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Policies for the ideal, reality for the rest.

policy

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This week saw the appointment of a new minister for suicide prevention announced on world mental health day (BBC), and an article in The Guardian observing that mental health resources are woefully underfunded.

My thoughts first turned to the fact that the appointment of a minister to address the problem was reminiscent of New Labour’s previous attempts to address issues with the appointment of various czars, none of which were very successful (BBC).  Allied to the appointments were the inevitable plethora of new policies, many failing at the first hurdle. Nonetheless their longevity and to some extent durability lay in ministers’ and state agency managers’ egos, and inability to see beyond fantasy and media pleasing rhetoric. However, it would be disingenuous to fail to acknowledge that some policies and strategies are conceived and implemented with the best of intentions, both at the macro and micro.

The old saying that ‘no plan last[s] beyond the first encounter with the enemy’ (Hughes,  1993:14) probably explains why so many policies fail, not because the essence of the policy is wrong but because politicians and those in charge fail to take into account or to rationalise that at the very core of the policy intentions, lay people.  People are unpredictable, people do not conform to ideals or preconceived ideas and, yet policies are formulated to address ideal situations and an ideal homogenous population. No one member of the public is the same, whether they are a victim of crime, an offender, a person in need of medical care or mental health services, a worker, a student or a user of a service.  They can be one of these things or a combination of them, they are a product of so many differing socioeconomic influences that any one policy cannot ever hope to deal with the multitude of issues they bring.  People are both complex and complicated.  A plan or policy needs to be adapted and changed as it progresses, or it will inevitably fail.

That brings me very nicely to one of my favourite authors Michael Lipsky.  Lipsky presents those working at the coal face of public services as street-level bureaucrats.  Attempting to navigate policy and strategy implementation whilst dealing with predominately less than ideal clients.  Lipsky observes that in doing so the street-level bureaucrats are faced with a number of different issues:

  1. Resources are chronically inadequate relative to the tasks workers are asked to perform.
  2. The demand for services tends to increase to meet the supply.
  3. Goal expectations for the agencies in which they work tend to be ambiguous, vague, or conflicting.
  4. Performance oriented goal achievement tends to be difficult if not impossible to measure.
  5. Clients are typically nonvoluntary; partly as a result, clients for the most part do not serve as primary bureaucratic reference groups.

(Lipsky 1983, 27:28)

Policies and strategies are difficult to implement, if they are formulated purely on ideals without ever having recourse to those, i.e. the street level bureaucrats, that are required to implement them, they will inevitably fail. If plans rarely survive the first contact, then they need to be adapted or ditched, those best placed to advise on changes are of course those at the coal face.  Herein lies the rub, politicians and managers do not like to be told their policy is failing or that it will not work in the first place. They inevitably place the failure of policies, or reluctance to implement them, on those at the coal face with little or no knowledge of the issues that are encountered. The raising of such issues are simply seen as an excuse, laziness or a reluctance to change.  More often than not, the opposite is true, street level bureaucrats want change, but for the better not for the sake of it or to be seen to be doing something.

It is difficult to see how the appointment of a new czar will make a difference to suicide rates without fundamental changes in the way that policies and strategies are conceived.  Those thinking of writing policy whether at the macro or micro, would do well to get a hold of Lipsky’s book and to reimagine the ‘real’ world.

Lipsky, M (1983) Street-Level Bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services, New York: Russell Foundation.

Hughes, D (ed) (1993) Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, Random House, (ebook)

Waterside: What an exciting time to be a student!

BD waterside 1

Bethany Davies is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.

Last Friday I viewed the new Waterside campus for the first time, and my overwhelming thought now is… it’s a really exciting time to be a student at the University of Northampton.

Leading up to my visit, I had seen a few pictures and people had told me a few things about the campus, but to be honest I kind of let the worries of ‘change’ affect how I was viewing it in my head. I pictured it as a huge and daunting place and that I was going to feel like I was teaching for the first time even though it’s been many years now.

When I arrived, every fear and worry I had about the new term, training and changes I was going to face… just slipped away.  I was blown away by how beautiful the place was and I felt like I was having flash backs to the feelings I had when I went to an open day at Park Campus as a student many years ago now. This feeling however was on an elevated level.  The way the university seems to balance the old with the new and the large feature of natural surroundings almost seems like it’s a signature style of the university as it’s carried these aspects to the new campus.

My reason for attending was for training on the new system which will allow students more freedom to work all around the campus and also some new creative interactive features. Some of these might not be as crucial to criminology lectures and seminars as other classes,  but seeing the scale of what can be done is testament to the university’s aim to advance the student experience.  Following the training, I wandered around and located what would be my new space for teaching in the Senate building. I decided to let myself in to take some pictures and I was really pleased with the room and the view from the window. The space is modern and I could picture the debates and discussions and the group work that I could plan.

BD Waterside 2

There is a sense of familiarity with the campus, which may sound silly if it is your first visit, but to me it felt like a safe and motivating environment with student life at its focus. The ‘student village’ and the facilities such as the hotel, shops and many places to eat, made me feel rather envious of those experiencing student life at such a place.

There will be learning curves and bumps in the road as everything new does, but ultimately what has been created is a fresh start for the university and everyone in it. It’s an exciting time to be a student at the University of Northampton and I am excited to be a part of the journey.

 

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