UK devolution: England’s turn next?

Graham Pearce
Graham Pearce

by Graham Pearce

The Scottish referendum has left Westminster politicians reeling. Alongside seeking a rapid constitutional fix in response to demands for the devolution of greater powers and resources to Edinburgh, the unanswered ‘English Question’, for so long merely the concern of constitutional anoraks, has taken centre stage. For decades political devolution in the UK was viewed as being confined to the Celtic fringe and despite rumblings of dissatisfaction around the West Lothian Question, politicians of all persuasions seemed content to ignore its wider and longer term potential impacts on UK government. In the absence of viable alternatives and perceived public apathy it seemed wise to leave the ‘English Question’ unanswered. The events in Scotland suggest that this approach is now untenable. Continue reading

Policy unpacked: Alex Marsh and David Sweeting discuss directly elected mayors

Alex Marsh and David Sweeting
Alex Marsh and David Sweeting

In the array of panels at this year’s Policy and Politics conference were three linked panels on directly elected mayors, containing twelve papers from five countries. These panels linked clearly to the overall conference theme of challenges of leadership in collaboration in the 21st century. Directly elected mayors are often seen as a reform to help improve the leadership of cities, in part by facilitating or leading collaboration between actors both within, and well beyond, the boundaries of urban areas.

The panels, and the topic of directly elected mayors more generally, are addressed in Alex Marsh’s ‘Policy Unpacked’ series of podcasts, hosted on Alex’s blog. You can listen to the podcast here.

David Sweeting is Senior Lecturer, and Alex Marsh is Professor, in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. Alex is also Head of the School.

A New and Fair Constitutional Settlement? Beware of Constitutional Hyper-Activism

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

by Matt Flinders, Co-Editor of Policy & Politics

The Flower of Scotland may well be blooming but a number of thorny issues face the Prime Minister and the leaders of the main parties in the UK. The Prime Minister’s commitment to a ‘new and fair constitutional settlement’ not just for Scotland but for the whole of the United Kingdom may well reflect the need to think in a joined-up manner about constitutional reform and the devolution of power, but the simple rhetoric cannot veil the complexity of the challenges ahead.

Instead of waking up as the Prime Minister who dis-united the UK David Cameron has suddenly emerged as the great reforming Prime Minister. Democracy could not be ducked, hard choices had to be made, democratic pressures vented and now Scotland had clearly Continue reading

How to lead and manage collaborative innovation

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

The final plenary session of the conference was delivered in energetic fashion by Prof Jacob Torfing, Roskilde University, who took us through a whistle-stop tour of what we can achieve through collaboration and how it enhances innovation. He explained that the last 30 years or so has seen a growing focus on public sector innovation, where previously this had been seen as something of a contradiction in terms, it is now seen as a means to boosting  the private sector. Innovation is now pretty high on the public sector agenda.

Using an analogy of the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ he took us through three key areas of innovation narratives. The ‘good’ was used to describe the existence of high political ambitions, which is a good thing, but where there is the need to invent new practices in order to achieve those ambitions. The ‘bad’ referred to the ‘wicked problems’ that exist and can’t be solved through standard solutions or by just throwing money at the problem. In this case, creative problem solving is needed. The ‘ugly’ related to the disconnect between expectations and ability to deliver, where there are increasing expectations from citizens at a time when public resources are limited. This disconnect is driving the need to pursue innovation in order to deliver more for less.

Jacob then raised the key question, that is, can the public sector innovate? To which the answer is obviously yes, but where there are various caveats. The public sector is far more innovative and dynamic than its reputation would suggest but it is often episodic and accidental, so as a result enhanced organisational capacity doesn’t always follow. He then added a word of caution, reminding us that innovation is not an end in itself, it is about providing solutions to problems and improving performance and it doesn’t always work!

According to Jacob, one of the biggest problem with public sector innovation is the search for innovation heroes, an approach that is well known in and translated from the private sector. In the public sector it works less well, who are the innovation heroes, are they the elected politicians, the public managers, private contractors, public employees or service users? There are just too many options in the public sector and it is important to remember that innovation is rarely triggered by single individuals, but is more of a team sport. There is greater potential for innovation where multi actors are involved, providing different perspectives and generating joint ownership of bold solutions.

The question then arises of how we lead and manage collaborative innovation and the need to explore the link between theories of collaborative governance and theories of innovation. There’s a massive literature out there on leadership that can be drawn into the debate on innovation, from pragmatic and adaptive leadership to distributive and collaborative leadership, there’s plenty to offer the discussion.

Perhaps one of the key points of this discussion is what this means for public managers and how it changes their role? Jacob describe three new roles for public managers – the convenor, facilitator and catalyst – with all three needed to generate collaborative innovation. A big challenge for the future for all those in the public sector.

Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is a former Bristol City Councillor and regularly blogs about policy, politics and place.

Collaboration as the new normal?

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

Our first session this morning on the second day of the Policy & Politics conference was a fast and furious presentation from Prof Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, covering a wide range of issues relating to collaboration. The presentation sought to cover why collaboration can be seen as the new normal, a better framework for understanding collaboration, and the challenges this presents for policy makers and practitioners.

For many collaboration is inevitable to meet policy challenges, whilst others are waiting for the trend to disappear. Whatever the case, collaboration is more accepted as the ‘new normal’. In her presentation, Helen defined collaboration as “a more or less stable configuration of rules, resources and relationships; generated, negotiated, restricted, and reproduced by diverse interdependent actors”. A deliberately vague or open definition, that goes beyond our understanding of partnerships and cooperative relations, that brings with it a set of emotions.

The normalisation of collaboration has developed as a response to the Global Financial Crisis, which led to the view of austerity as a collaborative affair involving non state actors and citizens. Helen then identified a number of  trends in collaboration which have seen the primacy of the collective replaced by the primacy of the individual:

  • New Public Management has evolved beyond marketisation
  • Globalisation and governance rescaling, creating elasticity of public policy across boundaries
  • Co-governance, reconnecting citizens to governing institutions
  • Innovation and the increasing importance of digital and social media

These trends together make collaboration more difficult, with human agency at the centre of collaboration emphasising the need to understand what motivates individuals to act. Helen proposed her own framework for how we might seek to better understand this concept, with the aim of directing attention to the more neglected aspects of collaboration. This framework has three dimensions: political, material and cultural, where the role of ideas, rules and emotions are particularly important.

The challenge for policy makers in all this is to understand collaboration, in terms of mood, practice and instrument where the role of power, interests, structure and agency are central to making sense of policy processes. With collaboration as the new normal, it can also be seen as a disruptive force for intervention, leading to improvements and new ways of doing things. The point was also made that public policy analysis needs to see the whole as well as the parts in order to develop a full understanding.

For me, and others in the audience, this feels like a huge agenda requiring interdisciplinary activity and understanding, but as a framework it enables you to think about those different aspects in an interconnected way.

Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is an ex-City Councillor and regularly blogs about politics, policy and place.

Public leadership between ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

In the afternoon plenary session on the first day of the Policy & Politics conference, Prof. Dr. Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University Rotterdam, explored the tension between front stage (world of media and politics) and back stage (world of complex networks) using his own work to take us through the tensions that exist and how public managers can cope with those tensions. He reminded us that – modern governance is more about managing processes than anything else and there are no easy answers to complex governance problems.

Governance networks (back stage) were described as being characterised by complexity; complexity of decision-making and of resource dependency, with many different actors involved in activity where it takes time and dedication to achieve good performance. In this sense, it is managerial effort that makes the difference with modern governance more about management than politics and where hard work is needed because there are no easy solutions. Whilst this may well be true, I think there are many politicians out there who may just disagree with the comment about management!

In the world of politics and media (front stage), complexity comes from interaction and activity, with politicians reacting daily to events and constant media attention which is both short term and immediate. It’s a different world dominated by media logic, where branding and image are increasingly ‘centre-stage’ and used more frequently because people can relate to them.

These different worlds, operating together, generate a number of tensions:

  • complex multi-faced problems and solutions versus simple communications
  • connective leadership versus personalised strong profile
  • long-term oriented dedication versus short-term visibility
  • trust building versus conflict framing

Public managers therefore face huge challenges to combine ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage, where there is more focus on emotions, more use of branding and more network management. Erik-Hans concluded by emphasising that these tensions will remain and potentially increase, because the tendencies that fuel them will remain in place.

One of the interesting points I’ll take away from the discussion is definitely the one about branding, and how important this become in our society, but with a reminder that perhaps this should relate not just to ‘selling’ but also to identity, value processes and commitment.

Tessa Coombes has recently completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is a former Bristol City Councillor and regularly blogs about policy, politics, and place.

Collaborative Governance: why, when and how?

Tessa Coombes
Tessa Coombes

by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference

Collaborative governance: why, when and how? That was the question posed by Prof Chris Ansell, University of California, in the opening presentation to the Policy & Politics Conference 2014. Chris described himself as a ‘nervous fan’ of collaborative governance when used as an alternative to a more adversarial system. He discussed the need to be careful that we don’t over sell the concept and don’t use it as a generic strategy to do everything – wise words indeed.

So, what do we mean by collaborative governance? The definition offered by Prof Ansell was as follows:

‘Collaborative governance is a governing arrangement where public or private stakeholders engage in a multi-lateral decision making process, that is formal, consensus-oriented and deliberative, that aims to directly make or implement policy or manage programmes or assets.’

We were then taken through a discussion about why, when and how we should use collaborative governance:

The ‘why’ question was about managing conflict more fruitfully, creating collaboration amongst stakeholders and looking at real issues or problems. A process of taking us away from adversarial politics and into a more engaged and cooperative approach to governance.

The ‘when’ question focused on three fairly obvious conditions, including when resources are available, when discretion exists to enable participation and when joint processes of negotiation are necessary. A further three conditions were identified as potentially more restrictive and included, where the trade off between risk and gains is worth it, where there is positive mutual interdependence amongst stakeholders and where the process for collaboration is fair, inclusive and unique.

The ‘how’ question was about a facilitated social learning process. This process is about leadership and stakeholders learning from each other through an iterative process. It involves five stages from face-to-face discussions and trust building, to gaining commitment and joint ownership of the process and finally to intermediate outcomes. One of the key points here is why stakeholders come to the table, often for very different reasons and potentially even when they are not committed to collaboration, but at least they do participate.

One of the interesting issues to come out of the examples used by Chris, was why do people engage and what motivates stakeholders to take part in collaboration? Which is where issues about trust building and face-to-face engagement help to break down traditional barriers and potentially reduce tensions between stakeholders. But it’s also where it becomes clear that different stakeholders enter the discussion with different levels of advantage or disadvantage. Some groups are very organised, others less so, some have resources to draw on, whilst others don’t. It’s also the case that some may engage for negative reasons and may not be fully committed to the idea of a collaborative process, coming to the table with more of a watching brief.

One of the questions from the audience focused on why stakeholders engage and how their involvement is perceived by others. This was a particular issue for environmental groups where they are often accused of ‘selling out’ by involvement and collaboration rather than the more usual route of adversarial politics. For environmental stakeholders and lobbyists this often requires a delicate balance of assessing risks against the potential benefits of participation.

Another important question was about the key role of the facilitator – should this be someone with local knowledge, but who may also have a particular position to defend, or should it be an independent professional mediator brought in as a neutral facilitator, or can you use both? A critical point as facilitation is clearly crucial to the success of collaborative processes.

A further question was raised about how you measure and define success if the goals are not agreed at the beginning. Success has to be seen as more than merely yielding a group of happy stakeholders at the end of the process.

For me the key lesson was about how we use collaborative governance, mostly as a productive approach to sorting out political conflict, rather than as an answer to everything. A measured approach that which starts with thinking about what collaboration can achieve and when best to use it.

Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is a former Bristol City Councillor and regularly blogs about policy, politics, and place. 

The translation and re-circulation of ideas about health inequalities within policy

Katherine Smith
Katherine Smith

Katherine Smith has been awarded the Bleddyn Davies Early Career Prize for Policy & Politics in 2013. Her winning article is ‘Institutional filters: the translation and re-circulation of ideas about health inequalities within policy’.

Exposition of article

Working as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Global Public Health Unit, Dr Smith has expertise in the fields of policy construction and knowledge transfer in the field of healthcare; and this article exemplifies the salient and policy-relevant research in which she is engaged.  In this article, Dr Smith seeks to account for the varying extent which research has informed policy-making in the field of health, despite the ostensible commitment to evidence-based policy-making by successive administrations across the United Kingdom.  Continue reading

The struggle for urban democracy – award winner!

Mark Purcell’s article ‘The right to the city: the struggle for democracy in the urban public realm’ has been awarded the Ken Young Prize for Best Article Published in Policy & Politics in 2013.  

Mark Purcell
Mark Purcell

In a lucid and compelling contribution to Policy & Politics, Mark Purcell confronts the progressive liberal line of those who warn of the dangers of austerity and urge the (re)instatement of a welfare state. He argues that while a conventional liberal-democratic state may be more desirable than a neo-liberal state, they both fall far short of what we can and ought to imagine democratic society to be. Drawing on the work of French intellectual Lefebvre, Purcell outlines for citizens a state of ‘autogestion’ – a process and struggle where citizens both individually and collectively take control. They take control not to cede power to oligarchical state institutions or powerful state actors, but instead to co-ordinate in leaderless, non-hierarchical groups analogous to rhizomes – ‘centreless assemblages in which any point or individual can connect to any other’. Continue reading