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Mainscreaming 4 May 2009

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, social economy.
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With any luck it will get more profound than that.

One thing that’s been on my mind festering for a while is the idea of ‘mainstreaming‘. This is one step up from dissemination, in that instead of just telling the world about your discovery or your policy idea, you actually undertake some steps to persuade those with their hands on the levers of power to actually do something. So for instance if you run an experimental project and show that something works, you then invite local politicians to see round, take them out to dinner, make sure it fits with electoral cycles etc. At first glance it’s a very excellent idea, designed to put an end to white elephants by linking public expenditure to improving public policy, and making sure we learn from our history.

However it seems to me to have perverse effects sometimes, because the good work you’re doing out in the field is relegated to second-best, below what those at the top think of it. The welfare of the real people in the real world becomes a distant irrelevance, and the views and prejudices of policy-makers become the chief concern. So the whole policy-making machine starts to go round in circles eating its own tail. What is a good idea and can do good out there in the real world is written off because it’s infeasible in the elites’ minds. In short, mainstreaming can degenerate into solipsism.

Even more bizarrely, policy solipsists can start to see a concern for the outside world as solipsism itself; practical proposals to improve the operation of, to take an example, social economy institutions, may be dismissed as “technical”, even though those institutions do a lot of good and world serve public policy objectives if they worked better.

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