Tightrope walking: The future of political science

MFlinders-new-smallMatthew Flinders

This blog post was originally published on the OUPblog on 2 October 2016. The original post can be accessed at:  http://blog.oup.com/2016/10/future-political-science-impact-phase/

Imagine standing at the edge of a precipice. A combination of forces are pushing at your back, biting at your heels and generally forcing you to step into an unknown space. A long thin tightrope without any apparent ending stretches out in front of you and appears to offer your only lifeline. Doing nothing and standing still is not an option. You lift up your left foot and gingerly step out….

Such dramatic prose is rarely associated with the study of politics but it strikes me that the notion of being forced to walk a tightrope is strangely apt at the present time. Having spent the last three weeks travelling around Western Europe and contributing to debates and discussions about the future of political science it seems that, from Manchester to Milan, and from Prague to Porto, the discipline finds itself on the cusp of a distinctive new phase in its history.

Let us, for the sake of simplicity, refer to this as ‘the impact phase’ and define it as being marked by the imposition of external requirements to demonstrate the relevance and direct effects of scholarship beyond the lecture theatre and seminar room. What my recent travels have revealed is that although ‘the impact phase’ has emerged very rapidly and aggressively in the United Kingdom, it is emerging— albeit in a softer, less instrumental, ‘impact-lite’ version — as a key issue in a host of countries. Moreover, those countries are well aware of the UK’s historical role as a testing ground for New Public Management inspired reforms within higher education that frequently ripple-out across the world. Continue reading Tightrope walking: The future of political science

Individualised disability funding in Australia and England – different design, same challenges

needham-and-dickinsonCatherine Needham, University of Birmingham and Helen Dickinson, University of Melbourne

In July 2016, the full national roll out began of Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

This scheme, which has been piloted in several localities in the last three years, constitutes a major new investment in disability services in Australia. We have been undertaking research and writing on the implementation of NDIS and comparing it to our earlier research on personalisation and a critique of individual budgets and personalisation in English social care services. Continue reading Individualised disability funding in Australia and England – different design, same challenges

The Immorality of Innovation – the Tale of Social Impact Bonds

meghan-joy-john-shieldsMeghan Joy and Dr. John Shields

In a post sub-prime mortgage induced financial crisis, another financial tool that risks increasing precarity for those most vulnerable is becoming increasingly popular in a political climate of austerity.


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 – there are currently 54 projects in 13 countries – 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.

Continue reading The Immorality of Innovation – the Tale of Social Impact Bonds

Developing our understanding of the morality of public policy decisions using the Principle of Double Effect (PDE)


Joseph Drew (University of New England, Australia), Bligh Grant (University of Technology, Australia), Josie Fisher (University of New England, Australia)

One of the remarkable features of public policy debates generally is their predictable shape.

A recurrent example in the Australian context is municipal amalgamation. In one corner stands state government, arguing that amalgamation will result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, with this “happiness” measured in financial savings. In the other corner stand a collection of voices—in particular local government itself—vehemently opposed to amalgamation.

The reasons for this opposition are varied but by far the most heart-felt argument is one that insists that extant communities have the right to be left alone. This rights-based argument might have several components—that democratic representation will diminish, for example—alongside claims about particular communities being incompatible with others with which amalgamation is proposed. Continue reading Developing our understanding of the morality of public policy decisions using the Principle of Double Effect (PDE)

How do children’s environments contribute to their life satisfaction?

Amy Clair.jpgAmy Clair, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Oxford

Recent years have seen an increase in interest in how happy children are with their lives in many countries.

Comparisons of wealthy nations show that there is cause for concern, with many studies finding that the UK lags behind in terms of how satisfied children are with their lives, ranking bottom of a Unicef report in 2007 for example (although there was some evidence of improvement in 2013).  In order to improve this, we must improve our understanding what drives children’s satisfaction.

There has been a lot of work investigating how individual characteristics impact life satisfaction, for example we know that girls report lower satisfaction than boys. However, there has been relatively little work examining how children’s environments affect how satisfied they feel about their lives.  Two of the main environments in the majority of children’s lives are the home and the school.  These locations are where children spend the bulk of their time and they provide the location for many of their important relationships, with parents, teachers, and friends for example.

Continue reading How do children’s environments contribute to their life satisfaction?

New domestic violence policy to hand back control to victims – but does it?

DugganDr Marian Duggan, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent

Domestic violence is never far from the news.

With an average of two women a week being killed by a current or former partner, and an increasing number of cases involving the murder of children too, initiatives to address this form of interpersonal victimisation have been increasingly prioritised by governments.

One such initiative in the UK is the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS). Launched on International Women’s Day (8th March) 2014 by Home Secretary Theresa May MP, the DVDS offers members of the public the ‘right to ask’ the police for information about a partner’s past if they are concerned that there is a history of domestic violence or violence against women. The policy was heralded by the Home Secretary as part of a “raft of measures” designed to “hand control back to the victim by ensuring they can make informed decisions about their relationship and escape if necessary”.

Continue reading New domestic violence policy to hand back control to victims – but does it?

Imagining the future: Growing older together?

Alexandra ChapmanAlexandra Chapman

There is a clear divergence emerging between each region in the UK in terms of the nature and pace of implementing a policy framework that supports older service users and promotes a person-centred framework.

Following devolution, Scotland and Wales have developed adult social care strategies underpinned by person-centred principles through divergent policies and provision from each other and England. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, policy developments have not progressed at the same pace as the rest of the UK and there has been emphasis on a person-centred policy for adult social care users. The acknowledged shift in dependency ratios and increasing social care projects have emphasised a sense of urgency to reform adult social care policy in Northern Ireland. Continue reading Imagining the future: Growing older together?