04 July 2013

I am on the train coming home from Hull with Andy Crossland from Humber Learning Consortium, my Connecting Policy with Practice partner. We have been spending time with members of the Talent Match Humber Core Partnership team finding out about their experience of making support for young people work on the ground. In one of those ‘silver lining’ moments, an IT system problem means that e-mails are not updating on my blackberry so I have time to reflect.

The people we met were generous with both their time and their thoughts – and were wonderfully open and honest. We had representatives from Jobcentre Plus, from the local enterprise partnership, from a local authority and from a social enterprise. And some pretty consistent themes emerged.

First, there was a really strong sense that the people here actually do want to make a difference to the lives of young people, that they are looking for ways of working together and making the policies work. But all agreed that there could well be elements of ‘if it’s not made round here, then we won’t do it’.

That’s interesting in the light of the ambitions in the Civil Service Reform Plan to drive towards more open policy making. The plan talks about enabling policy to reflect the real-world experiences of citizens and harness public engagement with the policy making process. It suggests that the Civil Service can go further in finding the most collaborative approaches to its policy making.

So how do you get more involvement in the policy design process by citizens?

Humber Learning Consortium are doing just that as part of developing their Big Lottery proposal by getting the young people who would benefit from the programme to research and support the design of the offer. Scott from HLC gave a powerful presentation to the Core Partnership Team about how young people had been consulted in the development of the proposal and the insights that had come from them. It struck a chord with others in the room who also started to think about ways in which they could involve end users in decisions about services and provision.

Andy and I chatted about this in the car on the way back to the station. HLC had expected it to be challenging, but actually found the young people’s enthusiasm to engage with them refreshing. The challenge for HLC is to make co-design and co-delivery by young people (and indeed other client groups) an embedded and permanent way of working across their services.

Then it dawned on me – I had a real life example of my own. I volunteer with the Scouts and have done for many years as my own children have grown up through the movement. Over the past couple of years, the Scout Association has been developing its vision for 2018. Not only has it done that through involving young people in huge numbers but it has concluded that the on-going success of scouting depends on young people being involved in development and decision making at all stages.

So we now have youth members on all committees, young leaders as part of leadership teams designing and delivering activities for beavers, cubs and scouts and youth forums at every tier in the organisation. It can’t be a coincidence, therefore, that it is the largest co-educational youth movement in the country and has a waiting list in the UK alone of over 35,000.

So as my train pulls in and the Blackberry comes back to life, I think I realise what open policy really means – it is more than consultation, more than customer insight and focus groups, it is something about the hands-on involvement of service users – and at a level where they will see the benefit of their involvement. Maybe we in government have to think about how policies can be designed so that people really do think that ‘it’s been made round here’.