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Support this shift or see policy die

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I often describe my job as the best in the world. Working with the colleagues I have, in a place like Lambeth is really hard to beat.

It is great fun - we think things through and try new things out, testing as we go, and working with citizens to deliver outcomes that are important to them.

By using citizen-centred design, we are trying to work more transparently. But more important than the fun is the fact that it really does make a difference. My job is letting me make the change I want to see.

The opportunity to build an evidence base locally, drawing on national practice, other localised practice and academic research about what works and what doesn’t, is essential as we focus on our co-operative commissioning ambitions.

Prototyping citiz-endesigned solutions is vital. Underpinning this is time to think - not in the abstract, ‘ivory tower’ type way often found in policy teams, but really thinking, with citizens, about what to do and how to do it differently to achieve the changes we all want to see.

We’ve secured the capacity - for now at least - to keep doing this, to constantly push the boundaries of what we know to understand how to deliver outcomes, and to make sure we co-operatively commission those outcomes as effectively as possible.

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. It’s difficult to defend ‘thinking capacity’ in times of such a resource constraint, and it has been a journey of learning for us all in being more agile.

Working directly with citizens is sometimes still shocking; and it is far too often something that feels unusual, even in a place like Lambeth where it is core to everything we’re doing.

Introverted policy heads do not make the transfer to extrovert engagement and involvement easily and without considerable encouragement. Growing our own ability here has taken time and feels really challenging, at times almost impossible.

We’ve still got a long way to go. It needs courage, leadership - from within the community, within the organisation and from formal leaders - and organisational support.

But it is a challenge we need to meet. Without putting citizens truly at the heart of policy development, we are destined to produce policy that isn’t going to work.

I know I’m not a single voice advocating this, but I’m not seeing the changes throughout the system that I’d like to see. Citizen-led policy is still the exception rather than the rule.

My fear is that without this shift throughout public sector policy development, we’ll see the death of policy. And that won’t work out well for anyone.

Sophia Looney, director policy, equalities and performance, Lambeth LBC

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