Memorandum by The Centre for Sustainable
Urban and Regional Futures (RG 67)
. . . Effective policy making must be a learning
process which involves finding out from experience what works
and what does not and making sure that others can learn from it
too. This means that new policies must have evaluation of their
effectiveness built into them from the start . . . Professional
Policy-Making for the Twenty-First Century, Cabinet Office,
1. The key findings from this review of
the Whitehall policy making process for ERAs are the different
sets of expectations and experiences of the central and regional
2. Central officials were focused on internal
processual issues within Whitehall in order to meet the tight
timetable outlined in the White Paper. The critical issue was
to provide the framework for action that would lead to the establishment
3. Regional officials were attempting to
anticipate what this framework for action might mean in practice
in particular regional contexts.
4. Yet all officials agreed that the central
policy making processes did not attempt to bring together the
relevant departmental and regional interests to anticipate how
the framework would be translated into effective action.
5. The work raises issues that are central
for understanding the development of more effective policy making
and making more successful use of regions in national policy making.
While ERAs are stalled, the role of regions and how central policy
in general can be improved is still very much a live issue for
6. Successful regional policy making needs
to link context and interpretations to organisational cultures
and proposed environmental solutions embedded in policy itself.
Key to this is generating a greater understanding of expectations,
degrees of ambition, drive and resistance.
7. The key transferable lessons from this
work for the Better Policy-Making agenda concern improving understanding
of context, and coherence, consistency and communication.
1.1 The core purpose of the work upon which
this submission was based was to review the process informing
the establishment of Elected Regional Assemblies in order to generate
knowledge and intelligence that would improve the quality and
effectiveness of future central government policy making. With
this in mind, this work focused on:
Tracking the delivery of policy relating
Examining the regional responses
Identifying "good practice"
from both central and regional perspectives.
1.2 A total of 71 interviews were undertaken
with officials in Whitehall and all the English regions. These
included Whitehall officials across all the main OGDs involved
in implementing ERAs as well as officials in the GOs, RDAs and
RAs in all nine English regions. Particular attention was focused
on the three northern regions.
1.3 With the results of this work in mind,
the remainder of the submission is divided into the following
sections first the transferable lessons from the research and
second the ways forward and recommendations.
THE ERA POLICY
2.1 This section examines those lessons
that arise from the research for subsequent regional policy making.
We make an important distinction between frameworks "for"
and "in" action.
2.2 "Frameworks for action" refer
to those understandings that can be read off from formal policy
prescriptions and the intentions of policy makers in terms of
how they anticipate they will transform actions at a distance
in different locations. "Frameworks in action", on the
other hand, are concerned with the practicalities of making policy
work in particular local and regional contexts.
2.3 A failure to understand the relationship
between these two quite different frameworks leads to a significant
reduction in the effectiveness and efficiency of both regional
policy conception and execution.
2.4 Past experiences of regions being seen
as sites of implementation, rather than co-participants in the
construction of policy, as well as its delivery, meant that the
consultation process between the referendum regions and the centre
was variable. Effectivelyextending the analogythe
author, director, actors and audience are not sufficiently well
engaged in the joint production of the play.
2.5 Regional officials offered the view
that relevant regional expertise, knowledge and intelligence could
have been of significant practical value in shaping the implementation
of the White Paper. But these resources were not exploited in
any systematic or effective way. Most officials centrally and
regionally had little knowledge of the Incorporating Regional
Perspectives into Policy-Making report. A number of ways in
which regional officials could have added value to the policy
making process were identified.
An understanding of specific regional
contexts, challenges and opportunities for a national White Paper
may have been identified that would have resulted in the anticipation
of potential problems in the future.
A capacity could have been developed
to see how policies would work in practice and identify options
which would have resulted in more positive outcomes.
Officials could have highlighted
those areas in which policy recommendations would have had different
effects at a regional and sub-regional level. This, in turn, could
have fed back into a more sensitive analysis of differences and
similarities that would have improved overall effectiveness.
The results indicated that policy
gaps and areas could have been identified among those whose needs
were not being met, or anticipated, by the centre.
In the policy making process, regional
officials could have more systematically mediated the policy with
stakeholders, thereby not only enabling a greater understanding
of the purpose and powers contained within the legislation, but
also providing an understanding of the claims of other regional
GOs could have promoted even better
linkages between policies across OGDs given continual contacts
with different official at the centre.
2.6 The findings on relations between central
and regional perspectives led to a number of points that have
a direct bearing on the effectiveness of the policy making process.
2.7 There were widespread views by both
Whitehall and regional officials that there was no single, clear
agenda of regionalisation at the centre. Instead officials referred
to the co-existence of multiple forms of regionalisation citing
the Treasury Regional Emphasis Review and the Devolved
Decision-Making Review (and a number of senior regional officials
also referred to the Modern Regional Policy document).
While each of these agendas had implications for central and regional
officials, it was not clear how these developments where coordinated
and there was little opportunity to explore the relations between
them in any strategic way.
2.8 There were strong views, centrally and
in referendum regions, that developments in Chapter 2 agenda of
the ERA White Paper were not widely understood amongst OGDs in
Whitehall and that they had very little direct contact with regions
about its implications. The regions, in turn, felt that it was
not being centrally coordinated or managed.
2.9 Central and regional officials were
clear that the implementation of assemblies would have led to
the development of increasingly shared roles between OGDs and
ERAs and also with a restructured local government. Yet there
was concern about the lack of clarity about what effective working
would have meant in practice or how relations between local government,
ERAs, non-referendum regions and OGDs would be managed.
3. WAYS FORWARD
Reconnecting Purpose, Process and Product
3.1 What we find in the results is that
considerations of process and product cannot be divorced from
purpose. Quite simply, unless a policy has sufficient legitimacy
attached to it, then the extent to which it is effective will
be reduced as it is not perceived as making any addition to existing
conditions but may, instead, actually detract from those in significant
ways. The processes of enrolment and communication, and how resultant
decision making is affected by those, are thus crucial to obtaining
the commitment of those who are expected to deliver it in different
settings. That, in turn, also provides for better dissemination
to stakeholders of intentions and opportunities as those persons
act as intermediaries of understanding to those who may be not
only hostile, but often confused and uncertain about implications.
Developing a Shared Orientation
3.2 A sense of provisional orientation is
required for this process to be effective. Thus, a problem may
arise if there is a selection of issues to be included that excludes
the frame of reference of those whose actions are meant to be
changed by the policy itself. In this case, an absence of such
orientation, in terms of clear strategic messages from the centre
that explains not only process, but also purpose, will lead to
considerable degrees of uncertainty. What may be taken from this
is that successful policy making links context and interpretations
to the issues and opportunities that the proposed policy is intended
to address and bring about. What is implied is not that context
drives such considerations, but that policy is sufficiently context
sensitive to work in different environments in order to be effective.
Creating a Learning Culture
3.3 Ideally, from the policy point of view,
this is about generating a learning culture. What is absent in
the "official" channels of communication in the civil
service is how the "informal" means and mechanisms through
which policy is contested and resolved are understood and then
inform practice in context according to different pressures. There
was a clear tendency to see the ERA Bill as an endpoint or product,
whereas experiences of devolution in other countries have emphasised
the importance of viewing devolution as a process that changes
over time, not an event within a particular time frame. At present,
there is a limited understanding at the centre of how policy works
in particular contexts and as a result, a limited effectiveness
to that policy itself. Instead of addressing this, performance
management measures, which carry little context sensitivity, transmit
messages that bypass the necessity of understanding which is part
of this process. Such an absence then rebounds on policy to challenge
its process and purpose and overall effects.
Quality, Knowledge and Intelligence
3.4 Success, derived from the lessons from
this work, depends on the quality of thinking within the regions
and the confidence of the policy making processes adopted at the
centre. Regions need to coordinate themselves in improved ways
and be proactive around inputs into policy. This is a matter of
practical organisation, along with the power and responsibility
to construct an orientation towards the future in order to become
proactive problem solvers, not just reactive implementers. Not
all regions will have the abilities and resources to achieve such
changes. After all, resources are scarce and regions, if they
want to take on this role, they will have to invest in their own
development to improve their leadership and negotiation skills.
What is required here is the tangible support of the centre and
a willingness to reflect upon what implications this would have
for the policy making process, accompanied by a transformation
in the light of these new relations.
Cultures of Judgement
3.5 Taking this forward meets that most
intractable of issues: that is, the strong culture of upward accountability
to Ministers and Parliament within the civil service. A culture
of deference and risk aversion then arises which fosters a process
mentality that separates frameworks for and in action. While existing
structures are important for developing accountability and integration
and providing orientations for career trajectories over time,
greater emphasis needs to be placed on civil servants negotiating
the space within the broader architecture of policy to deliver
change based upon judgement within frameworks of accountability
through evaluation. For instance, developing good project management
skills and negotiating with Ministers on how policy drift affects
delivery can be a useful means to progress change. In addition,
there is a need to improve mutual understanding and open up organisational
cultures between the Government Offices and the centre, as well
as between OGDs and the regions. Such work should be valued highly
at the centre. Learning programmes and processes to share experiences
should be developed. Workshops and seminars should be promoted
in the recognition that the informality that makes policy work
is something valuable to be shared in developing better understanding
Improving Understanding of Context
4.1 More effective strategic fit in policy
making involves examining regional needs in relation to emerging
policy priorities from the centre. This requires analysis of the
tensions between vertical alignment and horizontal integration
in terms of the crosscutting impact of policy and the effect of
variable commitment between OGDs on the development of regional
4.2 Improved forms of communication within
and between OGDs concerning policy development has regional implications.
This requires the identification of officials who would be responsible
for particular substantive areas of activity within and between
4.3 Government Offices have a key role to
play in coordinating regional responses to policy. This requires
greater sharing of knowledge and understanding in the development
of shared strategic directions and partnerships between Whitehall
and with officials in the regions.
4.4 An improved focus on generating networks
and communications with the regions will enable more of the right
people to be involved at the right time in policy development.
This requires a commitment to building relations between Whitehall
and regions that are able to construct an honest and shared understanding
of what is feasible and what is desirable in policy formulation.
4.5 Government Offices can take more active
responsibilities for managing strategic fit at a regional level.
This requires the coordination of input from different regional
agencies, including the private and voluntary sectors, as well
as negotiating between different perspectives and managing the
4.6 Regions cannot respond to every new
policy concern with equal capacity and commitment. This requires
Whitehall and the regions to jointly make informed choices about
which policies they are actively intending to respond to through
a sustained process of mutual understanding.
Coherence, Consistency and Communication
4.7 Close linkage between policy and evaluation
needs a more in-depth understanding of the capacity of different
institutions to deliver outcomes according to overarching purposes.
This requires an evaluation process that asks not only how it
will be known that a policy is working, but also what is the appropriate
methodology for communicating that to different audiences.
4.8 Turnover of key personnel diminishes
important tacit knowledge that makes policy work in particular
contexts. This requires consistency and continuity in roles and
responsibilities by selecting key personnel in terms of the knowledge
and capacity they possess, as well as giving consideration to
the time and space needed to occupy these roles effectively.
4.9 The evaluation function should not be
developed at the end of the policy process. This requires designing
evaluation into the planning phase in cooperation with key personnel
at different levels to ensure that it is linked with the strategic
purpose of policy.
4.10 Restrictive time deadlines exist in
uneasy tension with effective enrolment to make policy work. This
requires a more systematic approach to developing networks for
policy engagement that gives consideration not only to who is
included and why, but also to who is excluded, why and with what
4.11 Policy making is often characterised
by misalignments and duplication rather than identifying overlaps
and interrelationships. This requires the development of a shared
ethos in partnership with identified stakeholders with a clear
set of aims that are internally coherent and externally communicated
in a consistent manner.
4.12 More effective strategic fit involves
the development of a stronger foresight element in the policy
making process. This requires the development of prospective techniques
and processes that aid identification of the difficulties that
will be faced in the process of design and implementation and
anticipation of how they might be overcome.
4.13 Establishing programmes of work outside
of the normal policy process will benefit different stakeholders.
This requires the development of effective and sustainable infrastructures
of communication that support and enable developments over time
and coordinate effectively between different policy innovations.
Although it is relatively easy to improve the
policy process from the point of view of the centre so that there
is greater regional involvement, this says nothing about whether
regional ideas and suggestions will be included in decisions and
We would like to record our thanks to those
personnel across Government Departments and the nine English regions
who agreed to be interviewed for this project. Particular thanks
are due to Ian Scotter and his colleagues in RAD and to Sarah
Morgan for providing support during the research process. Both
the Advisory Group and Professor Charlie Jeffrey gave constructive
advice during the research, as did our colleagues in SURF.
|DEFRA||Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
|DTI||Department of Trade and Industry
|ERA||elected regional assembly
|GLA||Greater London Authority
|ODPM||Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
|OGDs||Other Government Departments
|RAD||Regional Assemblies Division, ODPM
|RCU||Regional Coordination Unit
|RDA||Regional Development Agency
|WDA||Welsh Development Agency