Problem: Traditional political policy is just words, with no reason as to why they are there.
Solution: Make the policy self-explanatory by including reasoning and references.
What were they thinking?
The public and membership generally have no idea how a policy position was worked out in most parties. All they know is that there’s some vague process at an annual general meeting that turns out policy every so often.
Suggesting change becomes a battle of the ‘feelpinion’ vs status quo/argument from authority (“because I said so!”). Policy might be developed with irrefutable data spanning decades and referencing leading scientific research, but who can tell? Perhaps much of it these days was formed via a lobbyist scribbling on a Grange-stained napkin over lunch – so a “sponsored by” logo might be more transparent.
Doing policy better
With Australian Progressives policy you should find a reason for everything in the policy statement – and if you don’t, challenge it (or better yet, find a reason it should stay or change!).
Making the case for progressive change
Change in a progressive policy is a case of suggesting a stronger, more evidence-backed argument consistent with party values. We’re not promising evidence will be hardcore-scientific, as much of it might reference news articles or take the form of a logical argument in favour of the position. Some will be hard data or conclusions drawn from studies or (ideally) reference policy of a global leader in some area. Some might just be an article that makes good sense. Regardless, by laying it out there – there’s honesty. The bonus also is that there’s more reading available for those interested in a given topic or not aware of the problem space. Never be afraid to suggest a better reference or more slick logic.
Sticking your neck out: The Risk of including references
This level of policy transparency does “put yourself out there” and means we can and will be challenged. Bring it! Policy SHOULD be robustly challenged. But leave the slogans behind as they won’t cut it. Australian politics is sorely lacking people debating the basis for policy, because the notion of policy has become indistinguishable from opinion (“feelpinion”) or three word slogans.
There’s a saying “Opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” That could be extended to political party policies and slogans. And hell, we’ll probably need at some level to package up the policy themes for soundbites, but behind it will be a more solid base, not just slogans all the way down.
It’s the reason we get answers like “I don’t accept that” from politicians used to operating on an evidence-free, slogan-based platform, touting policies which are there because someone bought a favour. Why do politicians ignore evidence? Because it is mutually exclusive to their party platform. In the 21st century era of petabytes of accessible online hyperlinked information, they are still peddling bite-sized opinions from last century as policy.
Risk mitigation: embrace change!
“Double down” on the transparency: admit you are fallible and version every bit of policy, fully expecting it to change. Put it right up top, next to the policy title.
Bonus mitigation: change log
“Triple down” on the transparency: keep a history of changes made, attached right there on the policy document. Don’t hide from evolving the policy platform – make it a feature that we are happy to take on new data and respond accordingly. The public doesn’t need any more digging in on dumb policy for fear of admitting we aren’t perfect.
An enlightenment for political policy
So here you have policy definition re-defined for transparency and evidence:
- policy statement (aka “the solution”),
- reasoning/evidence (aka “the working out”),
- version (aka “revision”)
- change log (aka “the evolution”)
Here’s what that looks like (as per the current 2015-Feb template):
Politicians: steal this idea.. please!
A commitment to transparency means having to redefine policy and take the risk that comes with transparency and accountability. It also means a lot of work for even a small amount of policy.
This won’t appeal to all political parties, but I hope it is an innovation that catches on. At the moment we’re not debating policy – we’re debating marketing gimmicks and soundbites. But by forming policy the Progressive way, instead of just another stinking opinion or slogan, we might get to see evidence pitted against evidence. That’s true political debate.