Tuesday, 9 July 2013

What’s wrong with “Policy and Practice Partners”?

Posted by Avril Rhodes

Before entering the wardrobe and coming out in Fuse-land, I had never heard the term “policy and practice partners”, but once the door closed behind me, I never stopped hearing it, and being shortened to PPPs as well, which foxed me for a while. You may think terminology doesn’t matter, but it really does. Stay with me and I’ll tell you why it’s important. 

Entering the wardrobe to Fuse-land
As touched upon by my colleague Mark Welford in a previous post, our partners in public health do not identify with this term and at worse feel alienated from or puzzled by it. Public health managers, specialists and consultants I’ve known rarely promulgate or formulate policy – they implement it, may be consulted about policy, influence policy or advise about it, may author and coordinate a local strategy to reflect it, but don’t actually make policy. Policy is made by government departments, and to some degree, Boards and high level Council meetings. I’ve sometimes heard the phrase “our partners working in policy roles…” and that’s rarely strictly true, as it seems to be said implying that these ‘partners’ somehow make policy. More likely they’re trying to manage the consequences of policy.

When partners hear the word practice, they think of primary care, and people like your family doctor and the clinical staff working with him/her spring to mind. Using the term practitioners makes this worse, as this refers not only to people directly providing patient or client care in the GP surgery, but also people working in secondary care (hospitals to you and I), specialist units and community services. I blush to remember one occasion when a former colleague of mine who continues to support Fuse and works in data intelligence said to me “But I’m not a practitioner – I don’t see patients”, on hearing the phrase used in his presence.

Our partners are not likely to feel that they are partners unless they are directly involved in one of the many Fuse or Fuse related research projects. A partner is someone who you have a direct relationship with, for example, via a contract, or a formal statutory obligation to collaborate. We run the risk of overstating the closeness or formality of the relationship by using the word partner, and appearing presumptuous.

As I’ve been wandering around the Fuse-forest, I’ve been almost constantly thinking about alternatives and also trying to recall what phrase I would have used, before I stepped into the wardrobe and the truth is I can’t remember – and maybe there wasn’t the language to describe it. One day a light bulb did flicker briefly, and I thought about ‘stakeholders’ as an alternative perhaps with qualifying adjectives, like, “external” or “public health and social services…” or whichever sector or grouping one wished to highlight.

I fret that we’ve got too used to this PPP thing to change our ways, but I would put in a plea that we come up with something that’s more acceptable, and, at the least avoid using it when we are in our valued stakeholder’s company.

Any ideas?

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