To rethink Scotland, our systems need to let people in
by Jennifer Wallace & Pippa Coutts
History tells us that periods of great disruption are often followed by periods of massive social change. But last year’s’ flurry of ‘build back’ and ‘build forward’ reports and events gave way to a more reflective period over the long winter of 20/21.
During that contemplative winter, we ran online discussions about Rethinking Scotland. Throughout these conversations, there was an aspiration for the reflection and learning from the pandemic to quickly lead to change.
This comes at the same time as we hit the 10-year anniversary of the Christie Commission, with its passionate and well-evidenced calls for reform. A milestone to provide a much-needed focus for debates about the role of our public services in creating social progress. The question we hear being asked around the country is this: if the Christie analysis was so spot on, why has so little changed in the way we plan and deliver our public services?
The answer that came back to us in our Rethinking conversations was power. We heard that many people want to be more actively involved in decisions made about their lives, their communities and the country as a whole. They don’t want to be informed or consulted but involved as active partners. They don’t want governments to merely ‘have regard to’ their views, they want things to change. Scotland has admirable examples of user voice and participatory democracy, but these are not mainstreamed – there are still more examples of ‘system says no’ than we all want to admit.
Engaging with citizens and communities, on their terms, should be a core competency within all our public services. Our Rethinking Scotland conversations highlighted – not for the first time – that inclusive engagement requires an investment of time and resources.
So, our call to the Scottish Government and Scottish Local Government in emerging from the pandemic is to focus less on the what and more on the how. No more legislation, no more commissions, instead a deep conversation with the public about where we go from here, and how we do that together.
This was originally posted on the Carnegie UK blog on 29th July 2021.
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