3 Involving the citizen and experts
from outside Government in policy-making |
12. The Civil Service Reform Plan sets out to
address the current criticisms of policy-making with proposals
to offer the public the opportunity to become more involved in
the overall policy process. It states that "open policy-making
will become the default. Whitehall does not have a monopoly on
The plan pledges two separate actions: "open" policy-making
and "contestable" policy-making. This is a departure
from more traditional approaches to public engagement, namely
public consultation, which has usually only occurred after the
Government has already determined a course of action.
13. A "clear model of open policy-making"
is explained in the Civil Service Reform Plan as one that exploits
technology and social media to engage the public in debates about
policy and in the policy-making process itself. In an open policy-making
model, it is understood that involvement of the public is sought
before proposals have been formulated. As well as referring to
"web-based tools, platforms and new media", the plan
mentions "crowd sourcing" to help to define particular
problems, instead of only consulting on solutions, and using "policy
labs" to test policies with a range of people and organisations
14. The second proposed action, "contestable
policy-making", is one in which external sources are given
the opportunity, through competition, to develop policy. The Civil
Service Reform Plan states that this approach has "the additional
benefit of bringing in expertise on specific subject matter when
it does not exist in the Civil Service". This approach has
been described as "outsourcing" of policy-making. To
achieve this, the Government has established a central match-fund,
known as the Contestable Policy Fund, which is worth up to £1
million per year, allowing departments "to bid for an allocation
of £500k funding (and provide £500k match funding themselves)
to open up specific pieces of policy development to competition".
Ministers and the Civil Service
15. This change in approach raises questions
about the role for Ministers and their relationship with civil
servants as the principle source of policy advice. Roger Hampson,
Chief Executive of the London Borough of Redbridge, summarised
the challenge in implementing open policy-making for those responsible
for policy development:
[...] if you are not careful, overwhelming public
opinion will push in some direction that makes no sense and takes
people off the cliff. The role of politicians, political actors
and bureaucrats is to try to match what people think or what people
are influenced to think with reality in very short timescales.
That is going to be enormously difficult. The Civil Service
needs to be thinking, "How the hell do we deal with that?"
16. The Civil Service Reform Plan recognised
this challenge and stated "We will continue to need excellent
policy managers within Departments, including to support Ministers
in securing collective agreement and in translating all policy
ideas into delivery".
The majority of the evidence supported this approach and witnesses
stressed that leadership was important. Sciencewise suggested
for example that "Government must take final responsibility
for making fair and balanced policy decisions that are informed
by a range of evidence, including from the public".
17. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public
Engagement stated that "there are significant cultural and
professional challenges which will need to be addressed if the
Civil Service is to embrace public engagement with the kind of
strategic purpose it deserves".
Tom Steinberg, Director of MySociety, made similar comments, suggesting
that "the primary failing that we have had is lots of experiments
that are skin deep[...] behind the scenes the processes remain
largely unchanged, which is very common".
18. Evidence suggested that those civil servants
involved in policy development will need to change the overall
approach to their role, which Catarina Tully predicted would evolve
to become one of "a custodian or guardian of the process,
at the heart of decision-making".
Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov argued that the future role of civil
servants may be in "vouching for the fairness, inclusivity
and the representativeness of the process".
Sciencewise referred to the support required to make this happen;
"not enough thought has been given to including public engagement
in training for policy-making and that it should be an integral
part of what it means to be a policy-maker".
19. The culture shift that this new approach
requires is not only applicable to civil servants but to Ministers,
who will need to understand the need for engagement to become
an integral part of day-to-day work. Catarina Tully suggested
that "Ministers and senior officials are rarely prepared
to devolve or give decision-making power to other actors, engage
with unpopular voices, respond to ideas that are not Whitehall
mainstream options, or try uncomfortable or unknown policy approaches".
She also told us:
If you want to understand what is causing barriers
to civil servants doing this, I would propose it is two other
things. It is not about capacity or stubbornness. It is about
having the time to do this effectively and being rewarded for
it; and also having the political space. This area is not addressed
in the Civil Service Reform Plan, which is really problematic;
it is not in the interests of politicians to open up to the risk
of having a lot of this decided by constituencies. Until you address
that, it will be very difficult to get civil servants to be open
and do open policymaking as much as we want them to.
Implementing new techniques in
20. In September 2012 it was announced that the
first contract under the new Contestable Policy Fund had been
awarded to the Institute for Public Policy Research, who were
asked to "carry out a review into how other civil services
work, with a particular focus on accountability systems"
in order to inform future Civil Service reform.
A number of leading think tanks, including Reform and the Institute
for Government, declined to bid for the contract, citing ongoing
similar work, a need for independence and the timescales proposed
in the contract as their reasons.
21. There are international examples of open
policy-making. In the New Zealand Parliament, for example, bills
are directed to the relevant Select Committee after first reading,
which then calls for the public to make submissions on the bill,
hears evidence and recommends amendments to the House. The Committee
reprints a copy of the bill alongside a report explaining the
reasons for any recommended amendments based on the evidence gathered.
In the UK, formative efforts are being made to implement open
policy-making, examples of which are summarised below. These,
in our view, are good examples of how the Government has captured
the wisdom and experience of those subject to, or affected by,
regulation which so rarely occurs by means of traditional "consultation".
Open policy-making in Government
The Red Tape Challenge
In 2011, the Government launched the Red Tape Challenge
which was designed to "crowd-source" views from business,
organisations and the public on which regulations should be improved,
kept "as is" or scrapped. A number of different areas
of regulation were highlighted, and the public could submit views
during a five week window for each, supported by "sector
champions", who acted as a link between the sector and Government.
These comments influenced the decisions to scrap or overhaul over
1,100 regulations (of the 2,300 examined by November 2012).
Care and Support White Paper and Draft Bill
In the summer of 2012 the Department of Health created
two "dedicated engagement spaces to invite public comments
on the draft Bill and explain the White Paper policies".
People were able to comment publicly on individual clauses or
answer questions by topic, or respond to other people's comments
and generate discussion. A dedicated Twitter feed was also created,
@caresupportbill, which summarised each clause in a tweet and
influenced debate in social media (including triggering discussion
in independent podcasts). The department aimed to "close
the circle" by explaining how people's comments were influencing
changes to the Bill.
22. The "Inside Government" area of
GOV.UK currently gives individuals access to departmental information,
policy, publications and consultations. The Government Digital
Service website states:
This "get involved" layer will start small,
with a simple explanation of what consultations and e-petitions
are, and a way to see all the formal consultation papers from
all the organisations who have moved to GOV.UK in a single list
[...] we expect to be highlighting not only formal consultations
but all the other ways citizens can participate with government,
including opportunities for less formal digital engagement and
the kinds of civic participation profiled by Number 10.
We heard from Mike Bracken, Executive Director of
the Government Digital Service, that the development of the GOV.UK
website itself had been subject to significant open engagement
and involvement. The first iteration of the website was developed
with a small number of people, then tested with thousands, and
improved on the basis of their feedback.
23. Overall the evidence we received was broadly
supportive of the move to increase the scope of public engagement
in policy-making. Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov said to us
I think the words and the intention of Government
are clearly in the right direction here. The acknowledgement about
open policy-making is to be welcomed; you know that the people
behind this believe and care about it.
24. The proposals for both "open"
and "contestable" policy-making demonstrate that Government
recognises the value of public opinion in helping to identify
problems and develop solutions. Open policy-making builds on the
more traditional models of engagement and aims to put in place
new ways of working with the citizen, who will become a valued
partner in the policy-making process. We have, in previous Reports,
supported and recommended greater public engagement and dialogue
and we are pleased to see the Government is interested in this
approach to policy development.
25. 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.
It will always be for Ministers to determine the overall strategy
and key objectives of Government, such as for the limits of public
spending or for the need to spend on less popular programmes,
and civil servants will still be required to support Ministers
in the tasks and thinking associated with that. This is important
not only for ministerial accountability but supports the principle
of representative democracy. We agree with the assertion in the
Civil Service Reform Plan that Ministers should have the final
say on whether to accept policy advice generated in this new way.
There can be no substitute for Ministers' responsibility for Government
policy and its outcomes.
26. While it will always be
for Ministers to determine the overall strategy and key objectives
of Government, we believe that there is great potential for open
and contested policy-making to deliver genuine public engagement.
If the Government wants to maximise the benefits of this new approach
to policy, it will mean far more than simply being an encyclopaedia
of information, policy and guidance. We believe it will mean adopting
an open source, or "wiki", approach to policy; that
is one in which public opinion, ideas and contributions are sought
and welcome at any and all stages of the policy cycle, continually
to inform the strategy and policy of Government. In time, the
Government should be able to demonstrate that it has adopted this
approach if it is to be seen as moving away from old processes
and embracing a new relationship with the citizen. 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.
27. If open policy-making
is to succeed civil servants will need to integrate ongoing public
engagement into "the day job". The Civil Service does
not have a monopoly on policy-making but civil servants are well
placed to act as the guardians of the policy process, ensuring
representation, analysing, moderating and support must be given
to help civil servants with the transition to this new way of
working. Training on public engagement should be routinely included
in wider policy development training and leadership programmes.
This should include, for example, information on the benefits
of engagement, tools and techniques, as well as analysis of evidence.
28. Open policy-making requires
Ministers to commit the time for public engagement and dialogue
with groups and experts outside Whitehall. This is different from
responding to media pressures and lobbying, which rarely enables
Ministers to reach beyond the "Westminster village".
Ministers will need to drive forward the necessary understanding
within their departments to help this to happen. To support them
in this, public engagement in open policy-making should be addressed
in the induction programme for Ministers.
23 Cabinet Office, Civil Service Reform Plan,
June 2012, page 14 Back
As above Back
Cabinet Office, Civil Service Reform Plan, June 2012, page
Q 81 Back
Cabinet Office, Civil Service Reform Plan, June 2012, page
Ev 49 Back
Ev 49 Back
Q 2 Back
Q 83 Back
Q 56 Back
Ev 49 Back
Ev 85 Back
Q 82 Back
Cabinet Office press notice, Government's first use of the
Contestable Policy Fund, 18 September 2012, Back
Institute for Government, Improving accountability - an urgent
search without easy solutions, 17 September 2012; The Guardian,
Thinktanks fear lack of independence in Cabinet Office tender,
3 September 2012 Back
New Zealand Parliament, Parliament Brief: Select committees,
How Parliament works fact sheets, www.parliament.nz Back
Cabinet Office, Government Digital Strategy, 6 November
Government Digital Service, What you won't see (yet) on Inside
Government, 14 November 2012 Back
Q 91 Back
Q 2 Back