Dan Davies heard about CPI’s Public Impact Fundamentals framework late last year and requested the toolkit. We caught up with him recently and he told Elena Bagnera how the framework is helping him tackle a particularly tricky policy challenge, as well as some future applications he could see for the Fundamentals.
In his current post, Dan is responsible for the Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Prison and Probation Service and Emergency Planning and Civil Defence. Before this, he worked in the Isle of Man Cabinet Office as Director of Change and Reform – a role that includes planning for strategic change within government and the reform of public services on the island.
As a British Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man is largely autonomous in its policymaking and legislative powers. The island is also unusual in that it has no strong tradition of party politics. Most politicians are independents and the legislature is small enough that the Council of Ministers tends to engage closely with parliamentary Members over policy development issues in a spirit, generally, of consensus and collaboration.
This offered a unique opportunity for applying the Fundamentals tools.
The legitimacy challenges in developing a sexual offences bill
When we spoke to Dan, he and his team had been working on a new Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications bill that has recently come back from public consultation. We were interested to learn about the challenges of developing this piece of legislation.
“The bill was intended to update sexual offence laws, which had not been amended since 1992, and to consolidate them all within a single bill. In the interim period we have seen the unprecedented development of the internet, the pervasive use of social media and changing attitudes to homosexuality. One of the policy areas under discussion was how we pardon people for historic offences related to homosexuality,” Dan explained.
“There were a couple of possible approaches to this, and the issue of public legitimacy and the level of public engagement we could expect was an important part of the decision-making process. These elements were key to what we would propose in the bill, and the Fundamentals Map was really helpful in clarifying the issues and seeing what tweaks were needed to prepare it to go before parliament.
“After a great deal of consideration, we proposed that everybody gets an automatic pardon for the relevant historic offences – no question, and no action required – but that if you want the incident officially removed from your record, then you must write to the department to request this. That seemed to be the best compromise from a process perspective – and also in terms of public messaging – and the Minister and Departmental Members accepted this approach. The bill makes a strong statement and we expect a lot of media interest, so we are working on very clear messages for politicians and will do a lot of work around the press releases.
“There were some eye-opening moments when we began to plot the policy on the Fundamentals Map. Looking at the public confidence area in particular, it really hit us how many different stakeholders were involved.
Our stakeholders in this case ranged from young people who might not understand why homosexuality was ever an issue to more conservative groups who had memories of a completely different era. The Fundamentals framework was an easy way to approach the topic from these different perspectives. The elastic band was going in and out at quite a rate and helped us understand the potential impact on different groups.
“What we were able to see quite clearly was that, although the impact from the legislative perspective was on track, we needed to do more work to ensure we had the right level of citizen engagement. The policy is embedded in the legislation but when and if it goes through parliament, we are committed to writing a detailed communication plan to explain what we are doing and why.”
In this case, the public consultation has shown strong support for the approach Dan’s team is taking with the policy. They asked a number of questions on the key issues and around 80% of respondents supported the approach as outlined in the bill. That’s a strong endorsement and something the team is now keen to use in media engagement when the bill goes to a vote.
The Fundamentals: a tool to bring structure to policy discussions
Because of the size of the parliament on the Isle of Man, it’s common for the executive and Members to work collaboratively on major policy issues. “A lot of what we do is workshop style, and I feel very positive about how we can use the framework as a policy development tool to bring members on board early and explore the different areas we need to consider when we work on major policy issues,” Dan explains.
“I’ve already seen, just from having the Fundamentals Map on my desk, that people passing through to chat will stop and take a look. Sometimes we use it just to talk through an issue.
“It’s so easy to understand visually that people get it straight away and often leave with a new insight or idea to take away and work on, whether it concerns a new or existing piece of policy. It’s easy to ask, ‘OK, is it balanced, does it meet all the criteria or are there areas we ought to revisit?’
“The framework definitely encourages a structured approach. We are now looking at ways to incorporate it into our standard policy development process. We always do an impact assessment, but it can sometimes feel like a paper exercise. It’s also the case that policies can sometimes feel as if they are being developed reactively. The framework offers a way to step back and consider the broader context and to properly assess public impact and legitimacy, which can sometimes get lost in the mix.
“It’s also a great tool for talking to politicians who may want to pursue a particular agenda. We can say, ‘Yes, we understand but can you see that that approach is not balanced, whereas we could get a better result by doing X or Y’. Visually it is incredibly clear, so it’s hard to get bogged down or sidetracked.”
The ultimate policy challenge
The real challenge – and indeed the opportunity – for our Public Impact Fundamentals framework is applying it to complex issues, so we asked Dan what he felt would be the ultimate policy challenge. His immediate response was “Climate change!” – an issue so complex and far-reaching that it can feel intractable.
“I think the framework is particularly good at allowing all the different aspects of a policy to be considered in equal measure, so the scientists, consumers, fishermen, businesses and so on – all of whom are concerned about different consequences of climate change and climate change legislation – can understand the overall policy impact and see where it might be lacking.
“Most importantly the framework gives you a structure for thinking through and discussing the issues without overlooking or oversimplifying anything. Bring it on!”