Thursday, November 26, 2009
The four Ps of governance
I am getting really excited about this weekend and Reboot Alberta. I'm looking forward to a meeting of progressive thought leaders that will focus on the future of this province. Most of all, I'm looking forward to meeting so many of the people that I have come to know online.
In advance on this meeting, I have decided to finally write this post on governance that I have been thinking about for some time.
In order to have effective governance, the stakeholders must have a strong model for collaboration. Effective collaboration relies upon a good understanding where the commonalities and differences lie amongst the stakeholders and an open acknowledgement of those differences.
Governance comes down to a hierarchy of four levels of opinion: Philosophies, Principles, Policies and Practices.
The model is an inverted pyramid because the practices of government need to be based upon the policies set forth by the policy makers, which in-turn are based upon their principles which are based on a set of fundamental philosophies. It is a pyramid because there are a fewer number of philosophies that guide an increasing number of principles and a larger number of policies and practices.
A collaborative decision-making group, whether it is a political party or a school board, must start from a basic set of agreed upon philosophies. These should be broad and general statements for which everyone can easily agree on. If a philosophy is to be stated, then little attention should be paid to the specific wording as it is the idea that is of fundamental importance. A philosophy should describe the general purpose of the group.
Once the group is clear on their collective philosophy, then they need to be open about their individual principles. Principles are those individual beliefs that change little over time that guide one's decision making. In a group, even those with high levels of homogeneity, individuals will have differing principles. An effective collaborative group should have a large number of common principles, yet will still have some differing principles. The ability to collaborate will depend directly on the group's understanding of where their principles differ and a respect for those differences.
The first two levels are preliminary to the decision making process, they relate to the biasses that the group or individuals within the group hold. The next level is the decision making level. Policies are the set of directions that the legislators give to their administrators as to how programs are to be delivered. It is a given that legislators will differ in opinion on individual policies, so it is essential that open, honest and respectful debate occur in the setting of policy. Unfortunately, too often, political trade-offs are used to set policy resulting in inappropriate policy. As a result of the debate there will be, for lack of better words, winners and losers. There must be no problem with this - it is a result of the process and there should be no shame in it.
Finally, there is a subtle but important difference between policy and best practices. The realm of policies should be constrained to those matters for which clear answers do not exist, whereas those matters for which best practices exist should be left to the hired experts. The policy should guide the bureaucracy, but the execution (practice) should be entrusted to those people hired to do it.
With that mind, good luck Rebooters!