Political Innovation no 4: See Change – opening policy research to the public

This is a guest cross-post by Ivo Gormley – originally posted on the Political Innovation site here.

Although Government claims to want our participation and wants us to appreciate its policies, it hides the evidence on which it bases its policies in fat documents and reports that are hard to read and only available free at special events at think-tanks around Whitehall.

pile of paper
Responding to our consultation? Excellent! Here's the background reading.... (click pic for credit)

If we want participation in politics in a way that goes beyond choice we need to share policy research in a way that engages people and invites their comments, ideas and understanding.

I propose that as part of the development of a white paper which is likely to result in a social impact, an ethnographic documentary exploring the lives of those who will be affected should be produced. This documentary would be based on existing research and would allow a more accessible and jargon-free way of engaging with the issue.

Following the television or web broadcast of the documentary there would be a defined period of time for public debate and feedback. The documentary and the public feedback would then be inputted to a policy design meeting at which the policy’s stakeholders could also be present.

The process would bring transparency and participation to an area of government that appears very closed.

Numerous governmental organisations, from the Department of Health to local Government, are starting to put more of an emphasis on qualitative research. Organisations are becoming aware of the importance of understanding their users and are commissioning research in order to do so. Yet still, most of this research is kept private or is not designed to be consumed by the public.

By focusing on the existing experiences of the user, or those affected, an ethnographic documentary commissioned from inside government departments, could provide a platform for informed public debate and collaboration between state and citizen in a way that would side-step party-political leanings.

The approach will both qualify and invite comment at the same time: a publicly aired exploration of the real lives of those who will be affected by a policy provides a level playing field for comment and idea generation. To an extent, it also educates viewers in the policy context and so qualifies them to comment. Crucially, it would often bring useful evidence into the process from sources that are not usually involved.

Bringing the public exploration of policy context – from the point of view of those affected – into the process of developing and proposing a new policy could have significant affect on the relationship between government and citizens.  It would allow more creative ideas to come from a wider range of sources and allow a formal and powerful opportunity for citizens to influence government. It would also help to create a mandate which may lead to faster implementation of those policies.

By inviting the public into the process of developing policies I believe we can get better policies and more efficient government.

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