‘Early Action’: how to instigate a new policy paradigm
Bennett, Ellen; Damm, Christopher (2016)

As part of a wider campaign for a shift towards preventative public services, a group of major voluntary sector funders in the UK have formed the ‘Early Action Funders Alliance’. The funding alliance has funded three pilot programmes which are attempting to demonstrate the value of an ‘early action’ orientated approach within local public services.

This paper explores the strategic efforts of actors within this Early Action project to consciously and strategically achieve a paradigm shift within UK social policy. Drawing on data from the national stakeholders, associated literature, and early data from local actors within each of the pilot programmes, we trace the development of support for early action as a concept, and examine the institutional work conducted by various stakeholders in their attempt to build support for the concept.

We also consider the extent to which three theoretical frameworks may help to elucidate the findings. First we explore how a strategic action field based approach might identify the actions of the actors as an attempt to agitate for a new ‘field conception’, by overthrowing the existing paradigm of acute services and reactive policies. Second, we look at how the attempt to draw upon longstanding concepts of preventative action has links to Kingdon’s theory of ‘policy windows’. Third we consider how institutional theory, and in particular the concept of institutional logics, can help us to understand how actors are attempting to shift the organising principles which guide organisations within the field, in order to lend coherence to a new way of working.

We conclude by considering how these and later results will help to shed new light on when and how a new policy paradigm succeeds in taking root, and the ways that field actors attempt to conceptualise and instigate major change in local public services in the UK.

Ellen Bennett is a Researcher at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR). Her research interests include state-voluntary sector relationships and voluntary sector identity as well as voluntary sector policy, public services and public service reform.

Chris Damm is also a researcher at CRESR. He predominantly specialises in quantitative methods and data visualisation, but also conducts more theoretical work on the voluntary sector and public services reform.  He is also in the final stages of his PhD, which looks at the impact of state funding on charities, using an exploratory data analysis based approach.