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Policy 2.0: towards whole-of-government policy development

2009 October 8
by Martin Stewart-Weeks

Charlie Leadbeater, UK-based writer and thinker on innovation and public policy, was recently in Australia for a series of workshops and conversations with government, business and community leaders. At a workshop hosted by the Eidos Institute in Brisbane, I met Paul Henman from the University of Queensland and we got to talking about the application of some of the new tools of social networking and collaboration, which Charlie was talking about primarily in the area of service re-design, to other core functions of government. And one in particular – policy development.

In our discussion, Paul and I agreed that policy analysis and development are central activities of government, yet the use of information, communication and collaboration tools are often not as well developed, Perri 6’s excellent book e-governance being a rare contribution in this area (E-governance: Styles Of Political Judgment In The Information Age Polity)

Web 2.0 technologies in particular offer innovations for policy development to better address complex policy problems, particularly those that cross departmental or portfolio responsibilities, and even government jurisdictional boundaries. And these are increasingly the problems with which governments are confronted, especially those we like to call “wicked”.

The advent of the internet and the associated evolution of e-government have driven a debate about the capacity for new networked ICTs to break down the silos of government, and to build more joined-up or holistic government. One stop shops and shared services have provided more joined-up service delivery. But the missing piece is developing more joined-up policy.

Interdepartmental Committees and inquiries are the traditional ‘technologies’ for cross-agency policy development. Such activities could be enhanced with web 2.0 technologies, for example via a private government website that brings together data and discussion from relevant agencies. Wiki tools could be used by actors for developing and drafting policy documents, summarizing policy settings and stresses, and identifying possible directions.

This could be supplemented by data mashups that draw data from the different sources to provide a more whole-of-government perspective on the policy problem. Presentation of that data geographically would be further advantageous. Blogs could be used by policy developers to debate and discuss such things as emerging findings, policy solutions and implementation arrangements. In this way, the collective intelligence and expertise from separate, but interlinking, agencies, policy domains and jurisdictional areas, could be enabled to better understand and respond to difficult policy problems.

Of course, the technology component is likely to be the least of our challenges. For the most part, the tools and platforms that would give rise to this kind of collaborative model of policy development are all available right now. And there are some examples you could look at to give a hint of what’s possible – the story around the Intellepedia solution adopted by the homeland security agencies in the US might be one (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellipedia).

The real challenge will be cultural and organisational. After all, in order to maximize the capacities of such technologies, government agencies would need to ensure, for example, that experts with the appropriate knowledge are able to freely contribute, and not be restricted through the traditional filtering of seniority. This approach – which Peter Drucker once described as a bias in favour of “contribution, not status” – ushers in a stringent doctrine for work and interaction in government which could test some of the more entrenched instincts that experience suggests might work in exactly the opposite direction.

And on top of that, “policy 2.0” would have to come to grips with the fact that in many cases, the ‘evidence’ and ‘expertise’ that good policy needs will come not from traditional experts or sources of apparently authoritative knowledge, but from customers, service users and their families or carers and a much wider range of genuine expertise across the community than we might normally assume. This ability to make our policy systems both smarter and more open at the same time is the focus of recent work by Beth Noveck, now running the open and transparent government program in the Obama administration (Wiki-Government: How open-source technology can make government decision-making more expert and more Democratic. Journal of Personal Democracy, Issue #7, Winter 2008)
The implications of “policy 2.0” are every bit as demanding and full of promise as the other dimensions of government 2.0. Their capacity not just to change the rhythms and practices of policy making but, in the process, to end up with better policy, is an enticing prospect.

3 Responses
  1. 2009 October 12
    Laura Sommer permalink

    Thanks Martin for this interesting post. Some brief points that come to mind about participation in the policy development:

    - at what stage in the policy cycle is public involvement engaged? My preference is to involve people who are affected by the policy at the design stage as we work to define the problem and consider options. This requires a shift in approach since in many cases I’ve observed the policy thinking to occur in the back room first before presenting options. I am not advocating a blank page but rather to engage people during early development of a policy.
    With our project team, I have engaged a diverse community in developing policy and guidance for online participation. This involved inviting active participation through the different channels including using a wiki to draft and comment on content.

    - secondly, the assumption that people will not understand the wider context for ‘wicked’ problems. Rather than thinking that this myth is true, it relies on the agency to ensure that wider context is available and accessible.

    - thirdly, what is the timeframe available to develop the policy? There are longer term benefits by connecting with the affected groups including implementation teams. However there may be an urgent time limitation required by Ministers which makes it really challenging to develop a sustainable solution(s).
    This situation goes to the heart of establishing trusted relationships between government and public/business. It’s worth considering the principles for public participation such as relevancy, transparency, etc. People will participate to achieve urgent timeframes if there is demonstrated value and return for participation plus respect and understanding of what is required.

  2. 2009 October 14
    simonfj permalink

    The real challenge IS cultural and organisational. After all, in order to maximize the capacities of such technologies, government agencies would need to ensure, for example, that experts with the appropriate knowledge are able to freely contribute, and not be restricted through the traditional filtering of seniority.

    This really is the crux of the matter(s) isn’t it? “Maximizing the capacities of technologies” then becomes “how to use them to be more inclusive”. The descrepencies are sooo great, especially when (e.g.) a minister might allocate huge monies to ensure .edu institutions have the most modern technologies and yet never use them (themselves) in the .gov space.

    You might be reflecting on the culture PS find themselves in. Your ‘output’ centers in developing a policy. You must believe that your policy will affect people. E.g You must believe that developing a policy in your agency will help PS to understand a new way of communicating. The tools you choose will depend on yur “diverse community’s” experience and understanding, and we know there are thousands of tools. A collaborative suite for govdex will be considered a baby by professional standards.

    You will also know Interdepartmental committees come and go, and being hidden from the public during their short existance, possibly in a place like govdex, where the policy is to exclude the public, involving people who may be affected by a new policy becomes impossible. This approach reinforces the us and them culture, at three levels of government, and four ages of education.

    Perhaps we would find an easier way forward here by just considering ourselves in the lifelong learning space, and ask policy developers to keep their tools and inquiries in the .edu domain. After all, this is the cultural divide we’re trying to bridge isn’t it? “by social inclusion, not status“.

  3. 2009 October 14
    simonfj permalink

    socialinclusion

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