Stephen Muers, IPR Policy Fellow and Head of Strategy and Market Development, Big Society Capital has authored a new report which explores how culture and values need to be at the heart of thinking about public policy.

This paper argues that culture and values need to be at the heart of thinking about public policy. Policy is more likely to be successful (however success is defined) if policymakers take these aspects into account.

The paper starts by briefly defining culture and values, before setting out four reasons why they are central to public policy. First, value systems are crucial to determining whether or not a policy will achieve its stated goal. Second, legitimacy within prevailing culture and value systems is in itself a desirable policy outcome. Third, addressing tensions between value systems is an important role that the political and policy processes play in a democratic polity. Fourth, policy choices and the behaviour of political actors affect culture and values, creating feedback loops that alter the context for future policy choices.

The paper then sets out some implications of these arguments for public policy practice. It considers the way values operate in political debate and how that affects accountability, the ways in which governments alter culture, and what approaches to policy implementation and learning fit best in a framework that puts culture and values at the centre. Finally, the paper considers some potential counter-arguments that require the overall story about the central role of culture to be nuanced or altered for particular contexts.

The discussion draws on several themes from the political science and public policy literature, in particular combining elements of complexity theory and discussions on the role of evidence in policymaking with work on drivers of voting behaviour, and in particular the recent “realist” view of the democratic process. However, it does not attempt a comprehensive review of the relevant literature and also draws extensively on the author’s own experience as a senior practitioner and observer of policymaking.