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Authors: James Downe and Steve Martin

English

Previous research has highlighted an unprecedented increase in the scale, scope and intensity of regulation inside government in the UK, and growing concerns about its cost and effectiveness. Empirical analysis of ‘Best Value’ inspections of local government suggests that the processes of inspection were transparent and applied in a reasonably consistent manner. However, the direct and indirect costs were high; the fragmented nature of inspection regimes posed significant problems for inspected bodies; the adversarial nature of inspections militated against self-assessment; and there was little meaningful involvement by service users.

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Background:

Government-funded knowledge brokering organisations (KBOs) are an increasingly prevalent yet under-researched area. Working in the space between knowledge and policy, yet framing themselves as different from think tanks and academic research centres, these organisations broker evidence into policy.

Aims and objectives:

This article examines how three organisations on different continents develop similar narratives and strategies to attempt to inform policymaking and build legitimacy.

Methods:

Using documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews, it shows how the organisations construct their credibility and legitimacy, and make sense of their emergence, activities and relationships with policymakers.

Findings:

The study responds to the lack of political focus on many existing studies, examining how KBOs make sense of their origins and roles, articulating notions of evidence, and mobilising different types of legitimacies to do so. The research also addresses an empirical gap surrounding the emergence and activities of KBOs (not individuals), analysing organisations on three different continents.

Discussion and conclusions:

KBOs developed similar narratives of origins and functions, despite emerging in different contexts. Furthermore, they build their legitimacy/ies in similar ways. Our research improves our understanding of how a new ‘tool’ in the evidence-informed policymaking (EIPM) arsenal – KBOs – is being mobilised by different governments in similar ways.

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The claim that evidence-based policy (EBP) produces better outcomes has gained increasing support over the last three decades. Knowledge brokering (KB) is seen as a way to achieve improved policymaking and governments worldwide are investing significant resources in KB initiatives. It is therefore important to understand the range of these activities and to investigate whether and how they facilitate EBP. This article critically reviews the extant literature on KB. It identifies six important limitations: the existence of multiple definitions of KB; a lack of theory-based empirical analysis; a neglect of knowledge brokering organisations; insufficient research on KB in social policy; limited analysis of impact and effectiveness; and a lack of attention to the role played by politics. The paper proposes an agenda for future research that bridges disciplinary boundaries in order to address these gaps and contribute new insights into the politics of evidence use.

Open access

Government efforts to increase civic engagement are predicated, in part, on the belief that this will lead to better public services. This assumption is tested by analysing the impact of different approaches to supporting active citizenship in English local authorities on their recorded service performance in 2005. Performance and support for active citizenship are modelled using data drawn from a national survey and secondary sources. The results suggest that councils which aim to promote understanding of citizenship among the public are more likely to have higher service performance, but that those which aim to increase citizen engagement in local governance are associated with lower performance in deprived areas.

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Recognition of the importance of interactions between policies has fuelled demand for larger, longer-term, more holistic studies of their impacts and effectiveness. The broader perspective provided by evaluations of this kind appears to have been useful to policy makers, but their scale and complexity present practical and methodological challenges. Research funders need to commission and coordinate groups of studies rather than procuring research on an ad-hoc basis. Researchers need to be willing to share data and develop methods of collecting evidence relating to overarching themes as opposed to more narrowly defined programme and policy objectives.

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Under the Labour government, Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) in England were responsible for the delivery of Local Area Agreements (LAAs) – agreed targets between central and local government. This paper uses statistical techniques and local authority case studies to explore the impact of LAAs on LSPs’ efforts to promote social cohesion. The results suggest that LSPs with a LAA for social cohesion experienced a better rate of improvement in community cohesiveness than those without, and that tougher targets resulted in stronger improvement. The impact of changes in LSPs’ approaches to promoting social cohesion appears to be responsible for this finding.

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Analysis of the development and implementation of local government performance improvement regimes in England, Scotland and Wales over the last decade reveals congruence in policy goals but divergence in policy implementation and outcomes. The governments in all three countries had a common aim of improving local government performance. However, differences in ideology, the nature of central–local government relations, the numbers of councils and a political imperative for newly devolved administrations to be seen to pursue ‘home-grown’ solutions limited policy learning between different parts of the United Kingdom (UK) and in the case of Wales fuelled determined policy avoidance by policy makers.

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The participation of citizens in public policy-making has become a key aim for national and supranational institutions across Europe, but the relative importance policy-makers actually accord citizen participation arguably varies due to the alternative administrative traditions within different countries. Using data drawn from a large-scale survey of senior public managers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom (UK) and Norway, we find support for the idea that administrative tradition influences the participation of citizens in public policy. We also identify key institutional factors determining the importance of citizen participation. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

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Governments around the world are concerned about declining public confidence in democratic institutions. It has been widely assumed that improving the performance of public services will help address this problem. Policy makers in the United Kingdom (UK) have therefore been puzzled to discover that public confidence in local government continued to decline at a time when local services seemed to be improving. The reason for this apparent paradox is that public confidence is influenced by a wide array of factors only some of which are captured by official measures. Since different data can lead to quite different conclusions, it matters what is measured.

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