Optimizing Democracy versus Slow Democracy

In an article on “Slow Democracy” published on 20 November 2013 on the openDemocracy website Susan Clark and Woden Teachout describe a highly constructive process of citizen engagement in policy making at the community level  ( http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-clark-woden-teachout/slow-democracy ).

In a comment on the website I suggest that “Slow Democracy”, focusing mainly on better deliberation, appears to be an element of what needs to happen, i.e. optimizing democratic decision making processes in a comprehensive fashion, not only at community but also at national and international levels.

On one hand the terminology one uses might not be that important. On the other hand it describes a program. What we as civil society appear to need is policy making of the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency, efficiency not only in terms of money but also in terms of time used to come to the best policy strategies. With respect to global warming for example we all, the citizens in every nation around the world, need the very best policy making strategies as soon as possible.

So if we need the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency in policy making, and if terms contain a program, then it appears useful to call a spade a spade and join forces behind what we need to achieve, the optimization of all our democratic policy making processes. Joining forces behind what we want to achieve is necessary to get to results.

Here my complete comment on the article:

Very exciting to read about the various constructive ways in which citizens got involved in decision making at the community level in Portsmouth NH.

I would like to pitch the concept of “Optimizing Democracy”, however, against the concept of “Slow Democracy” presented in the article. I suggest that “Slow Democracy” with its focus on better identification of the issues at stake and better deliberation is a necessary element of what we urgently need to do: take comprehensive measures to generally ”optimize democratic policy making” at all political levels.

The well-being of our children and of future generations anywhere in the world, also in Portsmouth NH, does not only depend on their education, the policy issue discussed as an example in the article. The well-being of our children and of future generations is also immediately and very severely threatened by a number of existential global developments which need to be managed as effectively as only possible at national and international policy making levels. They are issues such as global warming, the changing of the quality of human life by biogenetics, the potential loss of freedom by constant surveillance from corporations and governments, potentially increasing unemployment also in the middle classes through robotization, and a destabilization of our entire economic and social systems all over the world by these developments.

If citizens in the US as well as in any other country on earth care about the well-being of their children and grandchildren, it is of the greatest importance that they take the game up one significant level: Efforts in improving policy making as they paid off at the community level in Portsmouth must be implemented for national policy making as well. Taking such measures is also of the highest degree of urgency as data on global warming for example prove. Not only with respect to local issues, also with respect to the big problems threatening to affect the well-being of people everywhere in the world, citizens must get involved and improve, or best – given the existential nature of some threats – optimize policy making systems and processes. Only the very best policy making procedures and systems will be able to handle those challenges.

I suggest that in order to organize the “optimization” of national policy making, citizens in the U.S. need to form an organization which we might call: “Optimizing Democracy USA”. In the UK it could be called “Optimizing Democracy UK”. Any democratic country urgently requires such a citizens’ organisation looking after the quality of policy making in their nations. Since the set-up of our democratic policy making systems is rather ineffective in many ways, these citizen organisations in each country need to co-operate in solving the existential threats for all citizens in the world.

The article on slow democracy desperately calls for leaders with “clarity, wisdom, and courage.” The question is: Where do we get these leaders from? In a democracy it is the very own responsibility of citizens to identify which precise qualifications leaders must have. Citizens must then train and select their leaders so the persons in charge have the required qualities to manage the public affairs both at community or national level adequately. The future of a society and of the world depends on the quality of leaders it trains and selects.

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Building a Sound Democracy in Egypt

What we see in Egypt is a tragedy so far, especially for the people, since they continue to suffer, and also for the world, which urgently requires more stability and to see countries succeed on their way to democratization, peace, and enhanced well-being for society. How can Egypt achieve building a sound democracy “in a second round” since the beginning of the Arab spring? Here a proposal for a sequence of required steps:

1. Defining Joint Goals, Creating a Joint Vision
The first step in building a strong and healthy society and democracy must be forming a joint vision of what the people of a society want to achieve.

The overarching goal for the Egyptian people should be building a balanced society in which everyone gets a chance to live a decent life and has the freedom to do what they like to do – as long as it does not harm any other person.

Present power holders should work with randomly selected activists and thinkers from society on defining goals and a joint vision and communicate with society on these goals in order to build a joined agreed platform.

2. Clarifying the Principles of a Functioning Democracy
The present government must communicate with the people on the rational and philosophical principles which are necessary as a foundation for a functioning democracy. The general guideline must be the Categorical Imperative by Kant, which states that everybody must act in a fashion with which everybody else in society must be able to agree. The common guideline that the freedom of one person ends where the freedom of the other person begins applies as well. Restrictions on and oppression of other peoples’ opinions and lifestyles, in as far as they don’t violate necessary rules and regulations, cannot lead to a functioning and strong democracy.

The government should discuss and communicate these issues clearly with all people in the Egyptian society. It must ensure that everybody in society understands why following certain fundamental principles is necessary in building a healthy democratic society.

3. Religion
Government must especially clarify with the entire population of Egypt which role religion can have in a democratic society.

Religion has much to offer to humanity. Many people look for deeper answers which they do not find in societies which are mainly focused on worldly pleasures and rewards.

But religion must also understand that ultimately there is no proof for religious beliefs and that God, if we believe He exists, in fact has created human beings to be different, at least on the outset. He placed people in different cultures and religious environments; He gave people different minds and the freedom to think and to choose the way they would like to live.

Religions must understand that they cannot force other people in a society or the world to live under their chosen principles. People who believe in a God must accept and even love other human beings as God has created them. If religious people want to have influence on the way a society lives, they can only do this by example and by gentle and caring persuasion.

As the German philosopher Lessing wrote in his play “Nathan the Wise”, the religion is the best religion which accumulates the greatest number of friends over time. Killing or oppressing other people created by God does not make sense. Making friends must be the goal of a religion, appreciating the diversity of creation, not coercion or aggression.

For Egypt the fact that people have been created to be different in thinking and culture means religious values cannot be used in any manner which restrains the values and freedom of other people. Democracy must allow religious freedom for everybody including atheism. Generally only those standards can be enshrined in a constitution which are necessary for the functioning of a society (unless all people were to agree voluntarily on stricter standards, something, which is unlikely to happen).

4. Employment and Income
A political system must aim to help people to fulfill their needs as specified for example in the pyramid of needs by the American psychologist Maslow. To fulfill their prime needs such as the need for food, shelter, and safety people need jobs and income.

To create jobs and income is one of the first tasks of a government. But government cannot do it alone. Creating jobs and income depends on the combined intelligence, endeavors, and on the co-operation of all people and institutions in a society. Jobs and income also depend of course on the natural resources a country offers.

The government must formulate reasonable goals with respects to jobs and income. It must explain to its people on which factors the creation of jobs and income depend, so expectations are realistic and people know what to do generally in order to earn an income.

In tough times all public resources, must be pooled and directed to the common aim of creating jobs and a stable society. Efforts must be rewarded, but any siphoning off of resources cannot be allowed. Building a sound and healthy democracy must be considered a joint, but voluntary effort by all.

Creating jobs and income in a difficult global economic environment requires excellent policy making strategies and capacities. One sector which Egypt should be focusing on is tourism. But tourism requires stability, making people feel safe and comfortable. As pointed out above, religious activists who try to disturb peace in the country sin against the diversity of God’s creation. In turn, a society which expects peaceful and constructive behavior by all its citizens must be just. It must allow everybody to live freely and support people where it can in making a decent living.

5. The Conditions for Effectiveness and Efficiency in Democratic Policy Making
All in all building a strong and healthy democracy first of all requires all people committing to work together to achieve this aim.

They must then put the parameters in place which are necessary to make democracy effective. More specifically they must ensure that:

1. Their democratic policy making system uses the best systems and processes for policy making, systems and processes which serve the well-being of all people.
2. All politicians have a certain minimum set of qualifications
3. Politicians apply the best practices defined under point 1 (so there is no scope for corruption, nepotism).
4. The institutions (including government) which lead the country have the required resources to do their jobs as effectively as possible (if resources are limited government must focus on a reduced number of key tasks)

For the parameters necessary for maximum effectiveness and efficiency in democratic policy making see also the graph Factors Determining the Effectiveness of Democracy

6. The Need for Effective Citizen Control
Finally people must realize that their democratic policy system is unlikely to ever be really effective without citizens themselves controlling the policy making system effectively. Citizens must establish an effective control system over policy making, an effective citizens’ association controlling the operations of the democratic system on their behalf (like a referee controlling a football match).

Effective control requires know-how, power, resources, and communication. To establish the best democratic policy making system people need the best know-how. They must establish a know-how system which informs the citizens what the best systems and processes in democratic policy making are. Citizens must join to accumulate the necessary power to ensure the best practices identified are in fact applied. All citizens should contribute a small amount to establish a citizens’ control system in order to ensure everybody has a voice and that the control organization truly represents all members of society. The control organization needs these funds to be able to work effectively.

7. The Implementation
People must recognize that this process is necessary to get to a satisfactory solution. Building effective citizen control, however, and building effective governing processes and systems takes a while.

The focus must, therefore, to start with be on:

• Establishing the joint will in society to work for a sound and strong society and democracy.

• Committing to and securing peace in the country.

• Getting back to work to create the necessary income, products and service for fulfilling the fundamental needs of people.

A first concrete goal must be to establish peace and to make visitors feel welcome so tourism is revived as a source of income for the people in Egypt (not easy due to economic difficulties in many countries).

The government must also as soon as possible set out a step by step schedule for the process of building a sound society and an effective democracy. It must schedule

• the steps for building a healthy, independent constructive citizen control organization over the policy making system (even if this initiative must in principle come from the people the government should recognize the need for such an organization and support its establishment. The organization offers a way to citizens for their constructive participation in policy making).

• the steps for building a healthy government and administration.

• Government also must specify goals and the necessary steps for creating jobs and employment.

8. Communication
The government must constantly communicate with people on this process. It must ensure that all people in society understand and support the necessary principles and steps for building a functioning democracy. It must communicate on achievements, on things to do next, on difficulties.

Through the way it acts and communicates the government must be perceived as honest, trustworthy, competent and reliable.

9. The Responsibility of the People
Ultimately the people must understand that they themselves are responsible for building an effective and sound democratic system. Establishing effective control and know-how organizations is crucial.

Protests will not generate a sustainable and effective solution for Egypt and its people. Establishing a functioning democracy requires constructive and effective work. Protest, therefore, must change to constructive action of the highest caliber. (If governments do not respond to such constructive work, protests might be necessary again.)

People of all reaches of society must cooperate in establishing an effective control organization over the democratic policy making system.

10. Advantages
The proposed process allows the people of Egypt to work together in a constructive way on the task of establishing a fair and effective democratic policy making system. It gives the people control over the system.

Since the proposed process combines establishing the best know-how with effective citizen control, it must lead to the best democratic policy making system conceivable for Egypt and its people, a system which will be able to handle public resources in the most effective way possible, which will be able to design the best policies to generate employment and income in the country, and ensure that the well-being of the people can be enhanced in as much as possible.

Finally establishing a sound democracy on the basis of the proposed process will allow the people of Egypt to cooperate with the people of all nations in solving the urgent problems our globe is facing and in maintaining the globe in a good state for future generations, something which the international community will certainly welcome very highly.

Optimizing Democracy in Brazil – Two Concrete Steps Necessary

Brazil has been seeing huge protests for more than two weeks now against many issues – mostly against a lack of transparency, corruption, and ineffectiveness in government.

How can these protests lead to a concrete, lasting improvement in the quality of government?

The model described in this blog provides a solution:

To govern a country like Brazil, to reduce poverty and corruption, and to solve the many other policy issues as effectively and efficiently as possible with only limited resources, “best practices” in policy making are necessary.

What are the best practices in policy making? Hard to say. To establish best practices in policy making Brazil like any other democratic country needs an effective organization working on behalf of the citizens which identifies what best practices in all aspects of governing a nation are. The citizens themselves must set up the organization, so they do not depend on “anybody else”, i.e. for example the politicians, to tell them what best practices supposedly are. The citizens themselves must identify them, so they can be sure they get the best solutions.

Second, the people must ensure that those best practices are actually applied in policy making, concretely that structures and processes in the policy making system are as effective as possible, serve the common good, and do not leave room for inefficiency. One system which the people must optimize is the system for corruption control.

To implement those two steps the citizens must join and create two organizations:

1. A citizens’ organization, lets call it “Optimizing Democracy Brazil” which initiates the necessary actions.

2. A “Citizens’ Public Policy Know-how Institute” which informs the citizens about the best processes and systems in policy making necessary to make their democratic policy making system effective.

The writer Ignácio de Loyola Brandão is very pessimistic about the outcome of the demonstrations. He expects the protests to ebb off after a while and Brazil to return to its “normality” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 June 2013).

If people want to see a concrete improvement in how they are governed they must establish a joint initiative taking the necessary, constructive measures towards achieving this goal. They must identify the best practices in policy making and work together to make sure they are applied.

Brazil is an example for what needs to happen in all democratic nations to optimize their democratic policy making systems.

“Send in the clowns” – Which qualifications do our politicians need precisely?

“Send in the clowns”, titled The Economist after the recent parliamentary elections in Italy when the party of the comedian Beppe Grillo won 25% of the total votes and the party of Silvio Berlusconi 30%.

Economist Italy Elections Send in the clowns

Of course the views of clowns on developments in society and politics can be refreshing and stimulating. Yet the professional qualification as a clown is unlikely to be a suitable qualification to steer our countries with tens or hundreds of millions of people in the time of globalization. It must be doubted that clowns will have the capacities to create jobs for millions of people, the most pressing issues in many European states at this point in time or perhaps to even select people with the required qualifications for this job. Since the US have had at least two world renowned actors as top nation or state leaders we must of course also ask under which conditions actors can be suitable heads of government. Are intelligence, integrity, and honesty, criteria which clowns and actors might fulfill, sufficient as qualifications to lead our nations and the globe?

“Whether policy making oriented towards the needs of the majority of people is successful, depends ultimately on the capacities and the character of the leading persons in politics”, writes the German law Professor Hans Peter Bull in a recent article on democracy in a paper. But which qualifications do our politicians require precisely for their tasks? And how do we make sure that our politicians in fact possess these qualifications?

One perspective on the tasks of our politicians is that they are responsible for public funds of hundreds of billions of Euros or Pounds or other currency equivalents, or in the case of the USA even for a few trillion of USD, and at the same time for organizations which employ hundreds of thousands or even up to 2-3 million of public employees, the numbers quoted in some analyses for France, Germany, and Italy for example. In comparison the largest private corporation in the world, the US retailer Walmart has revenues in the area of 400 billion USD and about 2.2 million employees, the tenth largest private corporation in terms of employees, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, has about 500 000 employees and revenues of about 240 billion USD (2011 numbers).

As the comparison illustrates, our politicians operate organizations which are at least as large as the largest private corporations in the world. Our politicians must make sure that the gigantic organizations they lead are structured and perform optimally and that they generate a maximum of benefits to the public out of the sizeable amounts of tax money or other public funds they require for their work. The work of our politicians contains a significant, if not a dominant element of management responsibility.

Against this view one might contend that the Civil Service has its own management which “supports” the politicians in their leadership jobs. That view would mean the tail is wagging the dog. We rather elect our heads of government as the key persons we look to in running our states as effectively as only possible and to “sort out things” in the public sphere for us, when they have gone wrong. Our heads of government must lead, not only in policy design, but also in policy implementation.

What are the tasks of our politicians, especially of our Heads of Government, in more detail? They must identify the public concerns of the people and any risks for the well-being of society from economic, technological, environmental or other developments. They must identify which issues are more critical than others, jobs, infrastructure, defense and global stability, health, education, welfare programs, or the exploration of space, a difficult task since many of those aspects are interdependent. More education might generate more jobs and more production, more tax income, and allow for better infrastructure and social services, but more education without simultaneous other measures to create jobs might be a waste of funds. Politicians need the methodical skills to analyze and assess these complex interdependencies. Having set adequate priorities they must raise and assign public funds to these issues. Finally they must design and implement strategies, they must establish the effective organizations mentioned above and effective control mechanisms, and they must co-ordinate the work of public institutions at various regional levels in a country.

Also the look at these individual tasks tells us that policy making is to a large degree a management task. As polls have shown, citizens in fact primarily expect from their politicians effectiveness and efficiency in delivering public policy. Implicitly also citizens attribute the highest importance to the practical management skills of their politicians rather than to “soft” skills, such as presentation and communication.

Of course many other qualities are of importance for the work of politicians such as intelligence, integrity, depth of thinking, openness and creativity, modesty, the capacity to communicate simple manners in a comprehensible fashion, negotiating skills, and finally a certain understanding of political processes. We should specify and weigh all these skills and qualifications in job descriptions for politicians just like in job descriptions for any other job. It is astounding that every accountant, nurse, or engineer must fulfill specific job requirements. Only our politicians don’t, even if the well-being of our entire societies and the state of the world depends on these qualifications. It is amazing that so far we mostly vote for politicians, because they can present their ideas in charismatic and convincing style, not because they fulfill a “hard” qualification profile. If democracy is ineffective it seems to be to a large degree our own fault, since we do not specify the qualifications our politicians need and do not ensure they comply with those requirements.

Many observers make proposals on how to ensure the qualification of politicians for their jobs. In an article for the web-journal opendemocracy Takis S Pappas from Greece suggested in 2011 for example an open list electoral system which would allow voters to choose among individual political candidates rather than on the basis of their party affiliation. Using such an open procedure or a traditional party list we could make it a precondition that anybody wanting to work as the Head of Government or head of any government department must fulfill a minimum qualification catalogue before they are even allowed to stand for election. We could select the five candidates which fit our objective qualification criteria best, then have them present their views thoroughly on TV and elect the best one of these five candidates.

Governing our countries and the world is an extremely complex task, whichever procedures for electing the best candidates we might select. We should in any case, therefore, never rely on a single person to have the required or even optimal knowledge for this task. In addition to making sure that our politicians have certain minimal qualifications we will still need an effective know-how system on how to run a country optimally, an institution which our politicians can draw upon in decision and strategy making and in setting up effective public organizations. Furthermore, as pointed out in other parts of this blog, we as citizens and highest sovereign in democratic states need a control system to make sure that the head of government, the ministers, and the public organizations in fact apply the state of the art know-how in governing the country for the benefit of all citizens, do not risk the state through incompetent policy making or work for their own interests.

What happened with the proposal made by Takis S Pappas in 2011 on the open-list system for elections? Has anybody examined it? Has it been accepted, rejected, or refined and implemented? Where are the results of our thinking about how to improve democracy? What the example shows is that our democratic nations most urgently need an effective organization to discuss and evaluate proposals like the one made by Pappas or made here on the qualifications of politicians, so we get to the best concrete concepts as soon as possible.

The sand glass for our task to make our democratic policy systems effective appears to be running. The social and political stability in many democratic countries is at stake, people even get frustrated with democracy itself, while it is the only form of government which guarantees their freedom. To maintain stable and equitable societies, to maintain the globe in a good state we must improve the performance of our democratic policy making systems, and that as soon as possible. One step for which we, as citizens, are responsible is making sure that our politicians are qualified for their tasks.

Italy – A Citizens’ Association for the Optimization of Democracy

How can Italy get a stable and effective democratic policy making system, now and in the future, a policy making system able to handle the challenges of the 21st century? In Italy, like in any other democratic country, the citizens themselves are ultimately responsible for the fate of their country. They themselves must fix any problems with their policy making system.

For decades the Italian people have been hoping for a strong man or a better party to establish stable and effective governments only to be disappointed over and over again. Now the situation is getting urgent. Due to the financial crisis and probably also due to the process of globalization industrial production in the country has fallen by 25% since 2008. Unemployment continues to be high, especially among young people.

Many people in Italy now recognize the need for a radical restructuring of the existing political institutions. But this issue is not being moved forward effectively. Citizens continue to elect politicians and to hope for the political system to fix itself. This cannot work. Politicians have their own agenda. And they may not know how to establish the most effective policy system conceivable. Citizens themselves need to take action.

What needs to happen?

  1. People in Italy, like in any other democratic country, need to change their perception about their role as citizens in a democracy. In a democracy the people are the highest sovereign in the state. They govern themselves. The policy system is their tool for managing their public affairs. The people need to realize that they cannot hope for a politician or party to repair the democratic policy system on their behalf. The citizens in a democratic society must ensure that the system works, they themselves.
  2. In the light of the complexity of the problems of our globalized world of now seven billion people only the best policy making system will suffice to solve the problems of the country. In Italy, like in other democratic nations, citizens, therefore, must aim to optimize the performance of their political system.
  3. To take concrete action citizens must establish an initiative which identifies the best options for making their democratic policy making system effective and which ensures that those concepts are implemented.
  4. Only with the best objective and independent know-how available in Italy and the globe can the citizens be sure to arrive at a democratic policy making system of the highest quality conceivable. The initiative must set up a know-how system which is completely open, invites contributions from anybody who may have to say something on the matter, and identifies the know-how of the required level of quality.
  5. Citizens must realize that making their policy making effective on the long run does not only take isolated one time action, but constant effective citizen control. They should establish the initiative with a view to turning it into a permanent element in the political life of the country and of the constitution, a “Citizens Association for the Optimization of Democracy”. The association will be responsible to persistently monitor the performance of the policy making system and to identify possibilities to further improve its performance.
  6. The qualification of politicians working on behalf of society in policy making is perhaps the most crucial element necessary for the policy system to be able to cope with the problems of our globalised world. The best qualification is of relevance in any function and at any level of the policy making system, especially at leadership level. Specific subject matter qualifications for making the economy competitive and to create millions of jobs are also of the highest importance. The association must make sure that those qualifications are “in place” to ensure that the system is as effective as only possible. One key effect of the objective qualification and performance standards, which the citizens’ association will aim to generate, will be a considerable reduction, perhaps even the nearly complete eradication, of widespread corruption and nepotism presently existing in the policy making system.

For the time being the politicians elected by the Italian people must fulfill their responsibilities for the country and the citizens and form a joint government. But the factors affecting the performance of Italian governments must be analyzed as soon as possible, so the necessary performance level can be established for the policy making system. Only an overhaul of the political system in the sketched fashion can make the country strong enough to handle the challenges which the country is facing.

Democracy is government by the people, as one element of the definition formulated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The citizens of a democratic country govern themselves. They must make sure their tool for governing the country, their democratic policy making system, works optimally, in Italy like in any other democratic country.

How to optimize democracy? – An approach based on Systems Thinking

In aiming to optimize democratic policy making we need to realize that our rationality as human beings is not perfect, our training and our professional experience are limited to specific areas. These observations are also valid for our leaders. Also a randomly composed group of people will often not have the perfect solution for a problem. They might assess the situation wrong, miss out on one or the other relevant aspect, they might forget one or the other element in designing problem solutions, which leads to their ineffectiveness or even failure.

Management Science has developed problem structuring methods which guide our thinking and help us to make sure our problem solutions are adequate and effective in a given situation.

The approach we suggest in this blog to use for “optimizing our democratic policy making systems” is based on Systems Thinking.

Below I include a description of the method contained in an article I wrote with the title: “Enhancing the effectiveness of international development – a systems approach”, published in Development in Practice, Routledge, 04/2010. The reader will find details on the two books quoted in the text under the “Library” tag in the blog.

Systems Thinking, in particular the Contingency Theory or the “functional approach” within Systems Thinking, understands “systems of purposeful human interaction”, be it in business or public policy, to operate in a way similar to systems in biology, such as the human body.   According to Systems Thinking the elements or sub-systems, which systems in business or public policy need to contain in order to function effectively, are determined by the purpose the systems want to achieve. Key sub-systems for the functioning of the overall systems are communication and control.

Systems and their sub-systems are interdependent and organized in hierarchies; people in companies for example are parts of workgroups, which are part of departments, the departments being part of the company, and the company itself being part of a wider social system (Ulrich and Probst 1991).  

Reflecting these concepts, Ulrich and Probst (1991) propose a methodology for problem-solving and building effective systems, for management in both the private and public sectors, which includes the following main steps (slightly adapted from the concept of the authors): 

1.       Goal review and definition.

2.       Compilation of all parameters affecting the defined goal or goals.

3.       Observation of how the system and its elements behave without interference.

4.       Clarification of the possibilities for intervention.

5.       Determination of strategies for problem solving which address all parameters of relevance.

6.       Implementation.

7.       Evaluation of resulting situation and restart of process, if required.

 

They emphasise that getting the goals of a system right is of the highest relevance for the effectiveness of a system. In order to enhance the quality of the analysis, the authors recommend bringing in specialists from various disciplines to jointly analyse the relevant parameters for achieving these goals.

  Systems are, however, not only the organizations and processes created to fulfil certain aims. Checkland points out that systems, viewed in a wider perspective, also comprise the “actors”, those system elements who “operate” a system, the “customers” of a process (who may be “beneficiaries” or “victims”), and the “process owners” (those with the power to stop it, in the words of Checkland; in this paper we understand the “owners” also as those who initiate and drive a process) (Checkland 2001).  

The sections on how to optimize democratic policy making in this blog and the proposal for the sequence of steps required for optimizing our democratic policy making system will be based on these concepts.

They help us to define what kind of system democratic policy making is. Since systems “of social interaction” are defined by their goals, we suggest understanding policy making as a “system to manage public policy issues in such a manner that well-being of society as a whole is maximised”. But as we see already this proposal implies many questions which need to be discussed and clarified in society, such as the questions, how we define “public policy issues” or which role the well-being of minorities plays with respect to the general goal of maximizing the well-being of society. One advantage of the proposed process is that it forces us to identify and address each relevant question and issue in a systematic manner.

A key suggestion made in the approach is to involve people with different perspectives in the design of a problem solution. We suggest that at least some should have training in management and problem solving methodologies. As we point out in another section of this blog, our chances to arrive at the best systems and processes for optimizing the performance of the democratic policy making systems are the higher, the more perspectives we include.

A question of relevance in optimizing democracy is of course the critical issue raised by Checkland, who the “process owners” are, a question of particular relevance in the United States for example, where big money plays a major role in determining the outcome of elections and all too often perhaps also policy decisions.

The challenge is to find a solution geared to optimizing democracy in which wider civil society determines the precise goals and operations of the policy making system. The solution we suggest in this blog is a citizens’ initiative or association to “set the operational standards” for the policy making system.

Who tells a Head of Government which ones are the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems?

Whatever a democratic constitution may say in detail: In my opinion the Head of State in a democratic country is responsible to build effective systems and organizations for policy making and delivery. That is why we elect him or her. The fate of a nation, the state of infrastructure, of health systems, of schools, even peace and war and the life of people depend on the ability of a Head of State to take the lead in building effective policy making organizations.

But who tells a Head of State which methods exist and which ones are the best ones to build effective organizations, organizations which fulfill their purpose without wasting tax money?

A builder has his methods to measure whether a wall is level or not, a teacher has her methods to get a certain subject across to her students, a butcher has his methods to skin, let us say, a cow, a structural engineer has his methods to calculate the stability of a building. But what methods does a Head of Government have to build effective systems to serve a country and its people? Who tells the Head of Government about these methods?

We could argue a Head of State should know those required methods, just as a teacher knows their teaching methods. But in reality, our Heads of Government do have all kinds of professional backgrounds. Knowledge in methods on how to build effective organizations is usually not part of their qualification.

Just a couple of hours ago I had the exceptional opportunity to talk to a very high-ranking politician in a European country about this subject. I tried to convince him that the Cabinet Office, the office for co-coordinating the work of all government departments in that country, needed a know-how system to inform the Head of Government and best also the ministers about how to build the most effective organizations in designing and delivering public policy measures.

The conversation surprisingly lasted quite a while. But he, a full-blooded, long-time politician was completely convinced that the existing systems and organizations in policy making in that country were perhaps not perfect, but still rather good, and if they did not perform well enough, there were already plenty of institutions and processes both in the political and public spheres in place to correct any malfunctioning. Those were institutions and processes such as the national audit office, scrutiny by the media, or protests by citizens with concerns over a policy issue.

What we do not know, however, is how effective those processes and organizations are, whether they check in fact all policy making areas, how timely their work is, and which influence they have in establishing more effective policy making processes. The press as one means of control will generally get only involved in high-profile issues with a “story” value. Furthermore, as any professional person knows: Correcting mistakes which somebody made who did not (quite) know what they were doing, most often is a tedious and inefficient exercise. Sometimes people in charge rather decide to start over from scratch. Better to make sure from the beginning that things are done right, especially in the public arena where millions of public funds are at stake and where the well-being or even the life of citizens might depend on the effective design and implementation of public policy.

Heads of Governments need to know which methods exist for building effective systems and especially which ones are the best methods. They are not only responsible for the work of government departments and hundreds of thousands of and public employees, but also for the effects of policy making on millions of citizens. Heads of Governments are also responsible for building effective international institutions which have to tackle the complex and urgent problems our globe is facing. If our institutions are so effective, how come that carpets of plastic garbage the size of the middle of Europe are floating on our oceans? Is there no chance to stop this pollution? Or have we simply not tried well enough?

Even if we ask: “Who tells a head of government…”, we must realize that the knowledge on building effective organizations and systems is vast and may change. An individual person, or two, or three, are unlikely to have the best and up to date knowledge, on what the best methods to build effective public policy systems are. They might come from the same school of thinking, have a certain preference for one or the other approach, they might be lopsided in their judgment. That is why we need to build a truly effective system to inform the Head of State and his or her ministers on the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems. In addition, we need a system to check, whether previous Heads of Governments and ministers did their jobs properly, whether they have built truly effective institutions. From the perspective of politicians in the UK today that doesn’t appear to be so in the case of the EU.

Of course a Head of Government and his or her ministers do not only need to know what the best approaches to building effective systems are, they moreover must apply them. One reason keeping them from applying best practices may be that they are corrupt. That is where the relevance of an effective citizen control institution, suggested in other places in this blog, comes in: Citizens must make sure, first that a system exists to inform Heads of Government and their ministers about best practices, second that those best practices are in fact applied in their policy making work.

Who tells a Head of Government which ones are the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems? Unfortunately I did not come up with that question in the conversation with the politician. Would that have convinced him of the need to establish a know-how system to inform government about the best approaches to run a country? Does the question convince you? Let me know what you think.