What is (good) policy?

Excellent post over at the FT from David Allen Green on what ‘policy’ is and what good policy looks like.

Good policy is the considered course of action by which a supposed public benefit is accomplished, which otherwise would not be accomplished, by the best use of the resources available. It is grounded in reality and thought-through as to its consequences.

Green outlines some of the ways in which good policy making can be brought about:

Good policy-making is tough. The diligent policymaker needs to be clear about what is to be achieved, and will look carefully at the tools available: the “hard law” of statutes, the “soft law” of codes of practice and circulars, the priorities for a budget, the optimal allocations of spending, the requirements of new administrative processes, the need for political leadership and effective communication, and many other things. A good policymaker will, of course, base the policy in what evidence is available and he or she will be anxious to work out the likely intended and unintended effects, for a quality of a competent policymaker is simply to think things through.

… and he also notes why we may not see as much good policy making as we should.

The deeper problem is that there is often little political advantage in good policy-making. The voters and the press find the exchange of slogans and the performance of gestures comforting. Most people who take an interest in politics are preoccupied by the soap opera of the personalities involved, or in the exercises of tribalism and sentimentality which usually pass for national political debate.

If you have the chance, I’d recommend reading the whole thing.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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