Fresh from yesterday’s round table event (in conjunction with the ODI and PSA) I’ve been reflecting on the themes that emerged from the discussion. In some ways, the focus of the discussion came as a pleasant surprise. Jaded as I am by a constant media barrage emphasising the near-apocalyptic context of public services reform (cuts, strikes, pensions, deficits, unemployment, and so on) I had slightly anticipated a rather sombre affair where we all dredged through the lessons of fiscal constraint.
Not so. the event was vibrant and lively, with a focus on innovation and creation, rather than retraction and methods of delivering policy on the cheap. In fact, perhaps the overriding theme of the discussion was a profound guardedness about the motives prompting the UK to look beyond the developed world for its policy inspiration. To investigate means of harnessing citizen power, of capturing innovation, of responding to local demands (all issues on which there have been notable innovations in non-OECD countries) is an admirable end. But to use the developing world as a ‘shopping trolley’ to pick and choose disparate policies without consideration of their cultural context or demands is a trap to be strongly resisted.
Hopefully this is a demand to which we can fully respond in our joint report, due in the autumn. But sounding this note of caution is not to say that there are not valuable lessons to be learned. It was clear from the discussion that we could take much from the creativity and initiative, ways of working (in particular with NGOs and funders), and policy processes found to be successful (or unsuccessful) in the developing world. UK policy makers should undoubtedly take heed of these reforms – and not simply because money is tight.