England & Wales Communities and society, Democracy, devolution and governance

Viewpoint: The journey to an Enabling State – shooting for the stars

Hannah Ormston, Policy and Development Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust takes us through steps Scotland and Wales are taking to shift from a welfare state to an enabling state. 

Over the past few months, New Zealand has received a lot of attention globally, being celebrated for its approach to wellbeing and praised for its ‘world first’ budget. The announcement in May highlighted their intention to move away from a traditional measurement of progress using GDP to other areas of focus, such as mental health and poverty. Some suggested the start of a paradigm shift that might eventually reach our shores.  Whilst there is no doubt that this framework is a hugely positive step, closer to home, there are rising stars emerging too.

In 2015, Scotland and Wales introduced ground-breaking legislation that could be considered a key turning point in a progressive journey for the two jurisdictions; the shift from a welfare state, to an Enabling State. The introduction of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 demonstrated the commitment of both legislatures to empower people living in Scotland and Wales to take control of their own, their communities’, and (in the case of Wales) their future generations’, wellbeing. Both frameworks placed a duty on ministers to publish progress against a shared set out outcomes, guiding priorities and decision-making across public sector services.

Wales has also been leading the way in the UK with their focus on prevention.  Under the Act, public bodies are required to consider the long-term impact of the decisions they make, following the ‘sustainable development principle’. Wales also saw the introduction of the Future Generations Commissioner and the development of Local Well-Being Plans that encourage collaborative working across sectors.

So how do we know all of this? For over eight years, the Carnegie UK Trust has undertaken research and development in this area, examining the shift from a welfare state to what we call the Enabling State. The Enabling State is an approach to governance that takes a holistic approach. It recognises the value that people and communities have, and their capacity to create transformational change. Made up of seven key principles – or policy shifts – it champions the strength of individual and collective autonomy and aims to empower individuals and communities, in turn addressing stubborn inequalities in our wellbeing, and improving outcomes for people.

The seven interdependent policy shifts of the Enabling State are:

  • From target setting to outcomes
  • Top down to bottom up
  • From representation to participation
  • From silos to working together/integration
  • From crisis intervention to prevention
  • From doing-to to doing-with
  • From the state to community ownership and management.

In 2013, we undertook a review of the policy landscape, and reported (PDF document) that the UK was in the midst of a paradigm shift in public policy making. It was showing the signs of a gradual move away from ‘top down’ service delivery, towards models based on the principles of an Enabling State. Five years on from this seminal piece of work, our new report takes a fresh look at developments in this area. Summarising the evidence from across the four UK jurisdictions and over 180 sources, it provides a review of participative, outcomes-based, joined up policy making and details what each shift entailed.

What did we find?

Our assessment found that whilst Scotland and Wales are leading the way globally and are the ‘rising stars’ when it comes to outcomes based policy making; it is a different story in Northern Ireland and England. It’s clear that the devolved legislatures have moved further and faster on an outcomes-based approach. And this remains true for Northern Ireland which – despite the political vacuum – has worked hard to shift behaviours towards outcomes based management; implementing the wellbeing approach at a local level through Community Planning.

Similarly, in England, there are many good examples of initiatives aimed to facilitate co-production, prevention planning, and partnership working at the local level. The Civil Society Strategy, for example, pledges to support local ‘citizen commissioners’ to make decisions on behalf of their communities. Likewise, projects that co-design systems with the community, like the Participatory City approach and the Way Ahead initiative, have demonstrated clear signs of ambition for more preventative, holistic, collaborative policy making with the community at the heart of the approach.

Although Northern Ireland is making good progress towards the first shift and England might be considered to be making some slow progress across most of Enabling State principles more generally, the scale of budgetary and demand pressures facing public services are ongoing. These are hampering and undermining transformation. This is also true for Scotland and Wales, where real action and transformational change across all of the shifts has been held up by financial pressures.

The next key step for Scotland and Wales is the move towards mature outcomes based governance, linking the budget process to national outcomes, streamlining and standardising the accountability landscape.

So, whilst it’s true that Scotland and Wales could learn from New Zealand, it’s also clear that they are emerging as global leaders.  The jurisdictions of the UK could learn from their near neighbours, too.

To find out more about the Carnegie UK Trust’s Enabling State programme, please visit our website.

This post first appeared on LGiU Scotland‘s website.