Issue 7: Nov 2013


By Paul Buddery and Jamie Cooke

In a time of austerity and weak economic growth, publicly funded organisations are all told they have to do ‘...more with less…’.  But for many public services, the challenges they have to meet are becoming bigger and more complicated and nowhere more so than in environmental protection and management.

Many of the threats to the natural environment are inherently ‘wicked’ in nature – that is, they’re complex, dynamic, cross-cutting, long-term, and sometimes bring together conflicting value or interest claims.

Politically, the management and protection of the natural environment is high on the agenda. The Scottish Government has put it front and centre of its programme and the opposition parties see it as a key area in which to hold the Government to account.  Many people welcome the fact that Scotland’s natural environment is being explicitly recognised as the foundation of the country’s economic, physical and cultural well-being.  Yet the natural environment is not a source of benefits that can be drawn on heedlessly.  Rather, it’s an asset that needs to be managed responsibly over the long term. How to do so is the critical challenge facing policy makers and public agencies. It is not a challenge they can face alone.  Many of the threats to the natural environment are inherently ‘wicked’ in nature – that is, they’re complex, dynamic, cross-cutting, long-term, and sometimes bring together conflicting value or interest claims. These are not the type of problems, either in environmental policy or social policy – consider the case of area-based poverty – that respond well to policy and service solutions that are based on command and control or ‘gift’ models of public intervention.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are the public bodies responsible for environmental regulation, conservation and improvement.  Over the last few years they have been making major changes to the way they approach their roles, not only to keep within tightening budgets, but to create ever more outward facing organisations that achieve their ends through broad collaborations and forward looking partnerships.  In fact, both organisations can fairly claim to have been on the front-foot, and leading public service reform even before the Christie Commission delivered its wake up call to public services in Scotland. Christie called for greater collaboration between different services and between services and local communities. Christie focused on the ‘big spending’ transactional services especially in health, social care and education. But the report was quiet on what its vision might look like for the environment or for specific agencies such as SEPA and SNH – leaving the risk that the costs and value of the natural environment would remain marginal to public service decision making. SEPA and SNH therefore asked RSA 2020 Public Services to take a look at how to move forward.

Paul BudderyThe report, Environmental Protection and Management, written by Paul Buddery (left) and Atif Shafique draws on the views of a wide variety of stakeholders, including RSA Scotland Fellows, many of whom are passionate and experienced in this area.  It uses an approach to public service reform that the team has developed, building on the work of the cross-party Commission on 2020 Public Services. Termed ‘social productivity’, it rejects the notion that public services are simply goods to be bought and consumed. They are social relationships, so they need to be understood and constructed from the citizen-up, rather than from the service down.  Good public services understand and work with the grain of relationships within places, appreciate the diversity of assets – social, economic, and natural – within those places, and seek to align those relationships in order to deliver valued outcomes.  Within this dynamic view of value creation, citizens, businesses and voluntary organisations all have a role in co-producing better outcomes. Social productivity approach is generally agnostic about how public services should be delivered or by whom, so has little time for public-private contests that have often become bogged down in questions of ‘deliver-ology’ or narrow value for money calculations.  Social productivity looks at the extent to which services ‘help citizens, families and communities to achieve the social outcomes they desire’.

This focus on outcome, behaviour and empowerment rather than simple transaction brings a sharper focus on longer term change. This commitment to long term impact rejects both blanket cuts to services which undermine sustainable change and the unresponsive and undemanding universalism that can go hand in hand with top-down, centralised services.  

For SEPA and SNH, social productivity offers a way to deepen and extend its relationships with other public services, with business, and – critically – with citizens, whose willingness to change, and whose ability to drive change must be recognised and nurtured. Whilst there will always be elements of the statutory work of both SEPA and SNH that require a centralised, prescriptive and traditionally regulatory approach, much of their work can be best delivered in partnership with the public. Building out of the RSA’s previous work on ChangeMakers, (local civic activists who can act as fulcrums of action), we believe there is a clear opportunity for the two agencies to develop a cadre of Environmental ChangeMakers across Scotland, who can drive forward activity on a local level. Rooted in examination of current environmental activism, and underpinned by network analysis, this approach will enable, over time, an interlinked web of citizen scientists helping to shape behaviour and activity across Scotland.

One outcome of the creation of this network would be a shift in focus towards prevention and away from reaction. The analogy of tackling problems upstream, rather than downstream, is entirely appropriate.  Given the financial constraints that public bodies will be operating within for the foreseeable future, collaboration will be the logical response to achieving maximum impact from reduced resources. These collaborations should encompass other public bodies, the citizen scientists of the ChangeMakers and also the business community of Scotland, in order to best implement behavioural changes across the widest segment of Scottish society.

For SEPA and SNH, social productivity offers a way to deepen and extend its relationships with other public services, with business, and – critically – with citizens,

Of course, within an approach such as this, there are challenges which need to be addressed.  Crucially, there is always a risk with any citizen focussed approach that it will be the loudest and best organised voices which will be heard most, with a potential bias towards socially advantaged communities. The vision is therefore one of capacity building, not simply one of listening to and being led by the status quo.  This in itself offers further opportunities for collaboration, through partnering with local organisations and groups who possess the community knowledge which a centralised organisation might unavoidably lack.

The report is a vital outlining of the considerable work which SEPA and SNH have already undertaken in terms of evolving their approaches to community engagement, and sets out a vision for how social productivity could allow for sustainable solutions to the wicked problems which we face. In Scotland we are incredibly lucky with the environmental resources we possess and the potential benefits which they offer to our country – by harnessing the skills and experiences of our fellow citizens in order to protect and utilise these resources we will be creating the best foundation for future progress as a nation in tune with its environment.

By Paul Buddery, Partner, RSA 2020 Public Services @buddypb/
and Jamie Cooke, Deputy Head of Fellowship, the RSA (@JamieACooke/

Further reading: Commission on 2020 Public Services (2010), From Social Security to Social Productivity: A Vision for 2020 Public Services. London: 2020 Public Services Trust at the RSA, p.9; available at

By Paul Buddery and Jamie Cooke

Issue 7: Nov 2013

Issue 7: Nov 2013


Re-energising the move towards integrated care

Scotland's move to integrated care can learn from elsewhere by focussing on two key differentiators between successful partnerships and those paying lip service to integrated working: Shared outcomes and common language is one, the other is demonstrating mutual investments and mutual benefits.


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