Research and education in public sector practice: a systems approach to understanding policy impact
Impact—what does it mean and how do we know what counts? We all want to do work that has an impact, and this is true of all sectors, whether that be government, public, private, not-for-profit, university, education, or community stakeholders. However, understandings of what it means in practice, what it takes to achieve, and how it can be tracked and calculated remain largely unclear and contested. While the rhetoric of 'impact' and the 'impact agenda' has become popular in the last decade or so, practice and research appear to be lagging.
In this introductory paper to the special issue on Impact into practice: Demonstrating applied public administration and policy improvement, the authors outline how systems thinking approach can aid understanding of research and education impact on government practice. A systems approach reveals where reliance exists, where responsibility falls, and where new and deepened relationships are needed. While more needs to be done by all parties to acknowledge the collective nature of impact and the necessary reliance on one another, they argue that redistribution of responsibility is needed, including the government’s significant role. Without collective recognition of reliance, responsibility, and relationships in the system of impact, our respective endeavours can only be expected to go so far. By thinking about impact as a system, we can end the 'blame game' between university and government sectors, and encourage action within and across sectors, in the pursuit of better outcomes for citizens and society.