The Policy Dance: Just Follow the Steps...

dance stepsIn the quantum world of governance and decision-making the staple ingredient – policy – exists as both a “thing” and an act. The idea of policy often infers the idea of a rational process through which policy is developed in response to an issue, need or concern. You can imagine the flowchart now.

It starts with the apprehension of a problem or area of concern, proceeds through the identification and evaluation of options – sometimes called policy alternatives – and a determination of which of these might be the best one to deal with said problem or concern, and then finishes with the best option being selected, and then implemented.

The “policy” part of the process might then result in the articulation of decisions, the allocation of funds and resources, the creation of guidelines or laws or by-laws, or other such acts of jurisdictional authority. Sounds good. And if one were writing a policy for creating flowcharts then it would be precise indeed.

In reality, the various points in this process are less neutral, less precise and much greyer than suggested by conventional descriptions.

Such descriptions suggest the identification of issues is an objective and impartial practice. This is seldom the case. Ditto for the criteria that are used to evaluate the policy options and the means through which the “best” one gets defined.

In local government, these are the defining points of a particular city council or decision-making body's approach to an issue. Here the rationality suggested by the over-aching policy process gets replaced with another type of rationality: the trial-and-error problem-solving that features differing world-views, interpretations, and ideological stances.

The real question, for those of us on the outside, surrounds the nature of influence which we are allowed to exert, the way that we can be engaged in the process, and the strategies through which we can influence the outcomes based on own experiences of the city and the world.