Collateral damage: the implications of border restrictions on practitioners working with refugee populations

Blog by Dr Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer, School for Policy Studies

The acknowledgement that asylum systems across Europe are “hostile environments” for migrant groups has increased in academic and practitioner consciousness, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 refugee reception crisis. However, although the impacts of socio-political hostilities on migrants are well documented, little has been written about the implications of border restrictions on practitioners working with refugee populations. Research led by Vicky Canning, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the School for Policy Studies, expands the focus of hostilities to consider the variable impacts of intensified bordering practices on this group.

Based on qualitative research which included 74 interviews undertaken across Britain, Denmark, and Sweden (2016–2018), the research outlines the experiences of practitioners working with refugee populations. It highlights that increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration have had multiple negative effects on practitioners working in this sector. This has potential for longer term negative impacts on practitioners, but also – importantly – refugee populations who require various forms of legal aid, or social and psychological support.

Working with refugee groups can be a fundamentally complex task. Whilst roles differ (such as lawyers, psychologists, or advocates and support workers), the experiences of people seeking asylum or living as refugees can impact on people supporting them in various ways. Likewise, the working conditions of practitioners is often reflected in the standard of care that they are able to offer when supporting people with complex lives, refugees and survivors of violence and persecution in particular. Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue[1] are two of the most commonly cited problems in working in this area.

Emotional and Workplace Impacts on Practitioners

Interviews with practitioners indicate concerning additions to these potential problems: increasingly restrictive or punitive approaches to immigration which have had multiple effects on practitioners working in this sector. Indeed, one stark issue highlighted through interviews with lawyers, psychologists, detention custody officers, and support workers is that they felt their ability to effectively perform their own role well has been compromised. Some indicated increasing levels of stress and, in Sweden in particular (a strong state centric welfare model), a decreased faith in state and state decisions. Terms such as ‘powerless’ and ‘stress’ were included in responses to questions about the impacts of escalated harms in asylum – in particular that practitioners did not feel they could support people seeking asylum whilst they are being held in an indefinite state of uncertainty or crisis.

Practitioners found that changes in legislation or ‘rules’ meant that they constantly had to change their own approaches. Keeping up to date with the workings of the asylum process is increasingly difficult at a time when laws and policies are changing regularly, and thus affecting the rights or welfare entitlements that people seeking asylum can access. This is particularly difficult for people who are working with refugee groups as a means to providing humanitarian assistance, as they find themselves in positions where they are implementing laws they cannot agree with. For example, an employee of a humanitarian organisation working at Center Sandholm indicated, ‘I find it really, really difficult, this neutrality, impartiality concept, and increasingly so. Every time we have to enforce new, stricter rules that have only been put in place to put pressure on people [to leave]’.

Practitioners working with survivors of trauma or sexual violence raised concerns about their client’s inability to focus on therapy, counselling or integration programmes due to risk of dispersal or other exacerbations of illnesses. People seeking asylum can be more concerned with pressing issues arising in the immediate future, such as the threat of homelessness, fear of detention or deportation, or concern for family and friends still residing in areas of conflict or migrating across borders.

An integration project co-ordinator working in Denmark argued that, ‘it will only get worse. I mean there’s a culture of celebrating obstacles that we can put in people’s place… I mean unashamedly celebrating making it hard for people to access asylum and protective status’. This prediction – recorded in summer of 2018 – has proved accurate. By the end of the year the Danish People’s Party and the Venstre-led government announced new restrictions in the Finance Act 2019 which directly aim to reduce opportunities for integration of migrants and people seeking asylum and instead push toward deportations and enforced removals (Clante Bendixen, 2019).  This includes a significant change relating to integration, as the term itself is no longer used in relation to asylum, as focus has changed to accelerating deportation.

The Trend Towards Disempowerment

Practitioners also highlighted feelings and experiences which ranged from sadness or upset to disempowerment and hopelessness. For people working in a deportation centre in Denmark, there was dismay at the lack of clarity regarding the expectations of their role and that their participation did not always have a positive impact,

‘I had days when I went home thinking that today I was definitely a part of the problem, not the solution, today my presence here was a band aid at best but the patient’s haemorrhaging and I’m not actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’

In some places, the limits to the support that practitioners are able to provide are not only affected by economic resources, but also managerial and policy decisions on what is or is not allowed. As one nurse in an immigration detention centre reflected, ‘You want to do more than you are allowed; you are not allowed to’.

The emotional effects of seeing people living in avoidable and degrading circumstances are also clear. Many felt that cuts to staffing or services reduced their ability to offer adequate support, as one women’s support worker in Scotland indicated, ‘It really is crippling ‘cause we can’t meet the needs. Literally turning people away every day who are in crisis, so that is awful’. Shortly after this interview, in 2016, the interviewee contacted me to say their role had been removed. To date, it has not been replaced.

Likewise, others disclosed feelings of discomfort at increasingly being part of a system or structure that they had not set out to work in. People spoke of their jobs being reduced from support to ‘managing expectations’ for people seeking asylum and of bureaucracy superseding their capacity to provide support. For example, a custody officer in a Swedish immigration detention centre felt the shifts in law were removing her from the humanitarian approach she had tried to embed in her practice: ‘they [detainees] assume that I am working for the evil government. They think that I don’t see them as human beings, living … I think it’s horrible’.

Breaking Trust

Finally, this research found that impacts on practitioners are exacerbated by increasing mistrust between people seeking asylum and governmental and non-governmental organisations, particularly in the UK and Sweden.

For others, the emotional impacts of the degradation of people seeking asylum were palpable, as a social worker in the North West of England suggests:

‘Sometimes we need to separate our feelings away from the client, but for the first time since I have worked in this field I felt as if I was about to cry when I went to the hospital because I’ve never seen somebody who has been neglected by the system like this woman I came across, because you don’t treat people like this, this is unacceptable in 21st century Britain’.

Practitioners often alluded to a loss of faith in humanitarianism in their respective states. One torture rehabilitation director remarked that, ‘they’re testing this unfortunately, a social experiment, how far they can get with their whip’, whilst a barrister in London questioned the rationale of governmental agendas, asking ‘Even if you accept the premise that migration is a problem and needs to be reduced, why don’t you wait to see what the last set of bad laws did before you bring in the next of the bad laws?’.

In Sweden, a typically state centric nation, the impacts of this increasing mistrust was strengthened with the introduction of the REVA Project – a collaboration between Swedish Police, the Migration Agency and prison service which targets people suspected of living illegally in Sweden so as to speed up detection and deportation – and which has received subsequent criticism for racism (see Barker, 2017; European Parliament, 2013).

Migrant groups and practitioners are therefore left in precarious positions: anyone without documentation or who is awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim may be subject to arrest and possible detention or deportation, whilst some practitioners simultaneously lose faith in governmental agendas and face reduced capacity to undertake their role due to external pressures.

The nationality and borders bill, now in the House of Lords for readings after being debated for only nine minutes in the House of Commons, will inevitably continue this trend, creating an ever more hostile environment towards migrants and in which practitioners working with refugee populations have to operate, a trend Dr Canning has critiqued elsewhere as degradation by design.

 

[1] The former relates to experiencing emotional or psychological distress based on hearing or responding to trauma experienced by others (Barrington and Shakespeare-Finch, 2013). The latter refers to the emotional implications which can develop for people working at the frontline of response to trauma or other social problems, but feel restricted in their ability to do so due to exhaustion or burnout (Ray et al, 2013).


This blog is based on research and analysis presented here:

Reimagining Refugee Rights: Addressing asylum harms in Britain, Denmark and Sweden

Managing Expectations: Impacts of Hostile Migration Policies on Practitioners in Britain, Denmark and Sweden (Open Access).


 

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Why some anti-corruption campaigns make people more likely to pay a bribe

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lagos
Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Donors and civil society groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to combat corruption. They do it because corruption has been shown to increase poverty and inequality while undermining trust in the government. Reducing corruption is essential to improve public services and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

But what if anti-corruption efforts actually make the situation worse?

Our research in Lagos, Nigeria, found that anti-corruption messages often have an unintended effect. Instead of building public resolve to reject corrupt acts, the messages we tested either had no effect or actually made people more likely to offer a bribe.

The reason may be that the messages reinforce popular perceptions that corruption is pervasive and insurmountable. In doing so, they encourage apathy and acceptance rather than inspire activism.

Fighting corruption

Efforts to combat corruption in “developing countries” initially focused on law enforcement by political leaders and bureaucrats. But these strategies met with limited success and so efforts switched to raising public awareness of the dangers of corruption.

This change of approach made sense. One reason that leaders don’t deliver on reforms is that they benefit from the way things are. Encouraging citizens to reject corrupt leaders would give those in power an incentive to act.

The last 20 years therefore saw a vast array of campaigns, from newspaper and radio advertisements to Twitter messages. Short films, theatre productions and signs that proclaim that government institutions are “corruption free zones” were also included.

These messages are seen by large numbers of people, but until recently there had been remarkably little systematic research on whether they actually work.

Researching corruption

To test the impact of anti-corruption messages we developed five short narratives like those promoted by civil society organisations and international donors. One message focused on explaining that corruption is widespread and damaging. Others emphasised the local impact of graft and the way it wasted citizens’ taxes.

To test the effect of more positive messages, one narrative talked about recent successes that political leaders had in curbing corruption. Another detailed the role that religious leaders played in promoting clean government.

We read the messages to 2,400 randomly selected people in Lagos. While corruption has often been identified as a major challenge in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has made some progress towards reducing government waste, ensuring all citizens pay taxes and delivering better services. It was therefore plausible that both positive and negative messages about corruption would resonate with Lagosians. The state is also ethnically diverse, with considerable poverty and inequality, and so reflects the kind of context in which anti-corruption messaging is often deployed.

Each person we interviewed was given one of the narratives. A control group was not given any anti-corruption information. This was to enable us to compare the impact of different messages. We then asked everyone a number of questions about their attitudes towards corruption.

In an advance on previous studies, we also invited 1,200 people to play a game in which they had an opportunity to win real money. In the game, players could take away more money if they were willing to pay a small bribe to the “banker” who determined the pay-outs. The game tested players’ commitment to rejecting corruption in a more demanding way than simply asking them if they believed corruption was wrong.

We were then able to evaluate whether anti-corruption messages were effective by looking at whether those who received them were more likely to demand clean government and less willing to pay a bribe.

More harm than good

In line with prior research, our findings suggest that anti-corruption campaigns may be doing more harm than good. None of the narratives we used had a positive effect overall. Many of them actually made Lagosians more likely to pay a bribe.

Put another way, the good news is that public relations campaigns can change citizens’ minds. But the bad news is that they often do so in unintended and counterproductive ways.

The reason for this seems to be that anti-corruption messages encourage citizens to think more about corruption, emphasising the extent of the problem. This contributes to “corruption fatigue”: the belief that the problem is simply too big for any one person to make a difference generates despondency. It makes individuals more likely to go with the flow than to stand against it.

This interpretation is supported by another finding that the negative effect of anti-corruption messaging was far more powerful among individuals who believed that corruption was pervasive. This reveals that the problematic consequences of anti-corruption messages are not universal. Among less pessimistic people, messages did not have a negative effect. And one message had the desired effect of reducing the probability of paying a bribe. This was the narrative that emphasised the relationship between corruption and citizens’ tax payments.

Our study therefore suggests that if we can target anti-corruption messages more effectively at specific audiences, we may be able to enhance their positive effects while minimising the risks.

What next?

Other studies have come to similar conclusions in Indonesia, Costa Rica and to some extent Papua New Guinea.

We therefore need to take the lessons of these studies seriously. Anti-corruption campaigns that send untargeted messages should be halted until we work out how to target them more effectively. The most logical response is to embrace new ways of working.

This might mean identifying messages that persuade citizens that corruption is fallingand so “nudge” them to believe it is a problem that can be overcome.

Where that’s not possible, it is also worth considering a more radical break with the past. As others working within the Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium have argued, the most promising approach may be to abandon traditional anti-corruption messaging in favour of working more indirectly. This would involve building public demand for greater political accountability and transparency without always talking directly about corruption.

Such an approach would be less high profile, but is far more likely to be effective.The Conversation

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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‘Substituted parenting’ – a term with no apparent consensus, clarity, consistency of meaning, or transparency as to its application by the family courts.

Project team: Nadine Tilbury (Policy officer for the Working Together with Parents Network (WTPN ) and Beth Tarleton (WTPN Co-ordinator and project PI)


“Substituted parenting” What does this mean in the family court?

We aim to be in a position to answer this question by the end of our 18-month project (April 2023) and are extremely grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing the funding and support that will enable us to do so.

Published family court judgments show that the expression ‘substituted parenting’ is often used during care proceedings in cases involving parents with learning disabilities and tends to result in the children being permanently removed from their families.

The term appears to be being used by local authorities when the support they have identified as necessary for the parents is extensive. They say the high level of support required equates to substituted parenting which is detrimental as it confuses children as to who is the parent. Since most parents with learning disabilities are likely to need long-term support, this approach risks becoming a discriminatory blanket policy.

Where has this term come from? What is the research evidence base for the concept and its conclusion that ‘substituted parenting’ or parenting by others is necessarily detrimental to a child’s welfare? What level of support is regarded as substituted parenting? Is it / should it be a matter of how much support is provided or, instead, should the question be how that support is provided?

Experienced family court lawyers are unclear how the use of this term has developed, ”… appears to be becoming an ‘orthodoxy’” or the ‘default position’ (Senior barristers – email).

“… the family would need … support throughout the children’s waking hours. That would be substituted parenting, not support.”  A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) (Rev 1) [2017].

Whether the situation I have described could or indeed should be described as “substituted parenting” is a matter for others to decide… In the absence of a clear description of the dynamic that defines what substituted parenting is …” HHJ Greensmith in PQR (Supported Parenting For Learning Disabled Parents) (Rev 1) [2018].

It is this absence of a clear definition – and the dire consequences that follow a finding of substituted parenting i.e. removal of the child – that prompted our bid for funding to clarify what social workers, lawyers and judges mean by the term ‘substituted parenting’ and how it is applied in care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities.

Our project aims to establish clarity, consistency and transparency in the understanding and application of the term by the family courts and to highlight good practice, where it exists.

Background to the project

All parents are entitled to support from the state to carry out their parenting responsibilities. So say the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Care Act 2014 specifically includes parenting responsibilities as one of the eligibility factors for support and the central ethos of the Children Act 1989 is that children are best raised by their families, where possible, with local authority functions designed to provide support to the children and families.

The first edition of the Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007), published by the Department of Health and the Department for Skills and Education, emphasised the right to support, drawing heavily on the work by Beth Tarleton and colleagues in 2006, Finding the Right Support.

The 2016 and 2021 updates of the Good Practice Guidance by the Working Together with Parents Network did likewise.

And yet, despite this clear, rights-based foundation, cases were continually being reported where parents with learning disabilities were having their children permanently removed as they were unable to parent them safely without the right (or, in many cases, any) support.

In 2016, we started sending emails to the office of the President of the Family Division, highlighting published family court judgments showing local authorities’ routine failure to apply the principles of the Good Practice Guidance, when working with these families.

In April 2018, the then President, Sir James Munby issued guidance:

‘My primary purpose in issuing this Guidance is to bring to the attention of practitioners and judges, and to commend for careful consideration and application by everyone, the very important “Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability” issued by the Working Together with Parents Network and the Norah Fry Centre in September 2016.’ Family Proceedings: Parents with a Learning Disability | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Almost overnight, the right to support began to be acknowledged by local authorities and their proposals scrutinised by the family courts.

‘ …Following the court’s request for additional evidence from the local authority including evidence of how the guidelines in respect of parents with a learning disability had been followed and direct evidence from the independent reviewing officer (in the form of a statement confirming her position in the light of the new evidence), the local authority reviewed its position’.

‘…The court is confident that this package of support …meets the obligations of the local authority to follow the Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) revised September 2016 (The Guidelines) (Recognising the Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)) [2018] EWFC B71 (08 November 2018)

Unintended consequence

It was all going so well… And then, we started receiving reports of cases in which local authorities confirmed that the necessary support had been identified and could be provided, but went on to assert that, such support would amount to substituted parenting, which was detrimental to the child’s welfare and so the child needed to be permanently removed.

We began to look into this concept of ‘substituted parenting’. We tried to find out where it came from, what level of support was considered to tip the balance from acceptable to unacceptable, whether costs and timescales were factors. We checked the literature, and we asked the academics and practitioners. We couldn’t find the information. ‘Good question’, they said.

We scrutinised published judgments, looking for mention of any analysis of the risk that the proposed support would amount to substituted parenting, and any options considered to address/reduce/eliminate that risk. We couldn’t find that either.

Timing

This project started 1st November 2021 and runs until April 2023. The timing couldn’t be better for us as the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has just released his report on the need for greater transparency in the Family Court: Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts and has confirmed that transparency will be a key priority for him over the next three years:

‘… it is legitimate for the public to know of these judgments [family court cases], to provide a basis for trust in the soundness of the court’s approach and its decisions, or to establish a ground for concern in that regard.’

’It is the case that the Family Court is currently not sufficiently transparent even to those, in particular the judges and the social work professionals, who are working within it. Educational opportunities are thereby being missed.’

Since the family courts are not open to the public, we depend on published judgments for finding out how care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities are in fact being dealt with. Any move towards greater transparency, in terms of the number of judgments published and the level of information contained within them, can only lead to better and more consistent practices and thereby improved confidence in the fairness of the family justice system.

Next steps

We very much look forward to speaking with the social workers, lawyers and judges involved in working with parents with learning disabilities in the care proceedings context. We look forward to being able to highlight good practices found in the course of the study and to establishing consensus, clarity, and consistency as to the meaning of the term ‘substituted parenting’, and transparency as to its application by the family courts.

We particularly look forward to working with our Advisory Group of parents with learning disabilities. They will help to ensure that the findings of our study can be made widely available to parents with learning disabilities and in such a way that parents will be able to understand what is meant by the risk of support being considered to be ‘substituted parenting’, the significance of such a risk and, most importantly, how to avert that risk, where possible.

Because, in the much-quoted words of Baroness Hale in a landmark adoption case, “nothing else will do”.


This project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.


 

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Top tips from the editors of Policy & Politics for getting published

Policy & Politics is a leading international journal in the field of public and social policy. It spans the boundaries between theory and practice and links macro-scale debates with micro-scale issues. It seeks to analyse new trends and advance knowledge by publishing research at the forefront of academic debates.

Co-Editors: Oscar Berglund, University of Bristol, UK, Claire Dunlop, University of Exeter, UK, Chris Weible, University of Colorado, US

From the Policy and Politics Blog.

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Ending gender-based violence: what role does research play?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research from the Centre for Gender and Violence is addressing inequalities and tackling gender-based violence.

Introduction

Gender-based violence describes any harmful act towards individuals or groups on the basis of their gender.

It includes domestic violence which UK law defines as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’

Domestic violence is a gendered crime that is unequally experienced by women and perpetrated by men. It is extremely common in the UK. For the year ending March 2019, the ONS estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse.

Gender-based violence is a well-documented problem and there are many organisations and activists working to stop it. How can research help to address it? Academic staff in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research conduct high quality research, in collaboration with practitioners and activists, to inform action on addressing the inequality that is gender-based violence.

In this blog, I start by explaining why the Centre’s intersectional, inclusive and collaborative approach to research is vital for addressing gender-based violence. I then explain how findings from research projects contribute to ending violence and supporting survivors/victims.

Doing research: why is an intersectional and collaborative approach important?

Intersectionality explains how different social justice issues (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age) cross over with one another.

Taking an intersectional approach is important for understanding how different forms of gendered abuse emerge and addressing the needs of marginalised groups who face violence. For example see: Rape, inequality and the criminal justice response in England: the importance of age and gender. This paper takes an intersectional approach and concludes that, ‘(r)esults suggest age and gender are significant factors in how sexual violence, and the criminal justice system (CJS), is experienced. Victims-survivors from BME or LGBTQ+ groups are underrepresented within the CJS, implying these groups are not seeking a criminal justice response in the same way as ‘white’ heterosexual victims-survivors.’

Collaboration with practitioners is also important. As Marianne Hester explains:

“The partnership between practitioners, researchers and activists is absolutely key. We don’t create change if we sit in our little bubbles. We need to work together.”

Using findings: understanding how violence works

The way domestic abuse manifests is constantly changing so it is important to know how violence works and changes in order to act against it, including emerging forms of coercive control. The Understanding and Responding to Coercive Control project addresses a series of important issues in tackling domestic violence and abuse that have not previously been dealt with to any extent, relating specifically to emerging forms of Coercive Control.

Coercive control is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, for example the use of chemical restraints (abuse via medication). The project will also look into the use of faith and faith practice as part of coercive control; assess domestic violence incidents recorded by the police for evidence of coercive controlling behaviour; improve measurement of coercive control; explore survivors’ mental health for implications on employment and ability to seek safe accommodation; develop briefings on the relationship between coercive control, financial /economic abuse and housing crises faced by DVA victims-survivors; and briefing on the abuse of pets in the context of coercive control.

Another project will be looking at the questions we ask to collect data about domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Conclusion

Research has a role to play in ending gender-based violence, but it does not operate in a silo. The Centre for Gender and violence’s work shows why an intersectional and collaborative approach to research is so important for making change happen.

Read more about some of the issues raised here

Articles and links based on research from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research:

Nine in 10 domestic abusers also target pets, survey finds – The Independent, 24 November 2021

‘My ex-partner would take his anger out on my dog – I’d rather he hurt me’ – The Telegraph, 23 November 2021

Student spikings: universities told to step up prevention efforts – Times Higher Education, 4 November, 2021

‘You couldn’t leave your husband. It just wasn’t done’, The Independent, 02 October 2021

Improving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence 

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Developing smart cities: where are citizens’ voices? Learning from Mexico City and Bristol

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is making smart city innovation more inclusive.

Smart city innovation raises questions about citizens’ inclusion and participation in city governance.  The term ‘smart city’ is usually used to describe an urban area that uses digital technology to collect data (e.g. from citizens and the environment) to monitor and manage spaces. Such management may lead to environmental and social benefits in urban areas. For instance, smart city technology can be seen as a way to improve environmental sustainability and citizen’s welfare by optimising cities’ limited resources or monitoring and deterring crime. Whilst these potential benefits appear promising, smart city technology necessitates consideration of equality and inclusion issues related to urban governance, including:

  1. What role could and should citizens play in developing smart cities?
  2. What are the opportunities, risks and vulnerabilities for citizens created by increasing reliance on digital technology?
  3. What does an inclusive approach to smart city development look like?

In this blog, I set out the problem with developing smart cities without citizens’ input and explain how research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to make smart city innovation more inclusive and equitable.

What’s the problem?

Across the globe, cities are investing in smart infrastructure. The Covid 19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the growth and use of smart city innovations in some places. As the OECD highlighted in July 2020, “the pivotal role of digitalisation in emergency responses to the pandemic has pushed many cities to systematise the use of smart city tools more permanently, while staying alert and monitoring the risk of contagion.”  Whilst the rapid growth of digitalisation in some urban areas may provide solutions to some issues, not including citizens in decisions about smart city infrastructure could create long-term problems, including:

  1. Urban areas and citizens being ‘locked in’ to using certain types of smart city innovation

Decisions to buy digital infrastructure are likely to have long-lasting consequences. If one type of technology (e.g. from a particular company) is installed in an urban area, this may have impacts on what other forms of smart city technology can be used in the city. It may be expensive or difficult to install another type of technology in the future. Thus, not including citizens in decisions about smart city innovations could mean that citizens are forced to use and fund a type of technology that they do not want, for a long time.

  1. Smart city innovation not responding to citizens priorities and interests

If decisions are made about smart urbanism without citizens’ input, innovations may not respond to citizens’ priorities and interests. This could result in some citizens not engaging with smart city innovations and smart city innovations failing to address citizens’ needs.

  1. Individuals or groups being disadvantaged or excluded by smart urbanism

There is a risk that some citizens could be disadvantaged or excluded by smart city innovations. For example, if citizens need a certain level of digital literacy to engage with smart city technology, or if they need certain tools like smart phones, this could exclude some individuals or groups from elements of urban life.

Professor Alex Marsh from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is working with Dr Arturo Flores from Anáhuac University, Mexico to lead research that aims to address these issues. In collaboration with Knowle West Media Centre, Professor Marsh and Dr Flores are leading the Empowering Citizen-Orientated Smart City Innovation in Mexico (ECOSCIM) project which aims to develop a new framework to guide smart city innovation to be more inclusive, responsive and reflexive.

The ECOSCIM Project

The ECOSCIM project aims to develop a framework to guide smart city innovation in a way that pays attention to citizens’ needs and priorities. The project involves examining smart city innovations in Mexico City to see how they measure up to the new framework, as well as investigating the social and political contexts in which Smart City innovation takes place.

To achieve its aims, the ECOSCIM project involves working with citizens, community groups and policy makers in Mexico City to understand different perspectives and to build a new method to help the smart city innovation project. ECOSCIM has a particular focus on Mexico City as the city is large and its smart city innovation has not been researched in great depth. Conducting the research in Mexico City, rather than cities like Singapore or London which have more digital infrastructure, therefore means that the project can shed light on new perspectives about how smart city development can work in different contexts. Whilst the project will help citizens in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, research findings will also support citizens all over the world who are interested in being involved in smart city innovations.

To carry out the project, the research team is collaborating with Knowle West Media Centre and using the Bristol Approach to understand more about Mexico City citizens’ priorities and to involve them in developing smart city innovation. Developed by Knowle West Media Centre, Ideas for Change and Bristol City Council, the Bristol Approach is a way of working that aims to ‘understand the issues people care about’ and how digital technology might help to address problems that citizens experience in everyday life. It involves local groups working together to identify issues that are affecting their cities and gathering information that will help to tackle those issues. The ECOSCIM project is exploring how the Bristol Approach can be used in Mexico City, as well as how Mexico City is involving citizens in smart city development. These inquiries will feed into the creation of a smart city toolkit aimed at communities.

Toolkit for taking action

The key output from the ECOSCIM project will be a toolkit that will help to make smart urbanism more inclusive and equitable. The toolkit will support citizens to get involved in smart city innovation and help them to address issues or problems that people are facing in their cities. Whilst the toolkit will be based on the research project in Mexico City, the research team intends for it to be helpful to communities across the globe.

Citizens’ voices are important

Research from the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is helping to highlight the importance of citizen voice and the necessity for an inclusive approach to smart city innovation. In a world where digital and technological infrastructure is quickly becoming more ubiquitous in urban settings, it is vital to remember: citizens can and should be included in decisions about their cities.


 

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Can research help to address inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities?

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explains how research in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies is helping to tackle inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.

Research can and should contribute to improved outcomes for people with learning disabilities. Academics in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies have revealed the stark inequalities that people with learning disabilities face. Research from the Centre found that the difference in median age of death between people with a learning disability (aged 4 and over) and the general population is 23 years for men and 27 years for women. Projects led by academics in the Centre have also drawn attention to inequalities parents with learning disabilities face, including being more likely to have their children removed from their care compared to other parents whilst not receiving adequate support with parenting. In collaboration with disabled people, research from the Centre is also highlighting how services for people with learning disabilities can improve.

In this blog, I describe three projects carried out by academics in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, explain how this research is contributing to improved outcomes for people with learning disabilities and summarise what we can learn from Norah Fry researchers about tackling inequalities through research.

Addressing premature mortality

Research from academics at Norah Fry is helping to reduce premature mortality and health inequalities for people with learning disabilities. Led by the University of Bristol and Professor Pauline Heslop between 2015-2021, the national Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) supported local areas to review the deaths of people with learning disabilities and to take learning from those deaths to improve services. This programme is the first of its kind. It was established after the Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD), led by Professor Heslop, provided evidence that people with learning difficulties are significantly more likely to die at a younger age compared to the general population and do not receive the same quality of care as people without a learning disability.

The University of Bristol’s involvement in the LeDeR programme came to a planned end in May 2021, but the work undertaken by Professor Heslop and other researchers from the University will have a lasting impact. For instance, with support from the University of Bristol, the LeDeR programme established a central point where all deaths of people with learning disabilities are notified. This central point will continue to be used. During the contracted period with the University of Bristol, the project also analysed core data from local reviewers and produced national annual reports which highlighted key trends. Alongside other achievements of the LeDeR programme, key learning from this research supports improvements in the quality of health and social care services for people with learning disabilities.

NHS England will continue with LeDeR. After reflecting on the programme when their contract with the University of Bristol came to a planned end, they published a revised LeDeR policy which incorporates a review process that will include reviewing the deaths of people with autism.

Supporting parents with learning difficulties

Research in the Centre is also helping to support parents with learning difficulties/disabilities. Parents with learning disabilities are overrepresented in the child protection system largely because of concerns regarding neglect. Reports suggest that professionals do not have adequate time, skills and support to work with parents with learning disabilities and provide them with the help that they need.

In collaboration with groups of parents, Beth Tarleton led research to investigate what good support for parents with learning difficulties looked like in three local authorities. The project used the term ‘learning difficulties’ rather than ‘disabilities’ to refer to parents with learning disabilities and those who do not meet the threshold to receive support, but struggle with everyday life and protecting the welfare of their children. The project explored local authority sites that had been identified as ‘successful practice’ by Working Together with Parents Network which supports professionals who work with parents with learning disabilities.

Based on their research, the project team made key recommendations regarding support for parents with learning disabilities, including:

  • The need for professional support to be both consistent and flexible

Parents learning difficulties are life-long. Therefore, their support needs and circumstances may change over time.

  • Practitioners should build and maintain mutually trusting relationships with parents

This would help to avoid repeated crisis-driven interventions and make sure that ongoing light-touch support can be provided.

This project took a collaborative approach. Input from two advisory groups (one professional advisory group and one parent advisory group) was invaluable for making the research relevant and accessible to parents with learning disabilities. Both groups guided the approach to working with parents. The parent advisory group collaborated with researchers to produce a video to make findings accessible to others with learning difficulties.

Access to housing

Work from researchers in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies is helping to improve people with learning disabilities’ access to housing. In collaboration with Deborah Quilgars from the University of York and The NIHR School for Social Care Research, academics from Norah Fry are working to understand the ways that people with learning disabilities can be better supported to access their own tenancies, when this is their choice.

The project involves a review of housing for people with mild to moderate learning disabilities, including what tenancy options are available to people with learning disabilities who are on the edge of social care. Detailed interviews will also take place with people with learning disabilities who are living in social housing and private rented tenancies, as well as their families and other people who support them.

This project is being co-produced with a steering group made up of people with learning disabilities. As with other projects in the Centre, guidance from people with lived experience has been invaluable to developing an inclusive approach to research. For instance, the steering group highlighted that advertising for research participants should explicitly request participants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to avoid studies only listening to the voices of white people with learning disabilities. Prompts like this from people with lived experience are important for maximising inclusivity and taking an intersectional approach that acknowledges how different social justice issues (e.g. disability discrimination and racism) cross over with one another.

Research tackling inequalities

Projects in the Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies highlights how research can contribute to addressing inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities and also draws attention to the need for:

  1. Co-production

Working with people with learning disabilities to research the inequalities they face helps to make research inclusive and relevant.

  1. An intersectional approach

Acknowledging how different aspects of a person’s identity (e.g. disability, gender, ethnicity) combine to create different forms of discrimination or privilege is important for addressing the inequalities different people with learning disabilities experience.

As demonstrated by projects in Norah Fry, research using these approaches can play an integral role in highlighting, and developing ways to tackle, the stark inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.

 

 

 

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Why Does Inclusion Matter? Physical Activity and Disability

Ensuring that that our research considers and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion is central to the work we do at the School for Policy Studies. Working in partnership with communities and stake holders to identify research questions that matter and ensuring that studies are co-produced wherever possible helps achieve these aims. This series of blogs looks at some of the ways what we research and how we go about it incorporates EDI principles.


In this blog, Kate Bowen-Viner (Social Policy PhD student) explores how research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health is helping to make physical activity guidelines more inclusive.

The way we talk about physical activity matters. Instructions that try to encourage people to be more active like “stand up more often” or “chairs are killers” may be well-intentioned, but they are ableist and can harm disabled adults and children.

In the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, researchers have been working to improve physical activity guidelines, including collaborating with disabled adults, young people and children to develop sets of activity guidelines that are applicable to disabled people.

In this blog, I set out the problem with physical activity guidelines that do not consider disabled people and explain how co-produced research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences is helping to ensure that guidelines for physical activity are not ableist, but more inclusive.

What’s the problem?

Research indicates that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive compared to non-disabled people. In 2017 Sport England reported that 43% of disabled people were inactive (doing less than 30 minutes physical activity a day) compared to 21% of non-disabled adults in England. Inactivity is a problem for disabled people’s health as evidence suggests that engaging in physical activity is related to positive health outcomes. It is therefore vital that activity guidelines are inclusive of, and applicable to, disabled people.

In 2011, the Department of Health published UK physical health guidelines, issued by the Chief Medical Officers. These were the first nationwide activity guidelines in the UK and they included guidance for adults and children of all ages. A set of related infographics were also produced to support health professionals to promote healthy living and to empower individuals to stay active. However, with little evidence on disability and activity at the time they were produced, the guidelines had limited applicability to disabled adults and children. The 2011 guidelines did not specifically consider disabled people and disabled people’s voices were not included in the public health messaging around physical activity.

To promote health equitably, it is crucial that the development and roll-out of national activity guidelines include disabled people’s voices and take account of their experiences. This is especially important given that harmful ableist language features in many everyday discussions about the importance of physical activity (e.g. “don’t sit for too long”) and needs to be challenged.

In collaboration with disabled people and other researchers, Charlie Foster OBE from the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health’s has been working to address these issues. Embracing inclusive practices and being open to challenge has been of utmost importance for this work. As Professor Foster explained:

We need to consider inclusivity at every stage of the research process and be open to challenge. If you’re not considering equalities, diversity and inclusion, you’re going to overlook the people who would benefit most from the work. I don’t mean the government; I mean the users and participants.”

Below, I describe two projects conducted in collaboration with disabled adults and children and explain how co-production and attentiveness to inclusivity has helped, and is helping, to improve activity guidelines for disabled people.

Collaborating with disabled adults

Starting in 2018, Professor Charlie Foster led a review of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ 2011 physical activity guidelines, which included analysing existing evidence regarding the benefits of physical activity in disabled adults. This involved collating evidence on disabled adults and physical activity for health benefits and comparing evidence to the CMO’s 2011 physical activity guidelines. The review found little evidence to show ‘that physical activity is unsafe for disabled adults when it is performed at an appropriate dose for their current level of activity and health conditions’ and provided evidence, aligning with the CMO’s 2011 guidelines, that disabled adults should do 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate to vigorous intensity for health benefits.

Importantly, the review also involved collaborations with disabled adults, disability groups and healthcare professionals to produce public health recommendations. It also led to researchers and disabled people working together to create a set of infographics which summarised key evidence-based messages regarding physical activity. The colour and layout of the infographics were designed considering the needs of learning-disabled people. This resulted in more accessible infographics that would not have been possible without disabled adults’ input.

The co-produced review and infographics informed the CMO’s adult physical activity guidelines which were published in 2019, meaning that disabled people’s voices and experiences informed national guidelines. This was the first-time disabled adults were explicitly considered in physical activity guidelines.

 

Collaborating with disabled children

Professor Charlie Foster OBE is now supporting an evidence review of physical activity guidelines for children, with a particular focus on disabled children. This review will help to fill a gap in the existing physical activity guidelines. With limited evidence regarding disabled children and activity at the time the 2011 and 2019 guidelines were published, disabled children were not considered specifically in the guidelines.  Similar to the review of the benefits of physical activity for disabled adults, this review will involve analysing the existing research base regarding disabled children and activity. Publication is expected in mid-November 2021.

The project now involves collaborating with disabled school pupils to develop public health messaging and infographics to summarise and promote key messages about activity and health for disabled children, led by Professor Brett Smith at the University of Durham With a focus on prioritising disabled children’s voices and learning from their experiences, this is the first physical activity project of its kind.

The process of collaborating with disabled children in this project highlights the benefits of inclusive approaches to research. Co-production will be integral for ensuring that disabled children’s voices inform national guidelines on physical activity. By drawing on their personal experience, the pupils who take part in this project will contribute to making physical activity guidelines relevant to disabled children.

Improving health outcomes equitably

To improve health outcomes equitably, disabled people must be considered and their voices must be included in the development of physical activity guidelines. Research in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences demonstrates the benefits of working with disabled adults and children to promote the health benefits disabled people can achieve by engaging in regular physical activity.

 

 

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Social differentiation in later life: the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in the UK and Japan

‘Social differentiation in later life: The 2nd UK-Japan international collaborative workshop exploring the interaction between (housing) wealth and retirement’

By Misa Izuhara, Professor of Social Policy

Who supports you in your transition to retirement? Is it the state, your employer or are you left to yourself to manage? Do you have sufficient financial resources including your own home to choose when to retire? Do you need to have paid work or will you look for different social participation such as volunteering after retirement? The process of retirement is becoming more complex and differentiated in terms of timing and financial resources. Active ageing policies in many advanced economies encourage older workers to remain in the labour market. However, the reasons and opportunities to do so depend on both market and institutions (e.g. retirement age, social security, attitudes of employers) as well as individual capital (e.g. health, skills, financial resources).

After a long break from the first workshop in Tokyo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we re-convened via an online platform to explore those questions at the second collaborative international workshop on 17th September 2021. This workshop is part of the UK-Japan collaborative project ‘Social Differentiation in Later Life: Exploring the interaction between housing wealth and retirement in Japan and the UK’ which brings together scholars and stakeholders with the different disciplinary backgrounds of social policy, economics and management to examine the relationship between housing wealth and the extending working life of ageing baby-boomers in the contrasting welfare systems of the UK and Japan.

Five papers were presented covering inter-related themes:

  • Matt Flynn (University of Hull) talked about older workers’ mid-career job change in the UK and Japan and how institutional structures like internal and external labour markets; regulations; unions and jobseeker support facilitate and/or inhibit older jobseekers in their pursuit of meaningful second careers. Using Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and illustrating his arguments using interview data of older jobseekers in the two countries, he discussed how older jobseekers were able to mobilise resources to make a successful job change. He concluded by noting that people who leave the Armed Forces after the age of 50 in order to pursue a civilian career might be a useful case study for comparing the experiences of people making mid-career job changes across different countries.
  • Jo Stokes (Community Services Manager, Age UK Bristol) highlighted the importance of a holistic approach to retirement in her presentation “What have we learnt from Post-Retirement Opportunities (PRO) programme”. PRO was a project, delivered by LinkAge Network in 2018-19, supporting people who had recently retired, were approaching retirement, or facing redundancy in later life to manage the transition from work to retirement. The programme delivered free workshops, events and work placements to help older workers explore opportunities and discover what they wanted from the next phase of their life. This presentation argued the importance of social participation and connections for older people beyond paid work in their post-retirement age and the role of the voluntary sector supporting the process.
  • Widening wealth inequalities within and between generations was the theme of the following two presentations. Drawing on the data from the Japan Household Panel Survey, Shinichiro Iwata (Kanagawa University) and Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University) examined the impact of unpredicted shocks to house prices on labour supply decisions among older homeowners. They found that Japanese older homeowners tended to remain in the labour market even when they experienced house price inflation. Instead of leaving the labour market, older workers tended to reduce their working hours. However, such practice differs by income level and employment status since reduced hours are only observed among older men in regular employment with a high income and women in non-regular employment. The presentation raised further questions regarding the use of housing wealth in later life including the availability and actual use of equity release schemes.
  • While the Japan paper discussed the impact of the economic crisis on house prices, James Smith (The Resolution Foundation) revealed the uneven impact of the COVID-19 crisis on wealth accumulation between households and between generations. The COVID-19 crisis is the first UK recession in 70 years in which wealth has increased but these gains are concentrated among households at the top of the income distribution. This partly reflects the effect on active changes in households’ savings and debt, varied by age but also by the labour market experiences and personal circumstances of individuals. For example, younger people without children were most likely to report that their savings increased during the pandemic (‘forced savings’ given the lockdown restrictions on social consumption). But changes in the value of household wealth were more affected by changing asset prices than by active changes in savings and debt. UK house prices are up around 10 per cent and equities are more than 20 per cent higher. These asset price increases drove an even larger intergenerational wedge in wealth shock. During the pandemic, adults aged 55 and older accrued 63 per cent (£559 billion) of the total increase in British household wealth (£900 billion). By contrast, those aged 20-40 accounted for just 13 per cent (£117 billion) of the total wealth rise. These large, and generationally uneven, increases in wealth mean that the picture of stalled wealth progress for younger cohorts is unlikely to come unstuck anytime soon. By way of inheritances, they are also likely to exacerbate absolute wealth gaps within younger generations, which we expect to open up in future.
  • Brian Beach from University College London (formerly International Longevity Centre, UK) presented three pieces of comparative work between Japan and the UK in relation to ageing. The first example covered work published in Ageing & Society, which included seven advanced economies and examined policies related to pensions and retirement and their relationship to labour market participation in later life. Scored across four dimensions each for early retirement and later retirement, Japan and the UK were quite similar in their scores, despite having very different rates of employment among older people. This may suggest that cultural factors related to work play a significant role, above that of policy.

The second example covered a fact-finding study in Japan in May 2017, which highlighted different initiatives to address wellbeing and healthy ageing. Genki-zukuri (health creation) stations are one community-based approach in Yokohama that helps older people set up, develop, and run health-based activities and exercises. Days BLG!, in Machida City, was also featured for its innovative approach to providing day care to people with mild and moderate dementia. With links to local businesses and organisations, the service ensures that participants are engaged according to their capacity, with the group reflecting on their activities at the end of each day.

The third example highlighted the work from the UK-Japan SWAN project (Social relationships and Wellbeing in Ageing Nations). The importance of social connections for wellbeing and other outcomes in later life cannot be underestimated, but challenges appear when conducting comparative analyses in the social realm due to the complexity of measuring social connections. The critical message from this work is that people from different groups, backgrounds, or cultures may view the exact same question differently; ignoring this potential difference risks drawing invalid conclusions from comparative work exploring best practice in policy.

The presentations brought together different issues associated with ageing and work such as work-related transitions, post-retirement opportunities, and widening wealth inequalities, which generated lively discussion among the panellists and participants. Retirement processes and decisions are often not experienced or made independently from one another. The workshop indeed highlighted the dynamic interactions between (housing) wealth and retirement trajectories and decisions. Moreover, we drew interesting comparisons by exploring the topics between Japan and the UK since institutions (social security, retirement age), the housing and labour markets as well as cultural factors related to work and home ownership combine to produce differentiated practices of late career transitions and retirements.

This international project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) UK-Japan Connections Grant. The Principal Investigator is Professor Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK. The project members include Professor Shinichiro Iwata (Co-I) (Kanagawa University, Japan), Professor Matthew Flynn (Hull University), Professor Junya Hamaaki (Hosei University, Japan) and Professor Atsuhiro Yamada (Keio University, Japan).

 

Contact:

Misa Izuhara, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (E: M.Izuhara@bristol.ac.uk, T: @MisaIzuhara)

 

 

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Blog from the winner of Policy & Politics 2021 postgraduate prize

Blog by Doug Cooley, winner of the Policy & Politics 2021 postgraduate prize to the student achieving the highest overall mark on the ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ unit of the Masters in Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies.

Originally published on the Policy and Politics Blog.

I’m Doug Cooley, and have just finished a one-year Masters in Public Policy at the University of Bristol, home to the Policy & Politics journal. I hope to use this MPP as a basis to conduct future academic or practical policy work. During the year, I have focussed my research on various theoretical concepts, including policy transfer, and power structures in the policy process, applying these concepts to neoliberal mechanisms in the Global Financial System, and to the UK’s local governance structures. I am delighted to have won the Policy & Politics prize for achieving the highest overall mark on the unit ‘Power, Politics and the Policy Process’ as part of the MPP programme.

In this post, I highlight a piece of my work which explores the link between policy transfer, which I define as replication of policy instruments between polities, and institutional isomorphism, or the convergence of organisational structures and governance mechanisms. The relative lack of literature on the link is surprising, given how intuitively similar these ideas are, and the different normative connotations of the two concepts. Policy transfer emphasises the benefits of learning between polities, whereas institutional isomorphism is seen as a constraining influence on innovation.

I posit, building on Radaelli (2002), that there may be a complex interconnectedness between policy transfer and institutional isomorphism. I explore this both theoretically, and empirically through the lens of central banking, and suggest this might be an avenue for future research. As Frumkin and Galaskiewicz (2004) argue, it seems likely that policy transfer can result in institutional isomorphism, for example where public sector organisations work together to develop a joint response in times of upheaval.

Furthermore, a reverse causal relationship is also apparent: in line with Stone (2001), the influence of international institutions has caused similar government bodies in different polities to look more and more alike, which has engendered convergence in the actual policies implemented by these institutions.

Comparing central banking structures is a valuable avenue for exploring the link between these two concepts. Marcussen (2005) focussed on central bank independence as an example of policy convergence, whereby, through the 1990s many central banks were structurally reformed, being granted increased independence from political influence.  Moreover, there was remarkable alignment in the timing with which the major central banks implemented Quantitative Easing following the Global Financial Crisis. Policy transfer hence appears to be prevalent in central banking.

I use central banking as a case study to explore the theoretical link between policy transfer and institutional isomorphism.  The use of similar policy instruments by different central banks, and an increased homogeneity of the underlying decision-making structures (such as policy committees), have happened concurrently. I suggest reasons for this, including coercive pressure by influential NGOs, and a desire to appease markets under the neoliberal global economic paradigm. These factors have led policymakers to ensure that their monetary policy mechanisms are in step with the global policy community and led to both policy transfer and to institutional isomorphism in this context.

Central banking, therefore, provides an intriguing example of an area where it appears that policy transfer and institutional isomorphism coincide. The mechanisms through which this occurs, and the causal interaction between the two concepts, indicate valuable future research avenues. This could take the form of close reading of policy documents and data analysis to further identify areas of convergence between central banks, and interviews with policymakers to understand similarities and differences in soft power structures, and how these interact with the convergence of policy instruments.

I hope to be able to explore these important issues further in the future, but in the meantime, I will continue to read others’ research in the area, much of which appears in Policy and Politics journal, such as Overcoming the failure of ‘silicon somewheres’: learning in policy transfer processes by Sarah Giest, Successful policy transfer and public sector reform in developing countries by Lhawang Ugyel and Carsten Daugbjerg, and Diane Stone’s article on Understanding the transfer of policy failure: bricolage, experimentalism and translation.

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