Why we need an experimental government
I recently watched Ken Burns’ excellent document on The Roosevelts, which shows just what you can do if you have an experimental government. FDR’s detractors accused him of playing fast and loose with the constitution by using presidential executive orders as well as laws passed by Congress to get the New Deal through, and support for the millions who were out of work, yet many of the experimental programmes lasted for many decades and became the cornerstone of the welfare state in the US. The report we published today ‘Better public services through experimental government’ includes a great quote from FDR saying:
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach. (Franklin D Roosevelt address at Oglethopre University, 22 May 1932)
Surely this also applies to our time, given the enormous challenges public services face?
In some ways it is perhaps surprising that we didn’t see such large-scale experimenting under this coalition government (although we did of course see the setting up of the What Works centres). You would think that coalition government as a model provides more fertile ground than a majority government for experimenting – with two parties already within a coalition there’s surely a bit more chance of consensus around the need to test out what actually works in key areas of social policy. So whatever happens in this coming election, we’re calling for the next government to be as radically experimental as the Roosevelt government was in the US in the 1930s.
We’re calling for:
- More ambitious and bold experiments on nationally important issues
- Experiments to be designed using robust methods so we can find out what works
- Leaders in government to embrace risk and reward success
- More institutional support for experimentation
- Officials working with researchers to co-produce experiments
- Opportunities to experiment like the phased roll-out of services to be seized
- Flexibility with policies being adapted as they go
- More effort to persuade the public that experimenting is critical
We hope you’ll join us through the Alliance for Useful Evidence in persuading all political parties that this matters.
Photo credit: "Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal Pin, 1932." Credit: Collection of David J. and Janice L. Frent Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2010. Encylopaedia Britannica Online. Web. 8 Feb. 2010. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/509263/72254/Franklin-D-Roosevelt-New-Deal-pin-1932.