01 April 2015

Civil servants are often criticised for forming policy within the ‘Westminster bubble’, removed from the realities on the ground. A recent event hosted by the Institute for Government and the Big Lottery Fund, revealed examples of how policymakers and practitioners have tried to burst that bubble.

The event was a celebration to mark the end of the second year of the Connecting Policy with Practice Programme. A partnership between the Institute for Government and the Big Lottery Fund, the programme has, for the last two years, brought Whitehall policymakers together with people who deliver services on the ground. This year, participants in the programme have teamed up to explore two important disconnects between policy and practice: how to involve service users in creating policy and services, and how to create policy and services that are joined-up rather than siloed.

Dominic and Matt speaking at the event Dominic and Matt speaking at the event

The event kicked off with an explanation of some of the conclusions that we have reached through the second year of the programme. For each disconnect, we have produced four ‘pointers for improvement’, which are discussed in detail in our report. These are things like being aware of the effects that the language used in policy and services can have on end users, and making best use of innovative commissioning approaches and techniques so that services address the needs of the ‘whole person’. Dawn Austwick, the chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, also spoke about how their new funding strategy mirrors many of these findings, and commits to ‘putting people in the lead’ in all of their funding.

But the event was really about the participants in the programme sharing what they’d learned through their work together.

Dominic from the Amy Winehouse Foundation and Matt from the Ministry of Justice had spent the year looking at the issue of housing for high-risk young offenders. Matt, like many of the participants, thought that the programme had given him an opportunity to step away from the desk and really understand the perspective of service users by hearing stories ‘from the horse’s mouth’. Dominic reflected on how better understanding the world of Whitehall has been useful for him and his organisation. He said the programme had opened up a network of policy professionals with whom he would never previously have interacted. He was impressed by their passion and desire to make a difference. Understanding the complexity of their work meant that in future he would stand more up for government, and would no longer uncritically view central government as the root all problems facing the VCS.

Nicholas from Certitude speaking at the event Nicholas from Certitude speaking at the event

Nicholas from Certitude and Caroline from the Department of Health had worked to understand how mental health services could build on the assets that service users have, rather than just trying to rectify their ‘problems’. They are producing a video showing different perspectives on what this kind of ‘asset-based’ approach to mental health services could look like. Caroline and Nicholas tested some of their findings and a first draft of their video with audience members, who offered their thoughts and suggestions for where to take their learning next. We’ll share the finished video on our Connecting Policy with Practice blog soon.

Steph from London Youth and Jenny from the Home Office have worked to understand the impacts of the language used in policy and services. Through their work, they heard from service users and professionals that jargon, negative language and labelling often alienate people, and that this can trickle down from political discourse into policymaking and to the front line. They also heard that service labels like ‘housing’, ‘welfare’ and ‘mental health’ can also act as an excuse to create artificial divides between services. Perhaps more importantly, they found examples of where using language in a positive, inspiring way was a low-cost and effective way of making services work better for the people they were trying to help. Steph has written about some of their findings already, and the event last week was used to test some ‘top tips’ on language, with audience members voting on the ones they thought were most important.

Jenny and Steph at the event Jenny and Steph at the event

There are many more great examples of Connecting Policy with Practice pairs who have worked really hard throughout the year to uncover thought-provoking and useful insights. While this event marked the end of the formal stage of their work, participants are still producing products and outputs to share their learning. We’ll share these on the Connecting Policy with Practice blog in the coming weeks and months.

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