Quote of the week
“The Prime Minister doesn’t want the truth, he wants something he can tell Parliament.”
— Yes Minister TV series
I was a judge last weekend at the National Public Administration Case Competition hosted by the University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance. Twelve schools from across the country competed, presenting to a panel of “Ministers” (of which I was one) their solutions to a complicated policy case study.
Every one of the twenty-minute presentations, followed by ten minutes of questions, demonstrated teamwork, intelligence and hard work. Sincere congratulations must be given to all participants, organizers and sponsors.
There was one almost uniform comment about the presentations that judges agreed upon: they did not give enough attention to the “political” dimension in their proposed approaches. In other words – and this could apply to many in government – they needed to be better at taking into account where the politicians are coming from.
So what is it that politicians take into account when they are asked to make a policy decision?
Well, I will suggest there are five things:
First, any proposed approach needs to tackle the defined problem. This sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often options put forward don’t reflect the earlier analysis.
Second, it can’t be too far out front of today’s social norms. To take one example, fifty years ago no politician would have supported a ban on smoking because the public wasn’t there.
Third, it needs to be politically aligned with the ideology of the party; don’t propose nationalization to a Conservative minister.
Fourth, any policy approach must be operationally doable.
Finally, it needs to be publicly understandable. After all, it’s the politicians who have to sell the decision to citizens…and take the flack for it.