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