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This is our monthly policy briefing for June 2021. Each week we gather all the news, commentary and events from across the sector, then tie it all together each month. If you would like to get this in your inbox each week you can sign up to Tiny Letter

Accountability takes more than rules 

Across a number of sectors and contexts, efforts to make government services work better often focus on changing the rules associated with them. Unfortunately, although legal and regulatory reform is important, it is rarely enough. In his regular blog, this month GO Lab Executive Director Nigel Ball reflected on the need to build a culture of transparency in public procurement to avoid impropriety as the UK seeks to develop its post-Brexit procurement policy. Reflecting on the strong existing procurement regulations, he highlights a number of recent controversies involving current and former Government ministers, showing strong rules are not enough – the way individuals approach and interpret those rules is also vital.  

In a different context, the Institute for Government released a report into the UK Government’s use of targets to improve public services. Rather than finding that targets uniformly help or hinder services, the report suggests that they can do both, depending on how they are implemented. Focusing on national targets set by the UK Government in two policy areas (health and education), the report found that while targets do improve what was targeted, some of this is due to gaming, and that while they improve minimum standards, targets fail to drive excellence. It goes on to examine some of the ways in which targets impact services, and makes a series of recommendations for the use of targets by government.   

Improving the way government works is not straightforward, and although reforming the requirements placed on public services can be a powerful tool to achieve better outcomes, how those rules and targets are acted upon in practice will ultimately determine their impact. 

Making collaboration work 

This month also saw a range of reflections on how government can better collaborate with partners to deliver public services. Nigel and GO Lab Research Director Eleanor Carter examined how a greater focus on co-created, measurable outcomes might help government to bring together more effective partnerships for public service delivery. They consider the importance of building a foundation of trust among parties, suggesting that despite the transaction costs associated with a more collaborative approach, the 'transaction benefits' of improved relationships that result from the process may be worth it. 

In terms of embedding a more adaptive, learning approach to the management of public services, the Human Learning Systems (HLS) approach has in recent years gained a number of plaudits. This month, the Centre for Public Impact published a new eBook, pulling together insights from almost 50 case studies of organisations who have explored the HLS approach across a wide range of scales, geographies and contexts.  

And SSIR published A Swimmer’s Guide to Network Cooperation, which explores the differences in characteristics between alignment networks (with limited interaction between members) and co-labour networks (with close working collaboration between organisations). The authors consider how the nature of a particular organisational network can inform the approaches taken by facilitators and funders to best manage, support, and sustain these networks. 

And in other news... 

ICF Consulting published their latest report from the process evaluation of the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s £80 million SIB top-up fund, the Life Chances Fund (LCF). Along with insights and stakeholder views on the application and early implementation process of the LCF, and analysis of progress against key objectives of the Fund, it highlights a number of key lessons for future SIB programmes.  

Beyond the LCF evaluation, June saw a range of other SIB insights. GO Lab Research and Policy Associate Tanyah Hameed considered learnings from the experiences of developing and implementing social outcomes contracts (SOCs) in Europe, while an article in SVA Quarterly considered the lessons from the varied experiences of three different Newpin SIBs in Australia, and a new report examined Colombia’s experience of launching an impact bond

Finally, SSIR continued their Social Economy series, exploring the role of research in helping to build resilient social economy ecosystems, and the potential for social-tech entrepreneurs to support a more purpose-driven economy. And on a similar topic, a report by ReGenerate offered three broad reform proposals to help businesses to contribute to addressing social challenges. 

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