Policy elites – and policy elitism

I was a bit surprised recently when, in a response to what I thought was a fairly innocuous blog, I was accused of being part of the ‘policy elite’. This was news to me, since I’ve never been part of an elite before (though I’d guess that most elite members aren’t conscious of being so either).

It did make me think though, and it spurred me on to develop this project for a new kind of think tank. Because my day job is working for an established think tank (the new economics foundation), in one sense I am undeniably part of a policy elite. I’m privileged: I get paid to write, think and research about policy issues. It’s not that I consider this a natural-born right, but over time it has become familiar.

In the real world, the reaction I most often get when I say I work for a think tank is ‘huh?’ Most of the public don’t know what think tanks are or what they do. In that sense they are elitist – they’re not very public in how they work or the impact they (might) have. And while there are specialist skills that experts in policy can or should have, from research to in-depth sectoral knowledge, I also think there’s a critical difference between policy elites and policy elitism. The latter says that the public and frontline workers can’t be actively involved in developing better social policy. This project is about challenging that notion. Let’s see.

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