Listen upPosted: January 18, 2012
This project is about many things, but it’s also about one thing: listening.
Public services would be better if we listened to the experts on the frontline and the people who experience the problems we say we’re trying to solve (David Boyle’s new book The Human Element explains why). Think tanks would be better if they listened much more to people with practical expertise rather than assuming, or needing to pretend, they already know the answers. Social policy would be better if policymakers, instead of accepting the contemporary article of faith that ‘producer interests’ must by definition be wrong, recognised that the truth is the truth (or at least a truth) whatever a person’s motivation might be for saying it.
Many well-known think tanks appear as bold voices in public debate, challenging conventional wisdom, saying the unsayable – indeed, thinking the unthinkable. This is important. There’s a real social benefit to this. But whenever think tanks ignore (or even instinctively dismiss) what public service practitioners and people using services might have to say, they implicitly accept an authoritarian, hierarchical model of politics – that policy is necessarily done by us and to them.
We all fail to listen sometimes, but the traditional think tank model seems designed not to listen. We’re holding workshops with charities at the moment to discuss our new think tank, and there are certain words we keep hearing about their experience of working with think tanks – ‘arrogant’, ‘elitist’, ‘self-serving’, ‘difficult to work with’. It seems like think tanks not only don’t listen to the frontline, they don’t even listen to their customers.
We need to do better. Tell us how.