The case for adaptive and end-to-end policy management

Article by Pia Andrews: “Why should we reform how we do policy? Simple. Because the gap between policy design and delivery has become the biggest barrier to delivering good public services and policy outcomes and is a challenge most public servants experience daily, directly or indirectly.

This gap wasn’t always the case, with policy design and delivery separated as part of the New Public Management reforms in the ’90s. When you also consider the accelerating rate of change, increasing cadence of emergencies, and the massive speed and scale of new technologies, you could argue that end-to-end policy reform is our most urgent problem to solve.

Policy teams globally have been exploring new design methods like human-centred design, test-driven iteration (agile), and multi-disciplinary teams that get policy end users in the room (eg, NSW Policy Lab). There has also been an increased focus on improving policy evaluation across the world (eg, the Australian Centre for Evaluation). In both cases, I’m delighted to see innovative approaches being normalised across the policy profession, but it has become obvious that improving design and/or evaluation is still far from sufficient to drive better (or more humane) policy outcomes in an ever-changing world. It is not only the current systemic inability to detect and respond to unintended consequences that emerge but the lack of policy agility that perpetuates issues even long after they might be identified.

Below I outline four current challenges for policy management and a couple of potential solutions, as something of a discussion starter

Problem 1) The separation of (and mutual incomprehension between) policy design, delivery and the public

The lack of multi-disciplinary policy design, combined with a set-and-forget approach to policy, combined with delivery teams being left to interpret policy instructions without support, combined with a gap and interpretation inconsistency between policy modelling systems and policy delivery systems, all combined with a lack of feedback loops in improving policy over time, has led to a series of black holes throughout the process. Tweaking the process as it currently stands will not fix the black holes. We need a more holistic model for policy design, delivery and management…(More)”.