A new £½ million research centre, which aims to improve public services such as education, health care and criminal justice, has opened at the University of St Andrews.
The Centre for Public Policy and Management (CPPM) has won research contracts from various bodies to look at ways of improving policies and practices in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and schools.
Researchers will ask very practical questions about common practices and cultures within such institutions, looking at the strengths and weaknesses in current and past systems.
“Billions of pounds are spent in this country each year on public services, but much of this is wasted because of poor education methods, ineffective or unnecessary medical treatments, and ineffectual crime reduction strategies. We are concerned that much of the knowledge about what does work is not being used,” said Professor Huw Davies, co-director of the CPPM.
Almost £500k in external funding for a series of ongoing projects has been secured from the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), The Scottish Executive, the Department of Health, The Nuffield Trust and The Commonwealth Fund (a US agency).
Driven by New Labour’s ‘what counts is what works’ strategy, public policy research is widely believed to be the way forward in improving current practice. Growing research activity across the globe has provided an impressive knowledge base about ‘what works’, and the professional ethic in sectors including medicine and teaching is evolving rapidly to embrace evidence-based practice.
The new centre at St Andrews will examine how certain organisations work by looking at relationships between management and staff, norms of practice and ‘organisational culture’.
Policy experts will examine a broad spectrum of public policies within areas of health care, education, criminal justice, social care, housing and public transport, with the overall aim to improve policy making, which would in turn, result in the betterment of public services.
The new research centre will be housed within the School of Social Sciences, and the latest funding will allow for a dozen PhD students and 4 full-time research, teaching and admin staff. It will be co-directed by policy experts, Professor Huw Davies and Dr Sandra Nutley.
The Department of Management at St Andrews has already established an excellent reputation for itself in the field of public policy research, but hopes to build on this with the additional expertise of colleagues from other social science disciplines within the University, and from other academic institutions such as York, Manchester, London and UC Berkeley in the US.
Among those projects to be undertaken over the next 2-3 years are ones on ‘the role of ‘trust in the public sector’ and ‘organisational culture and health care performance’. A further project will involve a transatlantic collaboration between St Andrews and the University of California, studying leadership and decision-making of managers and doctors within the UK and US health services.
One major initiative will involve the formation of a new research unit, the Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU), which will look precisely at how research evidence impacts (or not) on future policy and practice. This is part of a national network of centres funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
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