Social and Public Policy > Poverty and Inequality

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This article offers results of a comparative case study into how pressures from the media translate into the involvement of senior civil servants (SCSs) in media management and how this is reflected in differentiated ways in politico-administrative relationships. It offers tentative explanations for these differences through the lens of ‘public service bargains’. Based upon a qualitative analysis of documents and 62 interviews with SCSs and advisers in Denmark, Sweden and the UK, the research found that: (i) media management, in some countries, generates an extension and an amplification of the normative expectations towards SCSs’ involvement in media management; (ii) this is accompanied by a revitalisation of the reflections from SCSs to balance their responsiveness to the minister with anonymity and neutrality when involved in media management; (iii) an extensive formal politicisation seems to curb pressures on SCSs’ anonymity and neutrality and their involvement in media management. These findings improve our knowledge of SCSs’ involvement in media management by raising crucial questions about the political neutrality of administrators, tendencies towards politicised governance and (more) interventionist political staffers – amid intensified pressures from the media on governments.

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This paper investigates financial management within Scottish charities, emphasising the challenges faced in external scrutiny, comparative financial information, and accounting practices. It employs a survey and a review by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to assess impacts on smaller charities, highlighting issues with transparency and compliance. The study advocates for policy interventions and capacity building to improve sector resilience and transparency, thus enhancing effectiveness and sustainability in the voluntary sector.

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Not everyone’s ideas count equally in terms of influencing and informing policy design and instrument choices. As the literature on policy advice has shown, such advice arises from many different actors interacting with each other often over relatively long timeframes. Actors within these ‘policy advisory systems’ operate within the confines of an existing set of political and economic institutions and governing norms, and each actor brings with them different interests, ideas and resources. Studying who these actors are, how they act and how their actions affect the overall nature of the advice system and its contents are critical aspects of current public policy research. But not all these elements have been equally well conceptualised or studied, especially those concerning their impact on the quality of policy advice emerging from a system. In this article, the general nature of policy advisory systems is set out, their major components described and a model of individual and organisational behaviour within them outlined inspired by a modification of the ‘exit, voice, loyalty’ rubric of Albert Hirschman. Our findings show how aggregated individual organisational behaviour along the lines suggested by Hirschman can over time result in very different kinds of advice being provided by an advisory system, with predictable consequences for its nature and quality.

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Many of the most pernicious contemporary urban problems require local governments to organise collectively across jurisdictions and reorganise or coordinate internally across bureaucratic silos. Climate change, for example, is a complex system phenomenon impacting a range of interconnected socio-environmental systems in a region, such as water, transportation and energy infrastructures which may not be directly under the control of a single department or government. This often requires managers and policymakers to coordinate policy responses across siloed units within governments and through network-based arrangements across governments. Theories of polycentricity and collective action have long drawn attention to the barriers and opportunities of collaboration and multilevel governance in fashioning adequate responses to complex problems. However, these approaches typically fail to explicate the relationships or interactions between internal and external collaboration risks and the institutional mechanisms for ameliorating them. This article empirically explores this relationship between functional collective action (collaboration across departmental units within a single government) and intergovernmental collective action (collaboration across governments). Situated in the context of climate adaptation and electric vehicle (EV) policy efforts in cities, the article highlights the need for greater scholarly attention more broadly to the development of institutional collective action theory.

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Background

The research-practice gap has not been explored within civics education, and in particular the role of evidence-based civics curriculum in times of political trauma. Such research is critical in equipping educators with evidence-based resources to help mitigate political trauma experienced by students. Here, we explore the types of resources teachers access as well as the role of Brokers, Intermediaries and Boundary Spanners (BIBS) in connecting teachers to such sources after the historic 6 January 2021 US Capitol insurrection.

Aims and objectives

This study poses the following research questions: (1) what resources did teachers utilise to support their students following the 6 January 2021 Capitol insurrection; and (2) who were key BIBS in connecting teachers to such information and what role did research evidence have in the generation of such materials?

Methods

Using cross-sectional survey data, we analyse the open-ended text-based responses from educators reflecting on the days after 6 January 2021.

Findings

The study illuminates’ trends in: (1) the type of resources teachers utilise to address students’ needs (educational curricula, social media, news outlets); and (2) the role of BIBS in connecting them to such information (media platforms, mass media, educational non-profit organisations).

Discussion and conclusion

In the face of political trauma, educators present civics crises as ‘open issues’ and struggle to access frameworks to support research-based pedagogy. Findings illuminate the potential of a BIBS framework that works to further support educators in facilitating conversations and evidence-based pedagogies with their students that rebuke such injustices.

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Emotions are gaining increasing attention in public policy. Policy process research so far has focused on the effects of emotions rather than their roots. In social psychology, emotions are a central part of social identity theory (SIT), and the relevance of social identities in the policy process (SIPP) has recently been acknowledged. This raises the question of how the identification with social groups is linked to emotions related to policies and policy preferences. Filling this research gap, this article analyses social identities and resulting emotions as potential explanations for public policy preferences. The findings reveal that the strength of social identities is a significant predictor for policy-related emotions. However, it also shows that the explanatory power of social identities and related emotions differs by policy field. Our results have implications for the study of social groups and emotions and for understanding and overcoming conflicts between people with different identities and emotions.

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Background:

There has been a rapid increase in the number of, and demand for, organisations offering behavioural science advice to government over the last ten years. Yet we know little of the state of science and the experiences of these evidence providers.

Aims and objectives:

To identify current practice in this emerging field and the factors that impact on the production of high-quality and policy-relevant research.

Methods:

A qualitative study using one-to-one interviews with representatives from a purposeful sample of 15 units in the vanguard of international behavioural science research in policy. The data were analysed thematically.

Findings:

Relationships with policymakers were important in the inception of units, research conduct, implementation and dissemination of findings. Knowledge exchange facilitated a shared understanding of policy issues/context, and of behavioural science. Sufficient funding was crucial to maintain critical capacity in the units’ workforces, build a research portfolio beneficial to policymakers and the units, and to ensure full and transparent dissemination.

Discussion and conclusion:

Findings highlight the positive impact of strong evidence-provider/user relationships and the importance of governments’ commitment to co-produced research programmes to address policy problems and transparency in the dissemination of methods and findings. From the findings we have created a framework, ‘STEPS’ (Sharing, Transparency, Engagement, Partnership, Strong relationships), of five recommendations for units working with policymakers. These findings will be of value to all researchers conducting research on behalf of government.

Open access
Author:

This commentary responds to Gade in ‘When is it justified to claim that a practice or policy is evidence-based? Reflections on evidence and preferences’(Evidence & Policy, 20(2): 244–253, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16905606522863).

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Background:

To support evidence-informed decision making in a health service context, there is a need to better understand the contextual challenges regarding evidence use.

Aims and objectives:

To examine experiences of evidence use and perceived barriers, facilitators and recommended strategies to increase research use among senior decision makers in the national health service in Ireland.

Methods:

We conducted semi-structured interviews with decision makers in Ireland’s national health service (n= 17) from August 2021 to January 2022. Criterion sampling was used (division in the organisation and grade of position), and interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Barriers and facilitators were mapped according to multiple-level categories (individual, organisational, research, social, economic, political) identified in the literature.

Findings:

Health service decision makers described a blended and often reactive approach to using evidence; the type and source of evidence used depended on the issue at hand. Barriers and facilitators to research use manifested at multiple levels, including the individual (time); organisational (culture, access to research, resources, skills); research (relevance, quality); and social, economic and political levels (external links with universities, funding, political will). Strategies recommended by participants to enhance evidence-informed decision making included synthesising key messages from the research, strengthening links with universities, and fostering more embedded research.

Discussion and conclusion:

Evidence use in health service contexts is a dynamic process with multiple drivers. This study underlines the need for a multilevel approach to support research use in health services, including strategies targeted at less tangible elements such as the organisational culture regarding research.

Open access