View at the City hall of Charlottetown in Canada

Can and should public policy-making be improved?

Dec 1, 2022

Hello and welcome to the Civonus Policy Perceptions Blog!

I’m Robert, President & CEO of Civonus Inc., a company founded to help governments and public institutions improve their policy-making process.

On our journey to improve public policy through our web application, we will use this forum to explain our ongoing insights and learnings about the policy-making process.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about how I came to found Civonus Inc.

I worked as Chief Administrative Officer at the Town of Stratford, Prince Edward Island, for 22 years. With the support and encouragement of Town Councils and staff, I researched and implemented several leading practices in policy-making. These practices included 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.

Through these practices, I came to realize we were changing policy-making for the better in Stratford– And better policy-making processes meant better public policy decisions.

One can reasonably assume that citizens would want their governments and public institutions to be making the best public policy decisions and that proved to be the case as the citizens of Stratford showed strong support for all aspects of governance in annual resident surveys!

Public policy decisions are the most important and impactful decisions made in society. They potentially affect everything, including:

  • citizen health, education, safety and freedom;
  • the economy;
  • the natural environment;
  • the built environment; and
  • intergovernmental relations.

Given the potential impact of public policy decisions, one would expect that governments and public institutions would be laser-focused on improving their policy-making process. However, I have not found that to be the case, as very few, if any, governments have intentionally set out to create the best policy-making process.

That is not to say that governments have not tried to improve their process by adopting leading practices because many have done so, just not as part of a specific strategy to develop the best overall 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 rise of populism, and the spread of false and misleading information on social media.

Group of all ages holding and using smartphones.

There are also many pressing societal issues that remain unresolved, 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.
Because of the importance and impact of public policy decisions and the lack of a standardized approach and tool for policy-making, I decided to fill that gap.

In addition to my research and practice at the Town of Stratford, I spent many hours researching, thinking and talking to people about what the best policy-making process would look like for any and all governments and public institutions. I concluded that it should be:

  • Transparent so that governments are more accountable and less able to make decisions that benefit one group or groups more than others.

  • Inclusive so that all citizens and stakeholders are able to participate in the policy-making process, and so that 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 (or not made) today.

  • Equitable so that the costs and benefits of government decisions are distributed in accordance with need and ability.

  • Deeply engaging members of the public are fully and meaningfully involved in the policy-making 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 so that political and ideological divisions can be overcome and solutions that all can accept are sought.

  • Evidence-informed so that public policy decisions are grounded in evidence to the greatest extent possible.

  • Delivered online asynchronously so that people can participate on their own time, at the location of their choosing.

  • Respectful so that all perspectives can be fairly heard and considered.

I then started Civonus Inc., to develop the policy-making process described above delivered through a web application.

The process is designed to be open and transparent, consensus-based, sustainable, equitable, inclusive, respectful, evidence-informed and deeply engaging. The initial Civonus process provides a solid foundation, which will be continually improved based on an ongoing dialogue with participants, governments, public institutions and academia on how to improve it.

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 policy-making process. I have therefore created a simple survey instrument that will help governments, their citizens and stakeholders to estimate the quality of their decision-making process. It is meant as a starting point, based on my research as to what constitutes the best policy-making process, that 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.

Robert Hughes, President and CEO, Civonus Inc.

Civonus Inc. offers an online policy-making process to facilitate better public policy-making; and to enable governments and public institutions to collaborate with other governments and public institutions on policy-making for issues they have in common. It does so through the deep and meaningful engagement of citizens, government officials, subject matter experts and other stakeholders, in a process that is designed to produce more transparent, consensual, sustainable, inclusive, equitable, evidence-informed policy-making.

To find out more, visit civonus.ca.