Archive for December 21st, 2012


10 Commandments for good policy making – Ukraine take note!

December 21, 2012

Nothing directly to do with Ukraine today – other than the fact it could do with following this very sage advice within the Cabinet of Ministers and civil administration.

Here are the “10 Commandments” for good policy making from the one and only Sir Gus O”Donnell, a man who managed to rise to the very pinnacle of the British Civil Service during his 30 year career (and signed off his memo’s GO’D…..ahem):

1) Thou shalt be clear about the outcomes that you want to achieve

Lack of strategic clarity, of knowing the problem you are trying to solve, is a cardinal sin.

2) Thou shalt evaluate policy as objectively as possible

You need to be clear about how you are going to determine success. It is essential to relate the success measure to the desired outcome. This may sound obvious but far too often it is not done.

3) Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour’s policies

Most important policies operate across departmental boundaries so be sure to have collective buy in, and ownership of, the policy. We can’t tackle the problems of an ageing society or obesity or climate change simply by operating in one department.

4) Thou shall not assume the government has to solve every problem

We have models in our heads, and sometimes written down, about how we think people, companies and governments make decisions. These models are probably embarrassingly naïve. As Keynes said many of us are slaves to some defunct economist. These three types of model failures must all be addressed.

5) Thou shalt not rush to legislate

It is a fact that all our ministers sit in either the House of Commons or the Lords which are bodies that spend a very large amount of time legislating. My experience suggests legislation should be something of a last resort to be used when all the other possibilities have been tried and found wanting.

6) Honour the evidence and use it to make decisions

There are now lots of excellent think-tanks. We also have the internet and masses of academic research. If the policy submission doesn’t cover, for example, what works in other countries then send it back. (There is a lot to be said for covetting thy neighbour’s policies). The only proviso is to be clear that most of the time the evidence will not be clear cut. So perhaps the right answer is to generate more evidence by the use of experiments. In every case judgement is needed. That is the most valuable skill needed by ministers and their senior officials.

7) Thou shalt be clear who is accountable for what and line up the powers and the accountabilities

If ministers want someone else to be directly accountable to parliament for a specific area then they need to cede power over that area to the ‘someone else’, having obeyed commandments (1) and (2).

8) Thou shalt not kill the messenger

Nobody’s perfect and every organisation needs a way of providing constructive feedback to the senior decision makers. If you don’t encourage internal debate then the first time you will learn about your mistakes will be from your enemies not your friends.

9) Thou shalt not forget that it is a privilege to serve

In government, the taxpayers pay our salaries and they deserve good value for money and to know we will always strive to follow the Codes that encapsulate our values.

10) Thou shalt keep a sense of proportion

Or in the words of a wise, now former, minister: ‘Thank God it’s only a game’. For some, every bad headline is a crisis. Keep a focus on what the real impact is on peoples lives.

You would think these are all too obvious – but Ukraine is not the only nation to fail at employing the obvious!

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