By Stephen Jeffares, University of Birmingham.
A story by Chris Giles in last Friday’s FT started as follows:
“Mark Carney Bank of England governor, has signalled that his policy of linking interest rates to the unemployment rate [Forward Guidance] will be buried less than six months after its birth. The British economy was ‘in a different place’ from last summer, he said…and… Although his big idea for monetary policy has bitten the dust, Mr Carney said the BoE (Bank of England) had no plans to raise interest rates ‘immediately’ “.
This is not the first time in the last year we have heard reports of “big ideas” “biting the dust”. The same has been levelled at Cameron’s purported big idea in politics: The Big Society. How funny that sounds just a few months after thousands of policy actors were deliberately inserting Big Society terminology into their strategies, job descriptions and articles. A friend who recently attended a meeting at CLG told me that the last remnants of the Big Society team have now left their posts; organisationally, at least, the Big Society is dead.
As the title suggests, and in a new book, I argue that Big Society lasted around a 1,000 days. That is rather neat, I admit. Wayne Parsons has argued that you need a sensitive measuring device to understand the death and termination of public policies, but as a starting point you can think about newspaper citations. Although a crude measure, this reveals the date when a policy idea first entered the public realm, the peak of discussion, and the point after which it is never uttered again.
It reminds me of Frazer’s description of how Saharan Tuareg tribes would up camp when somebody died, and never mention the deceased’s name ever again. Although government actors do not quite up camp, they shuffle around, renaming units and amending job titles, renewing websites and pulping documents. As for the newspapers, for a while they write of the policy’s death, of u-turns, and discuss hints of decline (as in the article above); more important is to focus on the point where they stop mentioning it – that is when the idea is dead. It is also a point in time seldom acknowledged.
So where does my 1,000 days come from? Well, counting citations in British Broadsheet newspapers (see Figure 2.1) you can see that in 2008 there were no mentions of the Big Society, a few hundred in 2009, great excitement by 2011, and just over one mention a day in 2013.
My prediction is that at some point in 2014 we will not speak of Big Society again – it will be the end.
But will we see anything on the scale of Big Society ever again? If Forward Guidance is anything to go by, it is quicker and easier than ever to discuss, endorse, but also critique and deride policy ideas. But it is also quicker and easier to coin and foster them too.
Some critics of the Big Society pointed to how many times it was relaunched, but like iPhones or Apps, we are in an age where we can release beta versions, test things out, get feedback and quickly offer updated bug fixes or new versions. We cannot measure the longevity of a policy idea by expectation alone – no, we can speculate about decline but it is not until the tribe up-sticks and moves to a new part of the desert, vowing never to mention its name again, that we can be sure that it is truly dead.
Interpreting Hashtag Politics: policy ideas in an era of social media will be published by Palgrave in April 2014. Preorder or follow @srjeffares
Yesterday I approved the front cover image for my new book – Interpreting Hashtag Politics: Policy Ideas in an Era of Social Media. It will be published by Palgrave in April.
Why do policy actors create branded terms like Big Society and does launching such policy ideas on Twitter extend or curtail their life? This book argues that the practice of hashtag politics has evolved in response to an increasingly congested and mediatised environment, with the recent and rapid growth of high speed internet connections, smart phones and social media. It examines how policy analysis can adapt to offer interpretive insights into the life and death of policy ideas in an era of hashtag politics. This text reveals that policy ideas can at the same time be ideas, instruments, visions, containers and brands, and advises readers how to tell if a policy idea is dead or dying, how to map the diversity of viewpoints, how to capture the debate, when to engage and when to walk away. Each chapter showcases innovative analytic techniques, illustrated by application to contemporary policy ideas.
Here is a 15 minute video where I set out what I mean by policy ideas and how we can understand their lifecycle in a digital age
Presented at the ICPP conference in Grenoble, June 2013.
If you are interested in finding out more you can read and download the paper.
What an exciting week. On Tuesday the Guardian Public Leaders blog printed a blog I wrote about hashtag politics.
The retweets have fluctuated all week. You can see the latest news here -
The 7 “tips” were drawn from the 8th and final chapter of my next book. I hope to write more about this and its progress in future posts.
Stay tuned at @srjeffares
Next week I am off to Grenoble to present a new paper at Session 3 New Ideational Turns, as part of panel 84 New directions in the study of public policy, convened by Peter John, Hellmut Wollmann and Daniel A. Mazmanian, the 1st International Conference on Public Policy, Grenoble, France, June 26-28. Friday 28 June, 8.30-10.30, Sciences Library Auditorium.
It is a draft paper – I welcome your comments or suggestions
This paper argues that the discussion of public policy online is offering new and exciting opportunities for public policy research exploring the role of policy ideas. Although considerable work focuses on political ideas at the macro or mid-range, specific policy ideas and initiatives are overlooked, thought to be “too narrow to be interesting” (Berman, 2009, p. 21) .This paper argues that the prolific use of social media among policy communities means it is now possible to systematically study the micro-dynamics of how policy ideas are coined and fostered. Policy ideas are purposive, branded initiatives that are launched with gusto; flourish for around a thousand days; and then disappear with little trace as attention shifts to the latest and loudest. At best, media reports will document that Birmingham’s Flourishing Neighbourhoods initiative has been “scrapped”, “Labour’s Total Place programme has been “torn up”, or the Coalition’s big society policy is “dead”. Save for a return to the policy termination literatures of the late 1980s, our impotence in conceptualising such death-notices reveals how little effort has been invested in understanding and theorising the lifecycle of policy ideas. In response, this paper conceptualises policy ideas, their life, death and succession. The paper draws on a case of the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections held across England and Wales in November 2012, and the attempts of the Home Office to coin and foster the hashtag #MyPcc.
Acknowledgement: The primary research reported was funded by British Academy Grant – SG112101 The shape of ideas to come: harvesting and analysing online discussion about public policy. And University of Birmingham Roberts Fellowship 2008-2013. Heartfelt thanks to the research team: Gill Plumridge, Becky O’Neil, Tom Daniels, Pete Redford, Phoebe Mau, Diha Mulla, Misfa Begum, Sarah Jeffries and Osama Filali Naji for your empathetic coding, unwavering enthusiasm and crowd-like wisdom.
DOWNLOAD FULL PAPER HERE -
Twitter have an Iphone App called Vine. If Tweets are 140 characters, Vine videos are 6 seconds. People are still working out what to do with such an opportunity.
I decided to make a 6 second video showing the completion of an an online Q sort using POETQ. Please forgive the shaking.