The Institute for Government (IfG) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) 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 Civil Service Reform Plan committed to more open forms of policy making and more interchange between different sectors. 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.

Programme of work

At the heart of the programme each year is a 30-person cohort. 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

Year 1 (2013)

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 five fundamental ‘disconnects’ between policy and practice, as outlined in our report on the first year of the programme, published in November 2013.

Year 2 (2014-15)

Our second-year cohort members were 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, and concluded their work in March 2015.

The second year of the programme built on the first year, and examinined 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?

Through the work of the cohort and others who attended workshops and roundtable events, we identified four pointers for improvement in response to each of these questions. Our report, published in March 2015, presented these conclusions and offered some broader reflections developed from two years of bringing together policymakers and practitioners.

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