Decision Making by Governments
Why do they make so many wrong ones?
Are decisions made by the right people?
There are many solutions to any problem but there is only one best solution. There may be a few acceptable solutions and there will be several unacceptable ones, but only one best solution.
There is always a plan “B.” It is not the best plan and it may have a greater cost but it always exists.
Every situation has a minimum of two possible courses of action; do nothing or do something. Before choosing what to do, it is always worth considering the consequences of doing nothing. When considering what to do it is best to properly consider every alternative, not just those most appealing. All decisions should start with mental or physical lists every possibility, from the absurd to the unacceptable. When you examine each idea in full, sometimes the absurd is not so daft as first thought and many times, what was initially dismissed as unacceptable has real possibilities. Against each option for action show the consequences of that action and then the need for further action to deal with those consequences.
Since we all live in socially interrelated groupings of some sort, also note the expected, and the possible alternative, reactions of those who will be affected by the actions. Every person has their own mental filter system which decides on their own priorities and this filter will automatically choose a favoured course of action. Since any action will also affect some other people, the filters those people will apply have to be considered when assessing the consequences of your own actions. An example of this; A person who values function over form may not consider the colour of a car important and ignores this when choosing to buy a car, but their partner may apply opposite filters, considering form as more important than function and to them the colour is of prime importance.
Decisions made by governments affect everyone they govern. Increasingly the decisions made by the rulers of one nation affect all the other nations in the world. This means every decision is important. Every form of governance has a visible front, a known person or people, who are acknowledged as the leaders. They all have advisors, usual some form of bureaucracy where the alternative solutions are thought through and presented to the leadership for the making of the final choice. These bureaucracies have real power, since they can submit or hide choices they favour or dislike. How many ever publish the full list of possible solutions and the reasons why some were rejected and others examined in detail? This advisor-led choosing of solutions has the advantage of allowing several differing inputs but also the disadvantage of providing the unaccountable elite, who run bureaucracies, to control the decisions which affect the citizens, but not necessarily affect themselves. Any political leadership is unlikely to have either the expertise or the time, to consider every possibility involved in every situation they are presented with. They have to have a network of information suppliers. The problem comes when this network gets too small, too introvert, and too elitist. This happens in dictatorships and in democracies. The sheer number of people, the huge volume of decisions needed and the pressure of media attention, destroys the rational inclusive consideration of all alternatives. The British government has a system of what is called “white paper” pre decision publication. Draft proposals are published and theoretically any one can put forward views as to the merit of the proposals. This is basically a sound idea but gets negated by the fact the existing bureaucratic elite draw up the draft and they filter the responses that the politicians actually see. It is also a very costly exercise, both in time and money. It is not practical to do this for urgent decisions or for sensitive security issues, nor for financial situations.
So how do we improve the way decisions are made by those who rule our lives, and the lives of our descendants?
One idea is that ALL the working papers, the ideas, the contingencies and hypothesis, all the assumptions and preconceptions, must go on public record. They may delay publication for 25 years but they must, by law, be recorded and available to future researchers. All the working papers, all the minutes of committees etc. This may make those responsible actually consider ideas they now ignore. Another idea is that experts are called up by the politicians and report to the politicians and not involve the bureaucrats at all, again all advice must be on public record. Separation of decisions from the people who have to administer the decisions is essential. At the moment those who will have to implement a decision are those who control the decision making process and they naturally, avoid plans that will be difficult to implement. It may be understandable and natural that they do this but it does not make for good decision making.