Emerging themes and important lessons for progressing cross-sectoral design and implementation: a discussion
This blog post provides a teaser for an upcoming book, Creating and Implementing Cross-Sectoral public policy: Contemporary Debates. Whether working in the community sector, research, advocacy or perhaps even government, individuals want to know how to get heard and how to have an impact on policy. The construction of public policy and its effects differs according to one’s position in the process. In our edited collection, we explore policy design and implementation as an interplay between politics, values, ideas and evidence: presenting a ‘toolbox’ of ideas, perspectives and strategies related to policy approaches and their translation for action. The text is also designed to function as a conversation between those from ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the policymaking tent. Below, the editors explore some of the key themes of the book from their different perspectives.
Kathy Landvogt is a long-term policy actor from within the community sector, leads this discussion, and Jo Barraket and Gemma Carey respond from their academic perspectives.
Kathy: The contributions in this book really raised for me that‘some policy actors are more equal than others’. As a whole, the arguments put by the contributors invites reflection on our own particular position on policy processes, and debate over the underlying nature of the problem(s) we are trying to solve in our efforts to find new ways of achieving good policy outcomes. I wonder whether, fundamentally, our struggle to achieve these outcomes is a problem of power rather than of technical skill?
Jo and Gemma : Agreed. The diversity of perspectives and sheer range of actors involved in policy also reminds we in academia of just how non-linear policy development and changes are, and that our models and theories are always partial. Critically, policy actors (and indeed all those who contribute to this volume) occupy multiple subject positions – i.e. observer, influencer, researcher and so on. While not always as explicitly declared (particularly in comparison to the community sector), we feel that the volume reminds we academics that, when it comes to policy, we all have normative agendas. Academics are trained to attend to questions of ‘what is happening’, but more often than not this question becomes entwined with questions of ‘what should happen’, i.e. that policy can be ‘better’. What ‘better’ means may not be as clearly articulated as in the contributions from those who occupy practitioner (or community sector) spaces, but it does allude to the fact that we have more in common across the academic-practitioner divide than many may realise (or openly acknowledge).
Kathy: The second question that this volume raised for me (related to the above) is that ‘The policy process is problematic’. While an underlying theme of the book is that the policy process is inherently political and this should be worked with, the different accounts present a range of overlapping diagnoses of the policy problems we are confronting at this point in time. The policy process should therefore be seen as contested. Indeed the book enters this contest itself, suggesting a set of ideas and practical tools to effect change.
Jo and Gemma: We’re not sure that the volume is speaking to contestability of ‘the policy process’ but rather, the contestable domain inhabited by a diversity of processes, interventions and designs underpinned by differing policy logics and governance models. Chapters in this volume variously depict policy processes as more unidirectional and ‘neat’ than others through to inherently messy interventions operating in complex. So, the volume does indeed enter into the contest, but we are not sure that it is seeking a single prize.
Kathy: The authors may not be seeking a single prize then, but a number of the chapters written from practice perspectives suggest that ‘(Civil society) policy actors need a critical but practical framework for action’. We need useable theories that allow for reality’s contradictory and shifting ground while providing reliable tools to assess and act on that reality. The book helps us to question the taken-for-granted in our lived experience, as practitioners.
Jo and Gemma: There is a focus on agency in many chapters in the book and we like the characterisation of these as frameworks for action. We would add that some of the contributions – particularly in the last section of the book – also encourage us to think about how new interactions (between more or less explicit policy actors) inform policy change. Creating these new interactions - relationships and dialogues – is a key form of agency for policy actors.
Kathy: Yes, and on that note, there is a clear message in the book that ‘Policy-making cannot and should not be left entirely to the state’. It is really clear throughout the chapters on policy advocacy, the use of evaluative evidence, and hybrid forms of organising that the social and intellectual capital of non-state actors are resources that are needed within the policy process. I would think that even cynical policy managers can see the value of sharing the inevitable policy risks with civil society.
Jo and Gemma: We think the ‘cannot’ part is more significant than the ‘should not’ part of this observation. Although the volume does contain individual contributions (i.e. written from individual or single perspectives), co-produced by policy insiders and civil society actors (or community sector practitioners), the overarching picture is one of interdependence between the state and civil society in the configuration of resources and responses to wicked problems.
Kathy: Yes, exactly. For example, there’s another interesting point of difference between practitioner and academic in this paragraph. I speak readily of ‘shoulds’ even though I know that will invite critique about assuming a normative position, because the community organisation I work for freely espouses mission-based values. Academics do not have that liberty, or at least not to use that language. The book shows commonalities between policy academics and practitioners, and that much value can be found in more dialogue between them.
In fact, some of the most important work happens at the boundaries between civil society and other entities (such as this very conversation). Boundary experiences help us make sense of our world, what to do, why and how. As Crosby et al. (2010) suggest, it helps us to connect “people, ideas and other kinds of actors into a way forward” ( Crosby et al. 2010, p. 205).
Crosby, B., Mclaughlin, K., Chew, C., 2010. Leading across frontiers, in: Osborne, S. (Ed.), The New Public Governance. Routledge, New York, pp. 200–222.