Pivotal – a new public policy think tank for Northern Ireland – By Ann Watt, Director of Pivotal

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This week saw the launch of Pivotal, a new public policy think tank for Northern Ireland. Pivotal aims to contribute to improved public policy, informed by evidence-based research and involving a wider range of people in public debate.

Think tanks are a common feature of public life elsewhere, and they play an important role in helping shape public policy. They help ensure good government by examining important economic and social challenges, proposing solutions and stimulating public debate. Many think tanks exist in the UK and Ireland, but there are no wide-ranging think tanks in Northern Ireland at present.

This week’s report from the Institute for Government, Governing without ministers: Northern Ireland since the fall of the power sharing executive noted the lack of external policy debate here, including the absence of think tank activity. The report highlighted the need for a vibrant policy community outside government, to strengthen wider engagement in public policy and provide a challenge to government. Pivotal’s arrival was welcomed in the report as one organisation aiming to address this gap.

No one needs to be reminded of Northern Ireland’s many economic and social challenges. These range from a health and social care system that is under serious strain, to an economy that is heavily dependent on the public sector, from entrenched poverty and inequality, to the challenges of climate change. The need for effective policy ideas, discussion and action is huge.

One of Pivotal’s main aims is to get a wider range of people in Northern Ireland involved in public policy discussion. Many people here are disengaged from policy debate and disillusioned with traditional politics. Pivotal will facilitate debate in a range of ways, and will aim to make sure that new voices are heard. In particular Pivotal wants to hear from young people, but also from other groups who are less engaged at present.

Pivotal’s other main aim is to contribute to public policy discussions through promoting better use of data and evidence. There is a wealth of evidence available on which we can draw in thinking about making better public policy. As well as using existing evidence, we will do new research ourselves, and commission it from others.

A detailed analysis of the need for a think tank in Northern Ireland and the benefits it could bring can be found here .

Pivotal is independent and does not have a political agenda. It will not take a view on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland or on issues about the past. Pivotal does not regard these as unimportant, but believes that there is a need for new debates and ideas about day to day policy issues. The need for broader and wider discussion of these issues is acute. We will work together with the public, policy makers, politicians, academics and others. In particular we are keen to engage constructively with politicians of all parties, while maintaining our independence.

Over the last three years, a growing group has supported us in developing the idea of Pivotal. Looking ahead, Pivotal’s work will be overseen by a Board of Trustees, who have appointed me as the first Director. A wider Reference Group will continue to provide guidance. Further details of who is involved are available here .

We are grateful to supporters and funders who have enabled Pivotal to get to this point of launch. We have received funding and in-kind support from a range of donors, and details are available on our website. We think Pivotal can make an important contribution to Northern Ireland, and to that end we are working hard to secure further funding, particularly to build our staff team.

Pivotal is ambitious for the future. We believe that our work can contribute to better policy making and so to a more successful Northern Ireland, and that it can help to build a more forward-looking political culture. Central to this will be the involvement of a wider circle of people in public debate, and we hope that many others will share in this vision with us.

To find out more, check our website or follow us on Twitter @pivotalppf .


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