Public Policy Making: quality vs. expendiency

An article in the Ottawa Citizen today by Kevin Lynch, the outgoing clerk of the Privy Council, indicates that political expediency, or to put it in more neutral terms, quick responses to the need for new public policies is an increasing trend in the last decades that does not serve the public interest all that well.

This issue has been raised previously in this blog as one of the emerging trends in the way modern governments set the framework for new regulatory initiatives. This is certainly not a novel issue. However the article by Kevin Lynch comes as a timely reminder that for governments to develop both quick and quality policies in response to pressing issues is, more than ever, a risky balancing act.

What follows is an excerpt of the opinion by Kevin Lynch published today in the Ottawa Citizen:

“In this age of instantaneous communications comes a demand for instantaneous responses. The 24/7 multi-channel communications universe now expects 24/7 responses from governments, from public services, from business, from whomever. This, in turn, has changed the complexity of public policy-making.

With much more “real-time” information access by the public through a wide variety of data sources, it raises the issue of whether the speed of policy-making processes can possibly match the expectations for the speed of communications responses. And, if it can’t, what are the dynamic consequences?”

Statutes and regulations are the major tools by which public policy is carried into effect. Being at the top of the pyramid, however subject to the Constitution, public policies require careful thinking and meaningful debate. Knee-jerk reaction public policies are, of course, almost doomed to failure or dysfunctionality in regulatory systems.

That being said, we should remember that we do not live in a perfect public policy making environment. As a matter of fact, I often think of a statement found in Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer-winning novel, “The Soul of a New Machine“, to the effect that “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well.” Kind of shocking, isn’t it? Yet, the underlying concept of the statement is the basis of expediency when it comes to developing public policies among other spearheading activities.

I am not condoning that statement at all as a source of legitimacy for making public policies hastily. If anything at all, the statement just makes it easier for me to accept reluctantly some of the harsh realities of government processes.

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