They say “prevention is better than cure”. By intervening early in people’s lives, policymakers can more effectively address policy problems. However, policymakers need to understand the complexities of using these approaches.
A paper in Policy Design and Practice - Beyond “prevention is better than cure”: understanding prevention and early intervention as an approach to public policy - identifies the following factors supporting prevention and early intervention as an approach to public policy:
The paper identifies opportunities for policymakers to improve the design and implementation of such policies. This involves:
Policymakers designing and implementing prevention and early intervention policies need to:
Reasons for prevention and early intervention include:
Legitimacy can be challenged by the view that an interventionist modern state is overly protective. It is also argued that early intervention fails to address the root cause of the policy problem such as social inequality.
For a prevention and early intervention policy to progress it needs to acquire:
Policy makers operate with limited time, capacity and resources. Efforts to win greater attention and resources for prevention and early intervention may be stymied by inertia in the policy making process.
It can be difficult to convince decision makers to shift resources from dealing with an immediate problem to investing in interventions that may not deliver intended outcomes for some time.
Policy challenges can encompass multiple policy areas and often require multi-agency cooperation. Policymakers developing prevention and early intervention policies need to:
Prevention and early intervention challenges the traditional top-down model. Policy expertise is not confined to government departments. There may be significant levels of expertise within local communities. Policy interventions encourage and support people in designing, shaping and delivering policy solutions to address the needs of their own lives.
An open and inclusive approach to prevention and early intervention policy highlights the need for strong policy governance. The absence of engagement ignores the lessons of experience. Engagement is also needed to manage the relationships essential to effective implementation.
For prevention and early intervention to deliver on its promise, policymakers need to ensure:
Workshops were convened with participants from the public service and non-government organisations. These sessions engaged 79 people from 62 organisations in the areas of health, children, young people and families.
Participants saw prevention and early intervention as a potentially powerful approach to public policy. There is a range of available actions including:
A key issue is influencing the policy agenda. It is a challenge to convince decision-makers to shift resources from dealing with an obvious problem to investing in interventions that may not deliver the intended outcomes for some time. This challenge is accentuated by the short-term political cycle.
The strong appeal of prevention and early intervention policies is in knowing what to do. When interventions are designed around the end user, there is a focus on the individual outcomes being achieved. Theories of change and program logic models can strengthen this as they concentrate on the beneficiaries, the causes of the problem and the process involved in achieving the intervention’s goal.
There are opportunities for policy makers to improve the development of prevention and early intervention policies. These include:
Beyond “prevention is better than cure”: understanding prevention and early intervention as an approach to public policy – Fiachra Kennedy, Policy Design and Practice, March 2020.
This Research Brief is written by Maria Katsonis as part of ANZSOG’s new research translation series, The Bridge. This project is designed to bridge the gap between the research work of academics and the policy work of public managers by providing access to visible and accessible high-quality research. The Bridge is emailed fortnightly to thousands of engaged readers and centers around a Research Brief which distills academic research into an easy-to-read format.
Sign up to the Bridge