Metro mayors – what is their worth?

market_townBy Heather Cameron

As voters went to the polls once again on 4th May for the local elections, six combined authorities in England saw directly-elected metro mayors chosen for the first time, as part of the government’s devolution agenda.

The six areas – Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley, the West of England and the West Midlands – account for almost 20% of the population of England. This means a third of the English population, including London, now have a directly-elected metro mayor.

Advocates of the role believe metro mayors have the potential to transform both local democracy and local economies. However, not everyone is as supportive.

What are directly-elected metro mayors and what are their responsibilities?

Directly-elected metro mayors are chairs of their area’s combined authority, elected by the local population. Their role involves working in partnership with the combined authority to exercise the powers and functions devolved by central government, set out in the local area’s devolution deal. In contrast to existing city mayors, who are also directly elected, or local council leaders who make decisions for, and on behalf of, their local authorities, metro mayors have the power to make decisions for whole city regions.

The devolved powers predominantly focus on strategic matters, including housing and planning, skills, transport and economic development, with the exception of Greater Manchester, which also has powers and funding related to criminal justice and health and social care. Each devolution deal is very much tailored to the local area however, so the combined authorities will have varying powers and budgets.

The aim of metro mayors is to support local economic growth, while providing greater democratic accountability.

Concerns

While the government believes the role ensures clear accountability over devolved powers and funding, concerns have been voiced within local government itself about the accountability, effectiveness and necessity of the incoming combined authority mayors. And democratic support for the role has always been weak.

In terms of accountability, metro mayors will not be accountable to an elected assembly, as in London, but only to their cabinet made up of other council leaders. This, and their potentially wide-ranging powers have been highlighted as a concern in terms of back-room stich-up deals being created between mayors and individual authorities“.

Their introduction has also been described as “potentially worrying” as the local people were never given the opportunity to have a say on the new roles and that, instead, they are products of ‘deals done behind closed doors between councillors and representatives of central government.’

It appears rather ironic that this proposal of greater devolution may actually reflect an imposition from central government of its own policies and desires on local government.

Nevertheless, the new metro mayors do enable greater local control over local matters and have been argued to represent the best chance yet of ensuring devolution is sustainable over time. It is also likely they will get increasing powers over time, as in London.

But the question remains whether they will facilitate local economic growth and help to re-balance the English economy.

Final thoughts

Whether the new metro mayors will succeed in this aim or not, only time will tell. There has been little evidence of improved performance under elected mayors in England so far, although it has been suggested there is some evidence that their introduction has resulted in quicker and more transparent decision-making, that the mayor had a higher public profile, that the council was better at dealing with complex issues, and that there was improved relationships between partners.

Some of the successes of the London mayor have also been suggested to be an indication of the potential impact of the directly-elected mayor role.

As has recently been argued, their success, or otherwise, “should be judged on whether they improve prospects for the people who live in their city regions, stimulating growth and getting local public services working better”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on devolution:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

How to tackle unconscious bias: Step 1 – read this!

What is unconscious bias?

Although levels of explicit prejudice are falling, discrimination continues to be a problem for many sections of society.  One reason for this may be ‘unconscious bias’.

Unconscious bias is “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”

Everyone has some degree of unconscious bias.  Unconscious thoughts are often based on stereotypes and prejudices that we do not realise that we have.

From a survival point of view, these brain ‘shortcuts’ are a positive and necessary function – they help us to make snap decisions in dangerous situations, for example.  However, in everyday life, they can negatively effect rational decision-making.

Types of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias has different forms.  One common form is Affinity bias – the subconscious preference for people with similar characteristics to ourselves (sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, educational background etc.).  In 2015, the CIPD reported that recruiters were often affected by affinity bias, resulting in the tendency to hire ‘mini-mes’.

The Halo effect involves the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.  For example, a disproportionate number of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall, suggesting that there is a perception that taller people make better leaders, or are more successful. Similar patterns have been observed in the military and even for Presidents of the United States.

The Horns effect is the opposite of the ‘Halo effect’ – where one characteristic clouds our opinions of other attributes.  For example, the perception that women are ‘less capable’ in certain occupations.  A review found that female psychologists and women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) departments were just as likely to discriminate against female candidates as their male counterparts.

The same qualities can also be perceived very differently in different people – for example, assertiveness in a man may be perceived more positively (‘strong leader’) than in a woman (‘bossy’).

Impact of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias not only influences our body language and the way we interact with people, it can also negatively influence a number of important decisions in the workplace, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Staff appraisals
  • Workload allocations

As well as being unfair, decisions based on unconscious biases are unlikely to be optimal and can result in missed opportunities.  Where unconscious bias also effects a protected characteristic, it can also be discriminatory.

How to mitigate unconscious bias

So, now you know what unconscious bias is, what can you do about it?

The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias. The first step is to become more aware of the potential of unconscious bias to influence your own decision-making. Large organisations such as Google and the NHS are already providing unconscious bias training to their staff.

You can take this awareness further by taking an Implicit Association Test, such as that provided by Harvard University.  This will help to identify and understand your own personal biases.

Other ways to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias include:

  • Taking time to make decisions
  • Ensuring decisions are justified by evidence and the reasons for decisions are recorded
  • Working with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals, such as different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focusing on positive behaviours and not negative stereotypes

At the corporate level, ways that organisations can help to tackle unconscious bias include:

  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences, including objective indicators, assessment and evaluation criteria and the use of structured interviews
  • Ensure that selection panels are diverse, containing both male and female selectors and a range other characteristics where possible (ethnicity, age, background etc.)
  • Promote counter-stereotypical images of underrepresented groups
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops

Tackling unconscious bias is not just a moral obligation; it is essential if organisations are to be truly inclusive.  By making best use of the available talent, it can also help to make organisations be more efficient and competitive.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles on management and organisational development.

To see what other topics our researchers are interested in, follow us on Twitter.

Celebrating 1,000 issues of the Idox Information Service Weekly Bulletin

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by Stacey Dingwall

After turning 40 last year, the Idox Information Service today reaches another milestone: the 1,000th edition of our Weekly Bulletin.

The Bulletin is circulated to our members every week, as part of their subscription to our service. It contains a selection of abstracts of some of the 100+ articles and documents added to our database each week. The Bulletin highlights the publications that our team of Research Officers think will be of the most interest or importance to our members, across our core subject areas:

  • Government, politics and public administration.
  • Business and economy.
  • Management and organisational development.
  • Equalities and diversity.
  • Employment, jobs and careers.
  • Education and skills.
  • Planning and development.
  • Transport, infrastructure and communications.
  • Regeneration and community development.
  • Arts, culture and leisure.
  • Health and social care
  • Crime, justice and rights.

Also included is a section of new government publications, which features any consultations, guidance and announcements the UK government and the devolved administrations have published that week.

The Bulletin was first published in 1975, back when the Information Service was known as the Planning Exchange. In his book on the early days of the Planning Exchange, Barry Cullingworth notes that at the time, “neither central nor local government [was] adequately organised to provide information”. According to founder Tony Burton, the Planning Exchange had therefore found itself dealing with an unexpected volume of requests for information, “not only from the general public, voluntary organisations and elected members, but also from academics, professionals and officers of local and central government”.

This resulted in the Planning Exchange gaining funding from the Leverhulme Trust to provide a weekly roundup of abstracts of articles and research on planning and housing-related matters to elected members in a couple of local authorities in Scotland. While this was intended to be a limited service, at the end of its trial period several local planning officers asked the Planning Exchange to continue sending the Bulletin, as they found it so useful.

Today, the Bulletin is sent to our members in local authorities across the country, central government, planning consultancies, universities and commercial organisations, among others. It forms part of the key current awareness service provided by the Idox Information Service for our members, alongside separate subject specific updates, personalised alerts and our recently launched election updates.

You can read more about the many benefits our customers enjoy from their membership of the Idox Information Service in our previous blog post here. We have also been recognised by the Alliance for Useful Evidence for our work in making research relevant and accessible to practitioners – not just researchers.


Organisations that join the Idox Information Service are committed to using a sound evidence base for decision-making and policy formulation. They also support the professional development of their staff. Being part of our community gives them the knowledge and tools to improve both frontline services and forward planning and strategy.

Membership packages can cover an entire organisation or a specific department or team. We also offer subscriptions to our current awareness services to individuals who are not affiliated with a suitable organisation.

To find out more please contact our team on 0870 333 7101 or contact us online.

Smart citizens, smarter state: from open government to smarter governance

 

By Steven McGinty

Last year, a poll by Ipsos Mori found that only 16% of the British public trust politicians to tell the truth. Although scepticism is healthy for a democracy, these figures are significantly lower than in 1986, when 38% of the public trusted MPs “to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party

The British Social Attitudes survey attributes this decline in public confidence to the 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal. However, a more general dissatisfaction with institutions (the media, the police, and financial institutions) – who have all had their own scandals – may also be a factor.

With this decline in trust, it’s not too surprising that the British public are calling for greater transparency and more ‘open government’.

What is open government?

According to Professor Beth Simone Noveck’s book, ‘Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing’, open government involves moving away from a ‘closed-door model’ of governance to one where government institutions connect with people and organisations from a diverse range of backgrounds. This includes citizens, academics, voluntary organisations and the commercial sector.

Examples of citizen involvement

The commercial sector has already benefited from greater citizen involvement. For instance, Facebook, which relies heavily on its 1.44 billion monthly users to generate content, is valued at over $300 billion. This is three or four times more than traditional US media companies such as CBS and Viacom. Netflix, a global streaming service for movies and TV series, also sought to benefit from outside talent by offering a million dollars to researchers who could improve their ability to make recommendations for their subscribers.

However, it’s not just about the commercial sector. Galaxy Zoo, an online citizen science project, has been very successful thanks to its pool of ‘citizen scientists’, who help translate raw information into useful scientific knowledge. In its first year, the project created 50 million ‘classifications’. To date, the project has published 48 articles using the data classified by volunteers.

Benefits of open government

In her book, Professor Noveck includes an example of how government might reduce reoffending. She explains that to initially understand the problem data scientists are required to interpret the data. Legal scholars, practitioners and victims’ groups are also needed to help understand the practical realities of the criminal justice system.  Using this scenario, she describes how professionals, such as psychologists and social scientists could design pilot projects to reduce reoffending.

Professor Noveck argues that increasing openness could provide greater insights and a more legitimate form of government. She suggests that open government has the potential to restore trust in public institutions.

Failure of open government

In 2010, the Coalition Government consulted the public on its programme for government. The website received a total of 9,500 official responses; although no government policies were changed as a result.

At the time, The Guardian described this as a failure, and Simon Burall, Director of Involve, a group advising bodies on consultation, warned that

You have to give the government some credit for trying to do this, but badly designed consultations like this are worse than no consultations at all. They diminish trust and reduce the prospect that people will engage again.”

Although a proponent for more open governance, Professor Noveck concedes that government initiatives to involve citizens, like the one introduced by the previous UK government, have failed.  She claims that the ad-hoc nature of these programmes and the long standing culture of closed-door practices present major barriers.

Smarter governance

Therefore, Professor Noveck advocates a move towards, what she calls, ‘smarter governance’. In essence, this means that institutions should look to target and match specific people with the right opportunities – which is now possible thanks to ‘technologies of expertise’. Well known platforms such as LinkedIn allow individuals to be found based on their particular skills. And online learning platforms such as the Khan Academy provide ‘badges’ to indicate the mastery of skills.

In the UK, the app GoodSAM, which evolved from London’s Air Ambulance service, is designed to alert approved medical professionals when an emergency is nearby, so that potentially lifesaving treatment can be administered.

In the US, the New York Police department maintains a database of its employees’ abilities, ranging from language skills to hobbies, such as yoga or beekeeping. The department takes the tasks of collating skills very seriously, with all new recruits completing a form as part of the human resources process. Having this knowledge allows senior officers to make better use of their staff abilities, and provide a better service.

Conclusions – “More Minecraft, less statecraft”

Professor Noveck concludes her book by calling for positive steps to ensure that institutions not only listen to advisory boards and formal committees, but also include the citizen experience and wider expertise. She recommends that there should be a diverse range of conversations between government and its citizens, and that reinventing the processes of decision making should be a matter of urgency.


The Idox Information Service includes a traditional library service offering a range of physical books, documents and reports.  The book, ‘Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing’, by Professor Beth Simone Noveck, is the latest addition to our collection, and can be borrowed by Information Service members.  If you would like to subscribe to the Information Service please contact us at AskTheResearchTeam@idoxgroup.com

 

Involving young people in local political systems and decision-making

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Image from Flickr user UK Parliament via Creative Commons

Our latest briefing focuses on the involvement of young people in political processes and decision-making. You can download the briefing for free from the Knowledge Exchange publications page.

While the media was focused on young people’s participation in politics at the national level during the recent General Election campaign, in this briefing we take a step back and look at the involvement of young people in local political processes and decision-making.

Research by the IPPR in 2013 found that alongside those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, young people are the group least likely to vote at elections. At the local level, research by the National Centre for Social Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that young voters are even less likely to turn out for local (and European) elections.

Our briefing highlights a range of reasons suggested by existing evidence as to why young people have low levels of engagement with political systems and decision-making. These include:

  • A lack of trust in politicians and their parties.
  • A focus on policies that do not directly impact on their lives.
  • Today’s generation of young people do not see voting as a civic duty.

Also highlighted are the reasons why it is so important that more is done to encourage young people to engage with political and decision-making processes. These range from legal factors (children and young people have the legal right to have a say in all matters that affect them, according to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) to examples of positive contributions that children and young people have made in the shaping of local services.

The briefing includes advice on how organisations including councils can help to encourage and facilitate young people to become more involved in formal decision-making processes. This includes tips on practical considerations (e.g. venues, timing of meetings), safeguarding issues and how best to communicate with young people.

A number of examples of good practice are identified, including Dorset County Council’s Youth Inspectors scheme. Established in 2009, the project aims to enable young people to learn about and influence local services in their area.


 

The Knowledge Exchange specialises in public and social policy. To gain an insight into the commentary it offers, please explore our publications page on the Knowledge Exchange website.

To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Knowledge insider…. a Q & A with Jonathan Breckon

jonathan_breckon_150x150In the latest of our series of Q&As with leading advocates of the use of evidence in policymaking and practice, we talk to Jonathan Breckon. Jonathan is Head of the Alliance for Useful Evidence – a partnership which champions the need for useful evidence, providing a focal point for improving and extending the use of social research and evidence in the UK.

Jonathan, what led you to a role about promoting and improving knowledge development? 

There are two ways in which I am interested in knowledge development; professionally I have always worked around universities, loved doing and finding out new research and working within research in UK. I have always been conscious however, of the gap between research and front line services, even when research is relevant to the service, and felt this was a great loss and disadvantage to public services.

My personal interest, as a user of public services, with my kids going through services such as schools, health and sports, I have been desperately aware that things are business as usual rather than continuously striving for innovation and change. The debate is now all about money and reductions when it should be about improvement and future proofing.

We don’t always know what it takes to bridge the gap between what we need, and what services can provide; research can actually help that. The What Works approach is really important but very hard, as it’s difficult to stop doing things we have already invested in. An evidence-based research approach can challenge and support this evaluation and we have a moral duty to do it and not continue to invest in services which don’t work.

What do you think the main benefits of developing your knowledge are?

The challenge of seeing if things work or not, why they work, where they work and who they work for – developing your knowledge is the critical aspect of improving how you do things.

It’s also important for a whole host of other benefits. I particularly like Carol Weiss’ work, which is instrumental – this ‘enlightment’ operational research should not be dismissed. This approach can support the ideas of learning continuously through research; it implies a continuous review of theory, methods, practice and we should always be striving to improve our methods and outcomes.

When people are talking to you about evidence, research or knowledge, what do they most frequently raise as issues?

The most common one is that investing in evidence is just rhetoric; politicians, charities, parties etc will never really be informed by the research agenda, and I agree. We aren’t in a super-rational culture, it’s about our wider culture, values and beliefs as well. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding that research trumps anything. It is part of the mix, part of the overall democratic and rational approach to doing anything.

The Behavioural Insights Team has a massive role to play in understanding the biases in how we make decisions, whether in prisons, police, policy etc. We don’t work rationally all the time and evidence can help us understand the messiness of policy making. We just need it to be a bigger part of the mix.

Everybody has this view that they use evidence but we don’t really understand how effectively they use it.

What are the hard to spot mistakes when it comes to developing your knowledge, which you really need to avoid?

The main one is that not all evidence is equal; that you have to make judgements about it. This is hard for those writing the research – it’s not about the quality of the research, and it’s about the point of view from demand. They need some things and not others.

The big challenge, if you are looking at impact, is you need different approaches, experiments, systematic reviews – one study is not enough. Such as when you see studies reported in newspapers – until replicated we don’t really know if it is robust. You need to avoid literature reviews where you cherry pick, go to something which is transparent and is systematic. This is true of both policy makers and researchers’ point of view; we underestimate the challenges facing both sides.

Need more about impact. We are very good at qualitative – world class – but we are behind in quantitative methods. It is being addressed but it will need to filter through.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in 5 years’ time?

What Works Centres will, I hope, be a key part of the evidence ecosystem, in the way that NICE have done, helping providers and policy makers make decisions. Although it doesn’t do research itself it sucks in research and uses it well.

There will always be critics of them, even of just the name, but they will change the system. Some have been around for a while and are well established, but others are new and are just about to be. As well as synthesising research they will commission new work. For instance in wellbeing, we know a lot about the correlation with health and wellbeing but don’t know a lot about what will work in improving it.

Technology makes it very difficult to guess about the future, who would have predicted the work in social media research? Big data is emerging now and in 5 years’ time might be a standard tool. The fundamental principles like statistics will be there but we will have to adapt to the possibilities offered by technology

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

Just because you have done a social science masters and PhD, does not make you an expert in evidence, partly because people over-specialise. People need open their minds to different methods and how people do it in other places. The Department for International Development have an amazing range of techniques, nothing like anything you have seen, with a database of all the research they have funded or delivered.

Emerging opportunities such as social media research – still early days and fundamentally new, and could have a huge impact. Most people’s default though is to go to an expert and be frightened off journals and academics; I don’t think you always have to commission something new, it’s about variety, breadth and developing your understanding in as many ways as possible.


 

You can also read Q&As with Tim Allen, Local Government Knowledge Navigator; Clive Grace, Local Government Knowledge Navigator; Sarah Jennings of the Knowledge Hub; and Kim Ryley, recent Past President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

 

Knowledge insider… a Q & A with Tim Allen

tim allenIn the latest in our series looking at evidence based practice, I spoke to Tim Allen, co-owner of two research consultancies, previously research director for the Local Government Association and a senior civil servant for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury. Tim is also one of the Local Government Knowledge Navigators.

Tim, what led you to a role promoting and improving knowledge development?

My interest in the practical use of knowledge and evidence is long standing.

I started my career as a property professional and very quickly moved to the former Agriculture Development and Advisory Service, where my role was to encourage knowledge exchange and technology transfer in improving agricultural production and fostering environmentally sensitive farming.

As I moved on, I became a member of the executive board for the then Countryside Agency where I was responsible for a wide range of activities, including establishing a corporate research function to inform rural policy at a time when this was high profile, something that I subsequently followed through in roles in the Treasury and DEFRA by setting up a rural policy function in the early 2000s.

More recently, I moved to the Local Government Association as research director with a key role to support the case for local government by providing or sourcing evidence to inform policy development, on a wide range of topics from the impact on public services of migration through to climate change or encouraging supermarkets to reduce waste by reducing product packaging.

During this time, I also sponsored the LARCI Initiative, which brought together UK Research Councils, academics and local government on the basis that local government wasn’t benefitting from very substantial national investment in research and development.

A key lesson for me from that experience (which had it’s successes, but ultimately didn’t quite reach out to local government in the way that we hoped) was the importance not of the research report that may or may not sit on shelves, but of the knowledge and experience lodged in the heads of the researchers concerned – which can be a knowledge base built on years, if not decades, of working in that field.

To me, applying research to the practical problems of local public service policy and practice is about actively – and intelligently – bringing people together to collaborate, learn and exchange ideas and knowledge. Local Government has to tackle often complex and interconnected issues, such as public health and social care, supporting the most vulnerable in society, tackling waste, and planning for transport.

In our role as Local Government Knowledge Navigators, we passionately believe that as local government and local public services face eye watering cuts to funding and increased demand, we need to look for new sources of knowledge and innovation. Whilst some of this can and will come from within, when you are under pressure, you need to look more widely for wise and long term solutions, or the clues that can help you reach these such solutions.

What do you think the main benefits of developing your knowledge are?

To use an old term, Continuing Professional Development – the world does not stand still, people in policy need to keep up, to make sure we are on top of where the best knowledge is and to apply it. As resources are constrained at the moment, you really do need that knowledge even more.

What you do, why you do it and how, needs to be demonstrated and organisations need to be sure they are making good, sound decisions. If short term decisions made necessarily in haste are to be well informed and robust – and not cause regret later because they were sub-optimal – they require good quality evidence and knowledge. Otherwise they risk creating the catastrophes of tomorrow.

The benefits of knowledge based decisions include confidence in decisions – and crucially, political assurance that they are soundly based – even if this means exposing yourself to new, and potentially disruptive influences. For example, who would think that multivariate modelling that draws from the world of engineering has application in social care: well the answer is that it does, and colleagues in Southampton University are showing how this approach can inform demand management and care planning for the elderly.

However, we start from a very low base, with little systematic research and development serving local government despite the fact that the sector still spends over 20% of public expenditure. We are on a journey: Local Government doesn’t have the resources for this, yet there are beacons of exemplary good practice in applying research and research knowledge to impressive effect, but these examples are just that, episodic and without systemic adoption.

We need to connect local government to new, relevant knowledge, but not long academic tomes of research, it’s the connection between the researcher and the practitioner that is of value. One driver ought to be CPD and the need to connect with practitioners. This should be about knowledge exchange, based around people as well as the research, with approaches that foster ‘co-production’ of knowledge and the ‘co-definition’ of problems. Integrating the researcher into the system and creating a research loop, with dialogue during research.

Developments in policy around research funding are helpful in placing ever stronger emphasis on real world impact, but we need a shift in Local Government also to embrace new sources of knowledge. And this includes our local politicians who should see this as a means to have a more informed dialogue with citizens, not a threat because new knowledge may challenge pre-conceptions: austerity should leave no place for ill informed policies.

When people are talking to you about evidence, research or knowledge, what do they most frequently raise as issues?

How you respond to substantial reductions in public funding? How to know whether you are making the right decisions? Am I commissioning the right services, will it work and work for a period of years? What will local government look like in five years time? In a world where local government has shifted from an industrial scale service provider through to being a commissioner and, increasingly, a minor funder yet still accountable when things go wrong (e.g. care support for the elderly which is substantively in the private sector) – how do you deal with that? How do you deal with complexity? How do you manage within the commercial environment or commissioning framework? How do you avoid the major failures?

What are the hard to spot mistakes when it comes to developing your knowledge, which you really need to avoid?

Know where the expertise lies – to what degree can we rely on the resources we are being pointed to, and are those resources transferable? Are they robust enough to be reliable? Are we relying on unsubstantiated stories about good practice?

People often don’t know that useful evidence exists, and there is a huge disconnect between publicly funded research, which should be informing practice and local government. The drivers of success in academia are all too often publishing in academic journals that are peer reviewed and rigorous, yet ultimately often never reach practitioners.

There is also a disconnect between where research is published and where practitioners go for their information. As a result, we need structured facilitation to bring the two together (using the thrust for academic research to demonstrate real world impact) around the issues that practitioners face and help both sides come together. And before we become dispirited, there are many in the research world who want to get involved in public policy and practice, and see their research have real impact.

People often think of knowledge and research as an overhead. This is a false view and we can draw on lessons such as a recent piece by the former Swedish Prime Minister Goren Persson on the things you need to do to get yourself through severe cuts and change. He highlights how important it is to have clarity, vision and evidence, with a clear view that something at the end of the change will be better.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in five years’ time?

I would hope that we are beginning a culture shift, that will become more embedded and systemic across local government and local public services with Local Government people and researchers better connected, and with many more accessible routes and pathways to link the two.

We may not have nirvana, but we would have local dialogue with active research agendas under way which are delivering results and an equitable portion of national investment in research working for local government being steered or influenced by the sector.

The seeds are there, it just needs leadership, from those who fund research, and from local government and public services to push for this access to – and collaboration with – the research and development base, to turn what has been ad hoc and happenstance to something more systemic.

For example, in practical terms, this could include effective use of knowledge and evidence as part of peer review in local government, and professional societies and groups engaging in the agenda through CPD, but more fundamentally, fostering a thirst for knowledge rather than creating a compliance culture.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

  • Dialogue with your local university, find out how you can work together: there are a whole range of potential opportunities that might be a Vice Chancellor getting involved in strategy, or researchers working in partnership on a particular policy or project such as smart city development or demography.
  • Come to us as knowledge navigators to get help, make connections (which might be a about accessing national expertise.
  • Let’s exploit the recently announced ESRC ‘impact accelerator accounts’; funding is available to encourage 24 universities and research institutions to engage with external stakeholders, including local public services, to explore opportunies.

You can also read a Q&A with Clive Grace, Local Government Knowledge Navigator; a Q&A with Sarah Jennings of the Knowledge Hub; and a Q&A with Kim Ryley, recent Past President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

The Use and Application of Knowledge: A practitioner’s Guide

This presentation was given by our director, Rebecca Riley, at our recent event ‘Investing in Knowledge – improving services and decision-making‘. It explores different decision making models and how services like The Knowledge Exchange inform different stages of the decision making process. Stay tuned for the rest of the presentations from the day.

Knowledge insider… a Q&A with Kim Ryley

Kim Ryley

Welcome to the third of our blog series in the run up to our Conference, looking at our experiences and how we invest in knowledge, I interviewed Kim Ryley, who is speaking at our London event on the 10 December. Kim Ryley has 35 years experience in local public service, with 14 of these as a Chief Executive in several large City and Unitary Councils. He is a recent Past President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace, UK), is a Solace Board Director, and is currently Chair of the Society’s business arm, Solace in Business, as well as the Society’s Lead on International Relations.

Kim, what led you to a role promoting and improving knowledge development?  

I think it started early in my career, many years ago, long before the quality management of information became the norm in local government. Originally, I worked in the local education service, in the days before performance league tables for schools. One thing that struck me forcibly then was that there was little attempt to judge how successful the money invested in local schools was in raising the levels of educational attainment. Continue reading