Published on 8 November 2023
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Revitalizing public services: a call for social R&D in public service reform

New social policy reform should focus on the ‘social’ and ‘R&D’ to deepen the understanding of what contributes to productivity, including factors such as effective learning and workforce motivation - new policy brief.

Interest in public service reform is re-emerging, driven by growing concerns about the deteriorating state of services such as hospitals, adult social care, courts and prisons. Current performance levels have declined in most areas, long-term outcomes remain elusive, while people’s experiences are often frustrating and can be undermining. But as the urgency for reform intensifies, the question is: what kind of reform should be pursued?

A new policy brief, “Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?”, steers the conversation in a new direction. It critiques recent approaches to public service reform, with a particular focus on ‘New Public Management’ (NPM). It instead advocates for using social innovation, human development, and meaningful public participation as cornerstones of modern public service reform.

Two of the key recommendations is for reform that addresses social goals, including relationships that build people’s capabilities and capacity to act, and for the application of Research and Development (R&D) approaches to public services. This would shift reform to be understood as innovation that is enabled by relationships, knowledge and technology.

“Traditional public management models have shown their limitations in today’s rapidly evolving and complex world. We need a fresh perspective on public service reform; one that combines innovation, learning and relationships so that public services can support people and communities more effectively,” says the lead author, Halima Khan, affiliated researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

“Government should embrace a culture of continuous learning that is informed by citizens and staff, to create services that support people to build their dignity, hope, purpose and agency. A social R&D approach would put the ‘social’ back into social policy and ensure that new and better versions of public services can be developed and spread.”

Read the policy brief: Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?

Read the blog: Social R&D: the next phase of public service reform?

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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