Frontline: From Report to Reality

20th January 2014

Frontline started its life as an idea in a report published by the think-tank IPPR in October 2012. Just six months later the organisation was up and running – recruiting the best and the brightest graduates from universities all over Britain to help protect vulnerable children. 

In the world of policy-making six months is incredibly fast. Good policy ideas can often end up sitting on ministers’ desks, caught up in the cogs of the civil service, or pushed off course by people who oppose them. They can take years to turn into reality, or are left gathering dust on the shelf. 

So what made Frontline different? Here are seven reasons why Frontline has moved so quickly:  

Strong leadership. Frontline was the brain-child of Chief Executive Josh MacAlister, who came to IPPR specifically to develop this idea. Having an individual prepared to set up and lead an organisation from the outset was instrumental in the creation of Frontline. He was able to write the report and set up the organisation himself – rather than having to convince other people to do it.

High level champions. It is important to have individuals at the highest levels who are committed to unlocking doors and persuading politicians and professional leaders to support a policy idea. In the case of Frontline, former schools minister Andrew Adonis was key to championing Frontline in the corridors of power. There was also an advisory board with leaders of the social work profession who could lend advice and support.

Cross party support. An easy way for a policy idea to become derailed is if it gets caught up in party politics and used as a political football. Thankfully Frontline avoided this problem – it received support from the leaders of all three political parties. Most important of all, this means that Frontline should flourish whoever wins the next election. 

Pressure from the public. Over the last few years there have been a number of tragic reports of child abuse and neglect in the media. These have hit the headlines and revealed that the way social services are delivered is manifestly in need of reform. This pressure from the media opened up a space for organisations like Frontline to innovate and try new ways of doing things. 

An independent organisation. When policy ideas get taken up by government departments, there is a danger that they get weakened by having to make compromises and compete for funding with other programmes. They can end up getting lost among a vast government bureaucracy with so many other initiatives going on. Frontline’s success is partly down to the fact it was set-up as an organisation independent of government. This meant it could pursue its own mission and was less likely to get ‘blown off course’. 

Resources. An awful lot had to happen in between publishing Frontline as an idea in a report and launching it as an organisation. Business plans had to be written, trustees had to be appointed and local authorities had to be identified to take part. At this stage the educational charity ARK and the Boston Consulting Group volunteered to step in and give Josh the ‘nuts and bolts’ support (resources and expertise) to turn his idea into reality. 

Government backing. The final piece of the jigsaw was the fact that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, committed to support a pilot programme very early on. Michael Gove spoke at the launch of IPPR’s report and gave a clear signal he was interested in its recommendations. He later agreed to provide government funding for a pilot of the programme. This clear and early government commitment helped Frontline to be established so quickly.

Of course the main reason that Frontline has been established is because it is – quite simply – a good idea. It tackles a real problem and should help to change the lives of many people. But lots of good ideas don’t get turned into reality; the seven key building blocks identified above are the reason that this one has. 

Jonathan Clifton is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR. He edited the report ‘Frontline’ which is available here. Follow him on Twitter @jp_clifton