RPP 18 3 Introduction

Research Policy and Planning: The journal of the Social Services Research Group – Vol 18 (3) 2000

Introduction

This is the last edition of Research, Policy and Planning to be edited by the current joint editors, and we hope you agree that it contains three very interesting and informative papers. All relate to key policy issues: pension entitlement for women (Peggs), performance management and community care services (Lymbery and Shaw) and social services departments and primary care groups (Glendinning and Coleman) Two of the articles also discuss important issues concerning the design and conduct of research. Thus Peggs examines the ethical dilemmas surrounding the role of the researcher as ‘expert’ and Lymbery and Shaw consider the implications of the dominance of ‘managerialist’ agendas for the quality of research evaluation.

In her discussion of her research on women and pensions, Kay Peggs considers the transformative potential of the exchange of information between researchers and those being researched. Her central question concerns the extent to which researchers can ’empower’ research participants, via the transmission of important information or knowledge. Using extracts from her fieldwork diary, as well as women’s own accounts, Peggs describes the dilemmas raised during in-depth interviews with women about their personal pension choices, where she was seen to possess expert knowledge. She concludes that the transformative potential of this situation was limited by ethical concerns about providing erroneous information and by the only limited ability of participants to benefit from the acquisition of new knowledge.

Under both the current Labour government and previous conservative administrations, the provision of community care has increasingly been subject to centrally-driven performance management frameworks. Reflecting the key objectives of these frameworks, Mark Lymbery and ]Ian Shaw argue that evaluations of community-based services have been characterised by a focus on ‘economy’ and ‘efficiency’. In contrast, questions concerning the quality or effectiveness of these services have been relatively neglected. In particular, the managerialist agenda has influenced not only the context of evaluation and the uses to which it can (and has) been put, but also the process of evaluation itself. In a de-policiticised context, which ignores important questions about resource allocation, evaluation has become interwoven with the achievement of performance targets. A broader evaluative focus is needed, the authors suggest, which takes into account the wider context of community care services and incorporates the perspectives of professionals and service users in the assessment of service effectiveness.

The final article, by Caroline Glendinning and Anna Coleman, reports on the findings of a national survey of Primary Care Groups (PCGs), in respect of the role of local authorities on the PCG Boards. Enhanced partnership working is a central ambition of the government’s new modernisation agenda for public services. Given the record of poor collaboration between health and social care services, however, and the historical and cultural independence of general practitioners, developing partnerships represented a considerable challenge to the emerging PCGs. Early findings from an ongoing national study of their operation suggests that their current progress is mixed. On the one hand there is evidence of more collaborative ways or working, not just with social services departments, but with local authorities more generally. On the other hand, the fact that SSD representatives are generally fairly senior within their own organisations, is not reflected in the positions that they hold within the PCG Boards. If we are to transform partnership working from the margins to the mainstream, the authors argue, members of social services departments may need to be accorded a more equal role in the governance of the PCGs.

We hope you find this (for us) final edition of Research Policy and Planning of interest. We have enjoyed our years as co-editors and wish the Journal, under its new stewardship, every success for the future.

Carol Lupton and Lesley Saunders December 2000