10 June 2018

Outcome-based policy and buy-in

In my efforts to promulgate Social Policy Bonds I’ve usually emphasised their efficiency, which arises from a number of sources, including their harnessing of market forces, their encouragement of diverse, long-term approaches, and their capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. I’ve also stressed their transparency: because the bonds target broad, meaningful outcomes, ordinary people will understand them more.

This, in turn, means another hugely important benefit: buy-in. When we understand what a policy is all about, we can participate more in its development, refinement and implementation. This would apply even if our views are over-ridden by others: at least, we'd have been consulted. A Social Policy Bond regime would express its goals as outcomes that are meaningful to real people. Such outcomes would be more comprehensible to more people than the current unstated or unconsidered, vague, or platitudinous goals that characterise current policymaking all over the western democracies. Discussion about outcomes, rather than the alleged means of achieving them, would be more accessible than current policymakers' emphasis on legal pathways, funding arrangements, institutional structures and composition, and other arcana. You might even think the system has been specifically designed to keep ordinary citizens out of it.

If people have the chance of participating in such discussion, we shall come to understand the limitations and trade-offs that are intrinsic to public policymaking. This means quite a few things, but to my mind buy-in is the most important. It's likely this would reconnect citizens with our policymakers; it would entail the sharing of responsibility and concern for policy initiatives.

This matters hugely when government has to do things that hurt people's narrow, short- or medium-term interests. Dealing with environmental depredations for instance; or raising taxes for a multitude of purposes. The current system discourages buy-in because it's difficult to follow. As such, it's easily influenced by the wealthy or powerful, be they in the private- or public sector. This does much to widen the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Social Policy Bonds, because of their focus on outcomes, would help close that gap.

No comments: