Speak up

The flip side to think tanks listening to people on the frontline is people on the frontline speaking up.

Public service practitioners and the public aren’t used to their experience and expertise being recognised, let alone being used to inform policy. The natural reaction to being ignored (and even casually dismissed) is anger, passivity, covert non-compliance (sabotage), and sometimes overt resistance. However understandable, this also represents a fundamental failure in how we develop policy in public services, and a disastrous starting-point for implementing new policy.

Some people seem to relish politics as conflict. Indeed, they define politics as conflict. But if we’re going to develop a new way to improve social policy, one that harnesses the experience and expertise of those at the frontline, then we need to do two things that borrow more from non-defensive communication.

First, as previously posted, we need to find a better way to listen – to recognise, record and amplify voices from the frontline, to ask open questions and to hear the answers honestly.

Second, we need to support the frontline to speak up – authentically and without fear. We might be skeptical about the willingness of those in power to listen to voices other than their own. The experience of disabled campaigners over the past week against the Government’s welfare reforms might reinforce such cynicism. Nonetheless, we need to be consciously naive about the potential of positive, pragmatic engagement with policymaking – as well as continuing to rattle the powerful when required.

As anyone who’s ever been in an argument knows, we lose our capacity for complex problem solving when we become defensive. Our new think tank is not intended to be a discussion forum, although we want it to be open, accessible and lively. It’s also not a platform for campaigning, but we do want it to be a highly effective way of promoting better policy and research work. That’s our hope.

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