Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reforming Australian public policy

I am now up to post seven in my series on reforming Australian public policy.

This is the most complicated blogging exercise I have attempted. This holds for length, a whole month of posts on one blog as well as supporting posts such as this one on other blogs, and for complexity. After all, I am trying to prove a case that we do need reform, as well as indicating the directions that reform might take.

I am trying to keep the posts short, although this may not be the best way since my professional audience will want more detail.

If you want to see how I am going, you will find the first post here. Click on next post at the end of each post and you can read the series in order.  


Winton Bates said...

One of the problems seems to me to be the focus that governments have on finding solutions to problems. There doesn't seem to be enough emphasis on understanding the reasons why existing systems are dysfunctional before intervening.

Perhaps there would be fewer problems arising as unintended consequences of interventions if there was a broader focus on costs and benefits of programs rather than on cost effectiveness of different ways of solving problems.

I will be interested to read the rest of this series. If we had a better understanding of the historical patterns involved we might make fewer mistakes.

Jim Belshaw said...

I absolutely agree with your first point, Winton, and its something that I want to write about it.

I also agree with your second point, although I suspect that there may be a difference in at least nuance on the cost-benefit one because of our different backgrounds - IAC/Productivity Commission vs Treasury/Industry Department. While I am a strong supporter of cost benefit analysis, it can lock you into considering only those things that can be measured, and that lies at the heart of some of our current problems.

I hope that you will be able to make an input as the series proceeds. I really think that dialogue is important as is experience. Those of us who have worked within the system, have interacted with it from outside, over time and have seen the different stages are in a better position to comment (I think) than those who have grown up in the current system.

Winton Bates said...

I realized too late that I should have referred to a comparative institutions framework rather than cost benefit analysis. I tend to think of cost benefit analysis fairly broadly, but it is often interpreted as a focus on things that can be measured in money terms.

The important point is that we need to compare the consequences of alternative institutions (or rules of the game)rather than trying to focus on whether one government intervention to solve a particular problem is better than another. It is sometimes better to live with a problem than to have governments try to solve it.

Jim Belshaw said...

I am in agreement. Good policy development starts with the definition of the problem to be resolved. This includes answering the question, although this may take several iterations as ideas evolve, whether Government can or should solve the problem.

The question of alternative institutions or rules of the game can be read at several levels. I need to think about this one before responding.