‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself’, according to captain of industry and business magnate, Henry Ford. Over seventy years after Ford’s death, policy learning is the premise of intermediary organisations such as the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the aspiration of policy and practice organisations across the UK and Ireland as we seek to tackle the wicked problems of the twenty-first century. We are increasingly sharing our workspaces and our work plans, but are we all moving forward together on evidence and data?
Exchanging evidence in Northern Ireland
It has long been acknowledged that life is local, and that complex, intractable problems are felt most keenly at the local level. The challenges of data sharing in local government are well-known – as are the debates about risk and reward. But for sharing evidence on what works, what has improved outcomes, and what improves wellbeing – with none of the caveats or concerns of sharing data – just what carrot would be big enough to overcome working culture in local government?
Just one such carrot may be the support of an independent Trust. In return for significant financial and in-kind support to three Community Planning Partnerships to implement a local wellbeing outcomes approach, the Carnegie UK Trust, through its project Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland, requires the exchange of evidence by its participants to their counterparts across the UK and Ireland. So far, we’ve shared a range of policy learning, from the geographic – from how policymakers and practitioners improve wellbeing in New York to nearer to home in Wales – to how others visualise and communicate data effectively.
Sharing evidence on co-production and shared leadership
But, in the second year of a three-year programme, we are far from finished. After requesting support on two twin-tracked themes of co-production and shared leadership, the project participants – the Community Planning Partnerships operating in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon; Derry and Strabane; and Lisburn and Castlereagh – will have much to share on the challenges and triumphs of this new way of working.
From co-commissioning through to co-design; co-delivery; and co-assessment, the Trust has commissioned Community Places to support the project participants on integrating co-production into public services and offer citizens a different – more inclusive, enabling – role, which utilises their strengths and capabilities. At the same time, the Centre for Effective Services will be providing support on how to share leadership within, and outwith, partnership structures – to diffuse power and decision-making abilities; to maximise collective resources; and to improve outcomes which are greater than the sum of the partners’ parts.
From cross-jurisdictional learning symposiums to workshops; toolkits; and learning modules, we’ll be supporting local policymakers and practitioners to generate and capture evidence on what works. While our direct support is available to the three project participants, the learning captured will be available across Northern Ireland and the UK and Ireland more widely.
We’re looking forward to innovating for all; encouraging local public service providers to adopt the principles of co-production; and building on the body of good practice on co-production across the UK and Ireland. We’re looking forward to sharing. Because until sharing of evidence becomes standard, there will be a crucial role for intermediary bodies, funders, policy and practice organisations to disseminate and dig deep for the cross-jurisdictional learning. Because when one local authority in one jurisdiction of the UK and Ireland makes progress on co-producing public services, we all benefit – from the improvement in individuals’ agency; to our local place plans reflecting the needs and aspirations of our communities; to the provision of effective and informed national public services.
For updates on the Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, follow the Carnegie UK Trust on Twitter @CarnegieUKTrust and #NIwellbeing. The Embedding Wellbeing Support Group, designed to assist members on improving wellbeing outcomes, can also be accessed here.
Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Remember you can join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.