Policy making

Typically, policies are made in the government to deal with certain issues. I.e. one such policy might be 'we will legalize marijuana'. The 'issue' in this case refers more to a matter that needs to be addressed and not so much 'an issue' that needs to be fixed. It can also deal with mundane things, like how you wish to organize visitor processes at a certain facility (local municipal building). In theory, thus, everything can have a policy. However they typically involve more contentious matters.

The steps ideally occur as such, under the idea that policy makers follow the 'rational actors model':

  • Set the goal (agenda setting), decide what you wish to achieve
  • Map all the alternatives (decide on what options there are)
  • Evaluate all the alternatives, see what the effects of said alternatives would be if implemented
  • Make a choice that maximizes the reward/outcome

However there are numerous 'fallacies' that come to light when you look at implementation of this model. 'Rational governments', right, who has ever heard of that?

  • The rational actor model implies that a choice has to be made. But a government is a government. They don't have to make a choice. They can just not make a choice and let the issue muddle on.
  • The 'alternatives' are endless. Technically it's possible to construct a doom lazer that can destroy the world to fix a certain issue, but like, really, how realistic is it? Well, it's still an alternative. So you have to list it. You can keep going forever just by listing alternatives.
  • The analysis/evaluation of all the alternatives is impossible because nobody can predict the exact effects of a certain policy. In the Netherlands a weed-pass was introduced that you needed to have to buy weed. The project failed entirely because nobody predicted that this would shift the market for marijuana to criminal circles. This is called a unexpected negative side effect, and generally it occurs because we are not omniscient.
  • The RAM also implies that there is a single government that acts/thinks in unison, but this is not the case. Often there are numerous agencies/departments that have differing views on certain policies because they have different interests at mind. For example, the department of justice probably wants marijuana to be criminalized, because it creates a headache for them when arresting people (<5 gram is ok, but >5 gram is not? Are you going to independently weigh it every time you find weed? What about 'slippery slope?') where as the department of finances probably wants it legalized because it offers a massive source of income.

But even then, if you were to get past these and reach a consensus there are more problems that arise simply because of limitations:

  • Lack of money. If you take the BEST alternative with MAXIMUM benefits, it might be very expensive and far outside of the budget. Therefore you cannot rationally make that choice, even if RAM demands it.
  • Pressure of time. Sometimes there is not a lot of time. You can't map all the alternatives and select an alternative carefully after deliberation. You need to act. Sometimes that means you can't make the best choice.
  • Resistance. Some policies are really unpopular even if they benefit the long run. Because we live in a political system, it would be stupid to implement such a policy if you wish to be re-elected.
  • Bounded rationality. Nobody knows everything, and that means there are limits to our rationality and knowledge. We cannot make the best choice if we don't know all the details.
  • Path dependency. This is very important because using this you will realize all the things your predecessors have done affect you too. You want to revise the entire education system? Okay. You need to remove EVERYTHING we have already put in place, and renew it, which is a MASSIVE project that would make the supposed 'benefits' far outweighed by the costs of the entire project. So, the 'best' option is not always possible.
  • Groupthink. 'Yes, great idea boss' while you're thinking 'this is retarded'.
  • Bureaucracy. Things sometimes just take forever to get done.

A possible solution to all these pathologies is IPM - interactive policy making. In IPM, citizens share power with public officials and other stakeholders in a process we refer to as EDD - empowered deliberative democracy. This stands for the empowerment of citizens being able to influence decisionmaking and see 'the fruits of their labor' come to action in practice, the deliberation aspect that comes in from the deliberative (decisions based on good argumentation and discussion rather than voting) nature of EDD and the democracy of citizens being involved in the process.

One benefit of IPM is that it helps deal with these 'wicked problems' which are problems that are deeply complex and involve many actors. Often there is a lot of uncertainty involved in wicked problems. These three types of uncertainty are typically present in wicked problems:

  • Substantive uncertainty;
    Relative to the availability of information. Often in wicked problems, the full details are not known. Or they're just not known at the right time (hindsight is the most powerful sight). But it also relates to the interpreting of information. As mentioned before, different departments might have different views on problems. The same goes for wicked problems and its' information. Statistics on race and crime lead to wildly different interpretations among different people.
  • Strategic uncertainty;
    Every actor within a wicked problem is theoretically entirely independent and, as such, can do as they want. In part due to substantive uncertainty, they might decide to not cooperate, or withdraw from the process, or make unexpected decisions. This leads to strategic uncertainty; will they do what you anticipate? You never know. Thus it can be hard to deal with this without communication (of which there often is little in wicked problems).
  • Institutional uncertainty;
    Interaction between the actors can be extremely hard because every actor acts in the interest of, and according to, the image of their organization/institution. Furthermore every organization is organized differently and has different standards, meaning that interaction is at best spotty when it does happen due to different working methods and culture.

Furthermore, disregarding wicked problems, IPM is also a valuable tool for dealing with cynical citizens. By using IPM and incorporating the citizens, anybody that is cynical can see progress being made (if IPM is done correctly, which it is often not, as we will see later). As such, it might help deal with cynicism.

When looking at IPM structure, there would be two approaches (with one noticeably being better than the other).

  • Horizontal leadership (IPM, EDD, embraces embodiment of empowering and deliberating democracy)
  • Vertical leadership (old style decision making, government decides what is what with minimal input)

Fung and Wright (2001)

In their article, Fung and Wright discuss the workings and failings of IPM based on 5 case studies.

  • Chicago neighborhood governance councils
  • Winsconsin Regional Training Partnership
  • Habitat Conservation Planning under the Endangered Species Act
  • Porto Alegre participatory budgeting
  • Panchayat Reforms in West Bengal and Kerala

Chicago Neighborhood Governance Councils

In Chicago the schooling system was failing, being named 'the worst schools in the USA' (and with good reason). After a lot of pressure from local business groups, parents and community members a law was passed that enforced schools to have a local school council. In every school council there would be;

  • 6 parents
  • 2 local community members
  • 2 teachers
  • 1 principal
  • 1 non-voting student member (highschools only)

Although we are used to 'non effective' councils that don't have any power/don't do anything except disseminate information, these councils had a lot of powers. This was required not only by law but also to embody EDD. (Can't have empowerment without power, deliberation without effective access to information, and democracy when your voice isn't heard.) Their powers/duties were as follow:

  • Select principals
  • Write principal performance reports
  • Write annual school improvement plans
  • Monitor implementation of these plans
  • Approve school budgets

As you can see, compared to 'regular' councils they were very empowered. However, this did not translate into success in all cases. The success rate was about 50% with some cases being highly successful and some failing almost immediately. Mostly, this was because of a lack of skill, capacity, internal conflicts (principal vs. teachers, principal vs. parents, community members vs. parents, etc) or simply bad luck.

A second reform was passed to combat this, which allowed the government to monitor the success of these groups and forced every member of the council to undergo 20 hours of training (budgeting, EDD process). Using their monitoring, they'd then be capable of sending additional aid to failing councils, in the form of aid or resources, or to take disciplinary actions against them.

The same situation arose with the failing police department of Chicago. They were out of touch with the citizens of Chicago and, due to growing resentment and distrust of the police, found that their old strategy which focused on a) rapid response to crime and b) patrols with marked vehicles to raise awareness of their presence was not proving to be very effective (anymore). As such they opted to switch to an EDD/IPM structure, involving the citizens.

This happened by dividing the city into individual 'beats'. Monthly beat meetings were held where cops and community members could come to the meeting and discuss with each other what was going on, and they could offer their input. A second reform was passed where citizens were then able to tell the police what their priorities were and what issues they were facing. Overall, this project was considered more succesful than the school council project.

Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership

The project arose as a perceived failure of the private and public education system to educate people in accordance with the new technologies that were arising. In simple terms: technology was improving so fast that the educational system could not keep up, and your education would be outdated when you were finished with it.

In response to this, a training partnership was established between a) the workers b) the managers and c) local schools and universities. First of all a curriculum was established, based on first hand floor experience and priorities that were given by the workers. This way it was ensured that the curriculum was at least up to speed with the new technology.

A training centre would be established within the workplaces of involved members and other interested parties, and then teachers/educators from the local universities/schools would come to teach to both the managers and employees.

Besides simply raising education standards, this also created a new dynamic that, instead of pitting workers and managers against each other at the negotiation table, in fact created a bond that made the dynamic more horizontal and as such a more deliberative/discussion based approach could be taken.

Participatory City Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil

For a long time the city budget in Porto Alegre was used not for the public but for private interests of the leading figures. This was because a patronage system was established where mayors/leaders would pay people to vote for them, rather than spend the fund on development of the city. When a left wing party came to power they changed this system, instead creating an IPM system based on citizen participation in the budget.

The fact alone that citizens had insight into the use and spenditure of the budget meant that the corruption ended because it was no longer possible to secretly funnel money to the patrons without it appearing in the budget.

Twice a year a council would meet with representatives of citizens, where they would discuss the budget and allocate it to various things. Then the proposal would be sent to the mayor, who could accept or veto it. If vetoed, the council would be able to revise the budget or vote on accepting it, and if a two third majority was achieved the mayor would be forced to accept the budget.

Principles of EDD

So from these cases we can derive the principles of EDD. First and foremost there needs to be a practical orientation. The problems that are handled by EDD should be concrete and straight forward rather than highly complex. This way people that are not experts can participate.

Secondly, there needs to be a bottom-up participation. The people should lead the public figures, not vice versa. People with field level experience and expertise should be able to put in their knowledge so that the choice made reflects well onto the actual application.

Thirdly, the process must be lead by deliberation (process through argumentation) and not by voting. Deliberation is the key part of EDD.

The institutional design of EDD

  • Devolute
    The power must be devoluted back to the people, empowering them and their local action units.
  • Centralize supervision and monitoring
    Supervision and monitoring must be centralized to ensure that the local action units maintain course and avoid total decentralization and chaos. The decentralization that follows devolution should be organized, not chaotic.
  • State centered, not voluntaristic
    Existing state entities should be left in tact and should continue to function in conjunction with the people, instead of being disbanded or made obsolete

Institutional objectives of EDD

  • Effective problem solving
    • Empower the individuals with intimate knowledge
    • Know how to best solve the problem
    • Solutions are superior through EDD process
    • Shorten the feedback loop
    • Multiple strategies of learning - learning capacity of the system might thus be enhanced
  • Fair and equitable
    • Effective public action to those who do not enjoy certain goods (Traxton beat, Chicago)
    • Inclusion of disadvantaged individuals
    • Deliberative process leads to more equitable decisions than those made by people who are in power
  • Broad and deep participation

So far it seems like the EDD process is fucking perfect and nothing is wrong with it. But this isn't really true. There are certainly flaws.

  • Deliberation into domination
    Sometimes the EDD process can lead into domination if certain people or groups are too strong.
  • Forum shopping for external powers
    Certain organizations might favor becoming a part of EDD to obtain a more favorable outcome for themselves, by promoting their policy ideas
  • Rent seeking vs. public goods
    Certain groups might be part of the EDD process to 'steer money' into their pockets. For example, a local greengrocer might be in favor of a policy that supports local businesses because he knows he'll get money from it.
  • Balkanization of politics
    Essentially refers to cartel-forming where people form groups that will then battle against each other.
  • Apathy
    Sometimes people just don't care about the issue and are there for no reason other than it's expected of them.
  • Stability and sustainability
    Sometimes an EDD project just isn't stable enough nor is it sustainable.

Fung (2001)

In his solo debut article (he's like a rockstar) he goes into more depth surrounding the Chicago PD and school councils. Of primary interest is a concept of accountable autonomy, which means as much as being able to combine accountability (expecting professionals to do their jobs) and autonomy (freedom of operation, decisionmaking). Independently these two values are not wholly effective at managing IPM, but combined they provide just what we need to manage an IPM project.

Again this illustrated the points of EDD:

  • Opportunities should be created for citizens to directly participate in the decision making process (democracy) on a micro level
  • Participation so far instituted deliberation based processes. (deliberative)
  • Devolution created empowerment. (Empowered)

So, you can see the EDD principles reflected within the outcomes of the projects.

Besides this in both cases it was apparent that there was no capacity/a lack of capacity. People didn't have the expertise and knowledge to work together.

  • Building support: training, mobilization and institutional intervention
  • Accountability: monitoring, intervening and learning

Traxton Beat in Chicago

The Traxton beat was a beat that showed very specific problems due to an inequitable distribution of public services. Traxton had a train track running through it with on the west side a wealthy, majority white area with professionals and on the east a poor, majority black area with a lack of professionals. The west side was riddled with 'minor' problems like noise pollution and burglaries and the east was riddled with problems like murder and drug houses springing up.

However the police applied a first-come-first-serve process that meant that in practice the white area made more use of police means and goods because they were more willing to rely on the police than the black neighborhood, which distrusted the police and felt they were not there to help them. Furthermore, the existing beat-meetings were dominated primarily by the white professionals because they had more trust in the police and thus made more use of the meetings.

The election of a new beat facilitator meant that this would get thrown around. After reworking the process he involved more people from the east side, and after deliberation a consensus was reached that the east side would receive more attention from the police because the issues there were more harmful (and a case could be made that the issues there trickled through to the west side).

Klijn and Koppenjan

This respective article from Klijn and Koppenjan dealt with the politicians and their impact on IPM and EDD. Two instances/case studies were used to illustrate the role of politicians in IPM cases - the extension of the Rotterdam harbour, and the creation of a city-province for Rotterdam.

In both these projects a trend of three points was noticed:

  • Public instances and politicians were working together with civilians
  • There existed a growing awareness that it was impossible to concentrate all knowledge in 1 place
  • Local and national governments were worried about the growing gap between citizens and politicians

As it turned out, EDD was a problem for representative democracies, because politicians have different interests from citizens (re-elections and political interests to consider).

For the Rotterdam Harbor expansion there were three respective options available:
-Zero option, nothing happens, no expansion (favored by the green parties involved)
-Intensive development within the terrain itself
-Expansion outside of existing terrain, construction of 'tweede Meuse plein' artificial island (favored by harbor authorities)

In the deliberation process the politicians were very removed from the process and only the local authorities were involved at some point. In the deliberation process itself it was decided that a tweede Meuse plein would be constructed but it would be smaller in scale, which was not what was originally planned. But since it was decided deliberatively, it would be good.

However, the national government then decided that the harbor would be too small and overruled it, completely disregarding the existing deliberated decision and decided to just build the larger Meuse plein in favor of economic growth, while citing a sustainable and green approach while also keeping in line the wishes of the community (which evidently wasn't true because they had overruled the communities deliberative decision).

As it turns out there were two arena's:

  • The interactive arena, where deliberation took place
  • The administrative arena, where the final decision took place

And as such it seemed the fate of the Meuse plein had already been sealed in the administrative arena before the deliberation process even began.

As for the city region project, there were growing concerns that the Rotterdam city could not keep up with growing economical and social struggles within the Rotterdam city. As such a proposition was made to 'split' the city into two with two respective city regions to better manage the problems.

Originally the project was going well until a lull occured during which, in local elections, a ''City Party'' arose and accused the leading party of attempting to disband the city entirely. At this point the entire project slowed to a halt until it was finally decided in a local referendum that the split would not occur.

From these two case studies we can draw numerous conclusions about the role of politicians in EDD/IPM.

Politicians seemed to be aware of their role within IPM, but saw themselves as either;

- Distant actors, far away from the process
- Stakeholders with a very specific interest


  • Politicians often initiated IPM processes but very rarely participated
  • Political primacy was ultimately the biggest concern for politicians
  • The EDD threat was a threat to their primacy
  • It was also a threat to the representative role, because if IPM became very important and liked, then they would lose their jobs as they become obsolete since citizens can represent themselves now.

This leads to the conclusion that politicians should change their jobs from being representative to being facilitators and engagers in the IPM process.

Within the article, two views of democracy were iterated:
  • Substantive democracy
    Democracy is seen as an ideal to strive for, not a system of decisionmaking. Participation and self-representation are key concepts.
  • Functional democracy
    Democracy is seen as a structured way of making decisions through representative democracy, which is merely meant to fulfill the wishes of the people, and not as an ideal.

As such it is to be understood that for politicians, IPM is merely seen as a risk.
  • IPM is a slow process and as such may cause postponement of important or urgent policies
  • It can cause a commitment to issues that are very hard to sell to the electoral community (try selling 'treating criminals better' and still getting voted on
  • A conflict between two parties might undermine the authority of a politician
  • They can be accused of not taking a substantive view of the IPM process and democracy
  • Minorities can target you as part of their strategies to enforce policies that you/your party do not wish to endorse

On the other hand there are also benefits:

  • You gain access to new actors with varying strategies, ideas and resources
  • IPM has stronger resolutions because there is more support for the solution, as it was democratically chosen
  • Prevents politicization of issues by early inclusion of relevant stakeholders
  • Politicians steer the process, avoiding the question of having to frame what the best interest of the people is, since politicians know/can decide on that
  • The creation of new decision making processes helps break monopolies on existing decision making processes

The NDC (New Deal for Communities)

The NDC was a project started by the Blair government that chose the most deprived of all communities and would then seek to restore and regenerate them. Although the project in it's groundwork was well meant it quickly turned into a chaos/disaster.

  • First the local authorities tried to seize NDC funds for 'housing funding' instead of using it to regenerate the community
  • This was rectified only by local politically active community members seizing the NDC funds back
  • There was a too big focus on physical restoration and not enough on the prospects of community members. They might have a decent looking house now but they still have shit prospects, meaning that ultimately the community would deteriorate again.
  • The pace of development was way too high and locals could not keep up with the speed of the developments. This caused a sense of exclusion from the project.
  • The meetings were way too formal, and didn't allow for regular participation due to the 'professional' attitude. Regular citizens did not understand it half the time
    • Add to this that the NDC was hijacked by professionals and was thus renamed 'New Deal for Consultants' because it became a cash cow for consultants and professionals
  • Local participation was compromised by a local agenda that went two ways
    • Limited money available meant that there was a lot of competitiveness
    • Local authorities attempted to seize the money for funding new housing
  • Local citizens are community members on their own term, and not on the terms of the NDC, thus you can't force participation (apathy)

The future of IPM

In terms of what we can expect from IPM, here are what we have learned about IPM so far.

  • People are willing and capable of discussing anything
  • When IPM is organized well, people really like IPM
  • The outcomes are usually excellent

There is also a consensus of what IPM needs to become 'good'

  • A realistic expectation of the influence you will have
  • An inclusive and representative process
  • An informed discussion geared towards finding a consensus
  • A neutral, professional staff
  • Broad, public support for final recommendations
  • Prove that it is sustainable over time

And there are limitations:

  • First of all the public agreement is rather illusive (hard to achieve) and deliberation does not always generate a consensus
  • Organization. IPM is hard to organize and if it is not done correctly it will not work
  • Scale. Scale can be hard to manage. How big is the project, how many people do you include, etc.
  • Impact. High quality deliberation does not always lead to societal change, at all.

And there are new frontiers for IPM to face;

  • IPM needs to strengthen the tie between deliberation and conversation
  • Moving from substantive problems to cultural conflicts
  • Cross-nation deliberation