On June 10th Professor Paul Chaney was an invited plenary speaker at the Research in Practice Leaders’ Forum Conference in Birmingham. The Forum brings together Directors, assistant directors and strategic managers across a network of 80+ major third sector organisations and local authorities. This year’s conference centred on the topic of devolution and its implications for public policy-making and children’s and adults’ services. Discussion focused on contemporary governance complexity and the opportunities and challenges presented by the advent of elected mayors, city regions – as well as national devolution for the UK’s nations.
Drawing on research as part of WISERD’s Civil Society Programme, (Work package 2.2, ‘Territoriality and Third Sector Engagement in Policy-making and Welfare Provision’), Professor Chaney argued that, compared to the previous era of administrative devolution in Wales, the advent of the National Assembly has had a positive impact and transformed the political opportunity structures open to third sector organisations to shape public policy. Notwithstanding this, he also argued that the sector continues to face major challenges in maximising its influence and boosting policy efficacy.
The Conference heard that amongst the key challenges was the opaque nature of the present devolution settlement. This often makes it difficult for NGOs to know whether it is Westminster or Wales that is responsible for a given issue. Moreover, this has significant resource implications for the sector, for the lack of clarity in the division of powers means that NGOs are forced to monitor developments in both legislatures. Delegates heard that a further challenge was that many cross-border NGOs have been slow and/or resistant to adapting to the realities of devolved policy and law-making in Wales. Interview data from civil society organisations underlined that for several organisations adaptation was often tokenistic in nature (typically a name-change, appending the word ‘Cymru’ to the NGO name in Wales) – rather than affording Welsh-based staff the necessary institutional resources and autonomy to maximise the post-devolution opportunities to shape policy and law.