Addressing skill and knowledge gaps in policy networks:the Power to Persuade initative
Yesterday we outlined the problem which PTP aims to address. Below, we explain how PTP is working to fill skill and knowledge gaps in policy networks. This is an extract from a forthcoming article on PTP's framework and the lessons it offers for other 'boundary spanning' initiatives.
Power to Persuade (PTP) was founded in 2012 to help develop these networks across different sectors, including government, community, private and academic. The key objectives are to contribute to assist in the creation of open and informal policy networks through addressing current skill and knowledge gaps, and to connect new and existing actors to knowledge and resources needed to improve policy development. The initiative does this by providing new spaces (both virtual and in person), for individuals to come together and ‘meet differently’ – i.e. in a way that considers the functioning of the ‘whole’, not just specific organisations, services or policy imperatives.
The figure below demonstrates PTP program logic (with thanks to Lauren Seigmann at String Theory for her fabulous work). PTP was originally funded by University of Melbourne and Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service. Steady growth has seen PTP attract a number of high profile sponsors from private, not-for-profit and government sectors as well as universities. As of 2015, PTP is a two-day event accompanied by an active online policy forum. Each symposium is structured around a theme of current concern to those engaging in policy, this has ranged from methods for influencing policy through to the role of the private sector in policy advice and service delivery.
Consistent with the increasingly networked nature of public, PTP draws on concepts from social network analysis. In particular, two aspects of network structure inform the PTP project logic: notions of centrality and the power of ‘weak ties’.
Centrality, or more specifically ‘closeness centrality’, refers to the ability of network members to access other members of the network going through the fewest possible links. It is important to note that this is not the same as ‘network density’ (everyone connected to everyone else), rather strategic points of connection that can bridge gaps in the network. Network centrality builds policy influence by enabling network members to create and exchange resources efficiently by joining up otherwise disconnected points in the system. Power to Persuade connects participants to highly connected individuals (invited speakers, other participants, bloggers).
Secondly, ‘the strength of weak ties’ has critically informed the PTP logic model. Weak ties enable access to new sources of information and diverse perspectives by bridging across networks. While strong bonds with like-minds are important, these familiar networks are not enough in situations of change when new information is needed, so the ideal network has a number of loosely connected clusters. When curating the Power to Persuade symposium and blogs, we seek contributions from different points in the policy process and different perspectives on the policy landscape. The space between their ideas is left for participants to fill and connect. Having a large number of indirect links into other sectors (academic, government, business), other service domains (health, planning), or other roles (executives, policy advocates, service managers) helps access resources, build coalitions of support and find important new ideas.
While conditions of uncertainty and insecurity draw people back to their stronger familiar networks, that is precisely the time that contact with the ‘weak ties’ in one’s network is needed. It is the role of ‘public learning’ to create spaces where this can occur.
“Public learning occurs when people learn together and when changes of perception, understanding and action are observed by others… [this way] public actions have a widespread and collective affect” (Atwood et al., 2003)
Power to Persuade aims to bring people with different knowledge and common values together in a non-competitive environment, for public learning. Recognised leaders share their knowledge from experience, and people come together to create learning and understanding in collective ‘sense-making’.
To be effective, one needs to ensure a diversity of voices, and meet differently (i.e. putting them into spaces which disrupt the status quo and allow for robust debate and discussion).