Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Cabinet Office (PE 11)

Public Engagement in Policy Making

The Government welcomes the Public Administration Select Committee’s inquiry into public engagement in policy making. The Civil Service Reform Plan set out our clear ambition to improve the quality and openness of policy making in Whitehall. That ambition reflects a broader desire in the Plan for a Civil Service which is flatter, faster, more digital, more unified, focussed on outcomes not process, more accountable for delivery, better managed, equipped with better capabilities, and ultimately more enjoyable to work for. If the actions in the Plan are implemented fully this will lead to real change for the Civil Service. In the spirit of open policy making we look forward to the dialogue fostered by this inquiry.

At its best policy making in the Civil Service is highly innovative and effective. However, the quality of policy making is inconsistent. We must focus on designing policies with implementation in mind, and we will draw on a wider range of views and expertise than those found solely within Whitehall. An open approach to policy making is fundamental to improving the Government’s ability to deliver practical solutions to issues. We are already making progress on this agenda, for example:

We are working to embed Open Policy Making across Whitehall, to support civil servants to develop policies and processes that draw on the broadest relevant range of inputs, are more transparent, and make the best use of innovative approaches.

We are piloting contestable policy making with a centrally-held match fund which can be used directly by Ministers to commission external policy advice. The first contract, to carry out a review into how other civil services work, was awarded to the Institute for Public Policy Research on 18th September.

Cabinet Office is leading work on how far some policy and analytical services could be provided to departments on a shared basis, building on successful models such as the Behavioural Insights Team.

We will ensure that staff have the skills and expertise they need to develop and implement policy, using up to date tools and techniques, and have clear understanding of what works in practice. They will have access to at least five days a year of targeted continuing professional development.

The Cabinet Office is reviewing the value of institutes that can test and trial approaches and assess what works in major social policy areas.

These commitments have clear relevance to the Committee’s interest in public engagement in policy making. Although we are only at the beginning of the implementation of the Civil Service Reform programme, we hope the attached responses provide helpful initial contributions to an ongoing debate.

Francis Maude


We believe there are both principled and practical reasons for open policy making to become the default across Whitehall, and we are not alone in this view.

Public engagement with government is part of a healthy democracy.1 Research has shown that almost six in ten of the public say they want to be actively involved in decisions shaping public services, and that satisfaction is higher when people feel they can influence decisions.2

Of course governments in democracies engage with the public at the ballot box when policy commitments in their manifestos are put to a vote. Devolving and decentralising power including through Police and Crime Commissioners will further this engagement. Yet although manifesto commitments have already been tested with the public, they still require translation into practical action or legislation—here there is space for the process to be opened. For the development of policy beyond manifesto commitments, an open process has even greater instrumental benefits.

The OECD have suggested that an open approach to policy making “offers a way for governments to improve their policy performance by working with citizens, civil society organisations…, businesses and other stakeholders to deliver concrete improvements in policy outcomes and the quality of public services.”3 Studies by the Institute for Government4 have also concluded that developing policy in an open way leads to better policy outcomes. Recent work at the Institute on successful policy projects concluded that “one of the hallmarks of all these policy successes is the extent to which the policy process has been opened out beyond the confines of Whitehall”.5

The Civil Service Reform Plan itself drew heavily on feedback from staff across the Civil Service, including through the Tell Us How consultation, and committed to a series of specific and practical actions which, when implemented, will lead to real change for the Civil Service.. In the Plan we set out a clear intention to improve policy making in the Civil Service by making open policy making the default across Whitehall, and by ensuring that staff have the skills and expertise they need to develop and implement policy.

Our understanding of open policy making is broader than the Committee’s definition. The Committee’s definition captures a very important element of open policy making: consulting outside Whitehall early in the development of proposals. However, we want policy makers in Whitehall to adopt new tools and techniques across the entire policy making process: problem identification, ideas generation, analysis, design, testing, and implementation. At each stage there is room for both traditional consultation techniques and new ways to seek input from the public, frontline staff and experts, especially those enabled by the adoption of new digital tools. This openness will keep policy makers abreast of new and innovative methods to solve problems. By being open and transparent about approaches used, and public sector information and data generated, policy makers also allow others to innovate to solve problems.

1. How do the models of policy-making currently used in Government promote or discourage members of the public from getting involved?

We want to improve capability in the Civil Service so that all policy makers are equipped to make the best use of more traditional methods, while also considering and adopting new technologies and innovative practices in the development and delivery of policy.

Traditionally, the policy process has been conceived as a linear process, for example from a consultation paper on to firm proposals and then legislation. This often works well to engage some stakeholders, and has led to many significant changes in Government policy. These processes, however, may be better suited to individuals and organisations that are already familiar with the workings of Government and Parliament, such as interest groups, think tanks, and charities. These groups are often organised and resourced to engage in traditional policy making processes in conventional ways. There is also a risk, as the Committee has identified, that public engagement can occur too late in the process of developing policy, reducing the effectiveness of engagement.

A number of Government initiatives already seek to address these issues. For example, the Government funded Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue on policy involving Science and Technology (Sciencewise-ERC) was established as part of the move towards “upstream”, or earlier engagement with citizens. Upstream engagement aims to shape better policy decisions and to prevent the loss of public trust, rather than trying to rebuild it after policy failure. The Sciencewise-ERC is funded by BIS and works with Public Bodies at national and local level to embed a particular type of public engagement called public dialogue within policy development. The programme has supported successful projects with many central Government Departments, Agencies and NDPBs.

In addition, the Government has been working over the summer to improve the way we consult. The new Consultation Principles, announced by the Minister for Government Policy on 17 July 2012,6 mean we are adopting a more proportionate and targeted approach, so that the type and scale of engagement is proportional to the potential impacts of the proposal. The emphasis is on understanding the effects of a proposal, with the focus on engaging early with key groups rather than following a set process.

The Civil Service Reform Plan also made clear the Government’s view that the models used to develop policy need updating to reflect the new tools and techniques now available. The traditional tools of legislation, funding and regulation need to be used more sparingly, and new tools such as behavioural insights, transparency, and digital engagement should be considered more readily.

Many new tools and techniques that make possible new ways of engaging with the public at pace and on a larger scale have only recently become mainstream. For example, the Red Tape Challenge uses a website to promote open public discussion of how the aims of existing regulation can be fulfilled in the least burdensome way possible, with public contributions being used to form Government proposals on regulatory reform. Civil Servants in the future must be able to use these tools to improve the quality and consistency of policy making.

Work is also underway to develop of a set of web pages that explain government policy in a clear, consistent way which sets out what the government is seeking to achieve and what actions it is taking—all in one place. This is part of the exercise of moving departmental web content onto the GOV.UK platform and will provide the public with the information to support informed engagement.

2. What advantages and disadvantages would greater public engagement in policy-making bring?

As set out in our introductory comment, public engagement in policy making has intrinsic value in contributing to a healthy democracy, and it has instrumental value in making policy better. Public engagement techniques can also have other advantages.

For example, the government has committed itself to a process of releasing more public sector information as open data as one measure to improve transparency, helping people find the information they need, allowing them to use it and analyse it effectively, and to distribute it more freely. This process brings greater accountability, empowering those wishing to hold the public sector to account. It reduces asymmetry in the knowledge that exists when the public sector has privileged access to a more complete collection of information. The increase in accountability will in turn bring greater rigour to the process of policy development. It also works to improve public services, by providing searchable and discoverable information about outcomes that will support decision making of both consumers and commissioners of public services. It also promotes growth, by providing a new raw material for entrepreneurs and developers.

As open policy making becomes the default, it will be necessary to clarify where there are natural limits on the use of some kinds of public engagement. For example, national security issues must be handled differently to most other public policy questions; and Ministers will continue to need a safe space for robust, open, honest and constructive discussion with each other and with officials during policy formation. These are exceptions and the need to maintain a safe space for policy advice should not be used to prevent the maximum possible openness to new thinking or in the gathering of evidence and insight from external experts. Nevertheless, the Government must explain the parameters within which open policy making techniques are being used, so that reasonable caution does not generate mistrust or disillusionment.

3. What are the best tools and methods for enabling public engagement in policy-making?

The tools and methods for public engagement are constantly evolving. The Civil Service needs to be open to new approaches, to be searching continuously for new and better ways to make policy. Civil Servants should be searching for innovative means of public engagement, and making use of them to drive continuous improvement.

The Civil Service Reform Plan made a commitment to establish a clear model of open policy making. The Cabinet Office is developing usable guides for policy makers that explain the range of tools, and how they are appropriate in different circumstances.

The choice of best tools is also dependent upon the nature of the problem at hand and the context within which that problem is set. A variety of factors, including the audience type and the stage of the policymaking process, will determine what works best for any given type of engagement. Departments must determine the appropriate tools on a case by case basis.

We are taking action to support the dissemination and adoption of best practice amongst policy makers. Cabinet Office have recently initiated a joint project with DemSoc ( that aims to embed best practice across the network of policymakers in government through discussion and by highlighting case-studies of successful engagement. The site is open to stakeholders from outside central government including practitioners, engagement platform vendors, local government colleagues, as well as members of the general public. The Government Digital Service is also building a tool that will enable policymakers to showcase and rate successful examples of public engagement, and identify methods of engagement that have worked for policy questions that have characteristics similar to the questions they face themselves.

(i) How should the Government measure the success or failure of different public engagement models?

Public engagement in policy making has both intrinsic and instrumental value. Insofar as public engagement contributes to a healthy democracy, success will mean more active and meaningful engagement with citizens on the policy in question. Insofar as public engagement makes better policy, success will mean that there are links between engagement activities and better policy outcomes.7

However, given the many forms that public engagement in policy making can take, it is natural that success or failure can be measured in a number of ways. A traditional consultation may be deemed a success if it attracts a large number of high quality responses, for example; or online discussion may be deemed a success if it reaches a certain number of posts from different users. Nevertheless, a consultation with a high response rate may still be a failure if the Government is perceived not to respond promptly and meaningfully, or if the questions the Government asked make useful responses unlikely, or if the consultation came at the wrong stage in the policy development process, or indeed if the bulk of responses came from a single interest group. Particular success measures will depend upon the tools and techniques adopted to address a particular policy question, and the context in which they are used.

(ii) How should the Government ensure that its spending on increasing public engagement in policy-making delivers value for money?

Better public engagement at an early stage in the development of policy can save time and money in the long run, by helping us understand the needs and attitudes of citizens better, and by enabling us to test whether a policy is fit for purpose before the process of implementation begins.

The Spending Challenge launched in June 2010 invited public service workers and the public to suggest money saving ideas. The Government consulted with experts and the public through roundtable discussions and regional events, and invited public sector workers and the public to submit money saving ideas through the Spending Challenge website. Over 100,000 suggestions were submitted. These proposals influenced Spending Review decisions, including suggestions to:

Reform the Educational Maintenance Allowance grant and Child Benefit.

Introduce a more preventative focus across public services.

Build closer links across health and social care.

Minimise tax fraud, evasion and avoidance.

Better public engagement can also lower costs and improve policy outcomes by galvanising people to take action in policy areas where success depends upon changes in individuals’ behaviour.8

Policy makers have a variety of ways of engaging with the public, and new tools and techniques now available open up many more options, including a range of low-cost digital options. Policy makers will have to balance the benefits and the costs of using a particular approach on a case by case basis, bearing in mind the nature of the question and the context within which it must be answered.

(iii) How can you ensure transparency and prevent conflicts of interest when opening up policy making to outside sources?

In line with the Civil Service Reform Plan, we are piloting contestable policy making to enable Ministers to commission directly external policy development (for example, by academics and think tanks).

4. What role should the permanent civil service play in policy-making in the modern world?

A permanent, politically impartial Civil Service exists to serve the Government of the day, while retaining the flexibility to serve future Governments. In doing this, the Civil Service carries out three main roles: operational delivery, implementing the programmes and projects of the Government, and advising on policy and supporting Ministers. We will continue to need excellent policy managers within the Civil Service, including to support Ministers in securing collective agreement and in translating all policy ideas into delivery.

However, the Civil Service must have a clearer focus on designing policies that can be implemented in practice, drawing on a wider range of views and expertise. The Civil Service Reform Plan made clear our view that “Implementing policy should never be separate from making it.”9 Successful outcomes depend on designing policy with clear objectives, creating realistic timetables and professional project planning. In order to achieve this, policy makers must have the skills and tools they need to do their jobs, and they should have a clear understanding of what works based on robust evidence. That is why, for example, the Civil Service Reform Plan committed to substantially improve delivery of major projects by requiring greater testing and scrutiny by departmental boards and the Major Projects Authority before they move to full implementation, and by requiring regular publication of project progress and the production of an annual report on progress, scrutinised by the Departmental Board.

Raising capability and expertise, and an ongoing commitment to open policy making will change the role of policy makers in the future. For example, earlier public engagement in the policy making process will mean key groups are able to feed in their views and influence policy more effectively than has been the case before. The use of more innovative public engagement models will enable departments to engage differently and in the most appropriate way for a particular policy, rather than having to follow a set process. Greater transparency will impose greater discipline on the policy-making process, requiring decisions to be made on the basis of clear evidence.

5. Will “contestable” (out-sourced) models of policy-making provide greater opportunities for public engagement in the process?

Contestable policy making is one way to incentivise the development of high quality, creative policy by opening the policy development process to competition from external sources. It has the additional benefit of enabling the Government to bring in expertise on specific subject matter when it does not exist in the Civil Service. The default approach will be competitive tendering, meaning that the contracts will be open to bids from a wide variety of organisations.

The degree and type of public engagement that may be possible and desirable in pieces of policy development that are procured under the contestable policy-making fund will depend on the nature of the individual projects.

6. What lessons can be learned from abroad, and how can they be applied within the UK?

Cabinet Office is continuing to conduct research into open policy making tools and techniques from abroad as part of our work to deliver the Civil Service Reform Plan actions on improving policy making capability and policy implementation. We want our policy makers to know what world-class looks like in their field.

Our interest in learning from abroad is exemplified in the first contestable policy review commissioned by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Institute for Public Policy Research are analysing the operation of the Civil Service in various governments and multilateral organisations, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States, France, Sweden and the European Union. Suggestions resulting from this project will inform the Government’s ongoing programme of Civil Service reform.

More broadly the UK is committed to learning from approaches undertaken in other countries. We recently hosted the 2012 meeting of the OECD Network of Senior Officials from Centres of Government in London. The Network, which brings together heads of prime ministers’ offices, cabinet secretaries, secretaries-general of governments and other senior centre-of-government officials from OECD Member countries and Key Partner countries, aims to make the centre of government more effective through the exchange of experiences and innovations amongst peers. This year’s event, held on October 23–24th, was jointly chaired by Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake and included participants from over 30 countries. The agenda focused on addressing the main challenges and opportunities currently facing the centres of governments; sharing recent innovative approaches to policy development and delivery; and discussing the impact of current economic, financial and other pressures on the structures, capacity and capability of the centre. A key part of the dialogue was an exploration of the new approaches countries are taking to connect with and engage their citizens. The UK will continue to use this network and other international fora to ensure it has access to the latest thinking, best practice and new ideas from across the world.

7. How should Government ensure that policy shaped by public engagement reflects the chosen strategy of the Government; and national strategic imperatives?

The alignment of policy with the chosen strategy of the Government and with national strategic imperatives will remain a matter for collective Government, accountable to Parliament, and through Parliament to the people.

November 2012

1 It has been suggested that “[o]pen and inclusive policy making is most often promoted as a means of improving democratic performance…as it enhances transparency and accountability, public participation and builds civic capacity”. Focus on Citizens: Public Engagement for Better Policy and Services, OECD, 2009, page 2.

2 What do people want, need and expect from public services?, page 32. Ipsos MORI, March 2010.

3 Focus on Citizens: Public Engagement for Better Policy and Services, OECD, 2009, page 2.

4 Making Policy Better: Improving Whitehall’s Core Business, April 2011; The “S” Factors: Lessons from IFG’s policy success reunions, January 2012.

5 The “S” Factors: Lessons from IFG’s policy success reunions, January 2012, page 20.


7 It has been suggested before that the two strands of intrinsic and instrumental value are ultimately linked: in a healthy democracy the public will be sufficiently engaged in society to shape policy, but a lack of opportunities to affect public decision making is likely to lead to disillusionment: “[p]oor practice, shallow commitment and a lack of tangible results or feedback breeds public cynicism and undermines trust in government. Without a wider commitment to the intrinsic value of public engagement, it is hard for governments to reap the instrumental benefits they seek.” Mind the Gap: Fostering Open and Inclusive Policy Making. An Issues Paper, OECD, March 2008.

8 Focus on Citizens: Public Engagement for Better Policy and Services, OECD, 2009.

9 Civil Service Reform Plan, June 2012, p.18.

Prepared 31st May 2013