The need for a focus on public impact
Why consultation professionals should study the important analysis published by the Centre for Public Impact
The last time we looked, we found that there about 150 active Think Tanks in the UK. Outsourced research and policy-making is alive and well, especially now that the civil service has retreated into being a BREXIT-dominated commissioner rather than a lead organiser of projects. Much good work emanates from these Think Tanks, but one always needs to check who has paid for published papers.
So, may we introduce you to a relatively new Foundation called the Centre for Public Impact, initiated and funded by the Boston Consulting Group. In 2016 it published a Report on Public Impact Fundamentals and followed it up this year with one called Finding a more human Government, as part of a programme of research called Finding Legitimacy. Together they contain relevant food for thought for those involved in public engagement and consultation. This is because the Centre’s objective is to help search for ways that Governments can improve the results they achieve for citizens. We think that is a goal shared by everyone in public life from the most powerful Ministers, to those elected to the weakest Parish Councils. It also applies to public servants working in the giant NHS or in one of the thousand or so other public agencies. What the Centre for Public Impact has done is postulate a really useful framework for viewing this quest for impact.
It identifies three components:
LEGITIMACY: the underlying support for a government or a public body, helping it succeed in having the right impact
POLICY: the quality of the objective-setting, the evidence considered, and the feasibility study of choices made.
ACTION: the ability to translate policy into real-world effects through good management, measurement and alignment with other activities.
What is striking about this analysis is how dependent it is upon good public engagement practices. To quote Professor Mark Moore of the Harvard Kennedy School: –
“The processes of building legitimacy through consultation and policymaking – and of using the mandates that emerge from these processes as a framework of accountability that can define, animate and guide the creation of public value – are as important a managerial task as using administrative tools to control the deployment of the assets in achieving the desired results.”
In other words, the ability to listen to the public is as critical as is the ability to deliver policies.
Stakeholders – and the general public have become very sensitive to the outcomes of public policies, and rightly demand to know how they will be impacted before giving their blessing to new or radical change.
Consultation professionals know from experience that the credibility of their impact assessments is becoming more critical and that spin is no longer a substitute for substance. Promises that ‘This will make things better’ no longer carry conviction, whether it is the merging of two Hospital A & E departments or a rationalisation of welfare benefits – unless there is robust evidence to support the assertion. From the same report, we quote Professor Gary Banks of the Australia & New Zealand School of Government.
“Good policy – policy that achieves desired ends in cost effective ways – is rarely technically easy and can sometimes be politically challenging. If a policy is to be effective and seen to be so, thus garnering broad support, a case must be made that is both well founded and based on engagement with stakeholders.”
Note the emphasis on stakeholder dialogues. It rears its head almost everywhere in the Framework. It is needed to build and establish LEGITIMACY; it is essential to provide adequate evidence for POLICY and to prove its feasibility. In the ACTION component, it provides the tools for implementation, notably performance measurement.
Our third quote is from Joel Klein, the former Commissioner of Schools in New York City, who observes: –
“Government is now in the deliverology business. How long is the waiting time at a hospital? How long before emergency services show up at someone’s house or at a fire? All these things are quantifiable and you manage against them. Unfortunately most people in government grew up thinking they should manage against politics, and not against performance.”
What makes CPI’s approach even more valuable is that it is drawn from an analysis of nearly 300 case studies from all over the world, and as our selected quotes illustrate, from the best international academic writing on the subject. Its findings confirm the pivotal role that good quality consultation plays in effective policy-making. It echoes our main conclusion in The Politics of Consultation which the Institute will publish in the coming weeks.
The UK has one overwhelming advantage that few other countries possess. It has a well-established culture of public consultation, and best practice which builds on expertise in the public, private and voluntary sectors. There is a growing market to develop and exploit such best practice internationally, and in this respect, the UK-based Centre for Public Impact is a welcome new ally with whom we can make common cause.
- How might your organisation fare when assessed against the Public Impact Fundamentals.
- The Report is available here.
- ‘Finding a more human government.’ Is available here.
- The Politics of Consultation by Rhion Jones and Elizabeth Gammell is a comprehensive exploration of the issue drawn from their fifteen years experience at the Consultation Institute. Publication date 12th July 2018.
This is the 337th Tuesday Topic; a full list of subjects covered is available for Institute members and is a valuable resource covering so many aspects of consultation and engagement.