Rebecca Nash writes:

‘Public facing’ and ‘academic’ are two personal attributes that often don’t go together. But the IIPS was fortunate to host this rare breed at a breakfast briefing this week. Professor Danny Dorling both conducts groundbreaking research on patterns of place and social change, and makes sure it gets covered by the media (here and here and here.)

Danny’s presentation at the IIPS was on the evidence of the strong links between poor public services and local inequalities – part of the IIPS’s ongoing conversation about what role research and public services play in improving people’s lives. Worrying as much of his evidence is, his talk was also a hopeful call to action. Despite the correlation between local deprivation and poor services he argued two points:  First, if we take a look at recent data from The Futures Company, there is public will for social change and social action – and permission for radical change. Second, government has the tools to improve things on local levels and to stop inequalities from continuing to spread on a national scale.

BMRB Social Research’s Head of Methods Joel Williams argued that research can support the policy and service delivery changes that Danny urges – and looked at some different research methods. He identified new research strategies for the places that most need them: for example, opening up administrative data bases in their original forms, targeting surveys in areas with the greatest variety of life outcomes, local authorities working together on common policy interventions, and more facilitation of local area modelling by those conducting national surveys.

Danny’s assumption that government could provide most of the solutions was challenged by Professor Paul Wiles, Head of Government Social Research. He raised questions about  the persistence of long-term, local inequalities, and the way in which these shaped long-term social and cultural perceptions of poorer areas. In short, there are limits to government power and policy making, especially in the face of other powerful agents of change (communities, families, the housing market, and more).

Big questions about government, community, and public and social capital at 8.30 in the morning. But as we only begin to see the effects of economic crash, these issues are only going to get sharper over the coming year – or more.

The picture shows Diego Rivera‘s mural, ‘Contradictions between Rich and Poor 01″. Sheffield University’s ‘Changing UK’ report, co-authored by Danny Dorling, can be downloaded as a pdf from here. The IIPS is a co-venture between The Futures Company and BMRB which develops and promotes the use of citizen insight to support the transformation of public service delivery in the UK.

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