This think piece considers that we may learn much from a systematic approach to policy failure.


The ethos of What Works Scotland is to seek out evidence around relevant areas of public service reform to understand why certain processes, interventions and policy approaches work and whether they may contribute to overarching goals of Scottish public policy (such as the Christie Principles).

The Holy Grail is whether such local knowledge or success in areas like prevention can be spread across Scotland and render sustainable system-level change. Now that statement does contain many arguable assumptions and contestable propositions – no-one reasonably would deny that. This think piece considers just one such questionable dimension – that we may in fact learn much from a systematic approach to policy failure, which is linked to but is more than just the mirror of the conditions for policy success.

The study of ‘what works’ in public policy and systematic reviews of evidence and evaluation, must at their core include a systematic sense of what does not work and why.

Learning what goes wrong and why is essential to the careful development of new policies and the wider evolution of and reform to policy delivery.

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Author: Ken Gibb

Publication date: April 2015

Type of publication: Think piece