Over the last few years I have been trying to understand how open government can save democracy and help us deal with the big challenges in society today. Recently I have turned my attention to the policy making process as a big part of what government does.
Policy, according to Wikipedia is “a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes”. Government does a lot of policy. It creates laws, regulations and a whole series of policy instruments. You could argue that government really only exists to create policy, and implement policy via services. So policy is important.
Traditional government policy is like making sausage
To make sausage you grind up some meat, add some spices and maybe some filler. You stuff it in a tube of something using a special machine and package it up for cooking and consumption. Once the sausage is made, it is pretty much impossible to change the recipe.
To make policy we grind up some knowledge, add some words and maybe some regulation. We get it approved by the department, the cabinet or the legislature in a process that takes years. Once approved, it is pretty difficult to change. Lessons from implementation are frequently lost as the policy does not get renewed for years.
The thing about sausage is that even though it might taste good, you never really know what goes into it. Also too much of it is probably not good for your health.
Open policy making is like making a salad
On the other hand, let’s think of a salad. Not only is it more colorful and diverse, you can instantly see all the ingredients. You can tell by looking at it whether it is fresh or not. Salads are versatile and easily changed. In fact, if you really want to you can still toss in some tasty sausage at the last minute.
Open policy making lets you know what went into the creation of government direction, you can easily see and examine the ingredients in the end product. In open policy making you can even offer up your own ingredients. And salads are generally good for your health.
The world is changing and we need to adapt
We have spent centuries in government perfecting a convoluted sausage policy making process that depends heavily on expert advice and a bureaucratic understanding of the
public good. But the world is changing. Meat consumption has been declining for decades and for government to stay relevant it must adapt.
I think we need more salads in our policy diet, what do you think?
Links and credits:
- Thanks to @kentdaitken and his government as a meat grinder metaphor for getting me going on this.
- Sausage image: By Mariuszjbie (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
- Salad image: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
- Statistics Canada’s disappearance data from http://thinkbeef.ca/much-meat-eat-reality-check/