Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A competition and an hexperiment

Wow, well my hexperimental post certainly kicked things off on my blog. It got 116 page views and it's ramped up traffic to my blog generally. I might have to start writing some more good stuff regularly and think about improving the design!

But, I've only got eight comments and four of them are me. I'm off on my holidays tomorrow, so to drum up some more comments I'm proposing a competition (a la Times Higher Ed). The best comment on my post about my Pathways to Impact statement gets a prize from Canada. I'm not sure what it will be, but it will be Amazing and Canadian.

And, I'll switch off comment moderation as I doubt I'll be able to manage the blog quite so successfully while I'm away. Horrible anonymous comments will get deleted and possibly prompt be to give up on this whole exercise in impact. Bonne chance y'all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

An hexperiment....

Hello folks.This is an experiment. Basically, I'm going to post a bit of an ESRC research proposal I'm working on on this blog and I want your comments. Please comment. Pretty please. Pretty please with cherries on top. The initial idea was to actually "crowd source" my "Case for Support" - this is the most important bit where you outline what you're going to do. However, I've personally come across cases where people have just completely stolen research ideas. So, as a bit of a cynic, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to post my "Pathways to Impact" statement. I'm presuming the UK research councils will now get sick of seeing this copied and pasted into research proposals. Or I humour myself, anyway....

In these hellish days of further education we now have to think about what "impact" our research will have. This has caused quite a bit of hoo-ha as the argument that "Einstein didn't have social and economic impact" keeps cropping up. I'm not sure what I think about the whole debate. However, I do think it is quite important in the social sciences because I just think research should make a difference, or want to make a difference, particularly when it's policy research like mine. It's me political mission.

Anyway, as part of the impact agenda, we have to produce this "Pathways to Impact" statement. And I want your comments on it. I want you to check whether it makes sense, spellink and grandma, whether you think the impact is achievable, whether it's "good" impact. So I want "lay" and professional (from other academics) views, please. Pretty please etc. Unfortunately, I can't reveal too much about the rest of the research proposal, but if you look at my other posts you'll probably be able to work out what it might be about:

"As policy analysis this research aims to have impact through increasing the effectiveness of public services. The proposed routes to impact are both instrumental and conceptual, aiming to develop a network of interested public sector policy-makers and developing an ongoing dialogue. This will be part of the researcher development for the PI, producing a partnership with policymakers.

In instrumental terms, the research is directly aligned to the most immediate concerns of policymakers. In the discourse of the “Big Society” at Westminster and in the policy agendas of the devolved administrations and local government, policymakers are increasingly interested in involving citizens in policy delivery through co-production. By focusing on those immediate interactions that can then lead onto service provision and expenditure, this research will unpack consumer relations with local authorities. Specifically, the research questions aim to:
• Provide new research knowledge to understand these interactions, how they are managed and their links to service delivery;
• Provide analysis of how the spatial pattern of interactions may be linked to quality of life and social cohesion within local authority areas;
• Provide tools for local authorities to understand and change their systems to handle these interactions more effectively.

At a conceptual level the research moves policy analysis from a focus on formal arenas for governance and participation – such as local partnerships or committees – to a focus on the everyday interactions of being a citizen. This will immediately fill a research gap between the literature on citizen participation and that on street level bureaucrats. The knowledge produced will enable local authorities to better understand who participates in the production of the local state and why.

Key stakeholders who will be interested in the research processes and findings are: policy-makers within local government – both those who manage and develop customer-focused “front-line” roles and those involved with wider citizen participation; policy-makers in central government focused on working in collaboration with local government in improving the delivery and efficiency of local services; and increasingly third-sector providers who will be entering the market to deliver local services. Initial contact has been made with a Scottish local authority suggesting there is strong interest in this research and a willingness to develop an ongoing partnership.

Being embedded in the policy-making environment through ethnographic research will allow networks with key stakeholders to develop. These will be complemented through forming a virtual sounding board of policymakers to comment on emerging findings and advise on how impact can be enhanced. Accessing communities of practice through the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency and the Improvement Service, in Scotland, will also widen the instrumental impact of the research.

The Institutes of Building and Urban Design and Housing, Urban and Real Estate Research at the School of the Built Environment have existing partnerships with government and industry. Through the research these networks and the knowledge gained from colleagues in their work will be accessed to ensure thoughtful and useful impact. In their research career so far, the PI has developed a public face and been keen to engage communities and policy-makers through direct interaction and developing research proposals, and indirectly through social media. This research project will be able to take advantage of these existing networks – indeed this Pathways to Impact statement was published on a blog to allow this community to comment on the quality and feasibility of the proposed impact."

So there goes guys, get commenting. Please?

Edit: appreciating the comments guys (and noticed quite a few people have favourited the tweet with the link). Just to clarify, there's no rush. I'm off on my hols next week, so was going to come back to this when I get back mid-August.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A very bad blog post....

Right, I promised to my Twitter followers that I'd blog about the Christie Commission report when it was published a week ago. So far I've failed to read it.

For readers who don't know Scotland or the Scottish Government exist, the Christie Commission was set up in January after the Cabinet realised they'd fudged the budget in November and the "Scissors of Dooms" (reducing income from the Barnett Formula, growing demands on public services) were coming to get them. It put difficult decisions off until after the election and then put the decisions in the hands of a "commission" so the Cabinet could remain Teflon coated when it came to blame. A lot like the Independent Budget Review that was published this time last year.

Luckily, a former colleague in the Government has sent me a neat little summary of the Christie Commission report:

"The report confirms that there is a pressing need for reform of public service delivery (future demand pressures would compound current fiscal tightening) and maps out a way forward founded on four key objectives:

o       building services around people and communities

o       more effective work between delivery organisations to integrate services

o       prioritising prevention and tackling inequalities

o       improved accountability and transparency, leading to improved performance and lower cost.

The priorities identified by the Commission include maximising scarce resources, prioritising preventative measures to reduce demand and driving continuing reform across all public services based on outcomes

The Commission’s recommendations include introducing a new set of statutory powers and duties, common to all public service bodies, to embed community participation in the design and delivery of services."

This repeats a lot of the stuff I've heard about the report. Oddly enough the launch was met with quite a damp squib in the Scottish Press...

Anyhoo, it get's me angry. And puzzled. Let's start with the puzzled. It really does just continue a lot of the political discourse that's been around in Scotland for moons. Since the old Regional Council days we've been obsessed with finding a "corporate" or "strategic" approach to joining up public services to make them better. The Christie Commission also really echoes a lot of the messages in the old Lib/Lab Scottish Executive produced around their 2003 Budget Closing the Opportunity Gap and the 2002 Community Regeneration Policy Better Communities in Scotland: Closing the Gap. So, just in the Ministerial forward of the latter it's stated:

"Social justice is at the heart of the Scottish Executive’s work. Breaking the cycle of deprivation, raising personal and community ambitions, and lifting children out of the misery of poverty are important aims of this government"
"more needs to be done and we believe that community planning is the best way to make sure all agencies work together with deprived communities – and with each other – to deliver better and more responsive services."
See? It seems nothing is new here...

The thing that angers me is the continued focus on early intervention. There is some evidence that early intervention does have an impact on children's later lives. But the evidence is mixed. And from my experience in Government, the discourse around "poor parenting" very easily slips into a much more stigmatising language that implicitly is about "poor parents". Early intervention is widely presented as a solution that will solve all our social problems overnight (c.f. debate on social investment bonds). Yet evidence from longitudinal studies shows the greatest predictor of a household experience poverty is a previous experience of poverty. The Scottish Government's very own Growing Up in Scotland study shows that most poor outcomes are most strongly related to income inequality and poverty. What is more, 40% of Scottish children will experience poverty before the age of five. What we need is income redistribution, not a few more parenting classes. Jam today.