19 April 2011

According to one senior civil servant, "if we built aeroplanes the way we build policy, none would ever fly". We' d like you to nominate policies with wings - and those that collapse at the end of the runway.

In the Institute's new reports on better policy making, we suggest seven building blocks of a good policy:

  1. Clarity on goals
  2. Open idea generation and robust use of evidence
  3. Rigorous policy design
  4. Responsive external engagement
  5. Thorough appraisal of options
  6. Clarity on role of central government and accountabilities
  7. Mechanisms for feedback and evaluation

We have recently run a series of policy reunions examining policies that Political Studies Association members deemed a success. Those policies - devolution, the minimum wage, privatisation, the Pensions Commission and the Climate Change Act -  score well on these fundamentals – and past policy failures score poorly against them.

Why policies fail

Many are weak on clarity on goals, ideas have been generated behind closed doors and there has been a failure to learn from past evaluations; external critiques have been ignored and there is little scope to adapt in the light of experience.

One stand-out area of weakness is in policy design – in particular the failure to understand the likely reaction of those who the policy is supposed to affect, such as:

  • the "deadbeat dads" who resisted the new child support regime
  • understanding the chaotic incomes at the bottom end which bedevilled tax credits
  • the sole traders who all incorporated to benefit from zero corporation tax
  • appreciating the extent to which farmers traded land which made implementing the farm payment scheme a lingering nightmare.

A new area is clarity on roles and accountabilities. Failing to sort that out in a world of decentralisation is a recipe for future grief. Our separate report Nothing to do with me? looks at ways of dealing with that.

Your best and worst

Now we would like you to join the debate on the best and worst polices of the last 40 years (NOT including the current government where it is too early to tell) – and how they benchmark against our fundamentals.

So select your policy iPad and your policy New Coke - either post a comment below or tweet your answer using the hashtag #policy



Not really an iPad/New Coke comment, but some thoughts on the Better Policy Making papers.

Goals and Objectives:
Clarity and coherence of goals always seems a bit of a nirvana. You can bet Ministers will have goals, they might even have the same goals, but everyone else in the delivery chain/network will probably have their own goals - and these are bound to conflict.
System Stewardship is a good principle since it focusses the mind on achieving the goal/objective, but you need to aim off for the fact that everyone else thinks that they are the most competent (in both senses of the word) steward.

Training of policy officials:
Everyone can benefit from more training - even top mandarins. We need to find ways in which they can become more involved in the public debates around how we are governed without crossing the fuzzy line of undermining the government of the day.
There is the associated challenge of "what sort of job is it?" - are we talking about doctors/judges/military officers (ie - join at the bottom and progress in a serene and deterministic way up) or business entrepreneurs (good at developing ideas, better at making them happen).

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