What’s it like studying at INLOGOV?

Drs. Max Lempriere, Abena Dadze-Arthur and Karin Bottom

It is perhaps a little cliché to say that there’s never been a better time to study public management, whether in the context of local government or otherwise. The fact that local government has undergone significant reform over the years – a process that shows little sign of abating – is well known. Indeed, the political world is shifting before our eyes into something new, some would say exciting and certainly worthy of study. Clichés abound, life as a student of public management and local governance certainly won’t be dull.

Avoiding cliché then, perhaps its more apt to say that there’s never been a better time to study at The University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV). The University’s reputation is well recognized; it was 2013-2014 University of the Year, sits 13th in the 2017 Guardian University Guide and is among the top 100 best Universities in the world. As the UK’s leading centre for the study of local government and strategic public management, INLOGOV is well placed to make sense of what looks to many to be a chaotic system. Our research directly informs contemporary debates and legislative activity and the work we do with local authorities across the world is highly respected.

What is it like to study here, though? We offer a number of courses, taught by some of the leading authorities in the field, all of which are specifically designed to further your career in public administration, wherever in the world you choose to work. Whether you’re interested in a Masters degree, Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate and can commit full time or part time, we offer courses in Public Management, Public Service Commissioning and Social Research. It doesn’t even matter if you’re unable to physically come to the Birmingham campus; whilst INLOGOV offers courses in the form of a traditional brick-and-mortar degree, whereby students attend classes on campus, it also offers an internationally acclaimed Masters of Public Administration (MPA) online degree, whereby students do all their classroom activities outside the traditional classroom, at a distance from the University of Birmingham, and supported by technology-based tools.

For those looking for a more focused, research driven learning experience you can choose instead to undertake doctoral research, whether as part of an integrated learning package with a focus on public policy or a traditional research-driven doctorate (offered both on campus and through distance learning). Have a look at our website for an outline of our research interests.

In both the on-campus and distance learning courses, our students are very mixed in terms of their age, where they come from, and their experience of the public sector.  Typically, in INLOGOV’s master courses, students with backgrounds as mid-career public servants are rubbing shoulders with course participants who just graduated from their undergraduate studies.  For example, a fifty-eight-year-old minister in Jamaica’s government took our Masters in Public Administration a 25 year old who recently completed his undergraduate studies in social care in China.  This makes for a fantastic learning community, where the pedagogical focus remains on the learners and how they connect their varied experiences of public management to the theoretical concepts explored during the course.

In both our on-campus and online courses, we use high-quality learning resources, which also feature animated videos and interactive diagrams and theoretical models.  Mindful of the international nature of the student group who register for our masters programmes, we always add new literature on international public management and governance in the reading lists; we include a variety of contemporary case studies and examples of public management from around the world; we ask students to watch a series of short, BBC-documentary-style videos featuring practitioners and researchers from across the globe who discuss their particular experiences of public management and governance in their respective home countries; and we use an array of photo images to portray global diversity in public service delivery.

Although we use the same high-quality and interactive learning resources for on-campus and distance learning courses, there are of course important differences in terms of the learning environment, which meet different student needs.  Campus-based classes require students to attend classes in person and at specific times.  Online classes are free from the constraints of space, pace and time, and give students the flexibility to do their work in their own time and at their own pace, but require students to be very self-motivated, disciplined and comfortable with working independently.

Wherever you choose to take your degree – and students take it far and wide, whether as public servants, journalists, consultants, academics and so on – a degree from INLOGOV will serve you well.

For more information on the courses we offer and to find out about upcoming open days (whether virtual or on campus) please visit http://www.inlogov.bham.ac.uk. Alternatively, to keep up to date with the latest research and discussions from the department check out our blog at www.inlogov.com or follow us on LinkedIn and [email protected]


lempriereMax is an INLOGOV Associate and has a PhD in political science from the University of Birmingham. He has taught for a number of years on many aspects of politics, public administration, research methods and academic skills. Prior to that he read political economy at the University of Birmingham and Stockholm University. His research interests include institutional theory, environmental politics, local government innovation and policy entrepreneurship.

abenaAbena has taught on a variety of INLOGOV courses on various aspects of public management and governance to a) international distance learners, who complete the programme wholly online; b) in-house local government participants, and c) ‘on-campus’ students comprising a mix of full-time and part-time-registered practitioner students Abena’s research mainly focuses on non-western and post-western public management approaches that are rooted in local subject positions, indigenous norms and values, locally embedded representational and performative practices, and mirror local history, culture, and religious or philosophical traditions, while promoting public engagement, accountability and effective public services.

bottom-karin-20151113Karin is INLOGOV’s Director of Teaching and Learning and directs INLOGOV’s MSc in Public Management and lectures on modules concerned with 1) party politics; democracy and  public management; 2) research methods.










Troubled Families: Two Secrets to Great Evaluations

Jason Lowther

In this blog last week I explored the (rather flimsy) evidence base available to the developers of the original Troubled Families Programme (TFP) and the potential for “theory of change” approaches to provide useful insights in developing future policy. This week I return to the formal TFP evaluation and look at the lessons we can learn in terms of the timing and data quality issues involved.

The first secret of great evaluation: timing

The experience of the last Labour Government is very instructive here. New Labour appeared as strong advocates of evidence-based policy making, and in particular were committed to extensive use of policy evaluation. Evaluated pilots were completed across a wide range including policies relating to welfare, early years, employment, health and crime. This included summative evaluations of their outcomes and formative evaluations whilst the pilots were underway, attempting to answer the questions “Does this work?” and “How does this work best?”

Ian Sanderson provided a useful overview of Labour’s experience at the end of its first five years in power[i]. He found that one of the critical issues in producing great evaluations (as for great comedy), is timing. Particularly for complex and deep-rooted issues (such as troubled families), it can take a significant time for even the best programmes to have an impact. We now know the (median) time a family remained on the TFP programme was around 15 months.

It can also take significant time for projects to reach the “steady state” conditions, which they would work under when fully implemented. Testing whether there are significant effects can require long-term, in-depth analysis. This doesn’t fit well with the agenda of politicians or managers looking to learn quickly and sometimes to prove a point.

Nutley and Homel’s review[ii] of lessons from New Labour’s Crime Reduction Programme found that “projects generally ran for 12 months and they were just starting to get into their stride when the projects and their evaluations came to an end” (p.19).

In the case of the Troubled Families Programme, the programme started in April 2012, and most of the national data used in the evaluation relates to the 2013-14 financial year. Data on exclusions covered only those starting in the first three months of the programme, whereas data on offending, benefits and employment covered families starting in the first ten months of roll-out.

We know that 70% of the families were still part-way through their engagement with the TFP when their “outcomes” were counted, and around half were still engaged six months later.

It’s now accepted by DCLG that the formal evaluation was run too quickly and for too short a time. There just wasn’t time to demonstrate significant impacts on many outcomes.

The second secret: data quality

Another major element of effective evaluation is the availability of reliable data. Here the independent evaluation had an incredibly difficult job to do. The progress they have made is impressive – for the first time matching a wide range of national data sets, local intelligence and qualitative surveys. But at the end of the day the data quality base of the evaluation is in places poor.

The evaluation couldn’t access data on anti-social behaviour from national data sets, as this is not recorded by the police. This is unfortunate given that the strongest evidence on the effectiveness of TFP-like (Family Intervention) programmes in the past concerns reducing crime and anti-social behaviour[iii].

A chunk of data came from the 152 local authorities. This data was more up to date (October 2015), although only 56 of the councils provided data – which enabled matching to around one quarter of TFP families. The evaluation report acknowledges that this data was “of variable quality”. For example, the spread of academy schools without a duty to co-operate meant there are significant gaps in school attendance data. This will be a serious problem for future evaluations unless academies’ engagement with the wider public service system is assured.

In summary, the TFP evaluation covered too short a period and, despite heroic efforts by DCLG and the evaluators, was based on data of very variable quality and completeness.

Next time we will explore the “impact” evaluation in more detail – looking at how designing a more experimental approach into this and future programmes could yield more robust evaluation conclusions of what works where.

[i] Sanderson, Ian. “Evaluation, policy learning and evidence‐based policy making.” Public administration 80.1 (2002): 1-22.

[ii] Nutley, Sandra, and Peter Homel. “Delivering evidence-based policy and practice: Lessons from the implementation of the UK Crime Reduction Programme.” Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice 2.1 (2006): 5-26.

[iii] DfE, “Monitoring and evaluation of family intervention services and projects between February 2007 and March 2011”, 2011, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/184031/DFE-RR174.pdf





Jason Lowther is a senior fellow at INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther


So: does the Troubled Families Programme work or not? – Part Two

Jason Lowther

In this blog last week I outlined results of the “impact evaluation” element of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) and the rather limited pre-existing evidence base the TFP had to be built upon. How can government build on existing evidence in designing its initiatives, and what can we do when there isn’t much in the evidence cupboard?

Many government programmes have the luxury of a relatively strong evidence base on which to build. The previous Labour government’s National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and Sure Start programmes, for instance, could draw on decades of research (collated through the 18 Policy Action Teams) on urban initiatives and the impact of early years experiences on achievements in later life. These sometimes honoured the extant evidence more in the theory than in practice[i], but at least they had foundations on which to build.

As evaluations of the Labour government’s Crime Reduction Programme found[ii], it is a difficult task to translate evidence, which is often “fragmented and inconclusive” into practical government programmes. People skilled at this task are in short supply in central government.

But in the case of the TFP, the most robust element of the existing evidence base was a single evaluation using a “control” of 54 families and focussed on addressing anti-social behaviour through Family Intervention Projects. What can government do when the evidence base is thin?

One strong tradition, particularly around medicine and around welfare policies in the USA, has been the idea of “experimental government” using social experiments to determine whether (and if so how) innovative approaches work in practice. For example, in the last three decades of the 20th century, America’s Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) conducted 30 major random assignment experiments involving nearly 300,000 people.

Historically, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were viewed by many as the “gold standard” of evaluation by allowing statistically robust assessments of “causality” – whether observed changes are due to the intervention being evaluated. More recent thinking emphasises that evaluations need to be designed in the best way to create robust evidence and answer specific questions. Often this will involve a mixture of methods, both quantitative and qualitative. The TFP evaluation used a mixture of methods but without building in a “control” group of “troubled families” not yet receiving the TFP interventions.

Granger[iii] argued (for area based initiatives), that the range and variety of initiatives and the scale of change in government means that a strict statistical “control” is unfeasible. She argued that it is “virtually impossible” to achieve precise and clear-cut causal attribution and that we need clear, strong theories as a basis for counterfactual reasoning and causal inference.

The TFP evaluation did not develop or test a “theory of change” for the programme. This is a pity, because rigorously testing a theory can help illuminate where and how programmes do (or don’t) have real impact.

There are several other lessons we can learn from the existing literature on evaluation in government, for example the importance of timing and data quality. We’ll look at these next time.

[i] Coote, Anna, Jessica Allen, and David Woodhead. “Finding out what works.” Building knowledge about complex, community-based initiatives. London: Kings Fund (2004), esp. pp. 17-18.

[ii] Nutley, Sandra, and Peter Homel. “Delivering evidence-based policy and practice: Lessons from the implementation of the UK Crime Reduction Programme.” Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice 2.1 (2006): 5-26.

[iii] Granger, R. C. (1998) ‘Establishing causality in evaluations of comprehensive community initiatives’, New approaches to evaluating community initiatives, 2, pp. 221-46.

Jason Lowther is a senior fellow at INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther

400 heads are better than one: Tales from a public management conference

Sue Olney

With more conferences and events happening each year, deciding on where to share your practice and research findings and where to seek professional development is challenging. It can help to know more about key conferences and how they may inform your work or be a vehicle to share your insights. In this post, Sue Olney (@olney_sue) gives us an overview of the International Research Society of Public Management Conference hosted by INLOGOV, and provides some highlights as well as links to interesting sessions. 

The annual conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM) attracts delegates from around the world interested in new developments in public management and the implementation of public policy. The theme of the 19th annual conference, held at the University of Birmingham from 30 March 2015 to 1 April 2015, was hosted by INLOGOV and titled Shaping the Future – Reinvention or Revolution? In a packed program around four hundred academics, new researchers and policy practitioners shared their insights and research into the potential for public organisations and their partners in delivering public services to respond, reflect, reinvent, and revolutionise in the face of fiscal, political, environmental and cultural upheaval. Australia was well represented by policy luminaries including Gemma Carey, Helen Dickinson and Helen Sullivan, Jenny Lewis and Damon Alexander,Siobhan O’Sullivan, Brian Head, John Alford, Jo Barraket, John Halligan,Owen Hughes, Warren Staples, Deborah Blackman and Janine O’Flynn.

As a first-time attendee moving from implementing social policy into research I was encouraged by the strong links between scholarship and practice evident at the conference. The opening plenary, involving ex MP, ex civil servant and international policy activist Clare Short, community activist Jess Steele, Councillor and Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services Brigid Jones and Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin and chaired by the University of Birmingham’s Chris Skelcher, promised a ‘citizen’s-eye view of public services’ and unflinchingly explored the challenges of developing and implementing policy in the context of competing priorities, diverse and sometimes incompatible demands, scarce resources, outsourced and fragmented government services and shrinking government bureaucracy. The panellists argued that citizens should be encouraged and empowered to play a greater role in identifying and addressing local issues but acknowledged that public sector reform over the last two decades – marketisation, outsourcing, commissioning, internal cost-cutting and the individualisation of social services – has muddied the waters for collective action. They also argued that these changes have sapped the bureaucracy’s ‘motivation to serve’ and called on governments to find new ways of working with citizens to ensure innovation is not stifled by accountability in tough economic times. The plenary segued into fifty three panel sessions over three days tackling complex questions about the role of government, public value, austerity, inequality and the relationship between evidence and policy, under themes ranging from what citizens and governments expect of public servants; local governance; democracy, third sector and citizen engagement; sectoral challenges in public management; research and knowledge utilisation in public management; resources, accountability and technology; public-private partnerships; public management in developing and transitional states; and networks, complexity and innovation.

The conference closed with the University of Melbourne’s Helen Dickinson, the CEO of Skillshare International Cliff Allum and experienced health and social care executive Cynthia Bowerreimagining the 21st century public servant as a commissioner, storyteller, resource weaver, system architect, networker, municipal entrepreneur and broker, in a hopeful and thought-provoking plenary chaired by the University of Birmingham’s Deborah Youdell. In between, we attended a civic reception with the Mayor at Birmingham’s Council House and a gala dinner at the International Convention Centre next to the spectacular Birmingham library.

I gravitated toward sessions about the third sector and spent the conference torn between keen interest in the research into policy struggles on this front and despair at the pervasiveness of market approaches to delivering public services. There were numerous examples of policy development affecting the most vulnerable members of society running counter to evidence, with governments appearing to favour short term fiscal and political gains over long term social change. Two very different papers likely to interest readers of this blog are Exploring the public-third sector boundary – designing and managing a dynamic partnership for innovative services with young people , which found that while the third sector is an important player in the coproduction of services for hard-to-reach young people its diversity produces mixed results – a challenge for governments wanting to replicate programs – and The New Intersections of Philanthropy, the Third Sector and Public Policy: Revealed, Reinvented, Revolutionised?, which explores the changing nature of philanthropy where ‘giving’ is being replaced by ‘social investment’.

All the conference papers are available online here and there is unfiltered commentary on the conference as it rolled out on Twitter under #IRSPM2015. The real value of gatherings like these is the opportunity for researchers to test their ideas, to defend or strengthen their theories in response to expert feedback or what they learn from listening to other people, and to forge international alliances to build new knowledge. If two heads are better than one, a conference-load is bound to be pushing research into public management in the right direction.

Sue Olney

Sue Olney has worked in the public sector, the private sector and the not for profit sector and participated in numerous cross-government and cross-sector initiatives to promote access and equity in education, training and employment in Australia. She is doing a PhD at the University of Melbourne on employment services for the long term unemployed and recently presented some of her findings at the IRSPM conference in Birmingham.

This blog post was also posted here on the 8th May, 2015

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.

Preparing future leaders: The Total Leadership Programme

Daniel Goodwin – Senior Associate Fellow

The leadership and management challenges faced by local government have never been greater. Budget constraint, population change, and the need to respond to heightened expectations present future leaders with lots to grapple with. People thinking about taking up the top roles in public service will need a solid foundation of thinking and a great support network to turn challenge into opportunity.

The Total Leadership Programme is an exciting new venture which is designed to help senior local government managers prepare themselves for a chief executive role. It’s a partnership between INLOGOV and SOLACE (The Society of Local Government Chief Executives and Senior Managers), which fills a serious gap in provision nationally. It is open not only to directors in councils but also to people at a similar level within private sector firms who work in the public sector and who might be considering such a move too.

The programme will be delivered by a combination of INLOGOV Faculty members and Associates with significant management education development expertise, practicing chief executives and senior politicians, and experts in particular leadership fields.

Participants will develop a deeper understanding of the local government leadership space which will inform their future thinking in the remainder of the programme. They’ll consider how they will personally develop relationships of trust across the whole system locally and also how they might start to develop a national profile as an ambassador for place. The programme will help them feel at ease with ideas of complexity, collaboration, agency and leverage, and be able to use them to develop further learning.

Through an examination of local government in a non-UK context, participants will come away with reflections on the way local leadership happens in a different but comparable system. They will have thought about what we can learn about the way in which challenges are perceived and addressed. They will also have considered whether there are identifiably different strategies and approaches which might have an impact on their future work. In a module on entrepreneurial leadership, participants will gain a deeper appreciation of the perspectives of those they commission and explore what entrepreneurialism means in the local public sector context.

Finally, participants will consider how to create a positive public leadership narrative which helps them to engage with how people to see them as a leader. They will explore how to offer their leadership to people through a narrative that they can relate to. This will include exploring how engagement with digital media changes and shapes that approach.

All of the modules will be informed by the latest thinking on key cross-cutting issues, including community development and participative social media led democracy, demand management, ‘digital by design’ and new organisational forms.

Participants will have an input into the development of the modules through a design day in June and through ongoing discussions and reflection. They’ll also have access to INLOGOV’s distance learning materials and will be encouraged to engage in learning and networking between the modules. And of course they will also be able to learn hugely from each other, the groups will be kept at an optimal size of around 12-15 people to help develop a strong peer learning network.

The deadline for applications to the first cohort is 31st May and the modules start in September. Demand is high and the programme is already two thirds full. Confirmed participants include directors from a wide range of authority types from across the UK.

To find out more follow this link: www.solace.org.uk/tl

Know your local Councillor Photographs - St Albans - May 2008

Daniel Goodwin’s career has mainly been in local government, starting in libraries and cultural services and progressing through policy and corporate services. He is particularly interested in policy into practice issues, largely relating to local leadership and the politics of communities and place, and is a regular contributor to journals, conferences and seminars.