This post is one of a series of reflections on the Right to Control Trailblazer work in Essex over the last few months. For an overview of the work, and an introduction to this post, please see the opening post of this series.
I’ve been surprised throughout the Trailblazer process by how little policy is spoken of. My perception is that people delivering services ‘on the ground’ think of policy happening elsewhere; in some cases, people think that policy doesn’t affect them.
This strikes me as worrying, for 4 reasons.
The first is what it means for people’s motivations. I think it is vital that people delivering a public service understand the “why?” as much as the “how?”. If they have a framework within which they can understand their role, the purpose of the work they do, and the expectations that are required of them, then they are more likely to positively contribute to the delivery of that service. Policy is a vital part of creating that framework, so to think that it’s something that happens elsewhere is to undermine one of the foundations for the success of service delivery or reform.
Not engaging in policy discussions means potentially missing out on service transformation. Engaging with what a policy is seeking to achieve is engaging with changing at every level the way a service is approached, delivered, and ultimately what the service is there to achieve. To take one example: you can think of adult social care as meeting the day to day needs of disabled and older people. Or you can think of adult social care as the means by which people, irrespective of age or impairment, can live independent and fulfilling lives. Without an eye on the policy, the potential for transformation is compromised.
The third reason is that not engaging with policy means focusing too much on process. It is easier for people to talk about things they know and to make small improvements to the stuff they do already. By not discussing and debating the policy approach (the “why?”) it becomes easy to concentrate on the comfort of the “how?”.
The final reason for worrying about a lack of policy discussion is that it exacerbates the central ‘versus’ local tension. This seems to me to be most pertinent in the opposite way to that we’d normally expect: at the level of central government. If local public agencies don’t engage in the policy discussion then there could be a tendency at the centre to disengage from the implementation of that policy. This is unhelpful in several ways, not least of which is a potential lack of feedback about whether or not the policy is right, or ways in which the centre can act to facilitate successful implementation.