led to the problem of unequal treatment. For instance, many local governments in China outsourced their public services (e.g. public bus services, water supply and waste disposal services) to private companies. This included the delegation of operations entirely to these private entities. Government subsidies were allocated to the private operators, but these subsidies could not cover the full costs incurred by those private operators.. In this context, the private operators had to concentrate their services in densely populated areas and neglect the needs of more sparsely populated areas, resulting in the inadequate provision of services in the latter areas. As a result of this, some local governments withdrew from these privatised arrangements in order to ensure a more equal provision of services.
Our recent Policy & Politics article explores whether and to what extent privatisation and its reversal influence public service equity in China. Our paper focuses on public bus services in China, the provision of which has been subject to both privatisation and subsequent re-nationalisation, and draws upon an extensive programme of research that covered 245 cities. The Coefficient of Variation (CV) method was used to measure equity, and the multiple-regression method was adopted to test the relationship between privatisation and equity. Continue reading Has privatisation influenced public service equity? Evidence from China
Meghan Joy and John Shields
Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are a social policy tool that claims to solve complex policy problems, such as homelessness, unemployment, and recidivism, through the scientific methods of financial modelling. Actively supported by several governments worldwide, SIBs provide a mechanism to turn the risky behaviours of vulnerable individuals into a form of profit making for private impact investors. SIB projects target population groups, such as the homeless, troubled youth, and obese, whose problems result in costly use of emergency-oriented public services such as shelters, prisons, and hospitals. In this way, SIBs are positioned as preventative, allowing future savings on costly public programs. These savings, also known as impacts, outcomes, or results are measured for their social value created (Dowling & Harvie, 2014). The SIB instrument places a current price on anticipated social value based on the assessed future risk that participants will not be reformed. Risks become a reward as investors bet on the extent to which vulnerable people will be transformed.
Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are a new tool in the arsenal of neoliberal capitalism that might best be seen as an extension of public-private partnerships into the realm of social policy. As part of the pay-for-success movement, SIBs marketize social policy in ways that empower venture capitalists to profit from the misfortunes of others. The solution to difficult social problems has been cast with SIBs as a profiting from pain model.
The aim of our recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Austerity in the Making: Reconfiguring Social Policy through Social Impact Bonds is to identify future avenues for empirical research on SIBs to further assess how the tool reconfigures social policy and with what consequences for democracy and equity. Continue reading Profiting from Pain: social impact bonds and social policy
At the recent cross-government Behavioural Insights (BI) network conference, delegates were introduced to the idea of theories of practice as a way of framing policy making for behaviour change. BI network members design and test policies using principles from behavioural economics, which is as far removed from the sociological routes of ‘practice’ as it is possible to be. However, the limits of behavioural economics for achieving meaningful behaviour change are well documented. For example, critics have highlighted its narrow scope and low ambition in the face of intractable problems such as climate change and obesity.
Theories of practice underpin the work of an increasingly large number of academics who aim for systemic, cultural change, not just better choices. Some government social researchers (GSRs) are aware of the ‘practice’ approach, although the lack of evidence base has so far stunted its adoption. However, most GSRs are unfamiliar with its potential.
Continue reading Practice theory for practice change: Policy making to changing collective conventions
Felicity Matthews, co-editor of Policy & Politics
This blog post was originally published on the British Politics and Policy blog run by the London School of Economics and Political Science.
In the Hansard Society’s latest Audit of Political Engagement, a record 73% of respondents agree that Westminster’s Parliament is ‘essential to democracy’. Yet within the very same survey, only 32% are satisfied with the way Parliament works and only 28% believe that it encourages public involvement in politics. A number of academic commentators have also cast doubt upon Parliament’s credentials, with some regarding it as ‘either peripheral or totally irrelevant’; and within comparative scholarship, the House of Commons is frequently derided as lacking the clout of its continental counterparts.
Continue reading Majoritarianism reinterpreted: why Parliament is more influential than often thought
Ian Kirkpatrick, Andrew Sturdy, and Gianluca Veronesi
Few topics have provoked as much debate and controversy in many western societies as the growth in public spending on management consultants. In the UK’s public healthcare sector: the National Health Service (NHS), this spending more than doubled from £313 million in 2010 to £640 million in 2014. Understandably, it is under constant scrutiny and there are considerable pressures to cut the use of management consultants, but spending remains high. Management consultants provide advice on strategy, organisation, financial planning and assist with the implementation of new information technology. Frequently, they promise significant improvements in efficiency. According to the main industry body in the UK, the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), for every £1 spent on consulting fees, clients can expect £6 in return. However, as shown in a study we conducted recently, published in Policy & Politics, the use of management consultancy in English NHS hospital trusts is more likely to result in inefficiency.
Continue reading Using management consultancy brings inefficiency to the NHS