Public engagement – the missing ingredient

25 April 2012

By Nick Jones, Global Director of PwC’s Public Sector Research Centre 


Does the UK government need an annual strategy?  The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) thinks so.  Their 24th report on ‘Strategic thinking in government’ not only makes for fascinating reading for fans of the management guru Peter Drucker and his articulation of the emergent strategy school of thought, but also poses a real challenge for government.

PASC calls upon Government to publish an annual 'Statement of National Strategy' in Parliament. Its view is that it is essential for ‘policies to be informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, including an assessment of the public’s aspirations and their perceptions of the national interest’. But how can such a National Strategy properly involve the public?

Three examples of our public engagement research come to mind. Before and after the Spending Review in 2010 we ran two Citizens’ Juries with BritainThinks. We wanted to inform the Coalition’s thinking by providing insight into the public’s attitudes and views on the deficit. We also wanted to understand what is important to citizens when selecting where and how to make cuts in public spending, by developing a set of criteria that they would have wanted the Chancellor to use when making decisions on spending cuts. But of most concern to the Jurors at the time was the lack of engaging, effective communications around the Spending Review, particularly in terms of setting out a clear long term vision for the country which they could buy into. A finding that would not surprise PASC!

We reconvened this Jury once more to discuss another ‘strategic’ thrust of this Government - the original Open Public Services White Paper - as well as their views of the Spending Review One Year On. Our Jury explored the issues from the public’s perspective, and this again revealed a real engagement challenge for the Coalition if it is to buy-in more of the public to the Open Public Services agenda.

And last month, we convened a Jury to focus on one of the most prized parts of our public services: the NHS. Of the ‘5Rs’ - the Jury’s criteria for quality in the NHS - one related to Reporting. What gets measured gets done, and citizens wanted to know how their NHS is doing, for instance, through an annual report setting out progress and improvements in the NHS at both a national and local level. So communications and engagement again came to the fore.

All of this work suggests that the challenge of a National Strategy is to make sure that the public is involved. Indeed, while a national strategy may be much needed, real engagement with the public is needed much more.


Contact Nick C Jones

Comments

Would be interested to know the make up of the juries especially the one that looked at the NHS. There seems to be a disjoint between the NHS (which most public loves to hate) and the local hospital or the local GP - which can generate huge grassroots feeling of loyalty etc when there is even a perception that either service is at risk.

With respect to the issue of 'what gets measured gets done': maybe the challenge is on what exactly is getting measured. Time and again, NHS board recognise that issues of patient care and complaints are often driven by underlying weaknesses in the behaviour or service attitude received from some frontline staff (and no, its not always the nurses...! )

Agree with the sentiment - it is indeed imperative for the political leadership to engage in effective dialogue with the public. And for senior officials to develop, patch and implement policy in partnership with the public.

It's about government becoming a system steward rather than a leader/deliverer.

But how do you get a vast complex set of institutions like Whitehall and cabinet to radically rethink their role?

Deborah thank you for your comments.

In answer to your question, the juries were a deliberately chosen cross section of adults from around England, we use a firm that specialises in finding representative samples for research purposes.

The Citizen's Jury were very able to consider matters from a personal patient perspective, and as a citizen, and in both cases were very supportive of the NHS indeed, passionately so I think it is fair to say. They recognise it isn't perfect on the other hand, they want care that:

Enables them more
Is truly national
Is integrated and
Emphasises prevention more

On measurement, they are emphatic, they want the NHS to be accountable. They could envisage a full page advert in the National newspapers with a table reporting on NHS performance. They even prioritised the ten things they wanted to be in the report. They can be found in the report at www.pwc.co.uk/healthjury

Thank you again, we appreciate the comments and that you've added to the debate.

Cat. You raise a fundamental challenge - joining up has long been a challenge across government, at central and local levels and requires behavioural, rather than just structural, change. In making this change, the public needs to be engaged in an effective way to provide a focal point for this change

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