New publication in Social Policy & Administration
How do social scientists explain 'what works'? For best results, do science with a more diverse group of people beyond academia. This is the core of the argument presented in a new journal article from by Jam & Justice co-investigators Liz Richardson (Manchester), Catherine Durose (Birmingham) and Beth Perry (Sheffield). The argument is illustrated with the example of citizen participation in policy-making, a central aspect of Jam & Justice's action research.
The paper discusses a clash between two different ways of understanding ‘what works’. Identifying effective ways to generate participation is crucial. But getting solid answers to this question is hard. What works in one place might not be easily transferable to another place. How can we know?
One solution has been to identify patterns across different examples, and draw general conclusions about what caused their success or failure. These lessons could then be used in other places – e.g. if you have these factors in place, you are more likely to get a good outcome. This might sound sensible, but it runs up into problems.
A key problem is that no two places are exactly the same. It could be that success in Barcelona is a result of a unique history and culture there, that is not transferable to Birmingham, for example, and vice versa. There may not be a ‘magic bullet’ package for participation. Lots of different combinations might produce similarly good outcomes. The same set of factors that worked in one place might not work in another. An implication of this is to look at each example (case) in detail. But, the problem here is, how can we learn what works if we only ever see special or isolated examples? One size does not fit all, but what might be some possible sizes people can try? The paper argues for a mix of both of these approaches.
The paper discusses these problems and some of the ‘big theory’ behind them. It is not as easy read by any means! But it does have some practical conclusions, the most important of which is to do more research with a wider group of people, alongside the academics.
We have tried to do this in Jam and Justice. It means there are more people to ask questions, and bring challenging perspectives on both sides of the debate. Research in collaboration with an extended peer community could involve practitioners, policy‐advisers and policy‐makers, exert citizens, members of the lay public, and other technical experts.
We have also argued the same thing in a piece for Nature. We argue that there should be ways to quantify and value getting non-academics involved in academic work.
The article, "Moving towards hybridity in causal explanation: the example of citizen participation", is available to read online. It is also due to be printed soon as part of a special issue of the journal Social Policy & Administration.