This week I had the opportunity to work with a progressive provincial department on the nature of policies and policy making processes for the environment. This is a summary of the paper we are writing on the issue:
The policy making process is traditionally viewed as a linear three stage process of problem identification, policy formulation and implementation. The focus is on the correction of failures in markets or in the broader society and motivated by a desire for change towards a better outcome. Another feature of the traditional approach is that the policies are designed to achieve normative criteria such as economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness and social justice and are finally usually based on an inflexible view on how humans behave. This deterministic, normative and behavioural simplistic view on the policy making process is applicable in a certain, closed world where policy is viewed as a means to steer society to a desired optimum equilibrium. This may be an applicable approach in systems with very small degrees of freedom, but becomes increasingly deficient in broader and temporally sensitive real world complex and dynamic open systems, where there is little, if any, basis for future certainties on the emergence of events or the desirability of certain states above another. This paper acknowledges the increasingly complex and dynamic nature of human-environment interactions and outlines the elements of a more nuanced alternative model for policy design and the policy making process in complex and dynamic applications.