SFU Study makes the case for new approach to BC social policy

making-the-case-308x190A new study by Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, Making the Case, claims the way BC makes social policy needs reform and that a Social Policy Framework is the best way to do it. The study, commissioned by the Board Voice Society of BC, draws on the government’s own reports to show that BC’s social problems need a new approach

“There is good work going on across ministries trying to solve issues like homelessness or mental health, but it is ad-hoc.” says Hannah Rabinovitch, one of the study’s authors, “We need a structure to coordinate cross-ministry and cross-sectorial work on our most serious social issues.” In the final report by the BC Progress Board in 2011, BC ranked tenth in percentage of the population living below the low income cut-off, ninth in long-term unemployment, and seventh in secondary school graduation. There is room for improvement.

The study uses examples from social ministries and interviews to explore how social policy decisions are currently made, and concludes the province needs to allocate resources to programs and services according to consistent shared principles. It also examines models adopted by other jurisdictions in Canada and abroad. Study authors also say policy assessment is critical to ensuring public programs and services remain relevant, efficient, and effective.

A Social Policy Framework (SPF) is a document that sets out a vision, goals, strategies and measurable objectives across all the ministries involved in social policy: Health, Education, Social Development and Social Innovation, Advanced Education, Children and Family Development, Justice, Labour and Citizen Services, International Trade (responsible for multiculturalism), Community, Sport, and Cultural Development,  Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, as well as Community Living BC and BC Housing.

The study authors say a SPF that mandates common reporting and data standards would provide reliable information for decision-makers, increasing consistency in policy development—and stakeholder confidence in the government.

Successful SPFs in other Canadian jurisdictions, such as the one Alberta passed in 2013, have facilitated clearer communication, promoted the internalization of social policy principles, and established common reporting standards.

When compared with most other provinces, BC faces greater social policy challenges, including child poverty and low-income rates, food insecurity, long-term unemployment, property and violent crime, and mental health issues. Improving outcomes in these areas will contribute to improvements in social capital, a critical component of economic growth.

“This is something so obviously needed, it is glaring in its omission,” says Board Voice Chair Michael Davis. “We need a common vision, and goals, and strategies so we can get better value for the tax dollars spent and better outcomes for people in need. BC needs a Social Policy Framework.”

Key Findings of the Study

Policy Formation:

While consultations to solicit input from various stakeholders have been, or are being, performed in certain cases, there appear to be few guidelines in place to provide direction on when and how consultations should take place – this in turn has facilitated distrust in the sincerity and effectiveness of consultations by the government when they do occur.

Cross-ministerial/agency collaborations on social policy issues appear to be common, but the lack of any institutional framework guiding these practices appears to have reduced their potential effectiveness through wasted effort and duplication.

Differing priorities and standards of decision making in ministries and agencies have led to decisions that appear to be at odds with the broader goals of social policy, creating an apparent disunity in policies across the sector.

Program Delivery:

Complex program implementations appear to frequently suffer from a lack of transparency, communication, and shared goals among the participating organizations.

A lack of program consistency in quality or access, whether real or perceived, has adverse or unanticipated impacts on both public well-being and the public’s trust in government to deliver programs effectively.

While collaboration within government and between government and non-governmental organizations on program delivery is common, these collaborations often lack clear guidelines to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.

Funding decisions in the social policy sector frequently appear to be based on insufficient evidence or non-evidence-based motivations, and where clear rationale does exist it is often not clearly communicated to stakeholders.

Policy Assessment:

There appear to be significant gaps and inconsistencies in reporting across the social policy sector, potentially resulting in under-informed decision making and cross-policy inconsistency.

Measures used in reporting in the social policy sector often appear to be either incomplete, invalid, or missing altogether. This creates risks for under-informed decision making and cross-policy inconsistency.

The full report can be accessed here: Making the Case: A Social Policy Framework for British Columbia