Friday 1 September 2017

A Policy A Day: An Alternative Model for Policy Making

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's satire post is by Ben Tan

New Zealand has many issues that probably need to be addressed – housing, healthcare, and education are often bandied about as things that “everyday New Zealanders” care about. Things like the environment, infrastructure, and immigration are all key areas in which most people generally agree are things. However, getting people to generally agree on what to do about such things is often quite messy, and messiness means that we give ourselves too much opportunity to procrastinate by feeling compelled to first tidy up. As such, political parties come up with “policies” that outline how they want to behave in light of these issues (for example, a policy could be something like charging people for water, or maybe granting all would-be immigrants New Zealand citizenship, which would drastically reduce the increase in immigrants on temporary resident visas).

And actually, while politicians and the media like to talk to us about what “everyday New Zealanders” want and think, we don’t seem to give much thought to “yesterday” New Zealanders and “tomorrow” New Zealanders, who, arguably, probably have a lot more to worry about (like why tomorrow is always only a day away, or why people don’t like them around, even though they contribute to society and work towards permanent residency). How do parties/politicians “come up” with their policies? Do they need a policy on policy-making? (While policy looks like the word police, police-making is wholly different, and achieved as a result of organic biological processes that are discussed in one of the areas of the “health and physical education learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum”).

One of the recent political contenders has started being quite explicit (more moustache-prominent, as opposed to NSFW-explicit) about their policies being “evidence-based”. In fact, there is a more general trend in the notion that we should be using “evidence-based” policy to help us address the ills of society. But what is “evidence-based” policy? What is “evidence”? Evidence is usually a set of numbers and squiggly graph-things that come out of studies about the world around us. Experts use things like “the scientific method”, which is all about observation and logical reasoning, to better understand the links between actions and reactions in the world. Science relies on a set of principles designed to “significantly reduce subjectivity, bias and uncertainty in our understanding of our natural, built, and social environments”. For some reason, some people think that we should be able to use “knowledge” and “facts”, to inform how we should do something, to give us the outcomes we desire. But of course, studies have their limitations, and experts often have to be upfront about their assumptions and contexts, and when policies need to take into account other areas, such as the logistics of implementation, cultural/societal value propositions, and will this thing get me votes, it’s probably more worthwhile to consider “evidence-informed” or “evidence-influenced” policy making.

But today’s New Zealanders don’t have time to think about facts (after all, it’s much easier to send things via email than to figure out how to dial someone). Memes run rampant through the ultra-fast broadband connections that make bushes espouse the benefits of interconnectivity, and basing things on “evidence” seems like a tiresome novelty. Fake news is more digestible, and pseudoscience means we can seem fairly reasonable. As I suspect we’ll hear more of in the coming campaigns, people understand “the single mum in Otara”, or the “small business owner in Gore” much more than scientific jibber-jabber (read: studies) about the efficacy of boot camps for reducing youth recidivism.

Hence, in an effort to improve transparency about how and why the government makes the decisions that it does on behalf of all everyday New Zealanders, yesterday New Zealanders, tomorrow New Zealanders, and you-don’t-look-like-a New Zealanders, here’s a proposal for a Ministry of Anecdotes and Stuff Comments (MASC). The ministry will come to embody a new yet old way of thinking, what we call "anecdote-based policy making".

MASC’s role is to seek out and destroy gather public opinion about absolutely everything, with a particular focus on the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, beneficiaries, tradespeople, farmers, aunts, uncles, and other such types of general human being, whereby anecdotes and “I’m not something-ist, but…” ideas can be gathered to inform, outform, perform… essentially, form policy in all areas of the government’s domain. MASC will coordinate a network of departmental anecdote providers so that decision making can take into account highly specific, incredibly localised individual experiences that can be used as a smokescreen to push forward a policy agenda on purely ideological grounds anyway. MASC will also be in charge of identifying people who know people who know people because after all, it’s not “what you know”, it’s “who you know that you can say you know too”.

MASC will also aim to be a fully modernised hi-tech ministry. It will create a centralised state-of-the-art digital database full of security holes and overrun costs as “features, not bugs”, and use artificial intelligence to data mine the comments section of Stuff, and websites that often have the wrong headline match up with the wrong content. A young old single mother who is a job-stealing house-buyer who is unemployed and renting a damp house warmed by burning red-tape told us that this approach would cut travel times by twenty minutes, so we are inclined to believe that MASC will be a complete success, especially if we don’t establish any explicit targets on performance outcomes. After all, more roads in a tool-kit will do us just nicely once you’ve had enough.

At the end of the day, let’s do this, and take a fresh approach where we deliver for New Zealanders who are better together. 

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