This year, the Alliance’s cross UK project – Evidence Exchange – has been sharing evidence across the UK. This blog outlines some of the learning from the project’s first six months.
What are we talking about?
An initial challenge was what to call the UK’s areas – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Are they jurisdictions? regions? nations? countries? We choose “jurisdiction” as it is relatively neutral, but not as confusing as region which could be as big as Europe or as small as a Local Authority.
Overall, language matters as it can make a space/event seem more or less biased to one jurisdiction over another. To minimise biases, be aware that similar things have different names across the UK. For example, Scotland tends to talk about the “third sector” whereas England has the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE).
The UK is England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
Networks and events promoted as “UK” should include representation from all of the four jurisdictions.
Not all “national” bodies have representation from all four jurisdictions. For example, the National Union of Teachers covers England and Wales, and there are plenty of “national” bodies which only cover one jurisdiction, such as the National Museums of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland. So you have to delve beyond the language, and, often, beyond existing networks or organisations to develop cross UK links and evidence exchange.
Understand the Policy Context
To do this the Evidence Exchange project has found it’s important to know the policy context of the four jurisdictions. For example, the predominant political concern in Northern Ireland for decades was the resolution of conflict – a concern that still hangs over the Northern Ireland Assembly seventeen years after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland Assembly is governed by a coalition of five political parties, and engagement with it involves taking account of unionist and nationalist positions.
Whilst Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have some form of devolved government, there are substantial differences between them. The lack of an English government is challenging for an equal, four-way evidence debate, particularly as it’s not always clear who’s the right person to talk to within the vastness of Whitehall, but, don’t forget England in cross jurisdictional conversations.
Pay Attention to the Practicalities
When setting up cross jurisdictional events it helps to know about the local geography. For example, Belfast has two airports, and one is significantly closer to many of the government buildings in Belfast city centre.
Jurisdictions have differing public and school holiday calendars, and, although you can’t please everyone, it’s helpful to have a handle on these if planning events.
Technology is Your Friend
Evidence Exchange has used webinars to engage with time-strapped people working in front-line services. These have provided an opportunity for people from a diverse geography (Scotland’s islands up to London) to join a brief (one hour) session of exchange.
Webinars, and other online technologies, are only as good the local wifi connection, and it’s likely they won’t work for everyone all of the time. However, this is a price worth paying for their reach: connecting people who’d be unlikely to meet otherwise.
Learning from Each Other
The project is an opportunity to try out evidence exchange across the UK, and it’s shown us, again, the value of that exchange.
The UK jurisdictions still have common frameworks, administrative traditions as well as similar complex policy goals such as tackling poverty and promoting economic growth. Devolution allows for doing things differently across the UK. The opportunity this brings to share social policy learning and action across UK is there to be tapped.
This blog has been written by the Evidence Exchange Team who are based in the four UK jurisdictions.