Monday, December 1, 2008

Changing how policy is designed

One of the most important lessons from our exploration of the security certificate issue is the need to ensure that policy development occurs in an open and transparent way. Policy is often reactive and laws are written and introduced based on a response to a crisis, real or perceived. In evaluating a policy, however, we cannot limit our critical reading only to the details or content of the policy itself. We should also question why it is being introduced, what it is responding to, what it is contributing to the cultural and legal discourse of the country, what risks there are in its implementation (and the explicit and implicit assumptions contained within it). In a nutshell, what agenda is it serving and what will it mean for people in real life?

We need to also look at how the policy debate occurred. Who had input? What type of consultation was held and for how long? What outreach was done to ensure a diversity of voices were heard? What measures are in place to ensure effective monitoring of its implementation and to evaluate whether or not it is reaching its objectives?

As I reviewed the transcripts of the House and Senate Committees, the submissions made by civil society organizations, grassroots activists, and advocates for the detainees, I realized that the policy development and review procedures has in many ways mirrored the security certificate process itself. Lawmakers were responding to vague and undefined risks, often with only partial information. Access to information, participation and full debate was limited. The outcome was in many ways clear from the outset. Fear was used as a powerful political tool to force through this policy.

The difference however is that, unlike a reversal of an individual security certificate, policy change is relatively easy (if not uncomplicated), if there is the political will. Unlike the "behind closed doors" reality of security certificate decision-making, there are accountability mechanisms in place for policymakers and we can hold our politicians responsible for the judgements they have made. We have a whole range of possible allies and strategies to bring about this change, as have been described in previous posts.

Public policy is often seen as something technical and complex that the public has no role in. Demystifying policy development is an important part of this initiative. Good policy development and implementation require active public engagement. We need to ask more questions of our policymakers, critically analyze the rhetoric that underlies proposed legislation, and ensure that our voices inform its direction. If we reject our role as "sheep" and actively challenge the democratic deficit that currently exists in policymaking, we can ensure that policies such as the IRPA security certificate provisions receive the debate they require and are ultimately rejected.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm amazed you ended that post on an upswing. i hope you go into policy making. seems like a tough job but from your post you seem able to deal with it. there are opportunities for the public to get involved but it just seems so overwhelming and removed from us.