A Wallonia Policy Lab on the foresight trajectory

Namur, April 11, 2018

There are some words that we try in vain to translate but do not manage to clarify satisfactorily. This is the case with the English words policy and policies. We can, of course, get close to the meaning when, in French, we allude to une politique [1] or les politiques publiques. Except that policy does not necessarily relate to a political context [2] and does not always belong to the register of the public arena. The Oxford English Dictionary defines policy as a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual [3]. Policies can therefore be organisational, corporate, individual or collective, and can assume multiple forms, from intention to action, including streams of ideas and their execution in legislation, regulatory implementation and everyday changes [4]. For a long time, the Anglo-Saxon academic world has adopted the distinction between politics and policies, indicating moreover that policies may be public. Thus the London School of Economics and Political Science distinguishes between British Politics and Policy and UK Government, Politics and Policy [5].

 

1. Intentions, decisions, objectives and implementation

Drawing its inspiration from the works of theorists in the concept, especially the Yale University professors Harold Dwight Lasswell (1902-1978) [6] and Aaron Wildavsky (1930-1993) [7], the Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration (ed. 2015) defines Policy as a decision or, more broadly, a series of interlinked decisions relating to a range of objectives and the means of implementing them. The author of the definition, William H. Park, a lecturer and researcher at a British military academy [8], states that this process involves identifying a problem that requires a solution or an objective that is worth achieving, evaluating the alternative means of attaining the desired results, choosing between these alternatives and implementing the preferred option, in addition to solving the problem or achieving the objective. Park observes that such a process should entail the participation of a limited number of decision-makers, a high degree of consensus on what constitutes a policy problem or a desirable objective, a capacity for evaluating and comparing the probable consequences of each of the alternatives, a smooth implementation of the chosen option and the absence of any impediments to achieving the objectives. This also implies that this process ends with the execution and implementation of the decision [9]. Clearly, however difficult it may be to grasp the notion, it is above all the rationality of the process that seems to characterise it [10]. There is also the fact that, as Lasswell points out, policy approaches tend toward contextuality in place of fragmentation and toward problem-oriented not problem-blind perspectives [11]. This second consideration points to the systemic aspect, which we prioritise in foresight – even if it is beyond the context. Furthermore, according to the Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, policy studies and foresight share the characteristic of being explicitly normative and fundamentally action-oriented [12]. They are also normative because they rely on values that determine their objectives. In what Yehezkel Dror calls Grand Policies, the common good, the public interest and the good of humanity as a whole, or raison d’humanité, are pursued to highlight strategies. As the former professor of political science and politics at Harvard and the University of Jerusalem points out, Grand Policies try to reduce the probability of bad futures, to increase the probability of good futures, as their images and evaluations change with time, and to gear up to coping with the unforeseen and the unforeseeable[13]. Unsurprisingly, to achieve this, Dror particularly recommends engaging in thinking-in-History and practising foresight [14].

2. In governance: identifying and organising the actors

Democratic governance, in other words governance by the actors, – including the Administration [15] –, particularly as highlighted since the early 1990s by the Club of Rome and the United Nations Development Programme[16], also shows, as sociologist Patrice Duran has pointed out, that government institutions have lost their monopoly on governance [17]. This observation was also made by David Richards and Martin J. Smith in their analysis of the links between governance and public policy in the United Kingdom. For these two British political scientists, governance demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process [18]. If we take proper account of this trend, we can make a distinction, as Duran does, between the two complementary rationales on which public action as a process is founded:

– an identification rationale, which makes it possible to determine the relevant actors, define the scope of their involvement and specify their degree of legitimacy; the challenge relates to the status of the actors in the sense that this determines their authority and thereby their legitimacy to act.

– a rationale for organising these actors for the purpose of producing effective action. The actors are also evaluated on what they do, in other words on their contribution to dealing with the problems identified as public problems which are therefore the responsibility of the public authorities. It is their power to act, in the sense of their capacity to act, that is at stake here rather than their authority [19]. This way of understanding governance and of giving the government an instrumental role in collective action has been at the heart of our approach for twenty years [20]. It clearly implies societal objectives that support a vision, shared by the actors, of a desirable future for all. We have often summarised these objectives as being the shared requirement for greater democracy and better development [21]. But, as Philippe Moreau Defarges rightly pointed out, the public interest no longer comes from the top down, but develops, flows and belongs to whoever exploits it [22]. Moreover, it is from this perspective that the rationale of empowerment is not only reserved for elected officials with responsibility for the issues under their mandate but extends to other stakeholders in distributed, shared, democratic governance [23], especially the Administration, businesses and civil society [24].

3. Supporting a Policy Lab for the Independent Regional Foresight Unit

Following the meeting with Minister-President Willy Borsus on 15 September 2017 and with the board of directors of the The Destree Institute on 5 December 2017, the Destree Institute revived its Foresight Unit under the name CiPré (Cellule indépendante de Prospective régionale – Independent Regional Foresight Unit) and backed the creation of a laboratory for collective, public and entrepreneurial policies for Wallonia in Europe: the Wallonia Policy Lab. This has been modelled on the EU Policy Lab, set up by the European Joint Research Centre and presented by Fabiana Scapolo, deputy head of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, during the conference entitled Learning in the 21st century: citizenship, foresight and complexity, organised in the Economic and Social Council of Wallonia by The Destree Institute on 22 September 2017 as part of the Wallonia Young Foresight Research programme.

According to its own introduction, the European Policy Lab represents a collaborative and experimental space for developing innovative public or collective policies. Both a physical space and a way of working which combines foresight, behavioural insights [25], and the process of co-creation and innovation, in other words design thinking [26], the European Lab has set itself three tasks: firstly, to explore complexity and the long term in order to measure uncertainty; secondly, to bring together political objectives and collective actions and to improve decision-making and the reality of implementing decisions; and finally, to find solutions for developing better public or collective policies and to ensure that the strategies will apply in the real world [27]. We have embraced these tasks in Wallonia, in addition to our collaborations with the European Joint Research Centre, particularly on the project entitled The Future of Government 2030+, A Citizen Centric Perspective on New Government Models.

The proposal to create a Policy Lab seemed so important to the board of directors of The Destree Institute that it decided to accentuate its own name with this designation: The Destree Institute, Wallonia Policy Lab. This decision conveys three messages: the first is the operationalisation of foresight, which characterises the type of foresight that brings about change, as advocated by The Destree Institute. The University Certificate which it has jointly run with UMONS and the Open University in Charleroi since February 2017 is also called Operational Foresight [28]. The second message is the need for accelerated experimentation on a new, more involving democracy, based on governance by actors and innovative tools such as those developed globally in recent years around the concept of open government [29]. The third message concerns the uninhibited use of English and therefore the desire for internationalisation, even if the language chosen could have been that of one of our dynamic neighbours, Germany or the Netherlands, or of another country. Unrestrained access and openness to the world are absolute necessities for a region undergoing restructuring which, today, must more than ever position itself away from the faint-heartedness of yesterday.

In parallel, having run its course at the end of December 2017, the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society, founded in 1999 on the initiative of The Destree Institute and several actors who were convinced of the need for these governance tools and advocated their use, decided to encourage this new initiative by sponsoring the Wallonia Policy Lab in terms of its intellectual and material heritage. This also means that, as it did at the end of the 1990s, The Destree Institute will once again, through this laboratory, pay close attention to the assessment and performance of public and collective policies which, naturally, represent one of the key axes of the policy process.

Conclusion: bringing order to future disorder

When we talk of Policy, we are referring to a course of action or a structured programme of actions guided by a vision of the future (principles, broad objectives, goals), which address some clearly identified challenges [30]. The process of governance, which has been in place since the early 2000s, has increased the need for a better grasp of policies by involving the stakeholders. Interdependence between the actors is an integral part of modern political action, changing it from public action into collective action.

It has been argued and repeatedly stated that, in the territories, and particularly in the regions, the doors to the future open downwards. Patrice Duran, referring to Michael Lipsky, the political scientist at Princeton [31], observed that changes usually resulted from the daily actions taken on the ground by public officials or peripheral actors rather than from the broad objectives set by the major decision centres. We, too, agree with the French professor that there is no point in developing ambitious objectives if they cannot usefully be translated into action content. In other words, it is not so much developing major programmes that counts but rather determining the process by which a decision may or may not emerge and take shape [32]. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight. Particular attention must be paid to the serious implementation of the objectives we set ourselves. Developing policies means – and this something we have forgotten rather too often in Wallonia in recent decades – carefully linking the key strategic directions to the concrete reality of the fieldwork and mobilising the diversity of actors operating on the ground [33]. That is how, using all our pragmatism, we can bring order to disorder, to use Philippe Zittoun’s well-turned phrase [34].

Moreover, two early initiatives have been taken in this regard. The first, as part of a joint initiative taken in November 2017, was to transform a hands-on training activity, Local powers and Social action, organised with the Wallonia Public Service DG05, into a genuine laboratory for those public officials to create their business practices of the future. The second initiative, at the beginning of February 2018, was to put together the « Investing in young people” citizens’ panel, which is being organised on the initiative of the Parliament of Wallonia by a Policy Lab that brings young people together to identify long-term challenges. In both cases, the participants needed to be quick, intellectually mobile, efficient, proactive, bright and operational. And that was the case. More on this in due course…

The Wallonia Policy Lab is very much in line with this moment in our history: a time when we are moving from grand ideological principles to experimentation – on the ground – with new, collective, concrete actions with a view to implementing them. This way of working will finally allow us to overcome our endemic shortcomings, our structural blockages and our mental and cultural inertia so that we can truly address the challenges we face. A time when, ultimately, we must stand together.

 

Philippe Destatte

@PhD2050

[1] See, for example, the definition of Policy/Politique in the MEANS programme: ensemble d’activités différentes (programmes, procédures, lois, règlements) qui sont dirigées vers un même but, un même objectif général. Evaluer les programmes socio-économiques, Glossaire de 300 concepts et termes techniques, coll. MEANS, vol. 6., p. 33, European Commission, Community Structural Funds, 1999. – My thanks to my colleagues Pascale Van Doren and Michaël Van Cutsem for helping me develop and refine this document.

[2] Philippe ZITTOUN, La fabrique politique des politiques publiques, Une approche pragmatique de l’action publique, p. 10sv, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2013. – Thierry BALZACQ e.a., Fondements de Science politique, p. 33, Louvain-la-Neuve, De Boeck, 2015. – See the broad discussion of the concept of policy in Michaël HILL & Frederic VARONE, The Public Policy Process, p. 16-23, New York & London, Routledge, 7th ed., 2017.

[3] A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual. Oxford English Dictionary on line.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/policy (2 April 2018).

[4] Edward C. PAGE, The Origins of Policy, in Michael MORAN, Martin REIN & Robert E. GOODIN, Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, p. 210sv, Oxford University Press, 2006. – Brian W. HOGWOOD & Lewis A. GUNN, Policy Analysis for the Real World, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984.

[5] See the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/

[6] Harold Dwight LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences, New York, American Elsevier, 1971.

[7] Aaron WILDAVSKY, Speaking Truth to Power, The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis, Boston, Little Brown, 1979.

[8] Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), now teaching at King’s College in London.

[9] William H. PARK, Policy, 4, in Jay M. SHAFRITZ Jr. ed., Defining Public Administration, Selections from the International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration, New York, Routledge, 2018.

[10] M. HILL & F. VARONE, The Public Policy Process…, p. 20. – Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 35, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[11] H. D. LASSWELL, A Pre-View of Policy Sciences…, p. 8.

[12] Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 6.

[13] Yehezkel DROR, Training for Policy Makers, in Handbook…, p. 82-86.

[14] Ibidem, p. 86sv.

[15] Edward C. PAGE, Policy without Politicians, Bureaucratic Influence in Comparative Perspective, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

[16] Philippe DESTATTE, L’élaboration d’un nouveau contrat social, in Philippe DESTATTE dir., Mission prospective Wallonie 21, La Wallonie à l’écoute de la prospective, Premier Rapport au Ministre-Président du Gouvernement wallon, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2003. 21 http://www.wallonie-en-ligne.net/Wallonie_Prospective/Mission-Prosp_W21/Rapport-2002/3-2_nouveau-contrat-social.htm – Steven A. ROSELL e.a., Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1992.

[17] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 77, Paris, Lextenso, 2010.

[18] Thus, it demands that we consider all the actors and locations beyond the « core executive » involved in the policy making process. David RICHARDS & Martin J. SMITH, Governance and Public Policy in the UK, p. 2, Oxford University Press, 2002.

[19] P. DURAN, Penser l’action publique…, p. 76-77. Our translation.

[20] Ph. DESTATTE, Bonne gouvernance: contractualisation, évaluation et prospective, Trois atouts pour une excellence régionale, in Ph. DESTATTE dir., Evaluation, prospective et développement régional, p. 7sv, Charleroi, Institut-Destrée, 2001.

[21] Ph. DESTATTE, Plus de démocratie et un meilleur développement, Rapport général du quatrième Congrès La Wallonie au futur, dans La Wallonie au futur, Sortir du XXème siècle: évaluation, innovation, prospective, p. 436, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 1999.

[22] Philippe MOREAU DEFARGES, La gouvernance, p. 33, Paris, PuF, 2003.

[23] Gilles PAQUET, Gouvernance: mode d’emploi, Montréal, Liber, 2008.

[24] Policy analysts use the imperfect tools of their trade not only to assist legitimately elected officials in implementing their democratic mandates, but also to empower some groups rather than others. Oxford Handbook of Public Policy…, p. 28.

[25] Behavioural Insights is an inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices. Since 2013, OECD has been at the forefront of supporting public institutions who are applying behavioural insights to improving public policy. http://www.oecd.org/gov/regulatory-policy/behavioural-insights.htm

[26] See, for example, Paola COLETTI, Evidence for Public Policy Design, How to Learn from Best Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, New York – Houndmills Basingstoke UK, 2013.

[27] EU Policy Lab, a collaborative and experimental space for innovative policy-making, Brussels; European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2017.

[28]  www.institut-destree.org/Certificat_Prospective_operationnelle

[29] Ph. DESTATTE, What is Open Government? Blog PhD2050, Reims, 7 November 2017,

https://phd2050.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/open-gov/

[30] Concerning identification of the challenges: Charles E. LINDBLOM, Policy-making Process, p. 12-14, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[31] Michael LIPSKY, Street Level Bureaucracy, New York, Russel Sage, 1980.

[32] Patrice DURAN, Penser l’action publique, p. 48, Paris, Lextenso, 2010. Our translation.

[33] Jeffrey L. PRESSMAN & Aaron WILDAWSKY, Implementation, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1973. – Susan BARRETT & Colin FUDGE eds, Policy and Action, Essays on the Implementation of Public Policy, London, Methuen, 1981.

[34] Ph. ZITTOUN, op.cit., p. 326. Our translation.

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