Tag Archives: Governance

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.

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.

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.

Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps

Whichever way we may be aiming to contribute to improving policy making, be it by wanting to influence an individual policy area only or by improving the overall policy making system, given the size of the policy machines in democratic countries we must maximize the effectiveness of our own action, if we want to have any success.

The graph Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps describes how making a contribution of such a quality should be possible.

Presently there are many movements for better policy making in various countries: Better government initiatives, movements for direct democracy, initiatives to enhance transparency in policy making etc.

Competition and independence of thinking is necessary to allow the best ideas to come forward. But in order to move ahead effectively, agreeing on a plan and combining energy around its implementation is required. Any plan to make democracy better necessitates the approval of and legitimation by wider society anyway. If the initiatives to make public policy better cannot agree on the “best plan” to move forward, how should society then be able to support a particular concept? Initiatives working for an improvement of democratic policy making should jointly aim to present the best plan to wider society. This does not mean they should agree on the handling of concrete individual policy issues, but simply on the concept for generating the most effective policy making structures and processes.

Deciding on an effective way forward requires agreeing on a specific goal in the wider scope of “enhancing the quality of policy making”. Some people concerned about the state of our democratic countries propose concentrating on urgent individual policy issues, such as employment and social stability only. But what about global warming, the most severe threat for humanity as others suggest? How can we establish with greater certainty how large the threat truly is and what we must do concretely to fend it off? What also about health, about establishing international peace and understanding and avoiding further unnecessary deaths in lingering or new international conflicts? If we succeed in reducing unemployment at the present time, global warming might shatter any advancement in the well-being of society based on such success completely in the next twenty years or so, if we neglect doing something about it.

Given this interdependence of policy issues we suggest a comprehensive approach to making our policy making systems better. In the light of the relevance of our policy systems for our countries and in fact the management of the entire globe, we suggest not to settle for “improvement” as a goal but for “optimization”. As also mentioned in the graph, aiming now for setting up the best democratic policy making structures and processes will furthermore contribute to maintaining the best quality of policy making in the future. This might become important, if let us say in ten or twenty years from now, discontent with established parties were to increase to such an extent that more extreme parties came to power. To have mechanisms which even in such a scenario were to contribute to sound policy making would not be bad.

Once we have agreed on a specific goal, the graph suggests as a next step to analyze the parameters affecting the achievement of this particular goal achievement. It should be useful to insert at this point that the suggested steps here are a rudimentary application of a systemic problem solving methodology suggested by Hans Ulrich and Gilbert Probst in their book “Anleitung zum Ganzheitlichen Denken und Handeln” (Translates roughly to: “Guide To Interconnected Thinking and Action”), Haupt publishers, Berne 1991, a book which unfortunately does not appear to have been published in the English language so far.

The key factor of relevance for the quality of our democratic system as a whole will be the effectiveness of each individual step in the process of policy making, from identifying public policy issues, to prioritizing them, determining the best ways to tackle them, and attributing the required public resources to the solution of each policy issue. A rather intense debate on the role of the state has been led in the United States for some time. Many people demand the government’s “downsizing”. What democracies should have is a highly effective system to define the tasks of the state.

We suggest that the quality of each of these individual steps and of the processes to manage individual policy issues depends on five factors:

• The available know-how on optimizing the performance of policy making systems and processes
• The qualification of politicians and civil service employees
• The motivation of politicians and civil service employees
• The adequacy of resources to allow each system to achieve its purpose.
• The quality of control over each system.

In order to optimize democratic policy making, the initiative would have to ensure that those parameters are in place and optimized for each individual step in the policy making process itself, and also for each policy area. Systems thinkers suggest rightly that also communication between system, sub-systems, and stakeholders is of relevance for its output. We propose here that effective control will also take care of setting up effective communication systems and processes.

Control as the key parameter for success will also ensure that the other four factors mentioned are in place. It will ensure that policy makers and civil service employees have the optimal qualifications for their tasks, it will identify the best processes to check that both, politicians and civil service employees work only for the common good, beyond a fair salary, rather than for their own interests. It will arrange for an optimal match between the goals and tasks of public policy and the available resources.

In another part of this blog we emphasized the importance of know-how next to control. The first know-how element of importance is how to set up an effective control system over policy making as a whole. Once this know-how and an effective overall control system is established, this top level control system should set up a system to establish the optimal know-how for all detailed elements of the entire policy making process. As we also pointed out the support of wider society is required for establishing the optimal know-how for all of these processes.

An initiative which goes through all of the steps suggested exerts control over the policy making system. In the course of its work the initiative will realize that the aim must be to constantly ensure the optimal operation of the democratic policy making system. It becomes clear that a permanent citizens’ organization needs to be established to take on this responsibility. Last not least an initiative to optimize our democratic policy making systems would also have to examine the proposals made here.

How to optimize democracy? – Two things are necessary

From a very fundamental analytical perspective it takes two things to optimize democracy:

1. Optimal know-how in setting up the most effective democratic policy making systems and processes conceivable.

2. Making sure that this optimal know-how is adhered to and applied.

In the following a short discussion on what is required to establish the optimal know-how for making our democratic policy making system effective and for making sure that this know-how is applied. For a graph visualizing the issues discussed click here: How to optimize democracy – A graph

Establishing the “optimal know-how” for setting up an effective policy making system.

The following key factors appear necessary to establish an effective “know-how system”:

1. Assembling and scanning all know-how available in a country and the world.
2. Absolute openness for any suggestion whatsoever on the matter of “optimizing policy making” and even soliciting input from wider civil society on the issue (excluding one view only could mean we miss out on the best option for addressing a certain problem).
3. Optimal know-how in the objective assessment of approaches to system optimization.
4. Adequate human and financial resources.

What, as a next question, does it take to make sure the optimal methods identified for building an effective policy making are actually applied?

We suggest as the key factors: power and resources, next to effective communication.

Whose power and resources? Who is responsible for optimizing the system?

Democracy is government by the people, as one of the elements of the definition of democracy formulated by Abraham Lincoln.

So far we rely on our politicians to optimize policy making by themselves. This is wrong. Following the statement by Lincoln, the people, the citizens of a democratic country themselves, are responsible for optimizing the way they identify and handle their common policy issues.

Acquiring the necessary resources to identify the best know-how and the power to make sure that it is applied.

Achieving the goal to optimize democratic policy making processes in as short a time frame as possible requires an effective citizens’ organization which operates directly on behalf of the citizens and whose task it is to optimize the policy making systems and procedures. One task which the organization will have is to define the optimal dividing line between issues to be handled by direct democratic procedures and those to be handled by indirect democratic procedures.

Citizens must pool their resources to establish such an organization. No system is effective without effective control. Without such an organization the effectiveness of the policy making system is not guaranteed. The more people join the smaller will be the required contributions. The more “normal” citizens join, the larger the power of the association to ensure that no specific interest groups on the inside or the outside of the policy making system abuse it and reduce its effectiveness in working for the well-being of society as a whole.

Like a union working on behalf of society as a whole.

All in all we can envision the organization like a union working on behalf of society as a whole and making sure that the democratic policy making system works optimally for the common good. One task the organization will have is also to ensure that the national policy making system contributes in as much as only possible to establishing the most effective international organizations.

Our own knowledge not substantiated enough.

Optimizing democracy must begin with the initiative of citizens to set up a citizens’ control organization over policy making. This organization must then also set up an effective know-how system. Our knowledge as individuals or groups, or even as policy institutes is not substantiated enough to optimize our democratic policy making systems. We need effective systems to generate the best know-how.

How to optimize democracy? – Organizing the debate

Presently many proposals on improving democracy are discussed nationally and in the international public domain. The problem appears to be: The discussion is not organized, we don’t have an overview over all proposals, and we do not have an effective system to determine what the best solution is. Maybe all proposals have advantages and draw-backs, maybe we need to combine various proposals to arrive at optimal solutions. Our greatest problem: While we do not manage to determine the best options for optimizing democracy, our actions in improving democracy are stalled. In the meantime problems such as global warming and the threats to economic and social stability get bigger and more urgent from day to day.

One of the disadvantages of our present discussion, on how to improve democracy appears to be that we all think our proposals are the best ones. Governing our world is, however, a task of such complexity, that our individual knowledge does not suffice to establish what the best way forward is. To move ahead we, therefore, very urgently need to establish a highly effective system to analyze and evaluate all proposals which are presently “out there” in the public domain and to shape and determine the best solutions.

If we were to agree on this approach the questions remains, however, who precisely must take this action? Who must install such a system, before it is too late?

Democratic governments in this world should go ahead and establish already know-how systems to optimize decision and policy making in public policy, so we do not lose time. The final conclusion will, however, be that we, the citizens ourselves, as the ultimate stakeholders in democratic nations, must take the initiative to establish an effective organization which takes these tasks on.

What we as citizens would need to know or figure out is, how to set up an effective organization to fulfill this purpose. In addition we need to gather the resources to set up an effective organization, an organization outside of the established policy making systems working directly on behalf of citizens to optimize the policy making systems.

The main issue is to get started on making democracy effective and to then jointly determine the most effective way in going ahead. For this we need to take any suggestion for the most effective way forward on board to be sure we do not miss the best option.

How to optimize democracy? – Some basic thoughts

Democracy is government by the people, as one element of the statement by Abraham Lincoln on the nature of democracy.

The prime way for citizens to take control of their world and their policy making systems suggested in this blog is to join in and support a citizens’ association for “Optimizing Democracy”.

Our current control systems such as the parliaments do not work effectively. But no system works well without effective control. Also our policy making systems don’t.

Citizens, therefore, must establish effective systems to shape and control the democratic policy making systems. We as citizens ourselves are responsible for the way our policy making systems work, for the quality of our governments in whichever country we live, and for the way we treat the globe.

In a democracy complaining about the work of governments is not enough. We as citizens must take constructive action to optimize the way our democratic policy making systems work.