By Rich Watts
Much debate in public policy focuses on the "why" and the
"what". Why is this issue
important? Why should it be prioritised over
something else? What should be in place that
isn't? What needs to change for this to
Comparatively little focus is placed on "how" - the
practicalities of putting the why and what into action. The "how"
follows once the "why" and the "what" have been largely agreed, and
is important because it's in this space that all of people's
experiences are generated. It's also where good ideas can turn into
But below the "how" is a question even less attention is given
to: "who?" Rarely is it considered: who is asking for
this change? Who is the change being asked of?
What are the motivations of these respective groups?
It is too easy to lament how poor commissioning and
commissioners are; or how it would be so much better if only senior
leaders recognised the radical difference that x or
y would make. But this is to fall into the trap of
"what's the matter with these people?" rather than thinking,
familiarly enough, "what matters to these people?"
This thought came home to me when, for around three years, I was
simultaneously on both "sides" of a policy argument. For around
half of my time I was working in a disabled people's user-led
organisation (DPULO), advocating for disabled people's equality and
rights, delivering user-led services and promoting choice and
control through personalisation in social care. The other half of
my time was in, of all places, the Office for Disability issues
within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP_.
What was fascinating about this was, even though I would say
exactly the same things when wearing my DPULO or DWP hat, people
would receive a message considerably differently depending on how
they perceived me in that moment. Disability rights campaigners
would broadly be ok with my thoughts when shared from a DPULO
perspective. But the exact same thoughts wouldn't be acceptable if
I expressed them from a DWP platform.
In neither situation was the idea that disabled people's
equality and rights mattered to me. Nor was it recognised I was
consciously choosing different means to others by which to achieve
what was, in fact, a common goal.
This leads to two connected conclusions relevant for
The first is to understand that what matters to people, matters.
Motivations for engaging in an issue will differ. There will be a
junior minister who wants to be promoted; there will be lifelong
advocates who have dedicated themselves for 25 years to a certain
change; there will be civil servants who want a pragmatic solution
to a pressing problem they are facing. But all of these different
motivations are as present as each other, and can be skilfully
aligned to achieve a common change that works for all.
The second is to recognise that such a broad coalition of people
with different motivations will be located across a wide range of
organisations. Indeed, the coalition has to be widely distributed
if it has any chance of succeeding: each participant will have
access to something others don't, and that is needed for the
overall change. As a result, some coalition members will be
"inside" the system. Some will be outside (possibly literally,
chained to railings or waving placards). Some will be in the grey
area that is neither inside nor outside (the voluntary sector is
most often found in this space). Some may not even know they're in
What leads to change is consciously acknowledging and valuing
the existence of such a broad coalition across motivations and
organisations. Each participant - each "who", with their all too
human motivations and positions - makes a needed contribution, and
it is only through this coalition that successful change will come
(For those interested in the public policy theory that underpins
such coalitions, this primer on Advocacy Coalition Frameworks
has been developed to create a space, including
a gathering in November, for a wide range of people and voices to
debate and take action for a positive future.
We want to get past just thinking about stabilising the
current system which isn't fit for the future. We want to make a
contribution to a much more positive vision, share what's going on
now that helps get us there, and find ways of supporting each other
as we build the future.
In Control is part of the informal group supporting
#socialcarefuture and as part of this we are hosting this blog
series. Many people will be blogging and their views are their