first published on the website of the Blavatnik School of Government on 8th June 2018.
How can policymakers reconcile different viewpoints to create effective, inclusive policies? This week, 14/15-year-old students from two Oxfordshire schools had the chance to explore the complexities of decision-making during the Blavatnik School’s second Policy Slam.
Building on the success of last year’s event, a group of 30 current Master of Public Policy (MPP) students organised a day of practical policymaking exercises to give Year 9 and 10 students an insight into how leaders weigh up diverse interests when choosing a course of action. Cheney School in Headington participated for the second time, and Larkmead School in Abingdon joined this year, with over 70 students involved in total.
Supported by ‘facilitators’ from the MPP class, the school students worked in groups to find policy solutions to challenging issues in the areas of ‘diversity and inclusion’; ‘climate change’ and ‘free speech vs hate speech’. The school students had voted beforehand on the topics they found most relevant. MPP students took on the roles of varied stakeholders to demonstrate that many conflicting points of view must often be taken into account by policymakers. The participants had to evaluate each person’s stance, decide whether or not it was justified and assess whether certain views were more important than others.
After considering the risks and opportunities of different approaches, the groups presented their policy decisions to their classmates and MPP students in a mock press conference. Audience members were encouraged to come up with the sort of questions that journalists would ask, so the presenters were required to justify their position and think about the topic in more depth.
In planning the activities, the MPP students wanted to share the key learnings and frameworks acquired during their time so far at the Blavatnik School and teach a constructive way of thinking about policy. The scenarios were based on cases that they had studied in class, including one from a course run by Dr Nik Kirby, Research Fellow in Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School. Dr Kirby led a lively discussion among the ‘free speech vs hate speech’ group on some of the philosophical issues surrounding the topic.
The Slam was put on thanks to funding from the Blavatnik School student budget and the Oxford for Oxford project, which is part of the University of Oxford’s Widening Access and Participation programme. The MPP students see it as an important outreach opportunity, allowing them to forge links with the wider community. “This is an initiative that comes from the students, and it reflects our desire to give back to Oxford and connect with local schools,” commented MPP student Sam Yaniv. “We hope the Policy Slam will continue and grow in future years.”