Policy Tools: Analysis, Choice and Action

 [This paper was originally written in 2005 but the arguments it makes are still relevant to today’s debates about policymaking?]


This paper seeks to lay out some of the issues surrounding policy formulation and implementation from a ‘tools of policy’ perspective. This is a relatively underdeveloped approach in public policy but one which offers some tangible benefits in expanding the scope of policy choices and developing more realistic analytical, diagnostic and evaluative tools.

The paper is based mainly on a review of the existing literature – official and academic – on policy tools plus the experience of the author with a wide variety of policy and implementation issues within government in the UK and internationally. However it is also situated in a wider understanding of the lack of joined-up thinking in much of the policy arena. Continue reading

An interesting experiment: the Guardian science-blog – academia meets the press?

As a further contribution to discussions about academic public policy blogging, here is a brief account of the experiment with The Guardian and science policy.

By James Wilsdon

In 2012, the Guardian’s science section embarked on an editorial experiment with a group of around 15 academic bloggers – inviting them to edit and write regularly for a family of science blogs on the Guardian website  https://www.theguardian.com/science/series/science-blog-network.

All of the invited bloggers were experts in their fields, ad most were drawn from the scientific community – from mathematics, particle physics and astronomy to neuroscience and psychology. Continue reading


University-based public policy blog sites are growing in number in the UK. Why?

Partly, this is obviously driven by the so-called “impact” agenda – Universities proving the worth of their research to funding agencies, Government, the media and the public. Impact on public policy is an important part of “impact”.

So why blog sites? A University public policy blogsite offers two huge advantages.

Internally, within a University, it provides a way of quickly sharing policy-related research and developments in an easily digestible format. It is especially useful in developing early-career researchers who can share their work quickly and get feedback from more experienced colleagues outside of the normal, formal, University and academic channels.

Externally, it provides a platform to share – again quickly and accessibly – University public policy research with the wider world and provide ‘sign-posting’ to more in-depth engagement for practitioners and policymakers.

Blogs are essentially a publishing activity – providing quick, free and accessible outlets of key messages from public policy research.

Sometimes people think blogs are too much like newspaper publishing and individual posts being like yesterday’s newspaper – good for wrapping fish and chips but not much else.

Experience with longer-term public policy blog posting at places like the LSE and Manchester have revealed this to be a mistaken assumption.

Many blog posts have a “long tail” of viewings and even, sometimes, revivals of interest years later when the issues covered resurface in national policy and political debates (sometimes popping up in one of Kingdon’s “policy windows”). Moreover blogs are now increasingly being used in teaching and practitioner development programs.

So a University public policy blogsite offers not just contemporary and fast access to the latest policy-relevant research at the University, it also creates a knowledge-base of intellectual capital for the future. Continue reading

Blogging as academic public policy engagement – a personal journey (Part 1 – 2009-2013)

Almost a decade ago, in 2009, I decided to experiment with blogging as a way of engaging with public policy and management debates.

It wasn’t easy.

I was an academic employed by Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

I said I wanted to start a blog. They said – no you can’t. I asked why? They said, first we don’t know how to and second we don’t want you freelancing and possibly “damaging the brand”.

Let’s back-track a bit to see how I got to this point.

I am not a conventional academic. I left school at 16 with only 5 “O” Levels and went to work as a Lab Tech with what was then ICI Pharmaceuticals research in Alderley Edge. Continue reading

Creating Policy Innovation in the context of Government Bureaucracies? Could ‘Parallel Learning Structures’ be an answer?

by Colin Talbot

Trying to innovate in a bureaucratic organization, which most governmental and public organizations are, is notoriously hard.

But, despite the many forecasts of its imminent demise bureaucracy is still very much alive and kicking – for very good reasons.

Bureaucracy is Good for Us

Bureaucracy gets an almost universal bad press – but it is actually one of the best inventions humans have ever come up with. Bureaucracy is really good at standardized, replicable, large-scale production of goods and services. In many instances – in both the public and private domains – that is just what is needed.

Apple produce a relatively small range of goods and services that they market around the globe. They want an iPhone 7 sold in New Delhi to be essentially the same as one sold in New York – and it is. How do they do that? Through bureaucracy.

The USAs Internal Revenue Service or Britain’s HMRC collect income taxes. They need to provide a service that is essentially the same in every like-case – they can’t be charging two different people in the same circumstances different amounts of tax. How do they do that? Through bureaucracy. Continue reading

Who Does Social Inquiry in the UK?

Colin Talbot

16 Nov 2016

A lot of public policymaking is based on at least some form of social inquiry – how do Governments know what is going on in their societies and what do they want to do about it?

With academics and research Councils – especially the Economic and Social Research Council – focussed at the moment on the ‘impact’ of our research, its engagement with public policy and government has become a central issue.

Recent national controversies like the “Brexit” debate have – as a side issue – also focussed on the role of “experts”. Continue reading