Could Scotland be a global pioneer in public services?


Jenny Brotchie argues that Scotland is in a strong position to lead the way in robust evidence based participative services 

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24th January 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Earlier this month Brian Logan, chief executive of Bield wrote an article in TFN using stark terms about the care crisis, a perfect storm fuelled by funding cuts and an ageing population. For many working in the third sector this storm will be all too familiar: rising demand against a backdrop of squeezed resources. The challenge, in this seemingly impossible context, is how to improve lives. 

It’s not a challenge that’s unique to Scotland. It’s one that governments across the world are grappling with. To figure out the answer, to effectively meet this challenge, we will need to be armed with better evidence than ever before about what works and what doesn’t.

In Scotland, there is a growing consensus – both within the public and third sector – that we must realign public services so that they more holistically support citizens and communities to lead independent and fulfilled lives. This ambition (as the trust’s Enabling State research identifies) is echoed across the UK and beyond, although how it plays out varies considerably in different places.

The goal is to develop public services that are more flexible and responsive, that offer more opportunities for engagement and participation, that improve outcomes and ultimately enable citizens and communities to have much higher degree of control over their own lives. The expectation is that more preventative, enabling and responsive public services will help reduce demand by better serving people’s needs and support citizens and communities more holistically to tackle complex social problems. The challenge is to do this in a way which supports equality and fairness and which maximises the benefits for those most in need.

So how do we do this successfully? What works for who, when and how? Some of this we know already. In some areas good evidence exists but it isn’t always accessible. In other areas we need more research and data. There are emerging challenges to be worked through. For example, what does robust co-produced research look like? How do we aggregate and make sense of diffuse data on citizens’ experiences? How can we best support citizens and communities to produce and consume evidence?  

Jenny Brotchie

Jenny Brotchie

Carnegie UK Trust's new discussion paper, The Scottish Approach to Evidence, launched today and is co-authored with the Alliance for Useful Evidence. It arguest that: 

  • there is a clear policy ambition for more participative ‘enabling’ public services in Scotland, underpinned legislatively by the outcomes based National Performance Framework.
  • there appears to be a particularly strong cross sectoral consensus in Scotland regarding the benefits of moving toward more enabling public services.
  • this offers the third, public and academic sectors the opportunity to work in partnership to become global experts on gathering and using evidence to deliver participative public services that improve lives. There is also an opportunity to learn from other jurisdictions.

We also set out the five steps that we think cross sectoral partners need to take to get there. 

These are:

  • Strengthen the outcomes approach and promote the use of the National Performance Framework at local level
  • Build a strong evidence base for the Scottish approach to public services
  • Develop robust and appropriate methodologies in particular co-produced research
  • Help decision-makers, at all levels, identify and use a mix of high-quality evidence
  • Learn from policy and evidence developments across the UK and share the Scottish experience

In our view the third sector is absolutely critical in realising this potential.

As our InterAction research highlights, the third sector are important knowledge creators. Many charities are already delivering highly effective, participative, enabling public services. Prevention, co-production, mutuality, building strong communities are at the heart of how they work and have always worked. Most have a strong connection to the people and communities that they work with and have a deep understanding of their needs and preferences. And, as we know, charities are often willing and able to test out innovative ways of working and adapt quickly to changing needs.

This combination of data, knowledge and experience about how participative public services really work places the third sector in a unique position to pioneer and lead the change. The challenge will be to bring together the knowledge of charities, academics and public sector partners to build and make accessible a strong associated evidence base. As we know from our conversations with third sector stakeholders cross sectoral collaborations of this nature can be challenging and often frustrating. The prize however is better outcomes and evidence of value not just to stakeholders in Scotland but across the UK and beyond.

Jenny Brotchie is a policy officer at Carnegie UK Trust. You can follow Jenny on Twitter @Jenny_Carnegie  and find out more about Carnegie’s work on evidence and policy.