11 August 2010

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday August 4, 2010
Policies must be well thought out

While bullet points may pick out the salient benefits, to explain a new policy one needs to know the research and thinking that goes behind them.

WHEN I was in Sixth Form, I had a wonderful history teacher who taught us not only about history but how to think and write about it. Every week we had to submit an essay on one subject and a plan on another.

The plan was her magic formula. Essentially, she taught us how to organise our facts and thoughts, and logically come to our conclusions. Her students have been known to pass their exams just by writing out their plans because those so clearly laid out what they knew and how they meant to answer the question.

Her training has stood me in good stead until today. I still try to write a plan when I need to prepare a major paper because it helps me to take an argument logically from start to finish. I wish everybody had studied under my teacher. If they had, we may not be constantly subjected to the sort of fuzzy, half-formed and illogical thinking that we are assailed with today.

When I read pronouncements by our leaders today, more and more I start to wonder what the process of thinking is behind them. And, increasingly, I start to believe that our leaders practise what I call “bullet-point policymaking”.

My theory is this. A politician says to his or her staffers that he or she needs some exciting thing to announce. They go off to research what would be new and innovative to address any particular situation, for example, the deplorable state of our schools or teen pregnancies.

They might actually write a whole paper on the subject along with recommendations on what to do and present this to their boss.

But he or she doesn’t have time to read it and orders the staffers to give him or her talking points in bullet form. These will be what he or she then announces at a press conference.

Now, this may seem an efficient way of doing things; but it is also deficient in many ways. For a start, while bullet points may pick out the salient benefits of whatever new policy, they cannot give you all the research and thinking that goes behind them.

And if you don’t know exactly what led anyone to arrive at this particular policy recommendation, then not only can’t you explain it properly, you also cannot truly “own” it.

What is more, “bullet-point policymaking” is not going to also give you an idea of the points that people are likely to make against the policy, and how you are supposed to respond to these.

Hence, if there is any criticism of any new policy, the standard response is to accuse the other side of politicising the issue. Or, equally poorly, backpedal immediately.

When was the last time we heard an Education Minister talk about education with true passion? Or anyone defend the position of women in the face of much male-dominated derision? How many leaders do we have who can say, “This is what I really believe in because …” and stand their ground on principle?

Instead they rely on what their staffers tell them to say. Now if you have professional and dedicated staffers who are keen to do the best by their bosses, you might actually get good papers backing up your bullet points.

If you don’t, then the points you get may not be worth much anyway. But unless you read yourself, or at least insist on a full briefing on the subject, including pros and cons, how would you know if the policy you are about to announce is sound at all?

This is why we get announcements that exams should be scrapped because we have become too exam-oriented, without the accompanying well-thought-out alternative.

Then, when everyone has not wholeheartedly praised the idea, there’s the belated attempt at consulting people on what exactly the policy should be. Shouldn’t they have done all the consulting and surveying before announcing it?

Is it any wonder then that, increasingly, people are starting to feel that their leaders don’t know what they are doing? That announcements are made because there is some public relations quota to be filled? Do their KPI report forms have a column for how many policies are announced each year? Better none at all rather than too many silly ones.

What is obvious to any intelligent person in the street, and maybe not to our leaders, is that problems often have multiple causes, and solutions cannot come only from one source.

Thus, an issue like teen pregnancies would involve several ministries and not just one. Would it not be fantastic if a major joint policy an­­nouncement on this were to come from the relevant ministers at the same time?

But then, why share the limelight?