Following on from post yesterday on what constitutes a policy, I set out below what are - for me - the attributes of a good policy.
1. Precision and Clarity
A very general aim can be too vague to be a policy; there has to be a certain exactness to what one wants to achieve.
Libertarianism or socialism are principles or ideologies, rather than a policy. However, the reduction of police power and the alleviation of child poverty are both sufficiently precise and clear to be policies, as well as being respective applications of libertarian and socialist principles/ideology.
A policy which disregards the appropriate evidence base is misconceived; a good policy is based as far as possible on the relevant evidence.
Of course, there are questions as to what constitutes the relevant evidence. But when there is evidence - for example, in respect of the danger of drugs, the evidence of global warming, the need for testing on animals, or the need to control foxes in the countryside - then this evidence must play a role in the formulation of policy.
This is not to say that such evidence comprises the policy or even determines the shape of the policy (as there can be other factors), but the evidence must be acknowledged and, if a policy (for any reason) appears to be contrary to the relevant evidence, then it is the duty of a policymaker to acknowledge this and explain the apparent discrepancy.
3. Transparency and Accountability
The formulation and implementation of any policy must be a transparent process, and as participatory as possible, and there must be some person who is accountable for the content and the success of the policy.
These attributes are not only likely to make a policy more legitimate (see 4 below), but they are good in themselves. Sunlight is an excellent disinfectant and policy-making is likely to be more biased and less well-informed with a closed group of policy-makers.
4. Practicality and Legitimacy
A policy must be capable of working in practice.
There is no point asking the state, or the market, or the "third" sector, to effect certain outcomes which are not possible. The history of post-war Britain is littered with both market and public sector failures.
There is also no point seeking to implement a policy which is unacceptable to the relevant constituency, especially if the policy includes financial burdens (for example, higher taxes or lower benefits) or restrictions on autonomy (for example, greater police power, or restricting the possibility of travel). In such instances, the constituency affected may simply reverse the policy before it can have any effect.
An adversely affected constituency may, however, accept burdens or restrictions if they are seen as legitimate; and so here the role of the policy-maker includes public engagement.
4. Non-reliance on Coercion
Although a policy may require legal coercion, this should always be kept to the minimum.
Legal coercion - the use of prohibitions and sanctions - is a necessary part of regulating society, but it is a blunt method of policy implementation when used by itself.
As I mentioned yesterday, law is only one of many means for implementing a policy: others include decision-making, rule-making, guidance, circulars, advertising, campaigning, persuasion, allocating resources, prioritisation, showing leadership, and so on.
A policy should go no further than necessary to achieve the desired outcome, and the policy-maker should be mindful of the potential wider impact of a policy.
For example, a policy regarding terrorism or anti-social behaviour should not infringe on the rights of individuals more than is required than to achieve the policy.
There should always be the means of contesting a policy, and one should never seek to close down a debate about policy.
Policies are simply not like peer-reviewed scientific papers. The consensus of experts will not make a policy either workable or successful, even if there is an entirely valid consensus as to the relevant evidence.
Policy-makers can - and do - get things wrong. The policy thereby should always be open to challenge, and even rejection, even if the relevant evidence cannot itself be sensibly disputed. This is especially so when the implementation of the policy involves burdens and restrictions on individuals.
My intention is not to put forward vaporous "apple pie" criteria; instead, I am seeking to open up a discussion about what is good (and bad) policy-making.
And, as blogging and web-based participation becomes more popular, I am also trying to see whether there can be any useful influence by bloggers and others on policy-making (and thereby law-making) rather than the (for me) often inconsequential struggles between various pundits and politicians.
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