Expertise and experience

What expertise do you need for good policy research and analysis? Most think tanks contain a mixture of skills, from conducting and managing research, gathering sectoral intelligence and identifying policy opportunities, to crafting reports and nurturing political contacts. All are critical.

What’s often missing is more practical. In the case of social policy, my sense is that few of those who work in think tanks have meaningful frontline experience of public services or the social issues they research – whether as practitioners or as people who regularly use specific services. As a social policy generalist from an academic research background, I’m no exception.

Lack of direct experience doesn’t prevent a person from saying something useful or conducting objective research, in fact in some cases it could even be helpful. But it’s surely problematic that so much of the work that emerges from think tanks doesn’t incorporate lived experience and so overlooks the day-to-day reality of life at the frontline, both good and bad. This experience is valuable expertise when it comes to good policy analysis, at least as much as anything else.

Think tanks can and do sometimes involve practitioners and ‘service users’ in their research, but we should go further to consider how they could be at the forefront of policy work. The significant but largely neglected expertise of practitioners and the public as it relates to policy is an issue I’ll be returning to regularly in this blog, and is the key inspiration for this project.

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