The Scottish approach: Charities have a vital role in creating informed public services

Pippa Coutts, from the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and Jenny Brotchie, from Carnegie UK Trust, argue that the Scottish experience to developing participative services highlights the key role for the community and voluntary sector across the UK as both creators and champions of evidence. 

Just before Christmas the ‘care crisis’ hit headlines again.  For many working in the third sector the storm behind the headlines is something they are all too acutely aware of: rising demand against a backdrop of squeezed resources. A seemingly impossible context particularly when you are trying to improve lives at the same time.

Do more preventative, people focused services hold the key?

Catalysed by some of these challenges, across the UK we have seen calls for, and shifts towards, more preventative and holistic public services that better support people to lead independent and fulfilled lives. See, for example, the emphasis on prevention and partnership in NHS England’s Five Year Forward Strategy.

Calls for change from within the voluntary and community sector are often particularly strong – see the essays: Making Good: The Future of the Voluntary Sector.

How do we make this shift a success?

If this shift is to be successful, the role of evidence is critical: that is understanding what works for who, when and how?

In some areas good evidence on these questions exists but it isn’t always widely accessible. In other areas we need more research and there are emerging challenges to be worked through. For example, what does robust co-produced research look like? How do we aggregate and make sense of diffuse data on individual outcomes and make best use of people’s stories? How can we best support citizens and communities to produce and consume evidence?

These are all questions which are raised in the new discussion paper The Scottish Approach to Evidence launched by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Carnegie UK Trust. While the paper focuses on Scotland, we think these challenges are universal and apply to anyone working to improve lives in a preventative, holistic, people-centred way.

Developing a strong and accessible evidence base

The discussion paper argues that there is a distinctly Scottish Approach to policy that emphasises participative, people-centred policies, but that a complementary approach to evidence needs to be developed to serve this policy trend.

We set out 5 steps that we think cross sectoral partners need to take to get there:

1. Strengthen the understanding and use of the outcomes approach at national and local level. Outcomes approaches are common in the charity sector in the UK, and in jurisdictional governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  Developing measures to assess final outcomes is often hard to do and there is a definite role for the third sector in collaboratively producing this evidence.

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Believe in Cities: In an era of post-truth politics, local leaders are depending on data to solve problems

By James Anderson, who oversees Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation programs, focused on building problem-solving capacity within local governments and spreading innovations that work.

Thirty years ago, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo famously said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The phrase became not only his dictum but, in many ways the North Star of good governance.

Until this year.

The 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t exactly poetic, but at the state and local level, public servants in America’s towns and cities are continuing to govern in prose despite the divisions in our nation.

Indeed, their work might be the antidote to the growing fear that we are entering an era of “post-truth” politics, where raw emotion doesn’t merely outdo fact; it overwhelms it, seemingly to irrelevance, and with little opposition. This only creates more cynicism and less confidence, more gridlock and less belief that government can and does work.

Look at Buffalo, New York.

On any given day, you will see city employees in the city’s poorest neighborhoods hard at work. Maybe they’re up on a ladder using a chain saw to trim dangling branches. Maybe they’re handing out smoke detectors to families who don’t have them. Maybe they’re filling, both literally and metaphorically, a pothole.

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They are part of what Buffalo calls its Clean Sweep program – an initiative that is about using data to engage citizens and shape policy. Specifically, Clean Sweep crunches the data from citizen inquiries, emergency 911 calls and the census. Based on that information, the program targets the neighborhoods that need help most and better structures how that help is administered.

Buffalo is hardly alone. In Mesa, Arizona, officials recently created a “blight index” from data on crime and code violations; they’ve identified the neighborhoods with the most need and they use evidence-based decision making to redirect funding. In cities like New Orleans and Chattanooga, they are using behavioral science to sharpen outreach campaigns that aim to increase diversity in their police forces. Tulsa is one of a growing number of cities making data public and, in so doing, making government more transparent. In Providence, Rhode Island, the mayor takes city data out into the community, where he engages in robust conversations with residents about whether or not the official city stats reflect their actual experiences.

Continue reading “Believe in Cities: In an era of post-truth politics, local leaders are depending on data to solve problems”