“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

People Powered Policymaking?

Recently the launch of the Government’s ‘Civil Society Strategy’ which outlines the Government’s approach to strengthen civil society through the private, social and public sector with a particular emphasis upon people and place.

It  echoes some of what IPPR North have found in our work on the Future of Civil Society in the North and references our ideas on 'Taking back control in the North'.  Encouragingly, the strategy places a particular emphasis on the importance of people as the foundation of prosperity and societal wellbeing. This is a subject close to my heart at IPPR North as I believe that the mechanics of how we develop and do policy in the UK requires a recalibrating so as to adopt a more people-based approach, particularly in the context of the Northern Powerhouse debate. 

In my work in economic and spatial development during the last decade, I’ve become increasingly aware that on an individual level, many of us believe in the importance of peoples’ lives improving as a consequence of policy. However, in reality, the emphasis upon wellbeing and human agency is an implicit rather than explicit focus of most work. 

This is because in the UK, policy makers tend to think about people in the abstract, preferring to focus on the ‘things’ that policy produces with ‘physical  outcomes such as trains, roads or housing.  We can see this effect particularly in planning, where improvements in physical development are seen as indicators of progress based on the assumption that they will have positive effects on people’s quality of life. And of course, if the desired effects do not come to pass, we often blame the people rather than the policy. 

But policy’s abstraction from people is also a consequence of our reliance upon ‘proxies’ to measure success, such as GVA, income per capita and land value. Invariably, these proxies are underpinned by a conventional economic model which assumes that increases in aggregate economic growth will result in improvements for human welfare.Sadly, in this world of economic measures, there is no place for value led debates on where and who will benefit from economic success.

The way that we think about, form, and measure policy needs to change.

Fundamental to a more people-based approach is an emphasis upon strengthening individual agency. People need to feel a sense of control over the things that affect us directly, our individual capabilities to live a life that we have reason to value, and the rooted desire to be the masters of our own destiny.   

Whilst the new Civil Society Strategy recognises the importance of individual agency, something that it calls ‘self-efficacy’, one can’t help feeling that the agenda being progressed isn’t necessarily one led by people, but by central government’s desire for ‘a lifetime of contribution’, ‘social responsibility’ and the creation of what they call ‘active mobilised citizens’. The direction of travel is from the state to the people, rather than the other way around. But What is missing from is the principle of  freedom to  be able to  choose how and where to be involved.   Unfortunately, what is also missing is an acknowledgement of the way in which a policy of austerity has stymied the ability of many to participate.

This is why Devolution will continue to be a core theme of IPPR North’s work because we know that people shouldn’t be on the receiving end of policy making from afar. Instead, people should have the choice to establish their own  agenda for change , connected to our place, Only then can policy begin to work in the true interests of people.

We provide the platform - you provide the content

Read our latest guest blogs here or search for them by subject on the menu below. We are always looking for guest contributors for our blogs so if you’ve got something to say please email with a brief synopsis of what you’d like to write about and how it relates to our our five pillars of change.

* These blogs are a collection of thoughts and opinions from people living or working in the North. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the People's Powerhouse.




Our address

The People's Powerhouse

Federation House
2 Federation Street
Manchester  M4 4BF

Social Media

Join our active discussions on Social Media.  If you agree with our objectives add YOUR voice!

Facebook    linkedinYouTube alt 1Twitter

Make a donation

This feature will be available soon.

Keep in touch

Join our mailing list to keep up to date with events and news and find out how we'll shape the future.


Cookies make it easier for us to provide you with the right information. Please click OK to allow us to use them.