Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 807)



  800. Just two quick points. Just on the programme of learning for Ministers, what is the take-up like, are Ministers taking part in that, or is it quite hard to get them to take part in it, are they good at taking it up?
  (Mr Green) We think that, this financial year, there will be getting on for 250 ministerial participations in our events. Most of what we do is targeted at Ministers below Cabinet level and we have had something like 70 Ministers have taken part in our programmes: so very high take-up, and not only high take-up, the numbers suggest repeat business, in other words, Ministers are taking part in two, three, four events.


  801. And are they volunteers, or conscripts?
  (Mr Green) They are volunteers. Their departments pay for most of what we put on.

Mr Oaten

  802. One other question then. I still was not quite clear, when the Chair asked you about how all this is evaluated, you said it was a very difficult question; it is, but it needs to be done as part of that. Who do you actually report to, who are you accountable to?
  (Professor Amann) I report to a Board for CMPS, which is chaired by Sir Richard Wilson, as Cabinet Secretary, and that Board includes a number of outside members and also a number of Permanent Secretaries. So that is the immediate accountability. But, of course, I am a member of the Civil Service Management Board and of the Cabinet Office Management Board.


  803. Could I just come back to a couple of areas, as we begin to end. You talked about, the phrase you used was, "We are directly intervening." I do not really know what "directly intervening" means, and I do not know how the work that you do connects with the work that is being done inside departments, where they have policy researchers, who are keeping their eye on all the literature and doing the kind of stuff that you are in the business of doing. When you come along with your direct interventions, I am not sure how this, as I say, interfaces with what departments are doing and how they feel about their policy expertise, nor how it connects with what other bits of the system are doing, like the Performance and Innovation Unit, who are also in the trade, are they not, of spreading all this exciting thinking around the place? How does it all come together?
  (Professor Amann) Let us start from the great challenge for us of bringing about culture change in the Civil Service and in this area of policy-making. One approach, a traditional approach, would have been to write some guidance of best practice and disseminate that and hope that it would take root. What we decided to do was to pilot directly an alternative approach to policy-making, using information technology, and here we are doing no more than major companies and some large public organisations do throughout the world, so we have gone around looking at how large organisations manage knowledge in order to apply that to policy-making. Our direct intervention is not a unilateral intervention, we are actually working in partnership with departments in developing these pilots, so we are contributing some of our resources and expertise, and so are they, to develop policy Knowledge Pools, on which departments themselves will take the lead. So we have talked a lot about networking externally with the academic community and where the best research evidence comes from, that is only one side of our relationship. The other side of our relationship is networking internally with departments; we have set up a small Resource Centre, which is really a sort of large help desk, which links in with the whole Government Library Information Network to try to draw it together. So we are working very closely with departments in developing this approach. But we do want to actually validate an approach to policy-making rather than simply offering advice and hoping that it might be taken up.

  804. I am fascinated, but we have not got time to just think how that might work in concrete instances. A Department is engaged upon a policy proposal, as I say, the Department itself regards itself as a reservoir of policy expertise in that area. I am just wondering: does it come to you, do you go to it, who goes to this pool, who drinks at it, is it only something that works when we are talking about cross-cutting policies and not narrowly departmental ones? I am just trying to get my mind around how this works in practice?
  (Professor Amann) We have already developed a network of Knowledge Pool initiatives in departments. We are not doing something that is completely new, it is really an idea whose time has come, and there are all sorts of developments going on in different departments, and we are learning from each other, as it were. Some of these Knowledge Pools would be strictly departmental, but the most persuasive reason for making this kind of investment is to look at more complicated policy issues that cross departmental boundaries; because one of the beauties of information technology is that it allows you to do that in a more effective way.

  805. So you are the `wicked issues' people, are you?
  (Professor Amann) We are supporting some of the `wicked issues' people, because not only do we support departments but we work closely with PIU and the Social Exclusion Unit; it is likely that the Social Exclusion Unit would be one of the first pilot Knowledge Pools that we would develop, actually.

  806. Can I just ask, finally, just how Parliament might fit into this? The reason for asking the question is, I think, straightforward. Here are you engaged upon providing cutting-edge, evidence-informed policy material, Ministers then have to decide what to do. It seems a deprivation for Parliament not to have access to some of this material that you are generating, some of these pools in which people are drinking, because, otherwise, how can Parliament test whether the policy choices that are made work in relation to the evidence-informed policy base that you have developed? So what I am saying to you is, is there not a legitimate way in which you can make some of your work available to Parliament and not simply see it as this single channel for Ministers and departments?
  (Professor Amann) I think, not only Parliament but more generally. I think policy networks of academics and other specialists outside the Civil Service, the very people that we want to engage, whose intellectual capital we want to tap, in order to help us with policy-making, are those who should have access to that material. Now, we will have to develop the protocols very carefully for this, we are right at the beginning of the process of designing these Knowledge Pools, and one can imagine that there will be information in the Knowledge Pools which will be of a confidential character, which may involve advice to Ministers, maybe from academics who simply themselves want to give advice in confidence. But my hope would be that we would make as much of this information publicly available as possible, and, in just the same way that we have been very anxious to publish the learning points that have come out of the ministerial seminars, we have published most of the departmental peer reviews that we have been responsible for. We do see ourselves having a very open relationship not just with Parliament but also with the public.

  807. I am grateful for that, and I am sure we will want to encourage you down that path. Thank you very much for coming along. If this Government has one credo, it is the one about what matters is what works, which is probably better than what matters is what does not work. But, insofar as you are the people who are engaged in the `what works' bit, you realise the buck is going to stop with you at some point, as well. But thank you very much for coming along and talking to us about your work and for leaving the material, too.
  (Professor Amann) It has been a pleasure.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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