Power to Persuade: The use and abuse of evidence in social policy

3.10.19
Sue Olney
Power to Persuade, started with a simple idea: that the best way to start breaking down barriers between various groups interested in social policy - designing it, delivering it, evaluating it or affected by it - was to bring them into the same space.

The platform, directed by UNSW Canberra’s Dr Sue Olney and Professor Helen Dickinson, explores topical, complex issues facing communities, the community sector, public servants and academics, and offering a diverse range of perspectives.

The Power to Persuade symposiums and blog encourage and promote frank and open dialogue about current and emerging challenges and opportunities in social policy. 

Power to Persuade is hosting a one-day symposium in Melbourne on Thursday 10 October 2019, focused on the use of evidence in social policy.

The Australian Government has said that sharing and combining public sector data - through initiatives like the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) and Data Sharing and Release legislative reform - will provide “new insights into important and complex policy questions” and lead to “better informed government programs and policies” and “more efficient and effective government services for citizens”.

Alongside that, priorities for change identified in the recent independent review of the Australian Public Service include developing stronger internal and external partnerships and flexible operating models to draw multi-agency teams together to address complex policy problems.

The Chairman of the review, David Thorley, envisages new, interlocking “rules, systems, structures and ways of working” that will “make collaboration the norm, not the exception” in policy design and implementation.

Much of this will sound familiar to those who have worked on place-based initiatives in government or the not-for-profit sector.

The literature and practice suggest that coordinating information, effort and resources across policy boundaries leads to better outcomes for citizens with complex needs.

Lingering questions are firstly, what gets in the way of governments and their agents working this way, and secondly why, when they do, does disadvantage persist and sometimes grow in the face of it? Will systems thinking and new datasets reveal something governments don’t already know?

Integrating data from different sources and turning it into policy evidence is not a straightforward process.

There are vast amounts of data now being collected by government and external service providers; algorithms and statistical methods are evolving to analyse new types of data from new sources; a greater number of actors with competing aims are generating competing interpretations of data; and there is a digital divide excluding some citizens from having their voices heard in this arena.

There are widespread concerns about privacy, the risk of bias in algorithms, how data is managed, analysed and used within and outside government, and the power imbalance when the political value of policies trumps evidence of what works to achieve meaningful change.

The 2019 symposium, sponsored by UNSW Canberra, offers insights into systems thinking and big data in social policy from experts involved in research, policymaking and service delivery working in universities, government and the not-for-profit sector.

The program will encourage and promote constructive debate about who is setting the rules and boundaries in relation to the collection and use of evidence in social policy; who decides what data should be drawn together, and what to do with the findings; and who can drive change across jurisdictions where there are competing interests and priorities.

This article was originally published by Power to Persuade. Read the original article here.

Register now for the Power to Persuade symposium.

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