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I currently have a PhD bursary available on the topic of ‘The Scottish Approach to Public Services’. The Scottish Approach has been defined as encompassing three principles in the design and delivery of public services:
Lots has been written on the topic (for example, Cairney 2014, Cairney et al. 2016, Coutts and Brotchie, 2017; Elvidge, 2011; Ferguson, 2015; Housden, 2014) but previous research is often based on explorations of the general principles of the Scottish Approach and understandings of how they influence the policy making process. Less has been written about how the Scottish Approach influences practice in localised contexts such as, for example, local government, higher education or social work.
As such I thought it would be interesting to investigate how the Scottish Approach may influence practice. I didn’t want to be prescriptive about which practice setting the research should focus on but I have provided a few examples which will hopefully spark some thoughts. Previously I have written about why do a PhD (click here to go to the blog post) but ultimately if you are passionate about education then doing a PhD is a fantastic opportunity to study a topic in great depth over a three year period.
The QMU PhD Bursary covers:
For more information on the bursary see here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/postgraduate-research-study/graduate-school-and-doctoral-research/phd-bursary-competition/
For more information on the research topic see here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/media/4209/cass-phd-bursary-topics-2018.pdf
Cairney, P. (2014) “The Territorialisation of Interest Representation in Scotland: Did Devolution Produce a New Form of Group-Government Relations?”, Territory, Politics, Governance, DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2014.952326
Cairney, P., Russell, S. and St Denny, E. (2016) “The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking: what issues are territorial and what are universal?”, Policy & Politics, Vol. 44 (3), 333–50.
Coutts, P. and Brotchie, J. 2017. The Scottish Approach to evidence. A discussion paper.
Alliance for Useful Evidence. Carnegie UK Trust.
Elvidge, J. (2011) Northern Exposure. Lessons from the first twelve years of devolved
government in Scotland. Institute for Government. London.
Ferguson, Z. (2015) What is the ‘Scottish Approach’?, Alliance for Useful Evidence, London. Available online at: https://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/what-is-the-scottish-approach/
Housden, P. (2014) “This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland”, Public Policy
and Administration, Vol. 29 (1), 64-74.
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.