A marriage made in heaven?

Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV

The ESRC, LGA and SOLACE have created a new role – that of Research Facilitator for local government – with the aim of supporting strong and productive relationships between researchers, policy makers and practitioners. I’m very pleased to take on that role, with the active support of the INLOGOV team of academics and expert practitioners. Over the next year we’ll be establishing a dating agency for those seeking partners to answer some essential questions and running a series of events to support creative and sustainable relationships. A GSOH will be essential.

Public services need researchers. That is because evidence is the lifeblood of efficacy. When money is so tight, the last thing we should be wasting it on is the wrong service, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.  Policy decisions and service design need timely and accessible evidence and there’s plenty out there. So why aren’t researchers, policy makers, commissioners and providers using the available evidence to do better with less? Why aren’t we getting it together?

We work in very different spatial and temporal environments (note the unnecessary use of obscure language) which means that opportunities to meet suitable partners are limited and academic time-scales militate against speedy responses. Academic language is often impenetrable: designed to impress other academics rather than to inform those who can actually use the evidence on offer.  Contestation is a vital element of academic discourse. That means – academics also like to argue among themselves and even with themselves.  After a few pages of ‘on the one hand this and on the other hand that’  … policy makers and practitioners can be forgiven for giving up and going off to make it up.

However, the fault is not all on one side. Too often research is commissioned, not to gather objective evidence or stimulate creative thinking but to justify an existing policy or priority.  The findings of research can be a major challenge to political ideologies. Those who are seeking to bolster their prejudice with an academic fig leaf are doomed to disappointment.  If you ask for independent research – that’s just what you’ll get. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know the real answers. It will lead only to mutual disappointment.

So how can we make this relationship work? Let’s spend more quality time together, getting to know each other and exploring our shared passions.  Let’s make each other some promises.  If we promise not to argue about how many angels can dance on the point of a pin, would you promise not give us six weeks to enumerate and classify the angels and calculate the likely savings from combining seraphim and cherubim? Agreed? Great – now let’s do some good work together.

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.

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