Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Strategic commissioning: reframing or just relabelling public decision-making?

I had the chance to make a presentation this morning to the PAC conference at University of Glamorgan - topic: "Strategic commissioning for services - or for citizens and places?". Lots of useful comments to take on board for the next draft of the paper (let me know if you'd like me to email you a copy).

One line of discussion was especially interesting. How new, really, is 'strategic commissioning'?

Seen as 'the whole set of activities which enable the needs of citizens and service users to be met' (essentially the CLG approach, and the DH approach in the 2006 Health Service Reform report), is it anything more than a relabelling of the old 'rational management cycle'?

On the other hand, if it is meant to distinguish planning/design/procurement/review stages of decision-making from the 'delivery' stages (an approach adopted in some other initiatives of DH), then we may be revisiting a very longstanding argument. In its last guise, this argument turned up as the debate on whether we can divide 'policy' from 'implementation' - either in theory (one set of critics disputes this vigorously) or in practice (and many have argued that this has turned out to be a wrong turning in public management in the last 25 years).

So, what do you think? Is strategic commissioning just a relabelling of an old set of concepts? Or a new way of making a useful distinction between the 'delivery' and the policy' areas of public decision making?

Tony Bovaird

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