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I have developed a new core module for the Edinburgh MPA which I am very excited about. ‘Orwellian Doublespeak for Contemporary Public Administration’ will offer insights into distorting the meaning of words and the use of policy-based evidence making to create alternative facts and populist fictions.
Previously I have noted the importance of academics connecting with the real world and that we engage with real debates on the future of public administration. Increasingly this takes the form of dismissing experts, as previously demonstrated by Michael Gove, in preference for soundbites, unsubstantiated assertions and pure gut instinct. This module has been developed not to challenge any of this but to reflect the needs and desires of the modern workplace. Therefore I have developed this new practice-based module which will start this time next year – 1 April 2018.
Brexit – How the UK will be able to retain all the benefits of EU membership and the benefits of being outside the EU without suffering any downsides.
Fake News – How to dismiss facts and evidence with two simple words.
Scottish Independence – How it’s a great idea (for Scottish students only) OR How it’s a terrible idea (all other students).
International Relations – How to build walls not bridges – and then do neither.
The full module descriptor can be accessed here.
The module will be co-taught by both academics and appropriate experts including our Honorary Professor Donald Trump. For more information on the MPA programme please see our course pages here: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277. Applications are now open!
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.
I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.
I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.
The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.
Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:
For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.
In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.
If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm
Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277
One of the benefits of blogging, as I see it, is the instantaneousness of publishing. As an avid reader of many blogs that means instant access to lots of interesting analysis and comment on policy developments – often better than what can be found in more traditional media such as newspapers.
A topic that has generated a lot of debate recently is that of the Beecroft report into Employment Law. This report includes recommendations to:
As well as the content of the report, the way in which it was developed, and the purpose of the report has come under some scrutiny. In particular I have found it interesting to reflect on the Politics of I Met a Man or the related phenomenon of Policy-Based Evidence.
In terms of content many readers of the report have focused on the recommendation to deregulate the labour market including the specific proposal for ‘no-fault dismissals’. Whilst Beecroft has argued that such moves would stimulate job creation and boost economic growth others have pointed to the lack of evidence to support this assertion. Interestingly the EEF manufacturers’ association has recently come out against the recommendations in the report.
However, to what extent is the whole report a bit of a red-herring? I do wonder whether the focus on this has been a bit of a distraction from more substantive moves by intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, World Trade Organisation and the OECD, and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF, to promote job creation as a solution to the financial crisis.
What has not been so widely discussed, given the faith in job creation as a panacea, is what types of jobs should be created? Presumably not the sort where unpaid workers have to sleep below London Bridge.
This is something I am very interested in, in terms of ongoing policy developments and the relationship with debates in economics about the nature of work. The importance of good work is something highlighted in this Work Foundation blog post and I will be writing more about this in weeks to come.