Positive for yoof?

Same Words: Different Order?

We love guest posts and today’s is a classic environmental study; in that it despairs of the amount of paper wasted in not particularly ‘original’ research, studies and reports. The argument is quite strident and encourages debate so please do chime in. If you would like to submit a post for the blog please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not until you’ve enjoyed, and commented on (?!?) today’s post.

After a long day of long tedious meetings, answering phone calls, replying to emails, I try to take some time to catch up with the going’s on in the sector. Who’s tweeting, what report is out, who asked the most ridiculous question in PMs Question time?

Today I was catching up with a thorough read on the Positive for Youth report launched in December 2011. Whenever I open up a document that Adobe tells me is over 50 pages, it usually serves a quick scan, pick up on the important points and move on. However, being in the youth sector, I thought it important that this particular report should get a little bit more of my attention; particularly if the government isn’t going to change for a while…

The more I read this report, the more I kept saying to myself – surely someone has just copied and pasted this from previous papers, reports, academic studies, green and white papers. This isn’t anything new and actually, most of this is just recycled common sense.

I engender no disrespect to what is a well written, well researched and well implemented report. Doubtless the authors have just done what they were asked to do.

What I do take issue with is that this is a typical example of tax payers money being spent on reports that have already been done. The cost of commissioning an academic study can be tens of thousands of pounds and yet we don’t seem to be making the most of this money.

Take into account the riots last summer. Not only was there damage to shops, streets and faith in community safety, but there was also a huge commission and report into why this happened.

You only have to look at the youtube video filmed by young people the year before to understand why they happened. A little bit more interactive than Adobe reader!

I was reminded of this phenomenon again as when reading my council’s latest document on strategic priorities that had been consulted on, deciphered and reported up. Hold on a second thought I, this is exactly the same as last year with just a few words changed.

What crosses my mind when I see these reports is that the nature of these reports is changing. Ideas are no longer seen as novel, especially for those of us constantly looking for ideas on the www. After all, if you can exchange ideas, share best practice and look at international projects on twitter the need for regular reports looking at these ideas three years later is less valuable than it used to be. We still need the ideas but the reports are struggling to keep up with the society and provide anything new and novel.

So why do we commission these expensive reports if they don’t tell us anything new?

Part of me could understand this if the purpose was to raise the profile of a particular issue. In the case of Positive for Youth, it is imperative that the Conservatives put their take on how young people are being supported in the UK .

But really, do we write them so that we don’t have to write “ditto” underneath previous administrations findings?


Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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4 Comments on “Positive for yoof?”

  1. localgovalso Says:

    Being told that something is correct is fine, that there is evidence of effectiveness for a planned course of action. If a 10k commission on research saves millions of wasted investment, then great – that’s a very effective use of money. I believe there is some studies which suggest research with a sound base will naturally feel intuitive to the reader, so something which ‘tells me what I already know’ isn’t by its nature a bad thing.

    That’s not to say that it’s always good, research in local gov can be a sop, it can be action to take when people don’t want to take action but want to be seen to be doing something, or when a decision is known to be poor. Paralysis by analysis, be it deliberate or accidental, can be very dangerous and incredibly wasteful.

    And as for whither strategies? Well, what one service manager thinks is the number one priority is very likely not what another does (and both will have their own evidence base for this). If a corporate plan (or whatever) isn’t changing at this time moment, then I’d suggest there’s a problem at the leadership end of the organisation.

    Things are changing right now at a speed I’ve never seen in the sector. Local gov leaders need to adapt to this, get better at understanding what is already out there and commission original research in a smarter manner, do less of it and do it better; because wasting money on this stuff does nobody any favours.

    As an aside, though, I would really like to hear the author do another blog post on

    “You only have to look at the youtube video filmed by young people the year before to understand why they happened. A little bit more interactive than Adobe reader!”

    and create this waterproof, uncontroversial social reality of the riots.

  2. LGWorker Says:

    I think you’ve missed something here. The report on youth you mention wasn’t written by a Local Authority, it wasn’t even written by a Local Government Lobby/Pressure group, it was written by the Department for Education. That’s a central organisation. Then the Commission on the riots, again is not based in local authorities but is (understandable) a overarching thing. What I mean to say is that these are not reports being written by us. So in a sense your criticism is of the centre and them writing reports for report sake. This is not to say we don’t do this in Local Government, because it does happen just we don’t now have the money for the academics.

    Anyway my main point is you have to consider were the report is coming from. It may seem to be a copy and past report but it will be arguing a particular approach / philosophy that not everyone agrees with. Once you have worked out the authors approach you can see beyond the copy and paste. Instead Local Government should be using its policy and scrutiny teams to work out what a Council’s way forward might be (and then they can write a report).

    Also you’re wrong about the riots. It is a very complex issue beyond young people’s feelings towards the state. That’s why there is a commission. Though also there is a commission to be seen to be doing something.

  3. PHresearcher Says:

    The NSMC (National Social Marketing Centre) have recently developed an online portal that enables individuals with an .nhs or .gov.uk email address to access and share commissioned research. With the aim of reducing the wasteful duplication of commissioned research – I have found this resource a valuable starting point when conducting public health research on a specific topic or population. Copy and paste this address for more information: http://thensmc.com/oss

    • localgovalso Says:

      Thanks for that, looks like it could be a really useful resource.

      And on that subject, there’s also the SCIE Athens http://www.scie.org.uk/workforce/athens/ site, which allows broadly similar access to NHS Athens (although it does confuse me at times), for those working in a health or social care field.

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