Voices from Eurasia

Policy 2.0 – Can we move beyond the classic policy cycle?


In Croatia, citizens are discussing energy policies with decision makers and experts. Photo: UNDP

Despite new ways to engage stakeholders in policy making – design, formulation, implementation, monitoring – most of the discourse seems to be stuck in the classic policy cycle.

The dynamically changing environment in which policies are made and implemented, however, suggests we need a more dynamic conceptual framework to capture how policies are made, validated, implemented, assessed and most of all, how they evolve with a changing world.

I recently attended the Policy 2.0 workshop in Dublin, organized by the EU Crossover project. What an exciting bunch of people working on alternative ways and means to make policies!

Building on opportunities that internet and (mobile) communication offer, we explored new ways of engaging people - especially those who aren’t normally part of the policy making experience. Alberto Cottica wrote a neat post about it.

Even though many presentations talked about Policy 2.0 as a paradigm shift, I am still left with the impression that the traditional model is still informing much of the debate and that we are more focused on policy consultation than on policy implementation and policy adaptation.



Virtually all presentations and discussions were about the question of consultation: How to engage the public in a policy debate?

Fine, we shift from physical meetings and focus groups to a virtual debate through internet or mobile devices. Yes, it increases participation at lower costs. It is faster and more flexible, allowing for parallel debates or different feedback loops, using for instance big data analysis or micronarratives to sense the changing mood of people. This was not possible before.

This in itself is exciting! No misunderstanding about this. But this does not fundamentally change the paradigm of policy development.

References to complexity, adaptation, resilience, and emergence were made in the debates, and people did talk about games and sentiment analysis or even social media as a way to more adaptive management.

However, a conceptual framework to making it operational and breaking away from the classic policy cycle seems to be lacking.


So what has changed in our context?

That our classic policy cycle does not reflect reality, we knew. The UK Institute of Government published a nice paper on this. They say that policy cycles are divorced from reality and that there are four main reasons why:

1.     Policy making does not take place in distinct stages

2.     Policies need to be designed, not just conceived

3.     Policy making is often determined by events

4.     The effects of policies are often indirect, diffuse, and take time to appear

We used to plan our results forward, make a logical framework and then start implementing the activities. Now we know that the linearity of this approach does not work. In a dynamically changing context, we cannot really predict the realization of results. It is more about different levels of probability.

In a similar vein, we used to believe that we fully understood - and hence could control - how systems change. We now accept that change emerges out of little understood interactions between people, organizations and processes that are at work in our environment.

The perceptions of the role of government equally changed. It is accepted that change in society or ‘development’ is not solely about government service delivery and more about different actors providing (public) goods, aligned or not with agreed-upon goals and created and delivered in a collaborative setting or not.

This has consequences for the way in which policy is developed. For instance:

  • When a stable and predictable environment moves to a dynamic environment, the policy process requires ongoing ‘environment scanning’ focusing on stakeholders and system processes to keep abreast of change.
  • When results move from predictable to different levels of probability, the policy process requires flexibility in result chain management and activity implementation.
  • When action and responsibility move from one party to multiple parties at the same time, the policy process requires ‘collaborative arrangements’


What do we need?

The classic policy cycle has survived for such a long time, because it is so compelling in its simplicity, both conceptually and visually.

What we need is a policy process that reflects the changes that have taken place in the conceptualization of our way of working (in change management and public sector management) and that reflects the realities of policy making in often dynamic and complex settings much better.


Would it be possible to construct a Policy 2.0 discourse and image with equal appeal?

A discourse and image that reflect the need for constant engagement (not only as consultation, but also in co-creation and collaborative forms), that reflects the role of feedback loops in all stages, and that reflects the iterative process of result formulation, action design and adaptation.

What do you think?


Blog post Europe & the CIS Political participation

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