Policy process advocacy – is the desirable, feasible?

A few weeks ago, the co-occurrence of a ‘twitter discussion’ (initiated by @LukeCravenand some reading I was doing on policy analysis tools prompted me to start thinking about what Hill (2013) refers to as process advocacy.  Process advocacy is concerned with improving the nature of policy making.  It is different to policy advocacy in that it concerns advocating generally for ‘better’ policy process rather than the substance or content of a particular policy.

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Policy Safari

My last post – on the topic of evidence-based public health policy – made me start thinking about ‘policy’ and people’s conceptions of it.  Getting theoretical about policy-making is important stuff – if you understand a situation, understand what is going on, it is more likely that you can take purposeful action to influence it in a way you perceive as productive.  It is particularly important when advocating for ‘healthy public policy’ and for ‘participative policy making’.  The way you understand policy will affect what you understand to be the purpose of, and reason for, tools like health impact assessment; principles such as citizen engagement; and, policy positions such as the espoused view to have evidence-based policy.

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So what is the evidence base for the ‘call’ to be evidence based?

Just recently, the concept of ‘evidence-based public health’ or ‘evidence-based policy’ (and therefore, evidence-based public health policy) has started to worry me.  It’s so part of our discourse that you don’t often stop to think what does it really mean? and is it ‘really’ happening? and is it really possible?  But then when you do, you kind of realise that even the notion of ‘evidence’ is contested – what does it really mean to the people who advocate for ‘evidence-based xxxx’?

After christmas, the module on my PhD is called ‘Knowledge, evidence and theory’ so I suspect/hope I’ll have the opportunity to think of this more then, but in the meantime I’m pondering what does it mean to say that a public health initiative (policy, programme, project, service) is or isn’t underpinned by a sound evidence base?  I’ve jumped around a few books and internet searches in order to gain some initial impressions which I hope will form a basis for further inquiry into this area.

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Two parallel worlds of public health?

I don’t often use this blog as a platform for a rant, but there’s something I have to get out of my head…

This last week – in my ‘twittersphere’ – two ‘events’ happened, each billed in their own right as a ‘major move’ forward for public health.  But they just seemed like parallel universes. Continue reading

The use and abuse of measurement

There seems to be a bit of a thing going on this week about terms like measurement, targets, payment by results, outcomes.  It has been going on a while in conversations I have had (both face to face and on-line) and a number of systems bloggers are writing about it but it all seems to be getting a bit busier this weekend…it seems to be coming to a head.

So to start with I’ll mention all the activity that has prompted me to turn to the keyboard to add to the conversation – or if not adding to it then at least summarising where my own thinking is going to. Continue reading

The lens of collaborative governance

One of the threads of academic discourse I have accrued papers on as I have been doing the ‘literature reviewing’ work referred to in my last post is that of “collaborative governance” – a recurring theme in public administration theory and research.  As my first in-road, I decided to read the most recent paper in my list – I figured that the new stuff will build on the shoulders of the old stuff so even if I don’t feel particularly inspired by the new stuff – at least I have a feeling of the names of the people who write about this stuff.  So the top of the pile (that is speaking figuratively, coz it’s all electronic) was a paper published in January 2012 (a year ago) by Emerson et al – called “An integrative framework for collaborative governance”.

It took a while to get used to the language – lots of familiar words, being used with particular nuances.  I read it, read it again and then started realising just how helpful it is to me in my work (yes, distracted from my journal article per se but nevertheless useful and interesting).  Perhaps it is the ‘integrative’ nature – in that it pulls on a wide range of other writing.  Perhaps it is the ‘framework’ side – hey, I love a theory, particularly one that comes with a diagrammatic conceptual model.  But I feel I’ve come across a gem.

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Writer’s block

You’ll see I haven’t been blogging much recently.  It’s not that I haven’t been doing any thinking or reading – just that none of it is coherent enough to rally together into a blog post.  It’s a little weird not having the rigour of an academic course to say – read this, think about it, reflect it back in assignments – at least the academic courses gave me a route, a journey to follow, and a timetable.  Sure I did little forays every now and again – up interesting cul de sacs and detours, but the main journey was charted for me and I could see what it was to make progress. Continue reading

Using systems thinking as a public policy actor: personal reflections

Right, so for the event on 22 June (more information in the blog I published earlier today), Ray Ison asked me to do a talk on my experiences on systems thinking in the public sector.  The brief was to talk about a) experiences b) constraints to more use; and, c) opportunities for the future. Continue reading

Harnessing systems thinking in public policy process

Yesterday, I got to meet a number of systems thinkers in the flesh – hooray.  It was at a joint event arranged by Prof Eileen Munro of the LSE and Prof Ray Ison at the OU…partly to mark 40 years of systems teaching at the OU.

There were about 30/35 people there – mostly handpicked through systems and public sector networks.  Eileen and Ray had designed it as a systemic inquiry using conversational mapping in small table groups.  Every so often there was some front of the room ‘input’ reflections from people who had been involved in the use of systems thinking in public sector in different ways…the programme information is here (SYSTEMS+40Program) which provides info on each of these speakers…..including me – but more of that later.

It is easy to get enthused in a room like that – the energy levels were amazing – and the mark of any good meeting is that people didn’t quickly dash off at the end, people were chatting, connecting and so on for a good 40 minutes afterwards – and then for a few of us longer in a pub.

Just a few thoughts that struck me as the day went on and I reflected on the way home on the train (admittedly with a glass of wine inside me)… Continue reading

So ‘absent competence’ or ‘constrained capability’?

After all those weeks of writing very academically about my research topic, I’m finding it hard to explain it all ‘in lay terms’ – removing all the public health speak; Systems speak; and, research speak.  I want to write a briefing note to share the findings – not least with the participants – but short of copying and pasting the relevant bits into a new document I am stuck as to how to make it readable, understandable and engaging.  How do I ‘sell’ the ideas that I have developed – I think they are really helpful ideas, but they are only helpful if you realise the problem that they help with exists in the first place!

So I thought I would try and do it bloggy style here to break the academic mode of writing – in the hope that I can subsequently write something that fits in the middle. Continue reading