In a technologically enabled, globalized world where the bad lending practices of banks in California can wreak havoc on the entire world economy, the way that governments undertake policy analysis to address the greatest challenges of our times should be of great concern. Modernizing and transforming policy development should include: encouraging a culture that embraces knowledge translation, collaborative policymaking and creative destruction.
The rise of the Internet over the past decade and a half has increased access to information exponentially. Moreover, this access has not been limited to government or business; the public is now afforded the same access. It is critical then that policy development make use of the information available.
In many fields, we expect the experts to make decisions based on the story the evidence tells. We expect physicians, for example, to remain current on the relevant medical literature and make clinical decisions about our health based on strong evidence. We should expect nothing less of government. The evolution of evidence-based policy development is an important one that should be embraced.
Open source policymaking
Many public servants first join government to answer the call to make positive change in the world. Countless discover that instead of looking outward toward society, they fix their gaze upwards, taking care of the needs of cabinet ministers and other elected officials. While serving the government of the day is a fundamental part of our parliamentary democracy, the vertical hierarchy of government encourages approaching policy problems through an introspective lens, rather than through the perspective of affected stakeholders and society at large.
As the role of government evolves from one of service provision to service regulator and network manager, key relationships with external stakeholders will become more important. The role of external parties should not be minimized. In fact, better policy results from heightened engagement with external parties. Outside input enhances the entire policy process, and improves the efficacy of implementation.
The famed Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the term “creative destruction,” the capitalist process of new innovations destroying obsolete technologies in an ongoing cycle to create better and more efficient products and services, leading to long-term economic growth. While Western governments have embraced creative destruction in economic policy, it is largely absent in other policy spheres.
Public policy is often developed from a reactive standpoint with little attention paid to whether existing policies remain relevant. Institutionalizing a step within the policy process that regularly reviews and evaluates existing policies will enable governments to focus increasingly limited dollars where they are needed most.
Aging demographics will force governments to make strategic decisions about where to spend increasingly limited tax revenues to respond to growing program demands. As a result, public servants will be called upon to bring about new innovations in the policymaking process, as indicated in the recent Deloitte-Public Policy Forum report, Innovation in government? Conversations with Canada’s public service leaders (www.deloitte.com/ca/innovation-government).
Public services wishing to re-imagine the policymaking process should conduct a policy capacity assessment, examining the people, business process and technology dimensions that support complex policy analysis and decision making.
Through renewed emphasis on knowledge translation, collaborative policymaking, and Schumpeterian discipline, the policymaking process can be re-imagined for the benefit of better public policy.
Howard Yeung is a manager and Bronwyn Burke is a senior consultant with Deloitte’s public sector consulting practice in Ottawa (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).
Example: Renewing Policy Capacity in the Alberta Public Service
The Alberta Public Service undertook a review of its policy capacity in 2005-06 as the province entered an environment of increasing policy complexity. Consulting with elected officials, senior officials, young policy analysts, academics and key external stakeholders, the APS developed an action plan to enhance its policy capacity. Key outcomes included: developing guidelines for deputy ministers in the policy process, creating a community of practice for policy practitioners to share best practices, establishing a policy internship program, and defining the attributes of “good” policy.