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 Big Lottery Fund England’s pioneering new funding, investing £570 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 struggle to address the most complex social policy problems, particularly in a time of spending restraint and declining 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 is interested in what can be learnt from the Big Lottery Fund’s investments that could help government to operate more effectively. In particular, we want to build on our existing body of work on:

Programme of work

At the heart of the programme each year is a 30-person cohort. The year one cohort has now finished their direct involvement in the programme and a new cohort has begun for 2014 (see below).  Participants are drawn primarily from the Civil Service in Whitehall, and voluntary sector organisations working to deliver the Big Lottery investments. Cohort members work together in ‘learning pairs’ over the course of a year, to develop a better understanding of how policy translates into practice and to deliver practical projects.

To do this they undertake exchanges and visits to local services and Whitehall departments, and take part in a series of events, workshops and roundtables facilitated by the Institute.

Programme findings

Over the course of the first year 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.

These insights 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.

Year 2

Our year two cohort members are drawn from departments including HM Treasury, DWP and the Ministry of Justice, and from voluntary organisations such as London Youth, Brighter Futures and the Amy Winehouse Foundation. They met for their first intensive workshop at the Institute in July 2014.

The second year of the programme builds on the first year. Year two cohort members are examining more closely two of the ‘policy disconnects’ we identified in year one, attempting to provide some answers to two questions:

  • How can we move towards policy and services that operate on the principle that complex problems require ‘whole person’ solutions?
  • How could we more systematically make better use of the assets, experience and engagement of service users in the design and delivery of services?


Find out more