Seven ways to improve the problem solving power of scrutiny

Scrutiny has seven superpowers and one of them is the power of solutions. 

By taking time to explore difficult and challenging issues in depth, scrutiny has the ability to find solutions to the most difficult policy problems and make recommendations that improve the services that matter to people.

And, by putting backbenchers to work on pressing and intractable problems, the council is making use of an often under used resource. What’s not to like?

Typically this work is done through task and finish inquiry and review work – but not always.

Are you thinking about how scrutiny might be even better at solving problems? Well, here are seven ideas to think about.

Already do all seven? Treat yourself to an extra chocolate biscuit with your next cup of tea.

Listen to the people affected

Whether it’s the people affected by a policy or the people using (or wanting to use) a service, nothing helps with finding solutions better than talking to the people at the sharp end. It’s the Atticus Finch principle: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view” (or her’s of course). See also participation.

Listen to diverse perspectives

If you want to get some creative tension from your evidence gathering (you do) then talk to people with a range of different perspectives (e.g. cabinet members, officers, partners, voluntary sector, citizens). Also, if they all agree that something is a good idea – well it just might be! (that’s triangulation by the way).

Involve academics

You might just find someone with research expertise, working on the same topic and willing to get involved with scrutiny whether as an evidence giver or, even better, a co-opted member of the committee or group. Remember, academics can help with the questions as much as the answers – so involve them early.

Get out and about

Going on field trips to see what’s happening on the ground and talking to the people affected is great way to get new perspectives and ideas. So, go on, hire a bus and leave the town hall behind  you. The great thing about using task and finish groups, by the way, is flexibility. You can meet anywhere, go anywhere, involve anyone and operate any way you want. This helps to break out of the traditional committee mindset and to reframe.

Learn from other councils

Scrutiny reports from other councils who have looked at the same issue are a great source of information and ideas so why not get online and download them. Even better, speak to the councillors and officers involved. Even better still, invite them to give evidence or go and visit them.

Make time to deliberate

One of the (many) great things about the Kirklees Democracy Commission is that they held meetings specifically to give the commission members time and space to deliberate after the evidence had been collected. So much better than just asking for a report to be produced by someone else don’t you think?

Involve the keen beans

One of the cool things that Swansea Scrutiny does (and there are many) is give any backbench councillor the opportunity to be involved in task and finish work. In this way you have the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable scrutineers looking for solutions.



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