What Makes A Policy Good?
Posted by Mike Smith
If you roll up not-good policy to Government, there’s every chance they will tell you so: your time and theirs will have been wasted.
You need to know how to ensure what you construct to take to Government is good policy, but “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, and Governments of different styles (e.g. authoritarian/bullying, consultative, conservative, reforming, neo-liberal, or socialist) will see the same policy proposal through quite different prisms. So too will individual decision-makers who are unable or unwilling to consider policy proposals dispassionately and objectively, and who bring their particular passions to bear upon whatever is before them.
So, you need to know with whom you are speaking, in order to craft a proposal they will see as good:
- What are their politics, objectives, and priorities?
- What are those of the Party and of the Government they serve?
- How do you cast or modify your proposal in a way servicing those layers of priorities, politics, and objectives?
For example, if your proposal needs to pass through a Treasury Department, where the official religion is usually “Market Mechanisms Rule, OK?” your proposal will attract suspicion and opposition as a matter of course, if it interferes with a free market or market-based pricing mechanism. Benefits will be seen as, at best, secondary.
The text books tell us there are objective criteria any policy must satisfy, if it is to be considered good; for example, it must be all of these:
- Effective and efficient: so scarce resources aren’t wasted;
- Equitable: remedying social injustice, providing a “fair go”;
- Comprehensible: avoiding uncertainty, misapplication, compliance failure, evasion, avoidance;
- Accessible: avoiding inbuilt exclusions caused by false assumptions;
- Practicable: avoiding policies made just for show; and
- Stable: so the outcomes endure and frequent changes aren’t required – this might include consideration of community popularity and/or political sustainability (e.g., would the next Government reverse the policy?).
The Policy Analysis chapter** of The Australian Policy Handbook*** by Althaus, Bridgman, and Davis will give you a good understanding of what lies behind each of those terms.
However, in dealing with ideologically driven Governments of a neo-liberal bent, then you will find they treat some of those principles as subordinate to some or all of these principles**** below:
- Custom and practice: don’t lightly change what has gone before;
- Precaution: identifying thoroughly the true long-term impacts;
- Choice and freedom: don’t impose stagnation and uniformity unnecessarily;
- Personal responsibility and mutual obligation: ensuring individuals take responsibility for their own choices;
- Small Government and lower Government expenditure: the smaller the Government the greater the freedom of citizens, and you are entitled to the full fruits of your labour;
- Competition, market-based mechanisms and contestability: competition and free markets deliver efficiency, quality and lowest cost; and
- Mainstreaming: avoiding ongoing disadvantage by eliminating stigma and policy ghettos.
On the other side of the political fence in Australia, a leftish or centre-left Government tends to regard those text-book criteria above, together with consistency with their own policy manifesto, as the starting point for assessing policy quality. Governments closer to the centre will demonstrate affection for some of those neo-liberal policy principles listed above, while retaining a commitment to the text-book criteria. Individual members of centre and centre-left Governments might regard the impact on such things as, for example
- community empowerment,
- income redistribution,
- social safety net,
- jobs and working conditions,
- infrastructure investment, and
- environmental sustainability,
as additional key tests for the quality of policy.
But don’t be fooled by these apparent ideological categories and constraints: you have to do the research so that know your audience, because, to cite two examples, some centre-left politicians are concerned to ensure personal responsibility and mutual obligation, while some on the right have a commitment to community empowerment.
* No, not Phaedrus by Plato, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
** If we could find our copy (long story) we would provide the Chapter number. Sorry about that. I know you’ll forgive.
*** It’s pretty easy to get as it is the prescribed text for several courses at www.uq.edu.au and www.qut.edu.au, and across Australia
**** These words aren’t necessarily our words!
About Mike SmithPartner in Ethical Consulting Services: www.ethicalconsulting.com; sometime University lecturer; previously Government Relations consultant; before that Labor Party State Secretary in Northern Territory; union advocate with LHMU/United Voice in NT and NSW; hobby – election campaigns!
Posted on May 28, 2015, in Australian Government, Culture, Democracy, Governance, Government decision-making, Government Relations, how to lobby, ideology, Lobbying, Lobbyist, marketing, Policy, Political tactics, Politics, Public service, public service decision-making, Queensland Government, Stakeholder engagement, Strategy, Values and tagged accessible, business planning, comprehensible, effective, Election Policies, equitable, free market, good policy, government, Government policy, government relations, lobbying, making policy, motivation, personal responsibility, persuasion, practicable, precaution, public service, red tape, responsibility, stable. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.