Are governments making the best policy decisions?
Governments sometimes make efforts to improve some aspect of their policy-making process but very few, if any, have intentionally set out to create the best policy-making process. One can reasonably assume that creating the best policy-making process will lead to better policy decisions. One can also reasonably assume that citizens would want their governments to be making the best policy decisions. So it is surprising then, when you think about it, that governments are not putting more effort into creating the best possible policy-making process.
I have read and heard many people speak of their concerns about government policy-making at the local, provincial, national and international levels. These concerns range from lack of a voice in the policy-making process, the polarization of political positions, the negative impact of social media, and the failure of governments to effectively address pressing issues such as climate change and other earth system disruptions, the extinction of species, the inequitable distribution of income and economic opportunity, the overconsumption of finite natural resources, the lack of basic necessities and human rights for many, and more.
I was the Chief Administrative Officer at the Town of Stratford for 22 years. During this time, I saw firsthand how governments at all levels made policy decisions. I also, with the encouragement of Town Councils and the assistance of staff, researched and implemented many leading practices in policy-making including a sustainability vision/lens, a strategic performance management system based on the balanced scorecard, a community engagement strategy, a diversity and inclusion plan and an open government bylaw.
I eventually came to realize that we built a better policy-making process in Stratford, in our ongoing quest to build the best community possible, and that other governments could also benefit from such an approach. This led me to spend many hours in my spare time reading and thinking about what the best policy-making process for government would look like. I concluded that it should be:
- Transparent so that governments are less able to make decisions that benefit one group or groups more than others.
- Inclusive so that all citizens are included and no individual or group is discriminated against.
- Sustainable so that negative social, environmental, and economic impacts are avoided and future generations are not burdened by decisions made today.
- Equitable so that the costs and benefits of government decisions are distributed in accordance with need and ability.
- Engaging members of the public meaningfully in the process so that government decisions are informed, supported and accepted by members of the public and so that the creativity, diversity of ideas, and wisdom of the crowd is harnessed.
- Consensus based for large and difficult policy questions so that political and ideological divisions are overcome.
- Evidence informed so that government decisions are grounded in evidence.
There are no standards or performance measures that I can find that would help governments and their citizens to understand the quality of their present decision-making process. I have therefore created a simple survey instrument that will help governments, and their citizens and stakeholders, to measure the quality of their decision-making process. It is a perfect assessment tool, as it is based on my conclusions as to what constitutes the best decision-making process, but it is a good start and it will improve as the research and practice improve. If you are interested in seeing how well your government is doing, you can take the survey here.