The two fold objectives of the workshop interact: to explore theories and evidence about social exclusion and significant social policy issues in Australia; and through these researcher/policymaker/practitioner conversations to advance understanding and knowledge about joined up government and community-consultative approaches.
The impact of social exclusion over the life course and on life outcomes is recognised as a key social policy concern in Australia and internationally (Weiss 2003; Lister, 2004). Governments internationally are using varying approaches to respond to this challenge. The concept of ‘joined up’ or ‘whole of government’ approaches to addressing the causes and effects of social exclusion has been promulgated as a promising strategy for addressing social exclusion. However, the concept of ‘joined-up’ government is contested; the means for achieving it is contested and the processes and outcomes of whole of government approaches have not been subjected to rigorous research and evaluation, particularly in Australia (Geddes, 2005; Considine, 2002). In Australia, ‘joined up’ government theory has become part of contemporary public policy and management debate across different levels of government in some jurisdictions, but not all. Questions such as: how ‘joined up’ government works in practice; how the tensions and barriers entailed in this different mode of government policy-making and administration may be addressed; what are the indicators of effective and equitable joined up policymaking, are fertile domains for research and policy/practice debates. The key question is: does a whole of government and community-involved approach lead to more effective and equitable public policy making, and from whose perspective? This is an especially important issue when the whole of government approach is applied to various processes of social exclusion, such as those whose multi-faceted parameters require responses across portfolios and indeed across different levels of government.
In 2002, the Government of South Australia made a policy commitment to the development of a more socially inclusive society with the establishment of the Social Inclusion Initiative. An independent Social Inclusion Board, reporting directly to the Premier, was appointed to plan, initiate and oversight social policy reform initially in three critical policy/practice areas: reducing homelessness, improving school retention and reducing the harm from illicit drug use. More recent initiatives have included the areas of Aboriginal health, mental health, suicide prevention, and disability. From the outset, the Board specified that a whole of government and community-consultative approach would underpin its work. This was based on the belief that only a move away from ‘silo’ public policy development to joined up policy planning and implementation would lead to new and innovative responses to problems of social and economic exclusion and provide sustained benefit to the most marginalised and disadvantaged citizens in the South Australian community.
The South Australian experience has provided considerable insights into joined up government policy development. Policy developers, implementers, practitioners and researchers agree that introducing and practicing joined up government is hard work and requires different governance, structural and systemic arrangements within government to achieve results. Some of these challenges have mirrored United Kingdom and other international experience (Lewis and Surender, 2004), but others have arisen that reflect the Australian environment of federalism, public sector management and public policy directions.
In addition, there is now a growing body of theory and knowledge in Australia examining critical social policy issues, such as poverty, health, housing, regional location, the wellbeing of children and young people, Indigenous experiences and outcomes (amongst others), through the lens of social exclusion and social inclusion (Weiss, 2003; Saunders, 2005; Manderson, 2005; Richardson and Prior, 2005). The findings from this research enhance the evidence base for social policy development but effective pathways for linking research outcomes with policy development processes are not well explored, understood or traversed.
With respect to what has been characterised as a contested, uneasy ‘scholarship/policy interface’, Peter Saunders and James Walter have identified what they call three ‘entry points’ of social science knowledge to the policy process (Saunders and Walter, 2005). The first approach involves the influencing of professional opinion, through dissemination of research in scholarly peer-reviewed journals and other such modes of communication which may enable new ideas, concepts, theories and evidence to enter the terrain in which the contested interests of policymakers are played out. Here social science knowledge may help to shape the policy debate by ‘framing the problem’ and influencing the discourse and ideas which surround it. However, influencing actual policymaking depends upon the extent to which .the ideas and evidence produced coincide with the interests of policymakers – the domain of politics. The second approach involves influencing public opinion, through the wider media dissemination of research, a strategy that may provide policy advocates and social movement activists with ideas and evidence to support their campaigns to influence public policy. The third approach involves social scientists influencing policy opinion directly by engaging with policy practitioners in ways that affect their thinking and ideas. Brian Head has traversed the institutional arrangements for debating, considering, deciding, prioritising, resourcing, implementing and evaluating public policy, and concludes with the salient observation about the ‘knowledge/power/practice triangle’:
‘A learning orientation is essential – for policymakers, program delivery practitioners, stakeholders and researchers. This is more likely to occur if at least some of the learning processes are mutually constructed and experienced.’ (Head, B., 2005: pp. 44-63).
This approach involves mutual engagement in researcher/policymaker conversations. While all three approaches are important and may play significant roles in the interactions of social scientists and policymakers, it is the third approach that encapsulates the objectives and envisaged structure of this proposed workshop.
The two fold objectives of the workshop interact: to explore theories and evidence about social exclusion and significant social policy issues in Australia; and through these researcher/policymaker/practitioner conversations to advance understanding and knowledge about joined up government and community-consultative approaches. While the South Australian experience will provide the ‘case study’, it is anticipated that outcomes will provide signposts to social policy debate and development nationally and internationally.
The objectives of the workshop are to:
- Explore contemporary understanding and knowledge about effective joined up government policy and practice;
- Explore contemporary theorising and evidence of social exclusion and policies promoting social inclusion in the Australian context;
- Consider the risks of social exclusion over the life course and the implications for social policy development;
- Analyse evidence for applying whole of government approaches in responding to critical social policy issues, including: health inequalities; housing and neighbourhood renewal; labour market transformations, employment, unemployment and joblessness; families, care-giving and identifying social inclusion policies through the life-course; gender difference and inclusive communities; understanding young people, risks, opportunities and differing life outcomes; Aboriginal people: processes of exclusion and effective, equitable policies to promote inclusion; the influence of migration and settlement policies on social inclusion over the longer term; regional and rural issues and implications for inclusive policy development; understanding and addressing cultural injustice: addressing cultural issues in social inclusion policy;
- Identify more effective ways in which social policy development can draw on the evidence base built by social science researchers;
- Outline emerging policy issues that require further investigation and debate.
The expertise needed to address these objectives requires that workshop participants be drawn from across sectors: universities, government agencies and non-government community organisations. The indicative list of presenters is multidisciplinary to gather and utilise the different knowledge bases and perspectives from social science disciplines including: sociology, economics, political science, social policy, public policy and management, public health, history, education, urban planning, geography, demography, The workshop will provide the opportunity for several business leaders from the South Australian Premier’s Economic Development Board, the Chair, Government Reform Commission (SA) and selected local non-government community organisations to join the robust discussion and debate along with researchers, policymakers and practitioners within government and community organisations.