Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2(1) December 2014 Released

Dear Readers:

The Annual Review of Policy Design has just published its latest issue (December 2014 Vol 2 (1)) at http://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/design. We invite you to review the Table of Contents here and then visit our web site to review articles and items of interest.

Thanks for the continuing interest in our work,

Michael Howlett National University of Singapore howlett@sfu.ca

——–

Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2, No 1 (2014): Annual Review of Policy Design 

Table of Contents

http://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/design/issue/view/43

 

Original Research

Policy Design and Non-Design: Towards a Spectrum of Policy Formulation Types (1-10) Michael Howlett,        Ishani Mukherjee

Experiments on Crowdsourcing Policy Assessment (1-10)   John Prpic,     Araz Taeihagh,  James Melton

The Elements of Effective Program Design: A Two-Level Analysis (1-10)     Michael Howlett,        Ishani Mukherjee,       Jeremy Rayner

 Recently Appeared

From the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ policy design: design thinking beyond markets and collaborative governance (1-10)   Michael Howlett

Which policy first? A network-centric approach for the analysis and ranking of policy measures (1-10)      Araz Taeihagh,  Moshe Givoni,   Rene Bañares-Alcántara

Assessing Policy Design and Interpretation: An Institutions-Based Analysis in the Context of Aquaculture in Florida and Virginia, United States (1-10)        Saba Siddiki

 Classic Articles

Design Prototypes: A Knowledge Representation Schema for Design (1-10) John S. Gero

The Ambitions of Policy Design (1-10)   John S. Dryzek, Brian Ripley

Designing as Reflexive Conversation with the Materials of a Design Situation (1-10) D. A. Schon

 Discussion, Reports & Commentary

Policy design: who, what, how (1-10) Bauke Steenhuisen

Design Research and Public Policy: Current Practice Working to Intersect with Government (1-10)    All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group

Restarting Britain2: Design and Public Services (1-10) Design Commission

Best practices and recommendations on policy packaging (1-10)  Optic Optimal Policies for Transportation in Combination

Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2(1) December 2014 Released

Dear Readers:

The Annual Review of Policy Design has just published its latest issue (December 2014 Vol 2 (1)) at http://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/design. We invite you to review the Table of Contents here and then visit our web site to review articles and items of interest.

Thanks for the continuing interest in our work,

Michael Howlett National University of Singapore howlett@sfu.ca

——–

Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2, No 1 (2014): Annual Review of Policy Design 

Table of Contents

http://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/design/issue/view/43

 

Original Research

Policy Design and Non-Design: Towards a Spectrum of Policy Formulation Types (1-10) Michael Howlett,        Ishani Mukherjee

Experiments on Crowdsourcing Policy Assessment (1-10)   John Prpic,     Araz Taeihagh,  James Melton

The Elements of Effective Program Design: A Two-Level Analysis (1-10)     Michael Howlett,        Ishani Mukherjee,       Jeremy Rayner

 Recently Appeared

From the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ policy design: design thinking beyond markets and collaborative governance (1-10)   Michael Howlett

Which policy first? A network-centric approach for the analysis and ranking of policy measures (1-10)      Araz Taeihagh,  Moshe Givoni,   Rene Bañares-Alcántara

Assessing Policy Design and Interpretation: An Institutions-Based Analysis in the Context of Aquaculture in Florida and Virginia, United States (1-10)        Saba Siddiki

 Classic Articles

Design Prototypes: A Knowledge Representation Schema for Design (1-10) John S. Gero

The Ambitions of Policy Design (1-10)   John S. Dryzek, Brian Ripley

Designing as Reflexive Conversation with the Materials of a Design Situation (1-10) D. A. Schon

 Discussion, Reports & Commentary

Policy design: who, what, how (1-10) Bauke Steenhuisen

Design Research and Public Policy: Current Practice Working to Intersect with Government (1-10)    All Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group

Restarting Britain2: Design and Public Services (1-10) Design Commission

Best practices and recommendations on policy packaging (1-10)  Optic Optimal Policies for Transportation in Combination

Ambiguity and Uncertainty Conference Call for Papers – Chengdu China, November 27-18, 2014

CALL FOR PAPERS

Agility and Resilience in Policy-Making: Coping with Uncertainty and Ambiguity”

Hosted by Center for Public Policy Innovation Studies, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The concept of uncertainty has been developed and modeled in different disciplines such as the physical and mathematical sciences, engineering, economics, philosophy and psychology. But the linkage between uncertainty and policy-making has not been explored fully beyond such familiar but vague concepts as “bounded rationality” and the need to deal with “unstructured” or “wicked” problems. As a result critical questions in developing policy designs capable of dealing with different levels and types of uncertainty remained unanswered.

Most efforts towards reduction of uncertainties in policy-making to date have focused on overcoming knowledge gaps and gathering and mobilizing more information on policy problems and potential solutions. But this step by itself is often inadequate as policy-making uncertainties beyond cognitive or knowledge limits emanate from other factors such as the complexity of multiple stakeholders involved in policy processes and the presence of multiple alternative future scenarios. Significant challenges for policy design stem from the different perspectives, interpretations, interests and preferences brought to bear on policy-makers and policy-making by the many individuals and groups associated with the policy issue in question, and efforts towards seamless integration of knowledge between the academic and policymaking communities are also marred by the presence of different perspectives, timescales, vocabularies for concepts and processes, making the transmission of knowledge difficult. And policy designs themselves have generally become more challenging and difficult to formulate and implement as the interdependence and complexity of systems has increased along with the emergence new sets and possible combinations of policy tools and alternatives unavailable in the past. Attaining effective policy designs to deal with uncertainty through reflexive efforts at the creation of adaptive or resilient policies and agile governments and policy processes is one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers today.

This two-day conference, jointly hosted by Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore aims at bringing together cutting-edge research on these questions. The workshops aims to develop and refine the concept of uncertainty from the perspective of policy science in order to offer new perspectives for dealing with uncertainty challenges of all kinds: from those reasonably well known ones stemming from limited knowledge to those dealing with “deep uncertainty” or ambiguities introduced into policy making by the presence of ‘unknown unknowns’.

The Conference Committee specifically invites abstracts that discuss key theoretical, methodological and practical challenges related to addressing uncertainty in public policy making. Both theoretical and empirical papers can be submitted and may examine questions such as:

  • What are the root causes of uncertainty in policy process and how do they interact with each other? How does the level and type of uncertainty influence policy processes and activities such as policy formulation and design?
  • What are the current theoretical approaches for addressing uncertainty in the policymaking process? What are similarities and differences across, and the strengths and weaknesses of, these different approaches?
  • How does uncertainty influence current decision-making, implementation and evaluation models and approaches in practice?

The deadline for abstract submission is October 15, 2014.

Abstracts should be submitted to uncertaintyandambiguity@gmail.com. The abstracts should be no more than 300 words and provide a concise summary of the paper’s main arguments, including purpose, research questions, methods, data source (if applicable), and conclusions. Authors will be emailed the notification of acceptance by the end of October and full papers are due November 20, 2014.

Note: Selected papers will be published in a special issue for a peer reviewed journal and (or) an edited volume. Travel assistance is also available for selected papers to pay for travel and accommodations in Chengdu.

Conference Committee: Professor Yanhua Deng, School of Public Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, and Professors Michael Howlett, Xun Wu and M. Ramesh, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

‘Design thinking’: virtual and real platforms

In the last blog entry we discussed about academic writing on policy design in the form of books and journal articles. In this piece we would like to draw attention to another source of useful reference material available online in the form of pieces written by practitioners, ‘designers’ including academics in the form of design blogs such as this one and documentation of meet-ups that engage diverse stakeholders interested in or applying design thinking. A recent example of the former is the US-based Policy Lab. Policydesign.org is a blog and research portal developed and hosted by The Policy Lab “to bring new, important, and well-researched ideas to public knowledge in order to build a shared basis for cooperative and professional practice on designing policy, programs and projects”. The latest introductory piece in the blog focuses on ‘Why Policy Design’ (Miller and Rudnick, 2014)1 and describes policy design as “a means of crafting solutions to complex problems within or for administrative systems”. The authors argue that there is a need to move beyond simply studying policy decision-making to improving the practice of policy design.

Most of the Design Labs being set up by governments as well as autonomous entities consider exchange of ideas and collaboration as a pivotal element to the development of these Labs. An initiative called DesignMeets was launched in Canada in 2010 with a similar intention of bringing together Canadian designers “from all walks of life”. DesignMeets organizes regular meet-ups with the aim of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration between local designers, encouraging dialogue and sharing of perspectives on specific themes. These meet-ups are usually held once every few months in various cities with an attendance of 75-100 local designers from a variety of fields (graphic, industrial, interior design, architecture etc.). One of the recent meet-ups held in November 2013 focused on “how politicians and governments should go about designing policies and public consultation processes that engage, rather than alienate, residents and voters?” Such meetups can not only help build a repository of ideas on better design solutions for issues that are considered relevant by local communities but also help create models of stakeholder engagement and deliberation on critical design issues related to policy development.

 

  1. http://policydesign.org/2014/05/02/why-policy-design-part-i/ []

New book: ‘Design for Policy’

A new book titled ‘Design for Policy’ edited by Christian Bason, Director, MindLab Copenhagen has been released recently and is the first publication to “chart the emergence of collaborative design approaches to innovation in public policy”. This book provides a detailed analysis of “design as a tool for addressing public problems and capturing opportunities for achieving better and more efficient societal outcomes”, with contributions from academics, design practitioners and public managers. The book’s target audience is government departments, public service organizations and institutions, design and public management schools, think tanks and consultancies to help them “understand and use design as a tool for public sector reform and innovation”1. The book covers the global context of the rise of design for policy, provides case studies of the application of design to policy making, and includes a guide to specific policy design tools along with a roadmap for use of design in government.

The author Christian Bason in his earlier books on social innovation, design and leadership, and “Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society” highlights the role of public managers as “designers of innovation and change processes, involving both citizens and the government”. Bason (2013)2 suggests that public managers can facilitate and commission design work, they can act as designers themselves, and lastly they are themselves “affected by the design work as it unfolds and impacts their organisation”. In doing so, Bason demarcates between “managers as designers and managers absorbing design” and highlights the importance of an ‘attitude’ to encourage, learn and embrace design thinking into policy development.

One of the initial pieces on this blog focused on the development of a curriculum for a graduate level course in policy design. A central part of curriculum design is structuring of the literature and reference material. Journals are also encouraging the submission of pieces that present ideas and applications of ‘labs’. For example, the Solutions journal launched in 2010 as a bi-monthly publication aims at ‘solutions-driven innovation’ and has an Idea Lab to highlight the latest ideas shaping how we respond to the problems of the 21st century. The Solutions journal aims at bringing forth “bold and innovative ideas for solving the world’s integrated ecological, social, and economic problems” and providing “a forum for developing and discussing seriously creative ideas to solve society’s most pressing problems in an integrated way”. Submissions to such Idea Labs and books such as Design for Policy can contribute towards a useful resource base for students, scholars and practitioners with the intent of introducing design thinking in their research and practice.

 

 

  1. http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472413529 []

  2. Public Managers as Innovators: In Search of Design Attitude. Ethos- a journal of public policy and governance. Issue 12, June 2013. Accessible at https://www.cscollege.gov.sg/Knowledge/Ethos/Pages/default.aspx []

The UK government launches a new Policy Lab

imagesIn recent years many ‘Design Labs’ have been launched. While some of these Labs have been spearheaded by not-for-profit institutes, some have been government initiatives. Initiatives that fall in the latter category include the MindLab in Denmark, Helsinki Design Lab (Finland) and DesignGov (Australia). Initiated along similar lines, the U.K. Cabinet Office recently launched a new Policy Lab to “test how design principles and methods can improve the pace, quality and deliverability of policy in the Civil Service”1. Though efforts towards ‘design training’ were initiated in 2013 effective integration of learning in policy development were still lacking.  The development of the new policy lab also lends support to the Civil Service Reform Plan (2012) in the U.K. that aims to build efficiency, accountability, unity, transparency and collaborative working in the public sector.

The Design Council is an independent charity which is also the UK Government’s advisor on design issues and standards at a national level. The Design Council works in a collaborative mode with diverse stakeholders to work towards innovative solutions for pressing socio-economic issues. While recognizing the critical role of ‘design thinking’ in policy development, the Design Council emphasizes the need for empirical evidence of impact and to build the “knowledge of how and when design adds value to policy development”- a gap that the new Policy Lab aims to cover.

Perks (2013)2 in an article in the Design Week– a unique source of news and commentary on design issues- cautions that while considering the benefits of ‘good design’ for policymaking, the likelihood of unintended effects should not be ignored. For example in the process of promoting good design practice, designers and policymakers might want to stimulate specific stakeholder behaviour that is considered ‘appropriate’. However this might result in the “designers losing their objectivity” and a render a myopic view of the context in which the problem arises by losing sight of stakeholder’s preferences, views and acceptability of the design solutions.

The launch of these design labs spearheaded by the government is an indication that policymakers are ready to innovate, collaborate and experiment as they are dealing with increasingly complex policy environments. While ‘design thinking’ is being leveraged by country governments in a variety of policy settings and sectors especially service delivery such as health care though its conscious application and related stakeholder engagement is still limited to developed country contexts. Although elements of design thinking might already be a part of current policy development in both developed and developing country contexts, failure to consciously integrate it into policy development can result in a failure to recognize and correct faulty or redundant policies in a timely manner and adjust, adapt or even potentially redesign in some cases.

  1. https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/uk-cabinet-office-launches-new-policy-design-lab []
  2. Retrieved from http://www.designweek.co.uk/industry-voice/does-design-make-good-policy/3037688.article []

Role of Evidence in Policy Design

The Alliance for Useful Evidence1 is an open–access network that was launched in October 2011 with the aim of enhancing both the “demand for and supply of evidence for social policy and practice”. The Alliance comprises of 1,600 individuals from government agencies, universities, charities, business and local authorities in the UK and globally. What really though is the role of evidence in policy design? The key questions for policy designers include what constitutes evidence, who generates evidence, who uses it, how they use it, and how easy is it for users to understand evidence provided to them? Also, how does one ensure that users do not ‘cherry pick’ evidence to their advantage or to support policies or actions that were to be taken anyway (sometimes alluded to as ‘policy-based evidence’ when research findings are used to support premeditated policies). The Alliance organized a seminar in 2012 inviting experts to provide their insights on “What is ‘good’ evidence” (see video link here2)

Efforts towards enhancing the quality and size of the evidence base is based on the expectation that better evidence equates to ‘better policies’ and policy solutions. However in the real-world policymakers are limited by many factors including multi-stakeholder perspectives that challenge the design and adoption of policies solely based on evidence (Head, 2010)3. Evidence notwithstanding, has some limitations of its own. A recent editorial in Nature by Sutherland et al (2013)4 present “Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims”, with the intention of aiding ‘non-scientists’ and policymakers to understand the “limitations of evidence” to be used in policymaking. These twenty tips include:

1. Variations in research can be caused by chance and a variety of natural factors including the factor or process that we are interested in studying. The challenge thus is to identify variation attributable to the factor/ process of interest alone.
2. Measurement errors are likely in all analysis, and need to be acknowledged.
3. Experiments are susceptible to biases from the subject and/or the investigator despite their best attempts in keeping neutrality.
4. Larger observation samples often provide more information and help subdue “natural variation and measurement error”
5. The possibility of correlation between two factors occurring due to chance or owing to outside or confounding factors should be considered.
6. Extreme patterns in data can also be sometimes attributable to chance rather than direct causation to explanatory variable.
7. Extrapolation or generalization of trends emerging from a set data to a range outside it may not necessarily be valid.
8. Chances of a ‘base-rate fallacy’, which suggests that “the ability of an imperfect test to identify a condi¬tion depends upon the likelihood of that condition occurring (the base rate)”, need to be considered.
9. Comparison of outcomes with a ‘control’ group is important.
10. Randomization of the sample avoids bias.
11. While attempts towards replication of results are important, ‘pseudo-replication’ i.e. replication in very similar settings should be discouraged in order to avoid false impression of large-scale applicability of the research methods/interventions.
12. Mul¬tiple, independent sources of evidence and replication are more substantial.
13. Statistical p values form an important parameter to assess the likelihood of the results to have been obtained purely by chance.
14. Not significant p values are different from ‘no effect’ being detected, which in turn may be a result of a small sample size.
15. Sometimes ‘effect size’ or the strength of a phenomenon might be more important than its statistical significance, especially in biological, physical and social sciences.
16. The relevance of the study to specific contexts limits its generalizations and wider applicability.
17. Feelings influence the perception of risk, and thus it can be over and under-estimated.
18. Inter-dependencies between various variables can also change the risk patterns.
19. Data can be ‘cherry picked’ i.e. chosen to reflect in a way that is to one’s advantage. Sutherland et al suggest that the question to be asked here is: ‘What am I not being told?’
20. “Extreme measurements may mislead” and should be considered with a close assessment of the various direct and indirect factors that may have influenced the results, before establishing a direct causation between two variables.

On the question of what constitutes good evidence, there is no easy answer. It depends on the question, purpose of enquiry, and the context in which the evidence is to be used. Nutley et al (2013)5 from the Alliance team argue that data becomes information when it “changes views” and further becomes evidence only when it generates action on its basis. All this however is rather subjective, owing to which developing standards of evidence is anything but an easy task. While developing such standards it is important to be cognizant of the various types of evidence. Brechin and Sidell (2003)6 for example suggest three broad categories of evidence- generated through empirical research, through theory or through experience. Evidence based on experiments can sometimes become a contentious issue as compared to that generated by observational research. In addition the quality of knowledge and the information evidence generates and the diversity of viewpoints the evidence would be subject to from the user’s perspective also needs to be considered while setting standards of evidence. Nutley et al suggest that evidence cannot be considered to be an end in itself as the evidence base is rather dynamic and evolving- a point that warrants attention in the midst of encouraging the setting of ‘rigid’ standards of evidence.

  1. http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/ []
  2. http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/event/what-is-good-evidence-standards-kitemarks-and-forms-of-evidence-2/ []
  3. Head, B., 2010. Reconsidering evidence-based policy: Key issues and challenges. Policy and Society 29, 77–94 []
  4. Sutherland, W. J., and Spiegelhalter, D. and Burgman, M., 2013. Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims. Nature 503, 335–337 []
  5. Nutley, S., Powell, A. and Davies, H., 2013. What counts as good evidence? Provocation paper for the Alliance for useful evidence. United Kingdom []
  6. Brechin, A. and Siddell, M. (2000) ‘Ways of knowing’, In Gomm, R. and Davies, C. (eds) ‘Using evidence in health care.’ Buckingham: Open University Press []

‘Designing’ a Course on Public Policy Design

imgres-4The California College of Arts (CCA) recently launched an MBA in Public Policy Design1. This program builds on the curriculum of an existing MBA program in Design Strategy at CCA and was launched in 2008, focusing on “design methods, sustainability, systems thinking, finance, entrepreneurship, and generative leadership”. The Associate Chair of the MBA Program Will Semmes shares that the Program “offers a project-based curriculum that provides future leaders with the skills, knowledge, and techniques they’ll need to make positive, constructive changes happen.”  The Program faculty considers that being in San Francisco Bay Area they are well situated in the midst of a culture strongly supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, multi-stakeholder partnerships and strong local initiatives and leadership. The curriculum of the MBA in Public Policy Design emphasizes team-based solutions that coalesces specific aspects of business management, sustainability, systems thinking, and design-thinking (see Figure). The curriculum is designed to help students grasp different tools and gain exposure to diverse perspectives related to markets, governments, organizations, and individuals.

Figure: Curriculum of MBA in Public Policy Design at CCA2

Design thinking is prevalent in courses being offered by engineering, management and business Schools.  Policy design in various forms has also been a part of the curriculum of public policy courses but this is the first time a full-fledged course on policy design itself has been launched at the school.

The launch of this MBA Program at CCA makes one wonder regarding an ‘ideal’ structure and format of a course on policy design? Some relevant questions pertain to the following three aspects. Firstly how would the contents of a course on policy design differ depending on the level at which these are offered (undergraduate, graduate, research, executive-training etc.) and consequently the time-frame over which these courses are offered? How are the design theory and practice or application aspects to be balanced? And should the course content differ depending on whether it is being offered by a school of Sciences or Arts or Business? In case of the MBA degree on Public Policy Design by CCA the inclination of its curriculum towards business-oriented modules is expected. And what would be the target mix of students for such a course- practitioners and/or scholars and what would be their expected level of training and experience. And not lastly, what would be the mode of teaching? This includes aspects such as deciding on the balance between seminar-style teaching, classroom training, hands-on problem solving, case-oriented teaching etc. Additionally, as policy design forms a part of the larger public policy field, the question is, if policy design is the central subject of study, what is the scope of designing a program around this topic independently and how much will it still relate overlap with current public policy course curricula?

  1. https://www.cca.edu/academics/graduate/policy-mba []
  2. https://www.cca.edu/academics/graduate/policy-mba/curriculum []
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The first issue of the Annual Review of Policy Design is published

The first issue of the new open-access Annual Review of Policy Design has been published and is available online at http://annualreviewofpolicydesign.com . The Review publishes original articles and reprints of current and classic pieces dealing with policy design research and theory.

The articles that feature in the cover_issue_35_en_USReview are categorized into 1) Original Research on policy design, 2) Recently Appeared articles, 3) Classic Articles and 4) Discussions, Reports and Commentary on policy design. The first issue of the Review features original research articles that cover design and innovation in the public sector, matching of tools and goals in policy portfolios, evidence-driven policy design in complex adaptive systems and the concept of policy patching and packaging in policy formulation. Recently appeared articles included in this Review focus on a formal definition of the design concept, applying design theory to public policy and design principles for renewable energy programs in developing countries. The Classic pieces include those from 1970s by Hillier and Learman (1973) and Anderson (1971) on comparative policy analysis and design of alternatives in organizational contexts respectively. Two reports have been considered in this Review. One is on evidence-based reintegration programme design, prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and the other is a report on ‘Design for Public Good’ prepared by SEE (Sharing Experience Europe Policy Innovation Design) platform. SEE is a network of eleven European partners sharing knowledge and experience on how design can be integrated into regional and national policies to boost innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and socio-economic development.

When is precaution the best design solution?

A series of interesting articles came up recently in the Guardian and presented differing viewpoints on the precautionary principle, which puts many policymakers in a conundrum especially while planning for the long-term. In one of the articles Andy Stirling1 highlights as to why the precautionary principle matters. Stirling suggests that it is important to consider various future policy options instead of using precaution as an excuse for not taking any action. He argues that doing the same requires “understanding, rather than denial, of the real nature of uncertainty”. He highlights that taking precaution suggests that we are not only considering risk but also uncertainty, whether it is owing to lack of empirical evidence, inherent complexity of an issue or system, differing scientific views, element of surprise etc. Stirling argues that the imminent pressure from policymakers about ‘justifying a decision’ makes scientists continue to ‘micro-correct’ their results and offering “risk-based prescriptions” by overlooking the precautionary principle that provides room to address uncertainty.

Tracey Brown2 on the other hand suggests that the precautionary principle “stops innovation in its tracks”. She argues that the principle makes us stop or ban something supposedly harmful and subsequent believe that we are safe from harm. She argues that the precautionary principle is built on our present knowledge of the world, which includes our present doubts, fears and biases. So in resisting change for the fear of the unknown we are resisting deviations from the status quo even if that itself is a huge problem that needs urgent attention, Brown argues. She says that we need big changes and some risks for pressing problems such as food security and energy and resisting change is not the solution. Steve Fuller3 also supports the above view in saying that the precautionary principle is based on current knowledge and does not acknowledge likely changes in knowledge in the future, owing to scientific advancements and data reinterpretations. Fuller advocates calculated risk-taking over taking precaution. He argues that by restricting risk-taking we are not allowing radical experimentation to happen, which in the past has many times helped us to “take major leaps in knowledge and overcome our natural limits”.

Indeed a critical challenge that faces decision-makers and planners is with respect to responding under uncertainty. Policymaking in the 21st century can be considered to be similar to gardening; it is “muddy, attentive and experiential, because we really do not know what growing conditions will prevail”4. The World Resources Report (2010) also highlights that decision making under uncertainty should be flexible to accommodate conditions of change, robust to withstand multiple scenarios in the future, and/or enable decisions to withstand long-term change. In terms of uncertainty also, there exists a range that moves from total ignorance of reality, to the deepest layer of uncertainty i.e. ‘unknown unknowns’5. Policy risk factors can also be completely known, or uncertain wherein the nature of their change in the future is doubtful (also referred to as ‘known unknowns’, for example changes in demography). An assumption of ‘no-harm’ or ‘no-regret’ nature of certain policy choices in the short-term can mask their adverse (sometimes irreversible) effects in the long-run and thus delay timely preventive action. For example, Chloro Fluoro Carbons were understood to be ‘safe and chemically inert’, masking their long-term detrimental impacts on the ozone layer (owing to high stability). Though research on atmospheric sciences was still evolving during that time, there were evidences pointing to a ‘possibility’ of damage to the ozone layer. However evidences pointing to a ‘possibility’ may not in itself, be adequate to initiate serious policy reforms. Policy-makers must thus learn to recognize early warnings or changes, especially as new knowledge emerges6. Whether to take a precautionary approach in policy design would eventually depend on a variety of factors such as the risk-taking behavior of the decision-making group, socio-economic and political dimensions of the issue, current level of knowledge about the risk of action versus inaction etc.

  1. Accessible at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2013/jul/08/precautionary-principle-science-policy []
  2. Accessible at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2013/jul/09/precautionary-principle-blunt-instrument []
  3. Accessible at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/political-science/2013/jul/10/beyond-precautionary-principle []
  4. Swanson D, Barg S, Tyler S, et al. 2010. Seven tools for creating adaptive policies. Journal of Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77(6), 924–939 []
  5. Walker, W.E., V.A.W.J. Marchau and D. Swanson, 2010. Addressing deep uncertainty using adaptive policies: Introduction to section 2. Journal of Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 77 (6), 917-923 []
  6. European Environment Agency (EEA), 2001. Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896–2000. Environment Issue Report no. 22. Copenhagen []

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Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2(1) December 2014 Released
Dear Readers: The Annual Review of Policy Design has just published its latest issue (December...
Annual Review of Policy Design Vol 2(1) December 2014 Released
Dear Readers: The Annual Review of Policy Design has just published its latest issue (December...
Ambiguity and Uncertainty Conference Call for Papers – Chengdu China, November 27-18, 2014
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