There is growing interest, internationally, in developing more strategic forms of government. This is seen as essential in order to tackle complex challenges such as climate change, poverty and numerous public health issues such as rising levels of obesity.
In my latest research I explore how changes made within the Scottish Government around 2007-17 demonstrated the implementation of a ‘Strategic State’. Specifically these changes included development of the National Performance Framework, restructuring of the Scottish Government and significant investment in leadership development.
There are some key lessons from this research, particularly for small countries, in how strategic thinking can be fostered within government settings:
The importance of having an appropriate organisational structure to support strategy implementation.
The need for advocacy from political leaders to enable change.
The need for strong administrative leadership and a clear vision for change.
The importance of education and training of leaders at all levels of the organisation.
A long-term emphasis on culture change.
My research in this area is ongoing. Projects that I am involved in include aspects of health and social care integration, the nature of work in local government and the nature of distributed leadership in government settings. This builds on previous work which showed how the aspirations for greater community empowerment require investment in communities. In taking forward this work I am looking at recent developments such as the refresh of the National Performance Framework. If you think you could contribute to this research do get in touch with me.
I am currently conducting some research with Professor Margaret Arnott from University of West of Scotland on the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities. This is clearly a difficult topic to study at the moment as their remains so much uncertainty around what path the Brexit negotiations will take and subsequently when and how (and even if) the UK will eventually leave the European Union. The Scottish dimension adds an extra layer of complexity – this piece of research sets out some of these complexities in more detail.
Scotland, as a constituent nation of the UK, must follow UK policy on all reserved matters including decisions related to Brexit. But at the same time Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU. Within this debate education is of particular interest as the Scottish education system has always been distinct. With devolution this policy divergence has increased (Keating 2005, 2010) and led to the emergence of the so-called Scottish Approach to Public Services (Housden, 2014; Elliott, Forthcoming).
Policy divergence is exemplified with the funding of higher education for whilst undergraduate tuition fees were introduced in the UK in 1998, they were soon abolished in Scotland by the Scottish Government who have remained resolutely opposed to tuition fees. This policy has become immortalised in the “Salmond Rock” which sits in the grounds of Heriot-Watt University which is inscribed with his statement that “the rocks will melt with the sun before I allow fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students”.
Although the free higher education policy is seen to be a way to extend educational opportunities it has been found that maintenance grants have declined since this policy was introduced (Hunter- Blackburn 2016) and that students from less affluent backgrounds have suffered as a result. Furthermore the approach to funding of Scottish universities, and the decline in international students following UK Government changes to immigration rules, have contributed to an increasingly difficult financial environment. In 2016/17, 9 of Scotland’s 19 universities reported a financial deficit (compared to just one in eight in England) (HESA 2018).
In relation to Europe, the potential impact of Brexit on Scottish universities may be far greater than on universities in the rest of the UK. Scottish universities have benefited €558m from the Horizon 2020 programme and €64m from the Erasmus programme (Universities Scotland 2018). In total European funding sources account for 9.4% of all research funding in Scottish universities (£94m) in 2014-15 (ibid 2018). Also, Scottish universities have proportionally more EU staff (11% of all staff, 17% academic staff and 25% of research staff) and students (9%) than the rest of the UK (ibid 2018).
The Scottish university sector faces many financial challenges. Despite education being a devolved policy there are many related issues, such as immigration policy and foreign policy, that remain reserved. Thus, the financial sustainability of universities has become precarious both as a result of Brexit but also the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policies. It is unclear how Scottish universities will cope with the potential effects of Brexit but whatever happens this issue has raised significant issues in relation to the devolution settlement.
Arnott, M.A. (2017) “Jigsaw Puzzle” of education policy?: nation, state and globalised policy making, Scottish Educational Review, 49 (2): 3-14. Available online here.
Elliott, I.C. (Forthcoming) The Implementation of a Strategic State in a Small Country Setting: the case of the ‘Scottish Approach’, Public Money and Management.
Housden, P. (2014) This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland, Public Policy and Administration, 29 (1): 64-74. Available online here.
Hunter Blackburn, L. (2016) Equity in student finance: Cross-UK comparisons, Special Edition: Widening Access to Higher Education in Scotland, Scottish Educational Review, 48(1): 30-47. Available online here.
Keating, M. (2005) Policy convergence and divergence in Scotland under devolution, Regional studies, 39 (4): 453-463. Available online here.
Keating, M. (2010) The Government of Scotland: Public Policy Making after Devolution, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Purchase here.
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:
a full waiver of tuition fees;
an annual stipend of £14,553 lasting 3 years for full-time study; and
a research budget of £2,000 to cover project expenses and travel.
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.
The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, here, here 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.