By Fiona Armstrong
How to translate research evidence into policy? What research methodologies offer the best results for social policy outcomes? How can researchers, policymakers and the third sector work together to deliver better results for people and communities? How do we create policy networks that can be adaptive, resilient and flexible enough to respond to the significant societal challenges we face?
The Power to Persuade forum hosted by University of Melbourne and Good Shepherd on Wednesday 5th September 2012 brought together researchers, service providers, policymakers and policy advocates to discuss some of these questions to build a better collective understanding of the necessary elements of effective social policy outcomes.
Keynote speaker Mark Considine acknowledged the need for transformational change in public policy development, and proposed the establishment of civil society governance networks, built on “deep partnerships” between institutions and other actors, and guided by judicial bureaucratic mandates, may provide a model for the kind of societal leadership that can fill the gaps currently created by the ‘short termism’ endemic in current political governance.
Considine pointed to complex policy challenges such as climate change, food insecurity and people movement, suggesting that the capacity for transformational change needed to address these issues may not reside in existing institutions, and if we are to avoid disruption and upheaval triggered by environmental shock, new governance networks are needed.
Building the sorts of partnerships required for adaptive resilient policy responses can begin through, for example, data sharing, pooled budgets and shared research, to build trust and common goals – and these smaller steps can lead to deeper ties over time that can better manage and respond to transformational change.
Economics and policy decision-making
Economist Alan Sheill spoke about the harsh realities of having to determine priorities in health and how economics can provide important insights about cost: benefit ratios to inform decision-making.
While for health and welfare professionals, service providers and policymakers this is a challenging dimension of social policy, Shiell says: “we do not have enough resources (time, finances, space etc) to do everything we would wish to do to promote health and social well-being – therefore we need to choose”.
However, economic evidence is not always necessary, not does it always inform policy decision-making, Friell said, pointing out that very often, the public and politicians are not aware of the economic cost of political decisions.
It was important for social policy advocates to use the rhetoric of economic costs to build support for actions, but recognize that economic analysis does not always reflect broader social benefits and there is a need to develop research methods that can incorporate less easily quantifiable health and social wellbeing gains from social policy initiatives.
Methodologies and case studies
Other speakers outlined case studies and research methodologies that offer powerful and effective examples of social policy innovation, such as J2SI, a long term program for homelessness. Damon Alexander shared some insights into the benefits of Social Network Analysis, a research method that is being used in multiple ways eg to map strategic information networks to evaluate innovation in government, look at information flows of strategic advice within primary care partnerships, and understand formal and informal relationships within organisations.
Social network analysis was a powerful tool for understanding relationships between actors in a particular policy environment, and mapping “what” happens and “when” but not so much about “how” or “why”…
Other case studies included great examples of participatory rights based methodologies from Karen Dowling from the Victorian Department of Education on ‘Listen 2 Learners’; and Leo Fieldgrass from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence on ‘Mobile Matters’.
John Falzon from St Vincent de Paul responded to this session, and spoke about the exceptionally important job of engaging with community and with people in developing social policy, finished with a poetic warning from Martin Luther King in saying: “A riot is at best the language of the unheard.”
Like all good modern events, the Twitter stream provided insight into people’s thinking. You can search for some of the twitter stream on the forum by using the hash tag: #powertopersuade – a small sample is reproduced here:
Evidence is important, but clearly not enough. Plenty evidence of the social harm of problem gambling; but still no change #powertopersuade
Kathy Landvogt, Good Shepherd at #PowertoPersuade used SNA to look at effectivenss of financial services 4 ppl needing help.’No wrong door’
How do you know you are making a difference? Using health economics to measure outcomes #powertopersuade
Great insights into challenges and promise of Sacred Heart Mission’s J2SI chronic homelessness research proj #powertopersuade – stay tuned.
Economist Alan Shiell: valuable health interventions via unexpected approaches eg reduce HIV through micro financing #powertopersuade