I have just returned from Finland, where I was co-hosting a workshop on developing and mainstreaming high-quality project outputs in the prison education sector. I was in my element. This important but heavily-neglected niche of the public domain has so much potential for innovation and change, with real-world impacts on some of the most marginalised people in our society. I am truly passionate about prison education, and I am grateful every day for having the opportunity to work with organisations across Europe to deliver excellent results in this area.*
Or, indeed, any area.
To be clear, I am passionate about the ways in which governments and civil society can use education and training to overcome some of the major challenges facing our society - whether in our justice systems, or our health services, or our communications infrastructure,, or our pedestrian safety policies.
I am passionate about the way that education and training can have an impact in public policy, and can make a difference to people’s lives. As a trainer, I guess I have always wanted to be able to offer my skills to support organisations whose primary objective is to make a difference to people’s lives - organisations that address public problems, create public value, deliver public services or otherwise have an impact in the public domain.
So, when someone asks me: “what do you do?”, my practiced pitch is that I work with public policy organisations, using education and training to help achieve public policy objectives.
Let me explain.
What is a 'Public Policy Organisation'
There are a number of interpretations of what a 'public policy organisation' is. Quite clearly a continuum exists between a very narrow definition of public policy as being purely the turf the nation state, to a much broader definition of public policy as the province of broader civil society, the economy and the family. I suppose any definitions need to meet the criteria and purposes of those doing the defining.
For me, and for my purposes, public policy organisations include those that are (1) involved in making public policy decisions (government and intergovernmental institutions, parliamentary groups and elected representatives) or (2) in delivering public policy on the ground (public services and organisations across the public sector), but also (3) those that are interacting with public policy, either by contributing to policy making process, or mediating the delivery of public service and public value (international organisations and NGOs, policy think-tanks and research institutions).
I very much see these organisations as key actors in the public policy process, and their goal, in whatever field they work in, is to achieve an impact in the public domain. The people that work for such organisations are making a difference to people’s lives, and this is really important. The training, education and development that they receive should serve this purpose, and help create a really positive, meaningful impact, whatever field they are working in.
I am passionate about the ways in which governments and civil society can use education and training to overcome some of the major challenges facing our society, and how education and training can have an impact in public policy, and make a difference to people’s lives.
Professional Development in Public Policy Organisations
It is important that training programmes for professionals working in public policy organisations can be clearly linked not just to the immediate job they are performing, but to the long-term objectives they are working towards. Courses on communications skills need a clear focus on the real-world situations that people face, and the real-world outcomes people want to achieve. One of the reasons I offer 6-months' follow-up support with my training programmes is because I want to ensure that people can put what they learn into practice outside of the training room.
If someone participates in a training, with the best of intentions, but that training brings about little or no change in real, practicable, relevant performance, then it has achieved nothing of any value to the organisation, or to the wider public domain.
Training by Objectives has gained some currency in the field of strategic human resource development**, and there is some recognition of the need to use scarce training resources to target specific objectives, and the need to evaluate learning outcomes not just on the basis of what has been learnt, but on the basis of how training outcomes will contribute to organisational success - or in our case, public policy impact. Moreover, beyond helping learners to achieve their objectives, Training by Objectives actually makes the training process itself more meaningful. Motivation is higher. Knowledge and skills retention is better. Return on investment in training is greater.
Education and Training for Grassroots Change
In such a people-driven environment as public policy, however, it is not only professionals in the field that can benefit from training by objectives. Achieving public policy impacts requires a dynamic interaction between public policy actors and the citizens or communities that they are serving. The beneficiaries of public policy initiatives are often the same people who are tasked with creating a public policy impact on the ground.
A case in point: I was involved in a project together with the Turkish Directorate for Policing and Security, with the objective of reducing pedestrian fatalities on the roads of Antalya (a popular tourist destination on the Turkish Riviera). The project developed training programmes that would be delivered to teachers in local driving schools, helping to change attitudes towards pedestrian safety at a grassroots level. By training driving instructors on how to instil better attitudes towards pedestrian safety in learner drivers, they became an integral part of realising a larger public policy agenda - turning Antalya into a "pedestrian priority city".
Using Education and Training to Achieve Public Policy Objectives
I think prison education is a prime example of how the education and training can play a role in achieving public policy objectives. For prisoners sitting in the classroom, education and training is used as a tool to change their lives and to steer them away from a cycle of crime. For staff working in this environment, education and training provides an opportunity for professional development, to improve the work they do, giving them the knowledge and skills to support their target group. Both of these forces are necessary to create greater long-term impacts in this particular policy sphere, whether it is enhancing public safety, reducing the pressure on the criminal justice system, or contributing to an educated and employable workforce.
I truly believe that this is also the case for many other areas of the public domain. I believe that objective-targeted education and training can help right across the public policy field, from policy development and leadership, through to policy implementation and delivery. From government through to public service provision. From white paper planning through to target group mobilisation. I believe that education and training programmes can be designed in close conjunction with policymaking processes to help make a positive and more meaningful impact to people's lives, and I am excited to be part of that.
If you are interested in learning more about education and training for achieving public policy objectives, contact me directly here.
* I am proud to sit on the steering committee of the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) - if you are interested, find out more about the work of the EPEA here.
** A Google search of the term 'Training by Objectives' draws fewer than 7,500 results, compared to over 7,500,000 for 'what to make with old bananas' and 91,000,000 for 'Justin Bieber' - so perhaps it needs a cultural revival?