Public engagement in policy-making - Public Administration Committee Contents


Summary


In its plan for Civil Service reform, published in June 2012, the Government introduced "open policy-making". This means engaging the public and experts from beyond the "Westminster village" in debates about policy and in the policy-making process itself, and establishing a new relationship with the citizen who becomes a valued partner to identify problems, discover new thinking and to propose solutions. It is a departure from more traditional approaches to public engagement, which have usually only occurred after the Government has already determined a course of action.

To govern is to choose. Open policy-making should take debate outside Whitehall and into the community as a whole, but ultimate responsibility and accountability for leadership must remain with Ministers and senior civil servants. Once again, we emphasise the importance of leadership in Government; of effective strategic thinking, which involves choosing between different arguments, reconciling conflicting opinions and arbitrating between different groups and interests; and of effective governance of departments and their agencies. A process of engagement, which can reach beyond the "Westminster village" and the "usual suspects", will itself be an act of leadership, but there can be no abdication of that leadership.

There is great potential for open and contested policy-making to deliver genuine public engagement. There is also a risk of disappointment and scepticism amongst the public about the impact of their participation, and that Government listens only to the media, lobbying and "the usual suspects". Ministers must commit sufficient time for public engagement to reach beyond Westminster. Digital technology and new media have a huge role to play. In time, the Government should be able to demonstrate that the citizen is able to contribute opinion, ideas and suggestions on an ongoing basis, if it is to be seen as moving away from old processes and embracing a new relationship with the citizen.




 
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Prepared 3 June 2013