Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
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.
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
(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,
(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.