Previously known as the ‘Critical Management in Public Services Group’, the newly established Policy Studies Group (PSG) focuses on important contemporary issues in public policy in a range of countries and utilising a comparative approach. This includes examining how public policy adapts to social and economic change and in turn how policy change impacts on economy and civil society, as well as the forms of government and governance that characterise public policy delivery. Much recent research in the field of public policy and administration has focused on providing an evidence base for government policy making, somewhat marginalising practitioner and user voices. We adopt a more theoretically informed and bottom-up, practitioner and user-oriented perspective.
A key area of research activity for PSG involves the examination of the implications of the financial crisis and recession (including the ‘public sector recession’) on public services. This is manifest in the restructuring, refocusing and widespread downsizing of services, along with continuing efficiency drives, at a time of growing social demand for such services. We are also witnessing the culmination of decades of public service marketisation, deployment of private sector practices in government, growing concern about business and community involvement, and continuing utilisation of partnerships as a means in which to deliver certain services/projects. This takes place within a much broader context of continuing strong government constraints on localities.
It is with such issues in mind that PSG is focused on examining the following key questions:
What are the ideological, political and economic rationales for national governments undertaking significant changes to public services?
What are the broad public service implications of Government budget cuts?
What is the impact of service changes for citizens and communities?
What adaptation strategies are being adopted by public service bodies?
Is the present public services system working?
What are the alternatives, if any exist, to the present system?
What are the methods/routes in which to take forward these alternatives?
Importantly, members of the group are developing and applying new theoretical perspectives to the understanding of changes to public policy, particularly with regard to the interaction between the material, discursive and relational dimensions of policy and governance.
The objectives of the Policy Studies Group include:
Being a mechanism that supports the development of a specific range of research specialism’s and theoretical advances;
Providing a focus for academics from LSS and Aston more broadly, to help them develop various academic and policy-orientated research activities in relation to public policy;
Engaging public policy and public service practitioners within the locality, offering an environment in which they can debate policy developments from a practice perspective. SPG brings together public sector officials (from all officer levels) and researchers with an interest in reflecting on and exploring alternatives to existing ways of working in public services.
PSG is presently engaged in a number of research areas, including:
Investigating the contextual conditions which facilitate or hinder the development or consolidation of markets in fields including higher education and health care (Dodds);
The examination of the trajectory of discourses underpinning the transformation of public services, notably those involving older adults, and an exploration of the development of counter-hegemonic discourses in and among practitioner groups (West);
Examination of the reconstitution of neoliberal tendencies through budgets cuts, drives for efficiency gains, and the enforcement of partnerships to legitimate service cuts (Fuller).
Group members have also undertaken a significant amount of consultancy work with practitioners in a wide range of local organisations, including a number of local authorities in the West Midlands, as well as working with a number of central government departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government.
PSG members are involved in delivering two main Masters programmes:
These Masters programmes are particularly focused on the examination and discussion of the implications for public services of contemporary political and economic conditions. They also seek to explore new theoretical frameworks in which to examine these conditions and changes to public policy.
PSG is presently organising a seminar to discuss the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on public services, particularly with reference to the West Midlands. This will examine the impact of budget cuts on a number of policy areas, such as older peoples’ services and the personalisation agenda, and the adaptation strategies and practices being adopted by services. The intention is also to move beyond this key issue to critically engage with the rationale behind the decisions of the Coalition government.
Thematic policy seminars
PSG is developing strong links between academic research at Aston and local policy makers and practitioners within particular policy areas. Seminars are being developed which will explore some of the questions outlined above, principally around the impact of budget cuts on managing and delivering policies. We hope to develop Action Learning Sets for particular policy themes which will seek to influence national policy and spread good practice.
Find out more
We'll soon be adding more information on the ways you can get involved. In the meantime, please contact Dr Crispian Fuller (email@example.com) for further information.