The mysteries of Government Policy | THE POLITICUS

The mysteries of Government Policy

The government, and all bureaucracies, need policies that provide a solid base on which to carry out the long-winded decision-making process, however, having clear and concise policies would conflict with the paradigm of delaying decisions. Therefore, it is essential to have a process that will ensure that such policies are written with the utmost care so that they will perform the required function, i.e. delaying decisions. The following question must therefore be asked: ‘How do you write a good government policy?

Understanding the context

What form should a policy take? Some short-sighted departments take the view that the production of clear and concise policies will be beneficial to their stakeholders and will reduce the workloads in the department. Under no circumstances should you follow this example as it will send you along the perilous decision-making path.

A proper government policy should be a lengthy document that begins with a seemingly straightforward statement, only one or two sentences at most; it should then go into a lengthy explanation and discussion of the reasons why the policy statement reads as it does. The more that people read this, ideally structured and written with lots of jargon by one of the department’s boffins, the more confused they will become. The meaning of the initial statement will then be cast into doubt. Some people will, at their peril, take the opening policy statement at face value. This is a sure way to begin a downward spiral into confusion and depression. This is particularly so if it is taken as guidance in relation to the development of a project needing government approvals.

Many boffins in the public service still write documents in the form of academic papers complete with detailed methodologies, complex equations and graphs, and numerous references. This will be meaningless to the majority of the general public. These policy documents are only of interest to other boffins; their only use is to be read at technical conferences. This is why boffins are ideal for the policy-writing task. Once you have decided what the policy is going to achieve, you then need to start the writing process.

Writing the policy

1. Write the draft concentrating on your own knowledge of the issue, making sure that you ignore past documents. This gives you an entirely new perspective on the matter at hand. Of course, some may say that you need to use these documents so that you can be comfortable that you are aware of the history that has led to this particular policy being required. However, these people are dinosaurs who probably wrote previous drafts of the policy and who have egos that will be hurt if you ignore their work. These are often bitter old bureaucrats who have not mastered the five paradigms of government.

2. Send the policy out for comment. While we may believe that our work is great, there is a slim possibility that our stakeholders may not agree with our point of view. We could go out and consult during the composition of the draft to make sure that these issues are addressed, however, this may result in a coherent policy and decisions being made as a result. Delaying consultation until after the draft has been written will ensure that all sorts of stakeholders will be upset and feel that they have been ignored. They will then raise all sorts of issues with the proposed policy.

3. Deal with submissions from the consultation period. Don’t ignore them - that would be rude. Register and assess the comments, then comment on their relevance. The time taken for the evaluation is usually a matter of months. To incorporate all the comments from diverse stakeholders adds to the length of time taken to write the policy, and ensures that all concerned will regard the final document as unworkable. If you have done your job properly, the policy will be a huge leap backward. Advanced bureaucrats can ‘mistakenly’ leak the comments to the relevant stakeholders and cause further upset when it is discovered that a submission has been regarded as misguided or irrelevant by the department. This is guaranteed to cause the offended or ignored stakeholder to write to the Minister responsible for the department, causing long delays if the Minister decides to get involved.

4. Release the policy in a frenzy of publicity. Invite politicians, the CEO, Board Chair, and any other relevant bigwig that can be found, as well as any person who has had any remote role in the generation of the policy. The writer of the policy is advised to make sure that they get no publicity whatsoever and are not in any way associated with the policy (arse-covering paradigm).

5. Sit back and watch the policy in action and deny all knowledge of how it came about. People will discover that it is hard to implement and that there are even more problems than when it was decided that a new policy was needed. It will be too late to go back to the old policy. You can shift blame to other departments or branches within your own department, and, more importantly, the industries that complained about uncertainty in decision-making and wanted the policy in the first place.