The above quote is from a January 2017 Carnegie-funded, UK-based, Alliance for Useful Evidence report. I haven’t seen it mentioned in the Scottish mainstream media. We’re well used to hearing in our mainstream media how dire things would be if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014. We rarely hear, of course, the obvious answer that these negatives in our economy and society are the consequences of centuries of Westminster policies and that a Scotland with full control might well be a very different kind of country in the future. The report mentioned above and another carried out by Cardiff Business School in 2012 suggest that the Scottish Government is well on the way to the kind of policy reform system that would make Scotland one of the best prepared to thrive even in these difficult times.
In 2012, a Cardiff Business School study of how small countries are working to make sure they can weather the storm of austerity facing them was published. Here’s the opening statement:
‘A perfect storm is brewing. Fiscal austerity, demographic change and other pressures will mean that business as usual for our public services will no longer be enough. Innovative responses will be required. In Wales the pressures facing the rest of the UK are likely to be a more intense storm: poverty is greater and the proportion of over 65s will be higher. How are other small governments in Scotland, Quebec, New Zealand, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands responding to these challenges? Can Wales learn from the approaches being taken in these countries?’
This quote also appeared on page nine of the Cardiff report:
‘Scotland was the only jurisdiction where we were able to clearly observe a strategic approach and trace it to a series of cross-cutting policies.’
There is too much detail to report here and you can read it yourself starting on page 16 of the Cardiff Report but this statement captures the serious and well thought-out intent:
‘Scotland’s transition towards outcomes management dates back to before the recent fiscal crisis, but has been re-emphasised in the light of the recent budget squeeze. In 2007, the Scottish National Party was in power for the first time as a minority government. They established a National Performance Framework to set out the longer-term aims of the government, including its agencies, and track performance. Crucially, the framework does not ‘cherry pick’ key government policies, but instead takes a wellbeing approach by covering a wide range of outcomes under 15 national outcomes which they would like to achieve within 10 years (see box 3.2)35. In 2011, responding to stakeholder views and the Christie Commission analysis, a national outcome on older people was added. Scotland’s approach to outcomes management has been closely observed in New Zealand, and Scottish advice has informed their model (see chapter 4).’ (16)
It’s clear that the Scottish Government was, even in 2012, best placed of all those listed and a subsequent independent Scottish report published on the 27th January 2017 provides the details of its further advances. I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the Scottish mainstream media.
Nearly five years later, here’s how the Alliance for Useful Evidence report opens:
‘Using evidence in policy has never been more important. To make the best use of scarce resources, it makes sense to invest in policy and practice that has been shown to make positive differences. Equally, when trying out a programme or policy, independent evaluation is important to share the learning. For example, the Troubled Families Programme in England had been claimed to be a success, but the recent evaluation has shown that the programme didn’t make the difference to people’s lives it was aspiring to.’ (3)
We hear a lot of talk of evidence –based policy-making but less of the action. In my 30 plus years in Higher Education, I saw seven re-structures, none of them really based on a proper evaluation of the previous structure but rather the product of a new boss inspired by the latest fashion. None improved things so I’m all for this:
‘The importance of participation and service improvement has been played out in practice in some interventions, such as the Early Years Collaborative.17 This ‘golden thread’ linking strategic approach through to delivery is significant. Weathering the Storm – a review of small country’s approaches to public policy reform in response to economic, demographic and other pressures found that only in Scotland could this ‘golden thread’ be so clearly discerned.’ (7)
Again the report is too large to detail here and you can read it yourself but again, this optimistic yet realistic conclusion gives me hope.
‘We conclude that the Scottish policy and evidence landscape shares commonalities with other parts of the UK, in terms of policy directions (along with a shared failure to fully realise the rhetoric in reality). But, in Scotland, there appears to be a particularly strong sense of shared ownership of the strategic direction built on the pillars of participation, prevention, partnership and performance as set out in the 2011 ‘Christie Commission’ report and recently strengthened by the enshrinement of the outcomes based National Performance Framework in legislation. We think this places Scotland in a strong position to develop expertise on participative, outcomes-based approaches to government and evidence, which could be applicable to other jurisdictions too. To realise this position, however, the evidence base must catch up with the policy direction. Decision makers need access to robust, relevant and appropriate evidence. Tensions between communities as both users and producers of evidence will have to be worked through.’
Remember Scotland’s strategy was being compared objectively with those of Quebec, New Zealand, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands. These are successful developed regions and countries with already high standards of living so we can be pleased with the results.
Finally, have any of these delivered outcomes already? Well try these:
I could go on.