The Sustainability of the Scottish Approach to Policy-Making

The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, herehere and here).

But how was this approach developed? And what does it mean for the implementation of policy (as opposed to policy-making itself)? In other words, is there an equivalent Scottish Approach to Public Administration? And how might this develop in the future?

In ongoing research I have interviewed ten key players in the development of the Scottish Approach. All are, or were, civil servants within the Scottish Government (previously Scottish Executive). Through this research it is clear that the development of a Scottish Approach to Policy Making was a deliberate move to create a more strategic form of government in Scotland. This involved 1) internal restructuring of the Scottish Government with the establishment of strategic Directors-General and cross-cutting directorates; 2) the development of the National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs; and 3) significant investment in leadership development with a particular focus on Adaptive Leadership and Public Value.

The rationale for much of this was based on a recognition that the managerial approach to public administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s had not led to a significant improvement in the tackling of ‘wicked issues’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality. Importantly, this was linked to a growing recognition that addressing these challenges would require partnership-working across the public sector and beyond. That Government could not solve these problems on it’s own but that they would require a whole-of-society approach.

Initiatives such as the strengthening of community councils, the community planning partnerships, and the Community Empowerment Act are all part of a shift towards enhancing the role of communities in the design, delivery and ownership of public services.

Interestingly, the development of the Scottish Approach has been characterised as, in part, a conscious effort to move away from the old approach which was characterised as based on top-down; paternalism; working in silos; acute focus on curing problems after they arise (Mitchell, 2015). Ten years on has anything changed? Is the Scottish Government more strategic? More collaborative? More prevention-focused?

As noted above a key part of the ‘Scottish Approach’ was a focus on Adaptive Leadership. This is a leadership style developed primarily by Heifetz (his key texts include ‘Leadership on the Line‘ and ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership‘). Put simply, Heifetz argues that leaders face technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems have a clear solution whereas adaptive challenges may have multi-faceted causes and require a multi-agency approach. Hence the focus on collaboration and prevention (examples include the Early-Years Collaborative and Health and Social Care Integration). Clearly an adaptive approach has particular relevance in public services in the face of the above mentioned ‘wicked problems’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality.

But can adaptive leadership work in the public sector? My ongoing research is exploring some the challenges in adopting Adaptive Leadership in a public context. In doing so a number of important questions are being raised about the sustainability of the Scottish Approach itself. Undoubtedly there is a solid rationale behind the adoption of adaptive leadership in a public services context. The extent to which this can, or even should, be maintained over time will be uncovered through my research.

 

 

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