Peace Programme for Iraq and Syria: The Design Sketch

As I was putting together the design components for the follow-up post to the Programme’s introduction (Peace Programme for Iraq and Syria: An Outline), the news about terror attacks in Brussels shocked the world—once again reminding of the peace initiative’s urgency and importance. In this week’s edition, The Economist concluded its respective article in the following way: ‘The best protection would be peace in the Middle East — a distant dream, alas. The coalition has made progress against IS in its caliphate, which is shrinking and loosing people. But eradicating it needs Iraqi troops (as yet unprepared) and ground forces in Syria (as yet non-existent).’ Fully agree. What I don’t accept, however, is submission: to me, all this is not a source of frustration but the call for action. It will obviously take years—so be it; then let’s don’t waste time and get started. So here we go–

cropped-damaged-buildings-syrian-civil-war

Two threats v. Two objectives

Today (and for quite some time already), the sovereign states of Iraq and Syria each finds itself confronted with two existential threats. These threats endanger their territorial integrity and political independence (in intelligence, each would qualify as strategic surprise, the one where wars belong). They are closely related but vary independently; together they represent an unprecedented challenge—to these states, their people, as well to the neighbours and the broader region. Moreover, this tandem increasingly poses a global security threat which does not limit itself to terrorist attacks alone, but puts enormous social, economic, and psychological burden on everyone, from individuals to the nations.

The goal of this Programme therefore is two establish a long-lasting sustainable peace in Iraq and Syria by means of eliminating both threats—that is, defeating the militant Islamists and ending the civil wars on the territory of these two states. Thus, the Programme rests on two pillars: military and political.

Below I present the Programme’s functional architecture, which top to bottom consists of pillars, blocks, components, and sub-components. I made an effort to ensure that the Programme’s design content is as concise and focused on the task at hand as possible (meaning that, driven by ‘less is more’ virtue I tried, to the best of my skills, to create a winning combination with a minimum of ingredients). Still, designing innovative programmes in complex organisational settings is always a challenge, and peer reviews and constructive discussions will be needed (and here I expect your contribution) before the Programme (or any of its elements) faces the ultimate test of and the adjustments from the real life implementation itself. As the management researchers Ethiraj and Levinthal have put it: ‘Designers engage in acts of creation, but unlike a divine creator, they lack omniscience. Choices of modules are guesses about appropriate decompositions—decompositions that even in reality are only partial.’ [1]

Military pillar

The objective of military pillar is to defeat the ISIL and other Islamist militants on the territory of Iraq and Syria by means of military engagement (e.g. to free them from the invasion) and to build the security capacity sufficient to maintaining the peace afterwards. With that said, it does not set an objective of defeating ISIL or al-Qaeda altogether, but aims at contributing to this ultimate goal of international community. Putting the management of this pillar under the regional command (as presented in the previous post) also serves the purpose of better coordinating the military operations across the MENA region (especially due to the relocation to other territories of the militants’ headquarters and major operational units; take for example, the recent US airstrikes at al-Qaeda in Arabic Peninsula training camps in Yemen, or possible future similar engagements in Libya and Tunisia).

This pillar’s results will be delivered through two building blocks (one per each objective): military operations and security capacity building. The first block brings together direct military engagement measures of two components: Land operations and Air operations. The second block consists of three components: Security Sector Reform (SSR); Intelligence systems; and Resource supply. Figure 5 illustrates this hierarchy.

PeaceProgram_Figure 5_PolicyLabs

Some sub-components are indicative at this stage. The following is proposed–

Military operations

1.1 Military operations: Land operations

— It is functionally grouped around four permanent sub-components:

* manoeuvre tasks (by air and mechanised infantry);

* special operations (by SOF);

* combat support and logistics (artillery, close air support, supply, reconnaissance, transportation, maintenance, medical support); and

* reconstruction tasks (by engineer units).

1.2 Military operations: Air operations

— Its function is performed through four permanent sub-components (through Main Operating Bases):

* air strikes (by fighter jets and attack helicopters);

* targeted attacks (by drones);

* transportation (by transport aircrafts and helicopters); and

* support (air traffic control, maintenance, repair, logistics).

Security capacity building

2.1 Security capacity building: Security Sector Reform

— It is delivered through five permanent sub-components (delivered, depending on the task, either in-country or at the nearest NATO base, e.g. in Turkey):

* institutional framework for providing security;

* strengthening the governance of security institutions;

* building capable and professional security forces;

* civic-military cooperation;

* democratic oversight of security institutions.

2.2 Security capacity building: Intelligence co-operation

— Is functionally limited to two permanent sub-components (delivered, depending on the task, either in-country or in the region, e.g. in Jordan):

* inter-agency co-operation (intelligence sharing with the allies and the host governments;

* technical capacity (setting information gathering/ surveillance systems and respective training on using the systems and the analytical skills).

2.3 Security capacity building: Supply of military equipment and arms

— This is included here merely for the sake of having this function along with others to complete the picture (given that this task is being conducted normally on bilateral basis). However, in the face of all other financial difficulties of the recipient countries, it is advisable to do so through flexible schemes, to make the deals affordable (this is where international lenders could step in to provide loans).

Political pillar

The objective of political pillar is to address the root causes of political instability and, consequently, Islamist militancy in Iraq and Syria through both soft and technical means of international assistance.

This pillar’s objective will be accomplished as a result of concerted efforts of politicians, diplomats, and intelligence and development specialists. Assistance here can be delivered directly, on bilateral basis by national (and supra-national) governments, or through multilateral coalitions and implementation consortiums, as well as international organisations (such as UN agencies).

The political pillar’s results will be delivered through three building blocks: Mediation (delivered through diplomatic efforts and political leveraging), Governance and Human security (both delivered through project-based technical assistance of bilateral and specialised international development agencies and their implementing partners). Figure 6 illustrates this pillar’s hierarchy.

PeaceProgram_Figure 6_PolicyLabs

Mediation

The first block, Mediation, consists of two components: Political dialogue and Strategic communications. The co-ordination offices for this Programme block will be co-located with the office of the UN Special Envoy in Syria and an equivalent office in Iraq. There is no need for an extensive permanent presence of technical implementers, as its activities can be conducted through diplomatic representations, ongoing collaboration through the established channels, along with temporary working groups and task forces established on ad hoc basis.

3.1 Mediation: Political dialogue

The function of the former component is to facilitate the talks between the warring political actors, make them make reasonable concessions and agree on mutually acceptable solutions, and broker formal and informal agreements to stop the civil war and to overcome the immediate bottlenecks in the political processes of state-building.

— Consists of three permanent sub-components:

* coalition building (with the participation of key regional and global actors, with an aim of  confronting and effectively discouraging the states and individual institutional actors from supporting, organisationally or financially, the spill-over of the extremist ideologies);

* consensus building (including (a) championing and facilitating an inclusive and constructive negotiation process—before and after the respective peace deals; and (b) brokering framework agreements—for global coalitions and local political processes alike);

* legal service (providing legal assistance and advice for the constitution-building and legislative processes).

3.2 Mediation: Strategic communications

The functional role of Strategic communications component is outward oriented—it primarily aims at effectively countering the terrorist propaganda, in communicating with primary audiences in the region via broad range of mediums—all in all to limit the militant Islamists’ influence, diminish the appeal of their key messages as fraudulent, and prevent spreading further the extremist views onto the young generation.

The rationale behind setting this component as distinct part of the Programme rests on the notion that terrorist attacks inspired and prepared from the Islamist militants’ centres in the MENA region serve primarily as propaganda activity. It is not enough to counter them by means of law enforcement; they must be prevented and confronted professionally, through a set of activities among which the strategic communications play the central role. [* I have addressed this in one of the previous posts: The Perils of Security Policy-Making in 21st Century. Planning to elaborate on the topic in one of the forthcoming posts.]

— Its tasks are delivered through four permanent sub-components:

* counter-intelligence (including but not limited to surveillance, cyber security, and content related measures);

* advocacy (promotion of tolerance, shared values and common future; especially among the primary audiences of teenagers and young adults);

* vigilance (raising public awareness and managing reputational effects);

* public image (building of the host governments’ communication capacity—internally and with external audiences, particularly citizens and their interest groups).

Governance

Governance function is imperative to long-lasting solution, for without effective and legitimate governments there won’t be any meaningful and sustainable peace established, thus feeding further into mistrust and violent contestation and leaving the door wide open for various extremist groups to enter the game. This concerns not only the central governments in Iraq and Syria (and other countries in the region, to this matter), but very much those at the local level of authority.

The Governance block consists of three components: Public administration; Local authorities; and Justice.

4.1 Governance: Public administration

The role of Public administration component in the Programme is to ensure that the government is capable of exercising its authority effectively in terms of making rational decisions and enabling the financial stability. This will be achieved through a limited number of targeted interventions at the centre of government.

— Its functional tasks are grouped into three sub-components:

* public policy (strengthening the government central executive office’s decision making and policy co-ordination capacity—vertically and horizontally, as well as between the executive and legislative);

* public finance (maintaining fiscal discipline and transparent public procurement procedures, to ensure the realistically planned and stable revenue collection, transparent expenditure, and justified redistribution measures);

* economic security (enhancing the planning and execution capacity of revenue generating ministries—to ease the burden and bring in investment; for example, introducing regulations for energy efficiency; allowing private ownership in the electricity system; privatising the state-owned enterprises; or using advanced methods of oil reservoir assessment/exploitation).

4.2 Governance: Local authorities

Decentralised governance* is a very important, albeit nuanced, aspect of power in the Middle East, considering the historically fragmented nature of the region’s political landscape (divided along ethnic, religious, sectarian, tribal lines). I believe that finding the right balance in the distribution of power (and the control over resources) between the centre and lower levels of authority is essential to establishing peace in the region. [*I mean administrative decentralisation but use it in general terms here—whichever type is applied and at whatever administrative level (federal entity, region, or province) it is exercised]

— Its functional tasks are grouped into three sub-components:

* policy instrument (decentralisation legislative instruments, strategies, and implementation mechanisms; including funding facilities, external technical assistance etc.);

* capacity-building (in strategic planning and essentially in core horizontal systems, such as human resource, public finance, communications);

* development (instruments to enable participatory development planning and transparent expenditure aimed at economic growth and social infrastructure—such as local economic development [LED], natural resource management [especially with regards to conflict-sensitive land allocation or resource distribution]).

4.3 Governance: Justice

This component is closely related to the security sector reform, but the practice has shown that is better placed separately. Its functional role in the Programme is to ensure that citizen’s personal safety and security are guaranteed, that they have equal access to justice, and that societal conflicts are resolved peacefully. It falls under the broader theme of the rule of law; however, considering the narrow focus of this Programme, the component will aim at limited number of outcomes, such as ensuring independence of courts, building capacity of judges, high professionalism of the police, effectiveness of community policing and their adequate resources, and setting the mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

— Its functional tasks are delivered through two sub-components:

* judiciary (institutional and regulatory framework, capacity; at a later stage may also include prison reform elements, especially with a focus on juvenile delinquency and detention centres);

* policing (with particular focus on the accountability, professional norms and integrity).

Human security

The Human security component aims at addressing the humanitarian crisis in both countries that resulted from the war, destruction and atrocities. Its quick and effective implementation has a bearing not only on the countries in question, but also on their neighbours and the European countries.

This component has two immediate tasks, or sub-components:

5.1 Human security: crisis management

* in-country camp management (dealing with refugees and internally displaced persons within the country);

* co-ordination (information sharing and other necessary measures related to ensuring the concerted effort between the country authorities, international organisations, and the authorities in the recipient countries).

The preconditions for moving beyond these tasks are based on the maintenance of ceasefire, liberation of territories occupied by ISIL, and the establishment of peace and order. And even then, it will take quite a long time to rehabilitate the areas affected by war, rebuild the physical infrastructure, transport and communication and supply networks—to ensure that, once returned, people have a minimum standards of living provided. Perhaps, this would be better addressed by other initiatives/programmes (when the time comes).

However, for those who would be negotiating the peace and devising the strategies and mechanisms for the peace implementation in both Syria and Iraq, it makes sense to consider the following issues, along with the reconstruction works:

* mechanisms for return and reintegration of refugees and displaced people;

* reconciliation process;

* repossession of property;

* social security, especially of vulnerable groups of population such as women, youth and children, and the disabled; and the last but the least

* the rights of minorities (whether ethnic, religious, or sectarian).

All and each of the above have direct impact on the future peace prospects in these countries. Moreover, the success with their implementation would (in tandem with the guaranteed peace and security) serve to encourage the sustainable return of refugees from Europe and the neighbouring countries.

Post scriptum, for now

Certain things were left aside when producing the outline of the proposed Peace Programme. One of them is decision-making. The operational method of this Programme, which is concentrated at tactical level and delivered through accomplishing a dynamic series of ‘limited tasks’ requires new forms of organisational setting (such as flexible organisational structure; decentralised management; small, mobile, and specialised projects; more collaboration through such vehicles as hybrid organisations, temporary working groups and task forces). The dynamic nature of such an operational environment makes the old methods of centralised decision-making that is reliant upon massive databases and sophisticated computational techniques less effective, if not irrelevant at times. Simple decision-making tress shall be designed and standardised, to enable the middle level managers taking effective decisions under the constraints of limited time and knowledge. Combined, those tools (such as probabilistic methods of choice) would equip the Programme management with heuristics for qualitative estimation and categorisation—not very precise quantitatively, but still effective enough to make decisions in the real-life situations.

Another subject missing herein is monitoring and evaluation. It, too, deserves a special treatment and shall be designed in such a way that does not turn the M&E system into an expensive, time and effort consuming (and as frequently the case, self-serving) industry, but instead makes it a supplier of simple, useful, and readily available data and information, to feed into decision making methods described above. Therefore the decision-making method should specify which type of data the Programme management requires, and not the other way around. One approach is to explore into direction which offer such methods as outcome mapping (OM). Another is to look at the interfaces between the outputs to find out how the context reacts to the Programme interventions and the interplay between its project tasks; and to do so not only in quantitative terms but (and for the analysis and evaluation, increasingly in categorical terms) with an emphasis on values and interests of beneficiaries and stakeholders. This should help keeping the M&E system relevant and up to the task at hand.

That is it, for the time being. Your comments, ideas, recommendations are welcome as ever!

 

[1] S. K. Ethiraj and D .A. Levinthal, ‘Modularity and innovation in complex systems’, Management Sciences, 50/2 (2004), pp. 159-173 at p.172

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Peace Programme for Iraq and Syria: An Outline

As promised in the post on the Syrian war (The Syrian War: How to Move from Chaos to Peace), here is a conceptual design of a Programme for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s conflict-torn countries. As such, it only briefly outlines the approach suggested to the proposed Programme’s design and management modalities and illustrates its architecture through a series of basic charts. This is not a business case but I believe that it constitutes the first step in that direction.

This publication aims at introducing a model and generating an interest among the development professionals, and a discussion on the concept and on how to bring this initiative forward. Ideally, a think tank or an international development consultancy would take lead in championing the idea and setting a network of practitioners who would then work together to share knowledge. In the meantime, I will keep assembling more detailed narrative on the Programme’s approach and content, for future presentations and discussions.

iraq_syria_976map

The Programme outline will be presented in two posts. The first briefly describes the Programme’s key features (focusing on those which in my view make difference). In the next post I will present the Programme architecture.

Key innovative features

1.General approach: In complex programme/project environments a failure (whatever small) in one component may unintentionally trigger a chain of uncontrollable failures of large magnitude all around the project and thus lead to disastrous outcomes (not only to the project in question, but to the entire country support strategy of the donor or the implementing agency). This is especially characteristic of the contexts with interactive, tightly correlated dimensions and sensitive issues or problems to deal with. Assistance programmes in conflict and post-conflict countries operate in this kind of environments.

The Public Policy 2.0 (Introducing Public Policy version 2.0) approach to designing and managing policies and programmes opens broad opportunities for matching a traditional, structured management by objectives method with more flexible management by discovery method, which is built on learning by doing and is believed to be better suited for volatile operational environments. Moreover, it allows increasing the adaptability to the rapidly changing circumstances, while localising the trouble of failures and decreasing the cost of co-ordination.

2. Programme: Under the Programme in this presentation I mean both ‘an endeavour (or an agenda) of the international community’ and ‘a specific set of related projects brought together to achieve a pre-defined goal and a set of objectives’, in partnership with and for the benefit of the recipient countries. In its current pre-design format the Programme’s hierarchy builds on several levels, from pillars at the top, through blocks, to components and sub-components. As a generalised term, I refer to all of them as components (at this stage it makes no sense going into detail of distributing these elements as programmes and projects—this is the job of those agencies which would sponsor the implementation).

3. Objectives and beneficiaries: The goal of this Programme is two establish a sustainable peace in Iraq and Syria. This will be achieved through a two-fold objective of (a) defeating the militant Islamists (namely, Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and al-Qaeda, and their affiliates); and (b) ending the violent confrontation of domestic political forces on the territory of these two countries. This Programme is a large-scale multi-year endeavour; however it has its narrow focus and does not intent at replacing other programmes, strategies and projects planned or under implementation by various international aid and development actors in these countries.

4. Primary focus: It is understood that, even though the war against militants and the violent internal conflicts at this point demand an active involvement of the international forces, for achieving the goal of a long-lasting peace the primary guarantor must be the states of Iraq and Syria. Therefore, building the capacity of host governments to manage internal political processes without resorting to violent confrontation, and to protect their borders, and to effectively maintain the law and order in their territories to ensure safety and security of their citizens—is essential. Considering the duality of the Programme’s purpose (both in terms of having two objectives and being implemented in two sovereign states), certain centralisation is imperative, in my view. This especially concerns the military pillar, where the campaign must be centrally coordinated while locally delivered. Also, the lifetimes of the Programme’s military and political pillars are different; therefore it makes sense to decouple them from the beginning, so that when the military pillar accomplishes its mission successfully, it can be closed without major changes to the Programme’s management. Figure 1 below illustrates the idea.

PeaceProgram_Figure 1_PolicyLabs

5. Knowledge-intensive work environment: Usually, the international assistance projects are developed to fit into the existing data—that is, initially data is collected and processed, analyses conducted, and very detailed designs produced, including the [set-in-a-stone] monitoring and evaluation indicators, etc. With fast changing volatile world, this approach does not hold anymore (even in peaceful conditions, let alone in a conflict-torn place), as the projects so frequently fail to address the realities on the ground due to the outdated information and the rigid structures which do not allow revisiting the project documents. Instead, this Programme’s approach is to generate data through its own activities, to analyse it and use for predicting the developments and adjusting to them in a timely manner. Therefore, the experimentation and continuous learning and sharing the knowledge—will be key features of the Programme’s work culture.

6. Delivery of benefits: The Programme is focusing its main interventions at tactical level of intervention—this is where the real change happens and where it is possible to timely detect problems and for the mid-managers to take corrective actions. This implies that the driving vehicle behind the Programme’s (and its components’) delivery are direct results (i.e. outputs). They will be in the focus of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation (and their revision, if the need be).

7. Degree of modularity as a design rule: Advantages and limitations of using integrated programme/project design in international development assistance are well known. Its multi-sector approach helps setting the reinforcing relations between various intervention areas, with (as it is believed) a potential of producing sustainable benefits from establishing long-term relations between various public and private institutions. However, its close component interdependence is not well-suited for experimental, trial and error approach.

One remedy to the threat of domino-effect-like massive failures could be a modular architecture of the assistance programmes. Modularity is a form of product and process design which creates a high degree of independence between components: it will serve to decompose the Programme’s components at various levels and to allow experimenting, making changes in one component (module) without generally requiring or triggering a change to other modules. Additionally, by controlling only the required output of components the Programme can achieve more effective and less costly coordination.

Given that neither total modularity nor overall integration are possible (and necessary in the case of such a multifaceted endeavour), it makes sense to establish a degree of modularity as a design rule. Under modularity in this Programme I mean interdependence between components/sub-components (and once it goes into implementation, between projects) in performing certain tasks and delivering the specified outputs. Four types of inter- and intra-component relationship can be established based on the function/structure dichotomy: from highly integrated (multiple outputs across multiple units); through moderately integrated (one output dispersed across multiple units, and multiple outputs assigned to one unit); to purely modular (single output to one unit). This classification will be of use for the managers, since it would allow them identifying interdependencies in the delivery of outputs (and thus allocation of resources) early on.

PeaceProgram_Figure 2_PolicyLabs

8. Typology of operational environment: Components of the Programme will operate in different operational environments. From the management point of view, it is crucial to establish their typology, so that to enable better distribution of tasks and co-ordination mechanisms, operating procedures, standardised interfaces (communication protocols), and progress indicators—to help minimising conflicts, waste and reinvention. A combination of two characteristics will be used to define the typology of the operational environments: physical complexity and the degree of interactivity. The former varies along such parameters as lifetime, (co)location, and the number of implementing organisations (programmes, projects, their units). The latter concerns the way how tasks are managed across certain components or within a particular component/sub-component. The following four types are suggested:

atomic [parameters: simple ecology/ low interactivity; e.g., working with different ministries on unrelated capacity building tasks];

combined [parameters: simple ecology/ high interactivity; e.g., reengineering the policy co-ordination processes in the government’s central executive office and simultaneously strengthening the capacity of the policy units in central ministries];

merged [parameters: complex ecology/ low interactivity; e.g., special operation force (SOF) units act on ad hoc tasks while being co-located across the territory with instructors who build the capacity of the local military];

highly integrated [parameters: complex ecology/ high interactivity; e.g., assistance to security sector reform, where various components/sub-components work with different government agencies, at various places across the country and abroad, but in a highly reciprocal, synchronised fashion].

PeaceProgram_Figure 3_PolicyLabs

9. Entry points: This is the approach suggested for this Programme that, in most cases (whenever feasible), the interdependencies between components (especially large components) shall be minimised. Along with reasons outlined above, this is also a condition to allow multiple international actors (with their own methodologies, resources, funding and partnership mechanisms etc.) to join the implementation of this large-scale endeavour with minimal conflict and cost-effective co-ordination. With that said, the interactions between smaller components (consider these as single-output projects) and sub-components within them shall be maximised (it has been proven in business processes that this brings about overall production effectiveness and reduces lifecycle costs).

In terms of management, the Programme considers using a design feature known [in product architecture] as ‘nucleus’—that is, normally one of the component’s constituent parts (sub-component) acts as its functional centre and other sub-components are grouped around it. In project management we usually use the phrase entry point for what such central sub-components offer. They are (a) better placed within the component, in terms of having many relationships with other sub-components; (b) have the most effective access to an array of needs addressed by the component; and (c) produce the results which directly and indirectly benefit all other sub-components.

Figure 4 illustrates how sub-components can be organised around the central unit, on the example of assisting the host country implementing a security sector reform (SSR).

PeaceProgram_Figure 4_PolicyLabs

The Syrian War: How to Move from Chaos to Peace

It is five years as Syria is locked in a deadly conflict, which has cost to date hundreds of thousands killed and injured, millions of displaced persons and refugees, has ruined towns and physical infrastructure, and paralysed the delivery of even basic public services. It has been called the ‘biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.’ [1] In spite of sustained efforts of a broad range of actors, the conflict has spiralled out of control over the years, with implications far beyond its physical borders. Something must be wrong here, and I think that it comes from the misconception of the Syrian war.

The Syrian kind of chaos

The Oxford Dictionary defines chaos as ‘complete disorder and confusion.’ A messy, anarchic situation is frequently referred to as chaos by politicians and journalists, in this meaning. The dictionary also gives the definition as applied to natural sciences: ‘The property of a complex system whose behaviour is so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.’  This definition deserves a closer look. To start with, let’s take a snapshot of the current developments.

A ceasefire between the government and the opposition brokered by the American and Russian diplomats (which came into force on 27 February) scaled down an overall violence by 90 percent within first week; it also has given a whiff of fresh air allowing the humanitarian organisations to deliver so urgently needed aid to the millions of Syrian people. Airstrikes by foreign actors targeting ISIL continue though, with an outcry by opposition that their positions had been bombarded too, thus making ceasefire even more fragile. On the other hand, the preparations are on-going to resume the UN-sponsored negotiations in Geneva, although the opposition keep failing to agree on the representation at the talks. This notwithstanding, protests in the opposition-held parts of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Daraa were held in force (but peacefully) demanding the resignation of al-Assad.[2] Hundreds of thousands of Syrians meanwhile make their way out of the country, to escape misery and suffering and to find shelter in Europe.

All this looks somewhat familiar: we have seen this many times in the recent years: back-and-force, in a vicious cycle that gets ever complicated. And every time there is a warning that this is the chance not to miss, otherwise the country and perhaps the region will slip into chaos. The UN Under-Secretary-General’s recent statement being typical: ‘This war has to end. … The international community and the parties to the conflict must seize the momentum created around the nationwide cessation of hostilities to bring a political solution to the crisis. I cannot stress enough that we must not let this opportunity pass.’ [3] But Syria is in the chaos already, right in the epicentre.

Have you heard about chaos theory? It appears that chaos, like the one that we witness in Syria, is not as a messy thing as we used to think of it. Explaining the behaviour of chaotic systems, the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot has noted that an iterative process that keeps repeating on its own output does not replicate itself but ‘becomes endlessly complicated, at each stage giving an entirely different picture. A chaotic system, far from being disorganised or non-organised, starts with one particular point and cranks in through a repeating process; the outcome is unpredictable if you don’t know the process – and it depends heavily on the starting point.’ [4]

This implies that exploring the origins of the conflict and the character of interaction between its actors is key to understanding the Syrian war. Political science offers the relevant analytical tools for such an inquiry.

To name the game

From the political analysis point of view, it is important first to establish what is the game about, and only then to identify the players, their interests, strengths and weaknesses, the arenas where they play, and what resources they rely upon and what are their alliances.

To start with, we must distinguish between the dimensions of the Syrian war (something that is frequently ignored by the decision makers and observers alike). The conflict underway in Syria has two distinct dimensions: one is the civil war that resulted from the armed confrontation between the opposition (whatever disorganised and disunited) and the government in power; while the other is an invasion by the militant Islamists (namely, ISIL) of the territories in Syria (and neighbouring Iraq) whereby they confront and fight both the opposition and the government forces (and at times, even the al-Qaeda offspring Jabhat al-Nusra). With these dimensions the Syrian war represents a problem that does not have a single, simple or quick solution. In order to find an answer to this puzzle we have to look at the issues underlying each dimension, identify the workable solutions, and only afterwards try to bridge them with an overarching approach.

We can trace the starting point of the Syrian war to the ‘Arab spring’, when events in Tunisia had triggered a chain of popular uprising across the region aimed at overthrowing the authoritarian (or dictatorial) regimes. Some of them were successful, while others failed; but that does not come as a surprise, after all. What is important is that all of them had one thing in common—this was a contestation over power; not the protests to demand wealth redistribution concessions, social reforms, fresh elections or the like, but to take the power and ultimately change the regime. This point is crucial for understanding the war in Syria, because of the centrality of the notion of power: following the Weberian definition, it is broadly accepted in social sciences that power is the essence of state, allowing it to exercise its ‘monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force [violence] within a given territory.’ [5]

Therefore, by the very nature of the confrontation between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the broad range of opposition groups it was clear from the outset that for all the parties involved it was a zero-sum game—governed by coercive power that uses the methods of war with intention to dominate or suppress the opponent(s). This has been the kind of conflict that is ought to establish clear winners and losers in the end (which applies to both local actors and their foreign sponsors). It might have worked though for the uprising if only they were not so divided, disorganised, politically immature and supported by diverse range of external actors very different in their interests and methods. As a result, they managed to shaken the regime significantly, but failed to overthrow it. And this is where the process became chaotic—‘iterative, repeating on its own output’—because neither side has had enough strength to crash the other, and the confrontation goes by rounds simply repeating itself and the overall situation getting worse and worse.

This also was the point when conditions became conducive for the third group of actors—the militant Islamists—to enter the game forcefully. In comparison with the civil war, this dimension of the Syrian war has multiple losers and only one winner. Losers are Syrians—individually and collectively, as a nation. Neighbours are suffering from the war’s burden (especially considering their limited financial abilities these days, due to the record-low oil prices) and are themselves under the increasing threat from the extremists. Americans, Europeans, and Russians are under the strain of keeping up high cost of military operations. European countries are increasingly being pressured by the burden of attempts at handling the refugee crisis (and all of this amid their own numerous economic and social problems).

In turn, the Islamist extremists are benefitting on all fronts—they control substantial territories and their vast resources. Most importantly, they gain ideologically from running the self-proclaimed caliphate and from getting additional boost to their propaganda from being subject to airstrikes by ‘infidels’. The evidence of their growing popularity is found in the growing number of foreign fighters and supporters: according to the United Nations ‘ISIL succeeded in attracting a global pool of around 25,000 foreign fighters from 100 states.’ [6] On the other hand, the number of boys (teenagers but some as young as five-six years of age) joining as fighters and of women and girls travelling to Syria as ‘jihadi brides’ is rising. [7]

These young people, if survived, return back home to poison our societies—to preach, instruct, and organise terrorist attacks. In this way, considering the multiplying effect, it becomes a cancerous decease of global impact. The geography and varied methods of attacks perpetrated just in the last half-a-year indicates that this process is gaining momentum, while everyone is occupied with refugees and other burning problems caused by the Syrian war and other conflicts.

There is only one way to escape the endless downfall into abyss of disorder and destruction by following this chaotic process—and that is by changing the rules of the game. For that, we first have to explore why the current approach is ineffective.

Axioms don’t work in politics

In her recent article in British press, the Newsweek’s Middle East editor, Janine di Giovanni, who had spent considerable time in the field (including with the UN special envoy’s team) put forward the current approach to negotiations as follows: ‘Assad is all we have at the moment. To remove him would have a dangerous power vacuum which could, in all probability, be filled by IS. … If guarantees are given that he will remain in transitional government until the time is right for him to step down – in his own way, with dignity – then he has to contain the mass killing of civilians.’ [8] Sounds reasonable, does it not? The question is who is going to give those assurances—in such an authoritative manner that al-Assad (and anyone else) takes them seriously and relies on them and respects them in the future.

The record of negotiated transition is mixed—there have been many successful and failed attempts in the recent decades. Theoretical background has been set as an ‘axiom’ by the prominent political scientist Robert Dahl, in his Polyarchy: ’The lower the costs of toleration, the greater the security of the government. The greater the costs of suppression, the greater the security of the opposition. Hence conditions that provide a high degree of mutual security for the government and oppositions would tend to generate and to preserve wider opportunities for oppositions to contest the conduct of the government.’ [9] This sounded so logical and convincing that some social scientists (especially those who based their projections on mathematical models of rational choice) predicted this to be the main method of transition from the communist regimes to democracy in Eastern Europe. In some cases (the Polish round table negotiations of 1989 being an example) it worked like in the book; in others it utterly failed. The problem is that there is no such thing as an axiom in politics: everything depends on political culture and tradition, and a combination of a large number of external and internal factors which tend to behave wildly—at any given point in time—so that it makes the correlation between variables complicated and unpredictable, and the information for analysis fragmented, unknown or even unknowable.

My point here is that al-Assad is not going to accept an invitation to a provisional government, because, first, the opposition (and it is broadly acknowledged that those at the negotiation table do not represent the forces on the ground) is not in position to legitimately offer it, and second, the offer by definition being short term and temporary he is concerned with what happens with him and his aides once he steps down.

The latter is particularly tricky. It is known in the literature as a ‘torturer problem’ (as coined by Samuel Huntington):’How should the democratic government respond to charges of gross violations of human rights—murder, kidnapping, torture, rape, imprisonment without trial—committed by the officials of the authoritarian regimes? Was the appropriate course to prosecute and punish or to forget and forgive?’ [10] Once there are free and fair elections and a popular government is sworn in, the question will be immediately raised to keep al-Assad to account, for all what he and his regime have done both before and especially after the spring of 2011. The general advice so wisely communicated in the literature has been mostly ‘to forgive but not forget’. As you can imagine, it is easy said than done. A huge reconciliation work shall be conducted and sustained for quite a time, in order to forgive those even at the middle ranks of the former regime.[11] But al-Assad remaining safely in Syria after leaving the politics in a year or two, once the transitional government accomplishes its mandate? No one would believe that; and neither does he. That is why the government representative dismissed in categorical terms the proposal aired by Staffan di Mistura to hold presidential elections in the eighteen-month period.

Redefining the power game

As we can see, the current approach to the Syrian power game does not offer any answer sufficient enough to fundamentally change the course of events. This brings us back to definitions. In political science theory, among various kinds of power formulated by scholars there is one which I particularly favour, because it places the elements of the equation (peace, conflict, democracy, government) in their right place. Political scientist Mark Haugaard defines it as concerted power, one which ‘springs up whenever people get together and act in concert’. This is how he puts it: ‘Peace is an end in itself, and democratic government through concerted power is one of the means to that end. Furthermore … peace is not absence of conflict, but is rather its reinscription in the rules of concerted power. The coercive power of war, where there are only winners and losers, becomes transformed into the concerted power of politics, where conflict is no longer zero-sum, all or nothing, and thus no longer domination.’ [12] This is a totally different philosophy, and it has practical implications for both dimensions of the Syrian war.

Civil war

In practical terms, this would mean signing a peace agreement between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition, to be accompanied with amendments to the constitution to introduce quotas (or similar mechanism) that would ensure a proportional representation of key polity groups in the legislative, executive branches and the independent judiciary—at all levels. And in order to ensure the implementation, along with new rules of procedure for the government, to give a special mandate to the UN envoy with extraordinary executive powers. This is not my invention—I simply borrowed the idea from the Dayton Peace Accords (formally, the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina) of 1995 and the peace implementation process ever since. I believe that it offers precisely the model to work on, provided that all the lessons learnt over the years are taken into account. The oversized bureaucratic apparatus, frequently stalled decision making, inefficient spending, slow economic growth—all this has long been criticized by the country’s citizens and the foreign practitioners and observers. However, there is something no one can deny—that is, for twenty years Bosnia and Herzegovina is a peaceful country where, even not without systemic problems, its state and society perform their functions tolerably well by the standards of young democracy.

It may sound as truism, but the conclusion from what has been witnessed even in the historically short span of a few decades (approximately from the end of WWII) is obvious: Peace is more important than government, and weak government is still better than no government at all. In practical terms, it calls for concessions from all sides to the Syrian civil war, to enable the benefits of power sharing and toleration to overweight the costs of confrontation and coercion. And I believe that once peace is guaranteed (through an agreement, special envoy for civilian issues, and an international military/stabilization force on the ground), democracy will start slowly but surely developing. It will take time, but this is what such transitional processes are about; it is an evolutionary development which does not happen overnight, and there will be numerous small and big problems along the way, which would require a continued commitment, political will, resources, and ongoing technical assistance and political support—of all parties, domestic, regional, and global.

“Peace is more important than government, and weak government is better than no government. This calls for concessions from all sides to the Syrian war, in order for the benefits of power sharing to overweight the costs of confrontation.”

To stress the point about the importance of establishing a balance of power for peace and prosperity in Syria, I will paraphrase the vision of Barak Obama for the Middle East expressed in an interview of 2014, that it would be profoundly in the interest of the Syrian citizens if they start unwinding some of the distrust among the political groups and thus create a new equilibrium. I am not picturing an idyllic view of such a settlement—there will and shall be, certain volatility and conflict in political system, but these shall be governed under the rule of law and channelled through the democratic processes. In the same interview, the US President went on to conclude that, ‘each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained.’ [13]

Military invasion

The second dimension of the Syrian war—the invasion of the territories by ISIL—is full of misconceptions and inconsistencies of its own. The approach to fighting ISIL in the occupied territories of Syria and Iraq has been confusing from the outset. If Russians offered their military support to the governments in both Damascus and Baghdad, the Americans and their coalition partners did not. Take for example the statement of the US Secretary of State John Kerry after the recent deal on the cessation of hostilities: ‘Make no mistake. The answer to the Syrian civil war will not be found in any military alliance with Assad.’ [14]

There are two confusing messages here. First is that, fighting ISIL is not a civil war—they are alien element that took advantage of the civil war and the lack (or absence) of power and order on the ground. Therefore, if the military alliance is not a solution for resolving the civil war, it is the only solution to fighting the Islamist militants’ invasion, in both Syria and Iraq.* And here is the second confusion—while fully cooperating with Iraqi government, he denies any cooperation with Damascus. This inconsistency has its operational consequences—the most obvious being that airstrikes do not decide the outcome of the war, it is regular armies that take and hold positions on the ground. The former is only in supporting role to the latter. With ‘foot-on-the-ground’ not being an option for foreign allies (at least at the present set-up)**, there is only one choice left—that is to jointly fight with the Syrian and Iraqi armies—full-scale, including intelligence sharing, arms supply, training the armed forces, and helping strengthen security sector and putting it under democratic control.

“Under the international mandate, the military alliance with the Syrian government is possible. Moreover, it is imperative for defeating the Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq.”

This is where the way out of the current impasse offers itself. The change of the game suggested for the civil war dimension (that is, an international mandate and coalition government) makes the government in Damascus no more the government of Bashar al-Assad (who becomes only an equal partner in the coalition government, under the new arrangements). In this way the military alliance is possible. Moreover, it is imperative. It also shall be made clear to everyone that even there is a broad military and diplomatic alliance, and there is a controlled transition to peace, the military campaign to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq will take many years (let along much more ambiguous and longer term target of defeating ISIL/extremist Islamists in the Middle East and North Africa). Therefore it demands a vision, patience, and long term commitment of all the parties involved. Disengagement at any point along the path will mean an immediate return to square one, thus the incarnation of chaos (just take Libya or South Sudan as examples). And I would take the freedom to generalize here by suggesting that this is as true for Syria as for any other conflict-torn country in the Middle East and North Africa region.

[*This is how the things stand today, due to numerous mistakes made in Syria and in the broader region before and after the 2011 uprising]

[**I will not consider the Iranian and Hezbollah militias in this picture, for the sake of merely keeping the argument focused]

From theory to practice

The solution to the Syrian war offered herein is rather foundational; it is an application of Public Policy 2.0 approach—the one that allows the departure from the established methods when they prove ineffective, embraces the notion that there is ‘no stability without volatility’  (to borrow from Nassim Taleb) [15], and encourages experimentation in adapting to the evolving environment, and making uncertainty work for its cause and not against it—what the art and craft of policy-making in the twenty-first century is about.

“Establishing a lasting peace will take decades and will demand a shared vision, patience, and long-term political commitment and resources. Disengagement at any point will mean an immediate return to square one, thus the reincarnation of chaos. This is equally true for Syria and any other conflict-torn country in the region.”

In the next post I will outline, in very broad terms, an international technical assistance programme for Syria and Iraq, aimed at translating this vision into practice. It is built on a premise that the assistance to Syria and Iraq in the middle-term shall be devised as combining both directions—military and civilian.

Notes

*The picture is of a mathematical object known as the Mandelbrot set (frequently used to illustrate the chaotic systems)—endlessly reapplies itself and generates pictures of ever increasing complexity.

[1] Oxfam International President Raymond Offenheiser, as quoted in Mariama Diallo, ‘Humanitarian Groups Call for Sustained Cease-fire in Syria,’ GlobalSecurity.org, 03 March 2016, at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/syria/2016/syria-160303-voa03.htm?_m=3n%2e002a%2e1656%2ejt0ao08790%2e1iry

[2] Laura Pitel, ‘Peace shaken by anti-Assad protests,’ Independent, 5 March 2016

[3] UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien, providing the Security Council with an update on 24 February 2016: ‘Everyone is losing’ in the Syrian conflict, UN relief chief tells Security Council, at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53308#.VttdeH2LRdg

[4] Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson, The (mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward (New York: Basic Books, 2004), p. 294

[5] Max Weber, ‘Politics as Vocation,’ A speech at Munich University (1918) in H.H. Gerth and M.C. Wright (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 78

[6] United Nations, ‘Special meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee with Member States and relevant international and regional organizations on “Preventing Terrorists from Exploiting the Internet and Social Media to Recruit Terrorists and Incite Terrorist Acts, while Respecting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”’, Concept note, New York, 17 December 2015  

[7] Richard Ford, ‘Number of British girls travelling to Syria jumps,’ The Times, 12 January 2016

[8] Janine di Giovanni, ‘Assad: a monster and dictator but he’s the best option for peace,’ Evening Standard, 29 February 2016

[9] Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971), pp.15-16

[10] Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Oklahoma: Oklahoma University Press, 1993), p.211

[11] There is plenty of works written by practitioners and scholars. One of my favorites is the Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman’s insightful personal account: ‘Whose memory? Whose justice? A meditation on how and when and if to reconcile,’ The Eighth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture address by Ariel Dorfman, 31 July 2010, at https://www.nelsonmandela.org/news/entry/eighth-nelson-mandela-annual-lecture-address

[12] Mark Haugaard, ‘Concerted Power Over,’ Constellations, 22/1 (2015), p. 147-158 at 148

[13] David Remnick, ‘Going the Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama’, New Yorker, 27 January 2014

[14] Patrick Wintour,”’Provisional’ Syria ceasefire plan called into question as bombs kill 120,” The Guardian, 21 February 2016

[15] Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Antifragile: How to Live in the World We Don’t Understand (London: Allen Lane, 2012), p. 107

Britain’s EU Referendum: Communication Insights

This is a combined version of a series of instalments on the EU referendum, posted on PolicyLabs between 20 and 24 February, 2016. Their message became even more relevant since the debate has kicked off full steam ahead—with the growing confusion and polarisation among political elites and the constituency alike, as warned in these PolicyLabs posts.

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Introduction

Upon his arrival from Brussels the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he had secured a good deal for Britain and called for the referendum on EU membership to take place on 23 June. Even though the date of the referendum was confirmed only today, a debate was gaining momentum for some time already, with two opposing camps positioning themselves against each other in the halls, the media, and web-based networks. And although there is a long and zigzagging way to go, certain features of the campaign can be observed already at this point, and learning lessons now and taking timely corrective actions would definitely benefit the quality of future discussions and their eventual outcome. I will look at the debate from three angles: supply side of the politics (the Government, in this case the Prime Minister and his aides), intermediaries (campaigners from both camps and the media), and the demand side (citizens and their groups).

Part 1. Mistaking the shadow for the substance: the effects of priming

Setting the agenda, controlling the outcome

It appears rather odd to me, that after an over four-decade-long and quite happy marriage the fate of the relationship—whether to stay together or divorce—has been made dependent on the outcome of the Prime Minister’s on-going negotiations with the European leaders and the Commission.

According to Eurosceptics, the problems of Britain’s EU membership have always been of fundamental character; therefore they are much broader and deeper than present-day issues negotiated by the Government. This notwithstanding, step by step the public attention has been taken away from those big problems and ‘primed’ on the current negotiations results. The secret of priming lies in the associative nature of our memory and opinion formation, when externally introduced ideas have a capability of promoting certain causal interpretations and thus, invoking sequential thoughts and actions with relative ease. In this case, the public opinion on whether to leave or to stay in the EU is increasingly correlated with, and made dependent upon, the success of negotiations and the concessions to be made against the Prime Minister’s offers to fellow European leaders. This opens doors for mistaking the shadow for the substance, I am afraid.

From the outset, the dilemma of staying or exiting was formulated as of universal scale. And it was absolutely correct: Britain’s relationship with EU is the largest policy issue of the day because its outcome will decide which strategic path the country takes. This is a critical issue, with vested interests of a broad range of domestic and international actors involved. Britons believe that they add a unique value to the Union and therefore deserve a special, much fairer treatment. Thus, they expect meaningful concessions on a number of fundamental issues of concern.

Negotiations with the EU leadership and the heads of state, however, have not gone as successfully as intended. The most significant British proposals were dismissed right away under the pretext that the Treaty could not be revisited or precedents could not be set. This was a clear signal of where the negotiations were heading, which unfortunately did not get rightful attention at home. Today, there is no single proposal, whatever small and insignificant, where the deal is guaranteed. Even comparatively modest changes to Britain’s status are somehow acknowledged with sympathy by some countries, but not welcomed by others.

In response, British negotiators have dropped, ‘downgraded’, or replaced their demands after every unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate her status in all four major areas negotiated. Take just the relatively recent shuffling, from ‘repatriation’ of sovereignty through the exemption from ‘ever closer union’ to a group-bound ‘red cards’; from the tax and regulation ‘safeguards’ to the City, to mere recognition of the coexistence between euro and other currencies; from curbing the migration to  temporary and hardly target-hitting ‘emergency break’ with no clear mechanism behind it. And it goes on and on, leaving an impression that instead of sticking firmly to principal demands agreeable to both sides of British stay-exit divide, the negotiation team has embraced the strategy of easily accepting refusals, finding excuses, and tabling yet another, less radical offer—in a desperate bid to secure a deal, any deal, whatever the price.

This manner of dealing with difficulties of the external world has been famously observed by French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. He elaborated on Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes: The fox tried hard to reach the grapes, but failed; then making light of it, he concluded that they were sour anyways. Sartre pointed out that it was not the quality of the grapes that changed in the meantime, but the fox’s perception of them—he transformed the reality in order to be able to cope with it. Sartre called this ‘escape behaviour’ from the world’s obstinacy [1]. Interestingly, a similar observation was made by Sir Harold Nicolson about ‘the average Englishman’ at the time, that ‘when faced with conditions involving tremendous and most unpleasant mental effort, he escaped from that effort by pretending that these conditions were easily remediable, or much exaggerated or actually nonexistent.’ [2]

Wrong association, irrelevant choices

Whether the above is a sign of skilful political maneuvering or the escape-behaviour, concerns us not at this point. Everyone understands the difficulty and intricacies involved in such an endeavour. This is not an easy task at all, to get a concession from 27 fellow members plus the Brussels based bureaucracy, in the environment where no one seems to live the easy times and thus tries to negotiate some ‘reforms’ to their individual or group benefit.

However, making the referendum dependent upon the outcome of negotiations has a two-fold repercussion for Britain. On the one hand, it affects the outcome of these negotiations: under the mounting pressure of public expectations at home, the British team behaves hastily and thus exposes its weakness of being desperately in need of a deal—something that their skilful European counterparts eagerly exploit. The art and craft of politics rests in making gains from never ending trade-offs, after all.

On the other hand, the public opinion on the fundamental issue is primed, made subordinate to some deal over the vaguely understood concessions which may or may not meet the level of referendum’s momentous decision. This situation resembles the observation made by the historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson: ‘The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take.’ [3] The reality is that, whatever issues are at stake at the negotiation table today, they still are business-as-usual of the politics, something that the officials from all member states are ought to do on an ongoing basis. They are rather technical by their nature and tactical by their level of significance, and as such, their outcome cannot and shall not determine the referendum’s result.

If we follow the behavioural pattern primed on the negotiations, then the rest appears quite predictable in the light of what is already unfolding upon the conclusion of the most recent round of Brussels talks: Britain will get the deal on one or more issues and this will create an impression of glorious victory, something that she desired on the whole. Even though it is utterly irrelevant to the subject matter, our intuitive decision-making nonetheless works so smoothly that no one will ever notice that from the outset they were simply bound to the wrongly imposed association: ‘[whatever] Concession—Britain’s demands met—We stay in’.

[1] For the interpretation of this episode from Sartre’s Sketch for a Theory of Emotions, see: Robert C. Solomon, Introducing the Existentialists: Imaginary Interviews with Sartre, Heidegger and Camus (Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing, 1981), p.22; and Robert C. Solomon and David L. Sherman, eds., The Blackwell Guide to Continental Philosophy(Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.170

[2] Harold Nicolson, ‘Is war inevitable?’, The Nineteenth Century and After, 126/749 (1939), pp. 1-14

[3] C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress (London: Buccaneer Books, 1993), p. 103

 

Part 2. Missing the forest for the trees: the limitations of framing

‘Either-or’ choice of a narrow frame

At the time being, the referendum debate in the media has taken shape of weighing advantages and limitations (or costs and benefits) of Britain’s membership in the EU, by the opposing camps, in order for the public to figure out the balance and make their minds. The approach being quite logical, it can be easily observed that the entire debate has been inadequately, or narrowly, framed.

Communication experts claim that frames are unavoidable, in part because they help simplifying the decision making process. As defined by political communication expert Robert Entman, ‘to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.’ [1] The problem is that framing (whether intentionally or not) may distort the picture and risk hijacking the outcome sought—an insignificant fraction selected as representing the whole entity is given undue prominence, and in that way a decision is eventually taken. The narrow frame may also take from the table the most valuable choices to consider.

One manifestation of narrow framing is that the EU referendum’s choice has been taken as strictly ‘either-or’ business. Such an antagonistic stand-off ignores the complexity of the modern world and results in a simplistic stock-piling of arguments on the opposite arms of a balance. This is not much useful approach for the purpose of the referendum because both sides will present narratives abundant of facts and figures in support of their stance and will turn it eventually into a negative sum game, the decision theory’s situation with no winners. Continued in this fashion the discussion won’t help Britons making informed decision at the ballot box this summer (or any other date, to this matter).

The frame translates itself into two options currently debated. Even if the conditionality on negotiation results is taken out, they still do not offer a set of plausible alternatives for the public to consider. One is to stay in the EU simply because it has been more beneficial for Britain to team up with the continental Europe. This sounds as a ‘passive acceptance’ attitude, which simply surrenders to the prevailing circumstances, something like escape-behaviour. Another option is to exit from the EU because playing alone, with no commitments attached, has always been in Britain’s best interest. This is a ‘predetermined negation’ attitude towards EU which builds on the notion of Britain’s perceived comparative advantages. If we look closer at these options they do not appear to represent the reality, nor do they meet the overall intention of the referendum.

The two options are lacking a strategic perspective, the single important feature of such an endeavour as referendum. Even an unsophisticated analysis makes it obvious that these options do not stand the test: both are viewing the British/EU relations as static (based on the assessment of present moment’s snapshot or, at best, on the most recent trend) and rather one-sided (concerning the two entities only, without taking the global context into equation). In other words, this frame does not take into consideration the dynamic and evolutionary nature of political processes that are never satisfied with status quo, do not accept anything as a permanent fix but rather view them as temporary solutions to be challenged in the future, once the opportunity avails itself.

This is especially evident in the light of the most prominent of British claims—about the regaining her sovereignty.  It has also been the longest maintained concern with regards to her membership in the European Union: it is enough to recall the annoyance of European politicians at the British demands for long term sovereignty safeguards in advance, during the entry negotiations back in the 1970s. At the heart of this British quest essentially lies the same central question that was formulated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau more than two centuries ago: ‘How to find a form of association, which will defend the person and goods of each other member in the collective force of all, and under which each individual, while uniting himself with the others, obeys no one but himself, and remains as free as before.’ [2] This is what shall be debated. Otherwise, why to bother at all with holding such a high-profile, expensive, time and effort consuming event, which also happens to raise expectations evoked by zealous argumentation of the opposing sides?

A need for strategic focus, broader perspective

It appears that, as a result of narrow framing very important other options were left aside, thereby limiting the choice spectrum. Two of them deserve special attention. One option is to stay in order to continue the attempts at reforming the EU and getting Britain a fairer deal, from the inside. This has been a long-standing argument held by the integration proponents—that Britain stands better chances to succeed with the reforms when it is a member state. It resembles a somewhat ‘resilient’ attitude towards the rigidity of the EU’s governance. Another option is to exit the EU but leave the door open for pursuing the negotiations on a comprehensive revision of the Treaty and Britain’s place in the reformed Europe, as an outsider. To me, this option would stand for an ‘evolutionary’ attitude—one built on both the cooperation with neighbours and the strengthening of domestic societal and institutional adaptive capacity.

A detailed assessment and comparison of these two sets of options (one that is currently at offer and another briefly presented above) is beyond the scope of this article, but one example would help underlining the principal difference. Suppose that you are driving round a place you have not been before. What would you use as guidance: street signs or a map? The former is rather straightforward and easy to follow, but once you face an unexpected obstacle, you are lost. The latter, to the contrast, demands some effort to comprehend but offers various choices for navigation and thus, allows adapting to the changed circumstances. Perhaps it would be fair to say that a direct, narrow guidance is useful for tactical decisions, while mapping is the relevant guidance for deciding on strategic and complex issues.

Away from narrow frames, at this point it is possible to share two thoughts on shaping the future discussion. First is that the EU referendum debate shall adopt a forward looking approach—the one that looks beyond the referendum day and into what is going to happen after the decision is taken.  Then people will come to the ballots with realistic understanding of the consequences of their decision. Moreover, they will do so upon reflecting on the strategic choice and being prepared to answer the critical question: How do we want the European Union, Britain, and their relations develop in the decades to come?

Another insight is that the discussion shall look beyond the EU/Britain relations, to adopt a balanced view of national, European and global goals and interests. Today, cost-benefit analysis of British membership in the EU accounts for only one dimension and does not take into consideration the broader context. These relations, being multifaceted and quite nuanced in their own right, occur in a complex political, security, social and economic environment. Moreover, this environment is very dynamic and full of uncertainty—it is rapidly changing across broad variety of factors and is continuously influenced by competing (sometimes even conflicting) interests of domestic and international actors.

[1] Robert M. Entman, ‘Framing: Towards Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm,’ Journal of Communication, 42/4 (1993), p. 52

[2] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract on Principles of Political Right, trans. Maurice Cranston (London: Penguin Classics, 1968 [1762]), p.51

 

Part 3. Bird in the hand: the hidden workings of mental habits

Threats and opportunities

In the management theory, the notion of risk is closely linked to the effects of uncertainty on the organisation’s goals and includes both threats and opportunities. This makes perfect sense: In the complex and highly unpredictable world we live, it is difficult to know for sure whether what we see (let alone something that we try to foresee) is going to turn bringing benefits or losses, or both. It demands not only good evidence but also sound reasoning. However, it appears that due to certain sense-making mechanisms of our mind we frequently tend to hold to our initial judgements and easily dismiss any argument to the contrary, without attempting to think creatively. As a result, we miss opportunities. I will illustrate this thought on two examples which are metaphorically very close.

First case is borrowed from Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. When asking the Three Weird Sisters about threat posed to him, Macbeth receives two foreshadows. One of them warns that he will be safe as long as Great Birnham Wood does not move uphill to attack him. Woods attacking the king does not match with Macbeth’s predefined understanding of things and he, without giving it another thought, dismisses it outright: ‘That will never be:/ Who can impress the forest, bid the tree/ Unfix his earthbound roots? Sweet bodements, good!’[1] Later he falls on his sword because of this overconfidence.

Now consider the case from The Histories of Herodotus. Greeks are warned that Persian king Xerxes is preparing for an unprecedentedly large-scale assault. Athenians send for an advice from the Oracle of Delphi and hear bad news that the land will be destroyed, but they will be granted a wooden wall by Zeus, as protection. They fail to make sense of it, as it does not match their mental models. Here is when Themistocles, the man who is able to see the things from a different perspective, argues that ‘the “wooden wall” meant the fleet and that they should ready themselves to fight by sea.’[2] As the story goes, the Athenians followed this advice and indeed saved their land because they took advantage and themselves surprised the invaders.

The uncertain future, therefore, is initially neutral. It is up to us actually, whether we turn our knowledge about it, whatever obscured and fragmented, into advantage or fail to prepare and thus end up being caught off guard. As one of the most influential risk authors these days, Nassim Taleb, holds in his Black Swan, ‘the idea that in order to make decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the predictability (which you can’t know) is the central idea of uncertainty.’[3] This brings me to our cognitive strategies, those which we engage in making decisions on daily basis. They have direct bearing on the way how Britons will vote at the referendum.

The flows of our reasoning process

Findings of the most recent polls by YouGov [4] and Ipsos MORI [5] have confirmed the trend that was in making, at least since the last summer—the share of those willing to leave the EU is consistently increasing at the expense of those willing to stay. There is a variation, though: the former puts the ‘Leave’ camp ahead of the rivals, while the latter narrows the ‘Stay In’ camp’s lead to approximately the same percentage-point gap.  There is no contradiction in this; in fact it is something expected in polls, due to randomness of data collection (for example, the British Polling Council’s Inquiry found the variation missing in the polls leading to the 2015 General Elections as their shortcoming).  What is much more intriguing is that the trend may turn somewhat misleading and raise the exaggerated expectations. There are psychological factors in play.

Whatever the respondents say in advance, let along in the situation when everything is rather cloudy, is merely an indication, and the indication which is time bound—it reflects what is there right now. This uncertainty also encourages the poll respondents take on gambles much more eagerly than they would do otherwise. In reality, making your choice at the referendum is a much harder task than deciding at the election ballot, and there is high chance that people would tend to play safe on the day, at least for two reasons.

First is that by its nature (once in a generation event and with no third option to choose from) referendum puts huge responsibility for the consequences, on the voters. Even at individual level, normally we know what we are doing but are not in full control of consequences—some of them are unpredictable, or unintended. This spirals to another degree of significance when millions of individuals driven by their personal intentions combine together in one single act, the outcome of which, even if not set in a stone, still will determine the development direction of Britain for decades to come.

Second reason is that people are offered to trade their wellbeing (something they keep dear to their hearts) as it stands at present to the one they aspire for. This requires an individual to be mentally ready, if not eager, for such a change—and this is not our strongest feature: people are resistant to change, they prefer stability over it. This manifests itself in various ways. For example, numerous experiments have proven that we are very reluctant to give up what we posses, irrespectively of what is offered instead (in reasonable proportions, of course). Or, take our strong desire to stick with current state of affairs and endlessly postpone the game changing decision.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (the former is the Nobel Prize winner in Economics) explain many of these mental habits as influenced, at least partially, by loss aversion. [6] They claim that loss aversion is inherent to human decision making, deriving from the evolutionary history when people had to treat threats as more urgent task in hand. Moreover, it has been experimentally demonstrated that the pain of loss is twice as strong as the pleasure of gain. Then the wisdom of ‘a bird in the hand worthy two in the bush’ proverb becomes even mathematically proven.

Towards a two-pronged choice architecture

People’s inclination for taking the loss avoiding, conventional choices at critical moments will play its role on the referendum day. Benefits of the EU membership are known; that is to say, Britons hold them in hands and they are tangible. To the contrary, benefits that are going to accrue after breaking from the EU are yet to be experienced. This makes the job of Eurosceptics much harder. Going back to the poll figures, I would suggest that, considering the above mathematics, only a two- or three-fold percentage point advantage prior to the referendum day would be enough for them to hold a hope of winning the vote.

The insight for the campaigners from both camps is that they shall make all efforts to ensure that the debate enables people to overcome various mental traps of intuitive decision making and to make choices which are informed by what they want to have in terms of their wellbeing, rather than being driven by what they may currently (rather short-sightedly) prefer. Consider the following.

Think of people making choices about their summer vacations. Every year they decide whether to stay somewhere close to home or to go abroad, and where to go, where to stay, what sort of activities to undertake, and so forth. In so doing, the majority do not engage in complicated calculations but rather allows their emotions of that moment to drive their decision making, even though they try to make their decisions sound as well-reasoned. And sometimes they are: like, for example, driving to some local resort and camping over there, in order to save money for children’s education. What is characteristic of this process is that everyone knows that the decision they make has only an effect limited to this year (except for some really disastrous choices or simply bad luck) and the next year they will be free to do something different.

Now suppose that the same people are given a chance to permanently change their residence, for a better life (as the offer claims). This is an opportunity with an array of attractive features but also unpredictable consequences. Plus, it means leaving behind the house they have lived for years and are somehow accustomed to, the social environment and neighbourhood friends, the job, you name it. Most importantly, this is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime choice which cannot be revisited on an annual basis, and therefore the responsibility for the outcome is enormously high. As one can imagine, people may have numerous reasons to opt for the offer or to turn it down, and they will do so by exercising their right for a free choice. Moreover, there is no right or wrong choice, as long as people know what exactly they are going to gain—and not only at the point of trade but many years down the road.

Freedom of choice has always been highly regarded by people. It is also one characteristic feature of democratic society we take pride of. However, as famously noted by Dostoyevsky, there is price to pay: ‘What human being wants is just an independent choice, whatever the cost of this independence and whatever it may bring about.’[7] But here is the trick with the referendum—because, unlike ordinary everyday situations, in this case it is not enough anymore to merely employ some intuitive methods and quickly form a judgement. This task requires some considerable mental activity, an effortful computation, lots of evidence and perhaps, some guidance. In short, this implies that people who make life-changing decisions cannot be left alone in respect of their freedom of choice—they shall be assisted.

In the case of the EU referendum such an assistance shall come from the intermediaries—the campaigners and the media. I shall note that the idea of (implicitly) assisting people in making their policy choices is not new; almost a decade ago the behavioural scientists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein introduced ‘nudging’ as one method of helping people make policy choices that are in their best long-term interest.[8] What I suggest here is a bit different: it is not about directing people towards a certain predefined ‘default option’, but about setting a fair competition between two camps in introducing their respective choices, and doing so in close cooperation with citizens and their organised groups. To borrow from Robert Buckman, a businessman who put knowledge management at the heart of building a successful enterprise, the best way to address the organisation’s growth (read, the competitiveness and market survival) challenges is to follow its customers: ‘Look where they are going. What do they want right now? In five years from now? In ten years from now?’[9] Similarly, the job of the campaigners is to learn what people need and want, immediately and in a medium term period, and to demonstrate how each offer meets their particular requirements and expectations.

It should be made clear to Britons what do they get as a result of their choice. Their concerns and expectations differ quite significantly between various social groups and across the localities—it is very clear from the publications in the press, interviews, and the on-line discussions and is something that should have been expected in this respect. Therefore, costs and benefits of each choice shall be made relevant to the concerns and aspirations of every large group of stakeholders—something that is known in policy analysis as ‘net assessment.’ Generalisation and vague statements won’t do in such situation. Whatever the referendum’s outcome, the debate will be considered meaningful and achieving its primary objective (that is, to help people make decisions which are based on full and relevant information tailored to their circumstances) only if Britons make their rational judgement on the day—the one that treats the threats and the opportunities equally.

[1] William Shakespeare, The Tragedies of Shakespeare: Complete Works, Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, eds. (London: Macmillan, 2007), act 4, sc. 1 [97-107], p.1897

[2] Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Tom Holland (London: Penguin Books, 2014), bk. 7 [141-144], pp.496-497

[3] Nassim Nicolas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (London: Allen Lane, 2007), p. 211

[4] YouGov trackers on the European referendum, available athttp://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/y0omer21fg/YG-Trackers-Europe-Referendum-050216.pdf

[5] Ipsos MORI database on the EU membership research, available athttps://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2435/European-Union-membership-trends.aspx

[6] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012), pp. 282-284

[7] Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground (1864), pt. 1, ch. 7 [translation is mine – E.A.]

[8] Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)

[9] Robert H. Buckman, Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), pp. 235-236

 

Part 4. The questions to be answered

So far, the battle over Britain’s future in the European Union has been taking place in shallow waters. Some of the reasons behind making the debate about such a momentous decision so irrelevant and misplaced were discussed in this paper. They include the priming of the referendum on the outcome of on-going renegotiation of Britain’s status and narrowly focusing the debate on two tactical options, instead of taking a comprehensive view of all the issues involved and seeing the outcome of the would-be referendum in a long term strategic perspective. There are also technical issues involved, such as those related to the quality, or usefulness, of information offered to citizens.*

Most importantly, it appears that the British society is not prepared to take the decision of such a life-changing magnitude yet.

European countries are struggling with numerous problems, trying to recover from the crisis that hit their economies so hard. At the same time, they are working to respond to a broad range of newly emerging political, security, economic, and social and cultural challenges. From increasing authority transfers to Brussels and concerns over  the ‘insufficient legitimacy of supranational institutions’ [1], to the unpopular austerity measures (which some activists from the left regard as the manifestation of ‘departure from the welfare state’ [2]) to the growing inequality (as between the EU economies, so within each given country), slower than expected (and indeed imperative) growth dynamics, high unemployment among the youth, to the cultural-identitarian concerns and failure of multiculturalism, to the rise of radical movements on both left and right—all this are legitimate concerns of Britons, as well as other Europeans, whether from the EU’s core or its periphery. Most of those problems are not unique to Britain, or to Europe as such—they are being witnessed across all the industrialised countries.

One group of questions is about how much of these problems can be attributed to the EU: What are causes of these problems and what are their effects? Where do they originate from? And to what extent the solutions are in the hands of the European institutions and how much is in hands of national governments?

Another group of questions is concerned with the reform: How the EU shall be reformed in order to be better suited to address the mounting and unprecedented problems of the twenty-first century? What is the role of Britain and other leading countries (such as Germany and France) in the reform process and, later on, in the reformed Europe? What kind of reforms to address Britain’s domestic problems the Government shall undertake on its own, within its sovereign responsibility? Is it possible to undertake two sets of reforms—domestic and common European—simultaneously and, above all, harmoniously?

These are not easy questions to answer, but these are the only relevant kind of questions to be posed and reflected upon. And if no one is ready to offer the answers today (what seems to be the case), then perhaps the best course of action would be not to rush with holding the referendum and instead to engage in a properly administered policy analysis deliberative process, in order to bring clarity and separate the wheat from the chaff. Such process shall normally involve two groups of audiences, where the communication is maintained as within each group’s members, so between the groups. One group comprises scientists, politicians and advocates [3] and another group is of citizen and institutional stakeholders.

This process requires a good organisation behind it. Considering vested interests of various groups and the enthusiasm with which both camps, and their affiliates and associated media outlets are going to convince citizens in the rightness of the choices promoted by them respectively—the role of impartial professional assistance to the constituency will be of paramount importance. And it sounds logical that this should be the Government’s responsibility to provide such an objective and balanced information by means of an ad hoc committee comprising the representatives of all parties and interested sides, along with independent policy analysts and subject matter and communication experts.

Interestingly, the findings of this process will help decide on the final set questions about the referendum itself: Does the referendum, as it has been set today and whatever its outcome, offers the solution? Does it serve the interests of citizens of the United Kingdom? Or is it a manifestation of political struggle of political and economic elites? For example, there has been an argument set forth by Andrew Glencross, that the ‘the simplicity and decisiveness that a referendum, particularly one that spurns the EU, promises is merely a mirage. … British political parties are presenting an in/out referendum as a simple solution to a complex problem. The reality is that direct democracy cannot resolve the Europe question – and nor should it: political and economic ties with the EU necessarily form part of an enduring British political conversation.’ [4]

Whether to hold the referendum in the end or to abolish the idea and to find some other mechanism/solution is a crucial decision, which can only be reasonably decided upon the policy deliberative process suggested herein. If the decision (as informed by various forums) is to run the referendum, then it would not be late to hold it, say, in March 2017 – still well within the timeline initially promised by the Prime Minister, when the citizens would be in good position to take their well-informed decisions on the United Kingdom’s future. It is important to remember that the real decision Britons will take is not about an immediate ‘leave or remain’ choice—it is about forward-looking ‘what and how’ strategic alternatives.

* Policy analysis issues will be addressed in a separate post.

[1] Edgar Grande and Swen Hutter, ‘Beyond authority transfer: explaining the politicisation of Europe,’ West European Politics, 39/1 (2016), pp. 23-43 at 23

[2] See, for example, Thomas Fazi, The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent and How We Can Take it Back (London: Pluto Press, 2014)

[3] According to James Throgmorton, these are the must-talk-to audiences in policy analysis process, see James A. Throgmorton, ‘The rhetorics of policy analysis,’ Policy Sciences, 24/2 (1991), pp. 153-179 at 174

[4] Andrew Glencross, ‘Why a British referendum on EU membership will not solve the Europe question’, International Affairs, 91/2 (2015), pp. 303-317 at 317

 

Introducing Public Policy version 2.0

Growing as teenagers back in the 1960s-70s, my generation believed that the world after the year 2001 would be totally different. In a way this turned to be true – along with technological advancements we could not dreamt of at the time the political, security, economic, environmental, and societal problems our planet faces today are not only unprecedented but go beyond comprehension, in their nature and severity.

public policy complexity

The fact that in the last ten years a series of ‘second versions’ have been introduced and commonly accepted—such as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Governance 2.0, Globalisation 2.0—suggests that we have come to realize that the world around us and the global processes have changed in a categorical / qualitative terms rather than mere quantitatively. And this ‘version two’ trend does not limit itself to the development of the worldwide web and the use of social software platforms, but reflects the fundamental changes in the way how we interact between us as individuals, groups, states and societies and how do we cope collectively, with the complex and unpredictable world of the twenty-first century.

Still this is not as surprising as is our inability to cope with them. The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has stressed this point when describing the global trends under the ‘Globalisation 2.0’ banner, that ‘[n]ational governments are desperate to regain a measure of control’  over the mounting problems posed by global processes. [1] It looks like our political and economic institutions have not been prepared for this change to happen, and are struggling now in the hesitant attempts to adjust. Francis Fukuyama identifies the problem (with regards to democracies) as one of ‘political decay’ and puts his diagnosis as follows: ‘The failure of modern democracies come in many flavours, but the dominant one in the early twenty-first century is probably state weakness: contemporary democracies become too easily gridlocked and rigid, and thus unable to make difficult decisions to ensure their long-term economic and political survival.’ [2]

The fundamental insight offered by prominent thinkers of the day has been that we (as a humankind, at all levels, from individuals to institutions) must embrace the uncertainty, adapt to it, and evolve and grow stronger with it, instead of pretending that we can predict, measure and even manage the risks (let alone to do so without fundamental changes to our not-effective-anymore practices). [3]

When it comes to the state, the focus on building its evolutionary capabilities implies that, as its one overarching function public policy making shall be the first to adapt. In the course of the past century, especially its second half, public policy was heavily relying on the rational choice theory and related models which use cause-effect and pattern recognition methods (with a sophisticated statistical computation) to explain the operational environments with stable settings, known variables and the abundance of historical data available. Nowadays however, even though remaining relevant and useful this approach, coupled with hierarchical model of decision-making and the rigid goal-fixated implementation design, is showing its limitations in offering viable policy solutions in complex, dynamic settings and effectively addressing the emerging problems in various domains. Against this background, vast evidence produced by social scientists and practitioners from various fields of expertise over the last three decades has convincingly demonstrated the benefits of experimentation, evidence-based policy, and flexible, adaptive approaches to decision making. [4]

On a positive note, there is a growing recognition and use across the world, of new methods of policy analysis and design. As behavioural economist Richard Thaler reports with the reference to Economic and Social Research Council’s 2014 survey, more than 130 countries have utilised behavioural science insights in their policies, while over 50 countries have developed policies influenced by the behavioural sciences. [5] In other words, new (and at times distinctively different but compatible) approaches are already being used, but need to be recognised by governments as a legitimate choice and, in certain situations, even as a default option instead of Public Policy 1.0 methods.

In this post therefore, I am attempting to outline key features of Public Policy 2.0, drawing on the insights from various fields of knowledge grouped under the umbrella of effective policy making in the twenty-first century. It is a sketchy initial shot produced with an eye towards initiating a discussion and, ideally, collaboration around this project. I shall mention here that attempts have been already made to define the ‘version-two’ of policy analysis and evaluation. [6]

For the working definition I would suggest the following: Public Policy 2.0 is a proactive, experimental approach to policy making which derives from the appreciation of the complexity and unpredictability of the world and which is deployed with an aim of enabling the states and the societies adapt to the rapidly changing environment, and to evolve and thrive with and within it.

Public Policy 2.0 is a proactive, experimental approach to policy making which derives from the appreciation of the complexity and unpredictability of the world and which is deployed with an aim of enabling the states and the societies adapt to the rapidly changing environment, and to evolve and thrive with and within it.

To specify, Public Policy 2.0 rests on the following principles:

— builds bottom-up, where more authority and responsibility given at tactical and even ‘limited task’ level is married with strong coordination and support role at the centre of government;

— employs trial and error approach, with testing simultaneously many ideas trough small pilots, making sense of the findings (including those from inevitable failures), in order to collect and analyse evidence, learn, and to catch up with the changing environment in a timely manner and on the go;

— exercises the management methods that rely on the experimentation and feedback, are supportive to creativity, and encourage unorthodox approaches;

— maintains an ongoing dialogue between multidisciplinary teams of researchers and practitioners and relies, for the implementation, on a broad based in-country and international collaborative networks of partners; and

— recognises the structures only as non-rigid and adjustable to the evolving context, and both the strategic and tactical goals as subject to constant revision.

At this point I see the benefits coming in various ways, namely:

— sense-making: deployment of decision making mechanisms that, while relying on less data and complicated computation, allow for employing insights from social and behavioural sciences to make reasonable and effective policy interventions, given the limited time and information available;

— decentralisation: puts the decision making in right hands of those who deal with the problems in real time and space; helps building the cadre of experienced, tested managers who are ready to assume responsibility along with authority; and encourages the initiative and reasonable risk-taking;

— analysis: opens opportunities for generating more evidence, as from traditional experimental and quasi-experimental designs, so from qualitative and deliberative methods—to make the policy assessment and evaluation more insightful of values and aspirations of stakeholders and relevant to delivering the expected impacts and benefits; [7]

— design: allows designing strategies and policy programmes which combine the traditional integrated approach with the modular architecture—to enable decoupling potentially high-risk components from the rest of the programme and to create more opportunities for synergic effects from the implementation;

— monitoring: by making the policy programmes’ objectives subject to continuous examination, revision and adjustment—enables using simple but informative methods of relevance, in order to quickly and meaningfully assess the real progress made along the path.

With that said, this proposal does not call for the ‘policy reform’ or dismissal of the present Public Policy version 1.0 approach and for the wholesale shift to Public Policy 2.0 — immediately or in any visible term. Instead, I would advocate for their complementarity, the mutually reinforcing parallel application. The major task at the initial stage will be to demonstrate benefits (as ever) and to ensure that Public Policy 2.0 methods have their place as equals to those of Public Policy 1.0, when considering the analytical, implementation design and managerial issues of any policy issue.

This is especially relevant to the countries which make their state-building efforts in transition from authoritarian regimes towards democracy—where experimentation is imperative in order to find their own way, to tailor the practices tested (but still in need of further enhancement, as we have seen, along with those yet untested) in liberal democracies to their political tradition, culture, and present-day circumstances. I believe that the international organisations, development agencies and broader donor community shall place the strengthening of policy-making capacity of recipient governments at the centre of assistance, and do so with encouraging creativity, innovation and experimentation so that to enable the most effective and harmonious combination of both Public Policy methodological versions.

 

[1] From the speech delivered at the FT-Nikkei symposium:  Lionel Barber, ‘Globalisation 2.0an optimistic outlook,’ Financial Times, 14 January, 2016

[2] The quote is from: Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (London: Profile Books, 2011). More in detail he elaborates on this topic in his recent book, the second instalment of the series: Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy (London: Profile Books, 2011). These two volumes are an essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the nature of political processes and to make sense of the current developments.

[3] Among those seminal works: Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Nassim Nicolas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (London: Allen Lane, 2007); and Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Antifragile: How to Live in the World We Don’t Understand (London: Allen Lane, 2012)

[4] There is vast literature—books, articles in academic journals, reports by think tanks—on the benefits of experimentation, evidence-based policy, and flexible management and decision-making methods. These are some of my favourite books: Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Books, 2012); Gary Klein, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009); Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter M. Todd, and the ABC Research Group, Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New York and London: Yale University Press, 2008); Tim Harford, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (London: Little, Brown, 2011)

[5] Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics (London: Allen Lane, 2015), p. 344

[6] Agrell and Treverton, in their discussion on policy analysis draw on the unpublished paper by the economist and public policy scholar Robert Klitgaard, Policy Analysis and Evaluation 2.0 (2012): Wilhelm Argell and Gregory F. Treverton, National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 115-135. Also see for an elaborate account of post-positivist policy analysis: Ya Li, ‘Think tank 2.0 for deliberative policy analysis,’ Policy Sciences, 48/1 (2015), pp. 25-50

[7] It is not accidental that in defining Policy Analysis version 2.0, Klitgaard builds on the characteristics of evaluation suited to the world of uncertainty, borrowing from the leading authority in qualitative analysis methods, Michael Quinn Patton: M. Q. Patton, ‘Use as a Criterion of Quality in Evaluation,’ in A. Benson, C. Lloyd, and D.M. Hinn (eds.), Visions of Quality: How Evaluators Define, Understand, and Represent Program Quality: Advances in Program Evaluation (Kidlington, UK: Elsevier Science, 2001), pp. 23-26. In more recent publication, Patton points out to advantages of qualitative analysis methods (which are highly relevant to the policy analysis and evaluation version 2.0, as advocated in this post): ‘Indeed, qualitative evaluation and in-depth case studies were utilization-focused methodological responses to the kinds of evaluation questions stakeholders were asking and the criteria they applied to judge quality of finding: contextual understanding, in-depth analysis, and cross-case comparisons.’ [Michael Q. Patton, ‘The Sociological Roots of Utilization-Focused Evaluation,’ The American Sociologist, 46/4 (2015), pp. 457-462 at 461.