By Andrew Holt

Policy making from Whitehall is often criticised for its lack of regard for the real world and the Civil Service has said this is an area it wants to improve.

Now The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) is joining forces with the Institute for Government (IfG) to form a new partnership aimed at connecting Whitehall policy makers with practitioners working in local communities on projects that are helping vulnerable people.

This new partnership called Connecting Policy with Practice: People Powered Change combines BIG’s experience and learning from the projects it funds with the Institute’s mission to help improve government effectiveness.

It will give policy makers and professionals the opportunity to learn from each other about how policy and services interact and affect the lives of some of the the country’s most vulnerable people.

Launching on January 17 2013 and backed by the Cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the partnership will bring the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) and beneficiaries of funding together with senior civil servants and key policy makers.

Over the next 12 months they will share learning about what works from BIG’s multi-million pound strategic investment programmes in NEETS (young people not in education, employment or training) and adults with complex needs.

Civil servants will see first-hand how policy works in practice for those running projects funded by BIG, including under the £100m youth unemployment initiative, Talent Match.

Participants in the joint programme will take part in a series of cross-sector exchanges that will see policy makers visiting local projects to experience first-hand the challenges of delivering complex social policies in practice.

In return, staff from the VCS and BIG will benefit from a deeper appreciation of how government and the Civil Service make major policy decisions that impact upon delivery in their sector.

Through workshops, case studies and public events, the Institute will capture and share insights on both sides about how policy making can better foster place-based services that are responsive to the needs of users who can be marginalised by traditional services.

The ambition to better align policy making with the real world was the subject of the ‘Making Policy Better’ series by the Institute for Government last year.

Some of the findings and recommendations from this project were cited in the government’s Civil Service Reform Plan in July, which stressed the importance of civil servants gaining experience in implementing policy and working with other sectors in order to progress in the Civil Service.

For policy makers in departments which seek to improve the lives of NEETs and adults with multiple and complex needs, it will be particularly valuable to see how joining up services at the front line can be crucial.

BIG is increasingly working on programmes that involve local people themselves in how best to improve their communities, giving them the power to use their skills, talents and resources to identify and find solutions that work.

This approach, known as People Powered Change, will form a key element of the partnership. The Institute will help civil servants to appreciate these distinctive aspects of the BIG programmes and to apply the lessons to government policy seeking to promote localism and open public services.

Dharmendra Kanani, England Director of the Big Lottery Fund, said: "The added value of lottery money is that it goes way beyond annual budgetary cycles of local authorities or the parliamentary terms of well-intentioned governments. BIG lottery funding can forge solutions to problems in ways that have until now been beyond the reach of individual Government departments and agencies.

"This is where the partnership with IFG comes in, ensuring we can keep our focus on the bigger picture of change. Convening those in government, local councils, the VCS and the private sector around key issues means we can identify opportunities as well as the resources required to learn, think, develop and influence policy together.

"It's a dynamic that speaks to our times, which demands us to think differently, be intellectually curious, form and shape cross-sector approaches and reduce the old fault lines of who, what and how change happens, because it is happening out there as we speak."

Peter Thomas, programme director at Institute for Government, said: "An era of localism and open public services presents Whitehall with a new set of challenges. Civil Servants know that policy making isn’t good enough.

"This programme gives them a very practical way to look differently at some of the toughest policy areas. They will see what works, what doesn’t – and how government could do things differently. We think it will change how they see their policy world."

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