Ten reasons for a new social policy

This is a series of posts on why social policy should be developed by and with the people who use and provide public and voluntary services. We welcome your comments.

1. Policy would be better

Social policy would be better researched, more credible, more reliable, and more grounded in real life if it was routinely developed by and with the people who use and provide public and voluntary services.

2. Policy would stand a better chance of achieving its objectives

Whether policy ‘lives’ and fulfills the objectives set for it depends in part how easy it is to implement and operationalise, and whether a community of stakeholders who want it to succeed has been recruited to champion it. The best way for both of these to happen is to open-up policy research and development to a much broader range of participants.

3. We would strengthen democracy, trust and participation

We face a significant and growing public disillusionment and disengagement from mainstream politics. One way to repair trust and improve participation would be to develop new ways in which a greater diversity of the people who use and provide public services can more directly inform policy based on their own expertise and experience.

4. Public services would be better

Public and voluntary services on the ground would be better if the policy that shaped and informed them was developed by and with provider organisations, practitioners and the public. This would also allow and encourage more improvement and innovation at the frontline.

5. Policymakers and decision-makers could get intelligence more quickly

Policy research and development could be faster and more timely as well as more credible if we made it more open and if we used readily available technology to facilitate it. Through policy development being more open at an earlier stage and to more participants, we could more easily root out the bad ideas that should be killed off quickly.

6. Policy would be cheaper to research and develop

At the moment many valuable potential contributors to better policy such as smaller charities are effectively priced out of the ‘market’ due to a lack of resources and capacity. A cheap social network-based platform would these organisations to develop policy with their frontline practitioners and service users.

7. Policy would be more diverse and inclusive, and so better

With more voices able to participate in policy research and development, policy would be more representative of who we are. In addition, a much more open approach to policy development would greatly enhance the range of intelligence that informs policy, better capturing the reality of public and voluntary services.

8. Policy would be more innovative

With less money and, in the case of ‘rising tide’ issues such as an ageing society, less time as well, we need plenty of new ideas in social policy – but where they come from matters. Many of the most exciting ideas in public services over the past few years have come from practitioners and service users. Practitioners are also typically better placed than policy wonks to identify how policy could be reformed to create a more supportive environment for innovation.

9. It’s the future

As a result of social and technological change, policy research and development has to change. We increasingly expect and demand that our voice is registered and to some extent listened to. We view those institutions that don’t use the technologies we use everyday as out-of-date and out-of-touch. This project is about what we can do right now to improve policymaking, but it’s also about anticipating and responding to a future in which we participate directly in policy.

10. It’s the right thing to do

In this series we’ve suggested that we need a new approach to developing social policy, one that involves the people who use and provide public and voluntary services in the research and development of policy. We’ve put forward a range of benefits that we think this approach would produce. There’s one last reason to add to this list: it’s the right thing to do.

3 Comments on “Ten reasons for a new social policy”

  1. For what it’s worth, part of the reason that policy is problematic is because the process that produces is static. You recognize this by making points 1 and 3. It’s why I promote using the design method instead of more traditional rational planning processes. The design method is is iterative and dynamic while for the most part the rational planning process is static and constrained by overly contained and restricted scopes.

    I advocate an alternative called action planning.


    an earlier version of the concept was discussed in this blog entry


    and more recently here:


    • Absolutely, thanks Richard – I agree that we need (the equivalent of) a design approach for policy, where as you say policy development can be iterative and dynamic. One of my concerns about how policy is researched and developed in the world of think tanks – which this project is partly a reaction to – is how static and also competitive it often is (‘I’m right, therefore you’re wrong’), and especially how this works against a more design-based approach. I’ve argued for a more collaborative approach in an earlier post: http://blog.guerillapolicy.org/2012/04/13/collaboration-beats-competition-for-creating-better-social-policy/ Thanks for the links as well – really interesting and worthwhile work.

  2. Good points in your earlier post. Basically, here’s my story. For decades, I thought you could just mentally create the best model, and everything would flow from there. Well, that doesn’t work because you don’t have buy in. But in 2003 or 2004 I guess, I participated in an abbreviated public space workshop for a place I thought I knew reasonably well. I was one of only a couple people there from DC, the rest were from around the country and participating as part of an organizational training. In half a day, the group came up with many great ideas and concepts. Sure I did too, and helped contribute local knowledge that they wouldn’t have been able to tap otherwise, but there is no question that the group of knowledgeable people (and note, I think that’s key) with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds did a better job than individual experts could have done on their own.

    I am a planner. I like to write plans. But the public process is key. I’ve never produced a plan that wasn’t significantly improved by public participation. Granted, if you don’t expose people to very much, they won’t ask for very much, so there is a lot to do to get the process right. Still, I have never produced a plan that wasn’t significantly improved by the public participation process. It made a very good plan that much better.

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