At an event hosted by Edinburgh University & chaired by James Mitchell, over 30 people gathered together to discuss the opportunities available to make connections between the impressive work happening within the university on local government and public services policy and the public sector decision-making audience that LGiU reaches across the UK on a daily basis. LGiU’s Kim Fellows explores some of the ideas and themes that emerged from the discussion.
James Mitchell hosted the meeting and the gathering brought together people united by their interest in research and evidence-based policymaking. It was clear to me that everyone in the room was interested in sharing practice, exchanging knowledge and taking the opportunity to communicate with each other and a wider audience to benefit the public in general and users of public services in particular.
Andy Johnston started the meeting by outlining what LGiU does. “We are an information focused charity. It is our mission through providing information to be cheerleaders for local democracy. In particular we aim to share information that is timely, independent and useful in these every changing times for the public sector. I see us as a convener for local council and partners interests and a catalyst for change around the services the public want.”
There was a wide-ranging discussion and a few themes emerged.
First, the consensus in the room was that local government can be overlooked in the busy policy making landscape and indeed councils are stretched with the acknowledged demands of delivering services in this ever changing policy landscape. There is a capacity available in the academic sector to make space for thinking and sharing learning across many departments and disciplines from Scotland and much further afield. If we can find a way to share practices and exchange knowledge that could be beneficial for policy makers.
Second, the meeting felt that in Scotland the politicians are in listening mode. With over 50% of councillors’ new to that role and under the Community Empowerment act with 1% of the budget available to communities perhaps there is more chance of joining up with purpose – to make a difference. In addition city deals are designed to support new joined-up thinking and might be one vehicle with novel opportunities for action and delivery.
Third, around the room we returned to the idea that as policies are rapidly evolving and more and more people are working on short term contracts – so that new ways of working that develop institutional not just individual capacity are needed. That softer skills including sales and marketing, relationship building and influencing are required alongside professional skills such as finance and social work.
Many examples of work were touched on from different places including Brussels, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Tools including data partnerships and living labs that could be used to analyse interventions and share with policy makers to enhance learning and improve services. The key is not to lift wholesale what works in one country to another. More important is to take the evidence and learning and apply that knowledge intelligently in a different place with different laws and cultural norms.
In conclusion, it was my opinion that this was a successful first meeting. There was a real buzz as I left the room and over the following few days it was clear from email traffic that many connections are emerging. An encouraging and exciting first step to meaningful collaboration. Watch this space.