My fear of that ‘grey space’

I saw Peter Shergold [http://www.csi.edu.au/professor-peter-shergold-ac ] speak today and he was a very animated, engaging speaker. I do not think I completely agree with him and got a bit lost when he seemed to equate giving individuals with disabilities access to a pot of money to use at whatever service they like with sitting in creak beds with rural communities asking them what they want. Are city people shopping individuals while those in remote areas (or is it that he was talking about a minority group with a history of discrimination) are communitarians? What does this mean for place based policies in urban areas? Furthermore, what does this mean for real debate about what should be the outcomes and terms of evaluation? Sure, PHaMs style individual plans are a useful tool, but they hardly shift the way programs are assessed, do they?

I really liked the fact that he mentioned that exciting programs are pretty much always pilots. He suggested that is because there is not the political will (or just the funds available?) to fund rolling them out further. I wonder if it is because once they get rolled out further there suddenly is very little real debate about what the outcomes should be. It is not that there is no overlap in what people think constitutes the ‘good life’ in Australia, but I just wonder if some of the justification for programs end up being outcomes that sit well with trendy ‘buzz words’.

Professor Shergold made comments that highlighted that the value of a statement can be lost if you do not have a process that can get ‘rhetoric into reality’. He made this with explicit reference to the National Compact, which I found a relief because the ‘process’ is something I have been scratching my head over.

Overall I came away accepting my supervisor’s comment that ‘these people really believe the stuff they are writing’ and being willing to be a little less cynical in general. However, I felt apprehensive at the valorisation of setting outcomes as a way to get accountability but allowing innovation. I can completely see his point, and he did say there was much to be gained from Not for Profit agencies involvement at an earlier stage in policy design. Yet, there is also a sense in which people like Peter Shergold can be taken to be tacitly advancing the case for this ‘grey space’ where governments do not really care what is happening as long as they cannot be held electorally accountable for anything bad and get the sorts of outcome stats that they want to include in glossy publications.

Two little asides

No wonder all those universities had matching subjects, they are members of the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) http://www.csi.edu.au .

I saw Professor Paul Smyth today because he hosted Professor Peter Shergold. He is rather charismatic.

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