Connecting Policy with Practice: People Powered Change


The Institute for Government (IfG) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) have teamed up to create an innovative programme that brings together Whitehall policy makers with the people who deliver services on the ground.


This partnership began in January 2013. It was prompted by the Big Lottery Fund England’s pioneering new funding, investing up to £300 million over five to ten years in projects that address the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups in society. The Connecting Policy with Practice programme focuses specifically on two of these major, voluntary-sector led investments, which aim to support:

Faced with the challenges of new types of commissioning, stretched resources and the realities of providing tailored, personalised support to people most in need, now is a crucial time for voluntary organisations to share best practice and shape policy.

At the same time the Government’s plans for open public services are changing the nature of policy making and commissioning in Whitehall. It is clear that traditional delivery models will not be effective in addressing the most complex social policy problems, especially against a background of reducing resources. The Civil Service Reform Plan committed to more open forms of policy making and more interchange between different sectors. This programme aims to make these propositions a reality.

The Institute was interested in what could be learnt from the Big Lottery Fund’s investments that could help government to operate more effectively. In particular, we wanted to build on our existing body of work on better policy makingcommissioning and system stewardship.

Programme of work

At the heart of the programme is a 30-person cohort, drawn primarily from the Civil Service, local authorities and a range of large and small voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises working on Big Lottery investments. Participating organisations include the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education, the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Princes Trust, Addaction, Resolving Chaos and Brighter Futures.

Participants in the cohort were placed in ‘learning pairs’. Over the course of a year, the pairs undertook exchanges and visits to local services and back into Whitehall to develop in depth and practical understanding of how policy translates into practice. Through workshops, research, case studies and a series of events, the Institute has helped to capture and share insights on both sides about how policy making can better foster services that are responsive to the needs of users who can be marginalised by traditional services.

Programme findings

Over the course of the programme the cohort and others who attended events generated cross-cutting insights about policy making, how to design services for complex groups, different funding models and economic arguments, and how to encourage greater partnership and collaboration.

The insights gathered through the programme have led us to identify fundamental ‘disconnects’ between policy and practice, as outlined in our recent report on the programme. These include the need for more integrated, collaborative public services and for a more preventative, long term approach to social policy and funding of services that breaks across departmental silos.

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