Policy Making – Oxygen for Flourishing Nations & Firms

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”
-Ronald Regan

 “Governments will always play a huge part in solving big problems. They set public policy and are uniquely able to provide the resources to make sure solutions reach everyone who needs them. They also fund basic research, which is a crucial component of the innovation that improves life for everyone.” – Bill Gates

Lack or weakness of policy framework in governance (be it corporate or country) leads to chaos. History suggests that the policy framework is critical in determining the performance of public sector bodies, corporations, farmers, and households. Logically therefore, the economic development of a country depends on the quality of this policy framework that governs various sectors of the society. History also suggests that the lack of attention to implementation strategies during policy formulation, results in shortages of required resources or an underestimation of the complexity of the policy, thereby posing serious threats for the policy to have the desired impact. A policy armed with legal consequences holds the potency, rather than leaving the matter to people’s conscious or choice. While national governments can do little to remove the causes of natural disasters, ill-conceived, inadequate and poorly implemented national policies have undeniably been a factor in reducing the ability of countries to deal with them. During the last decade, to respond to energy-related challenges such as climate change, air pollution, volatile fossil fuel prices, and a growing demand for electricity, countries have fast tracked their recourse to renewable energy policy making. In 2011, for example, there were 73 countries around the world that had implemented policy targets for renewable electricity at the federal or regional levels.

Unless governments and corporate ensure that ‘good policies’ (that benefit the stakeholders and the system at large) are formulated and implemented, irrespective of their non acceptance and negative reaction from certain albeit powerful quarters, positive change that unleashes a better future, will not surface. One of the reasons why ‘under developed’ countries or small corporate remain in ‘that state’ for perpetuity is because the policy makers and owners are not strong enough to challenge the status quo. When at first the cigarettes advertisements were banned on media as a policy, the tobacco business sector as well as the users exercised relentless pressure on the governments to stop the enforcement. But a good policy eventually prevailed through. Every time a seat belt policy is enforced with penalties in a country, down trodden vehicles that have their nuts and bolts dropping off along the road, also manage to somehow incorporate and wear seat belt in their cars, thereby reducing the risk of casualty during accidents. Had the policy not been enforced and was left to the driver’s choice, the chaos would continue as affordability, convenience and all other genuine reasons would come the rescue of the drivers.

Which country then has the best policies in the world? The most successful ones must obviously have the most potent policies? But how do we define ‘successful’? Is it merely the GDP performance? Surely without taking into account the moral behavior of the society in general (reflected somewhat by the crime rate), the level of education, health care and the size of the country in terms of population it has to manage, it would only be ‘one’ of the success factors, thereby not necessarily reflecting good policy. Some oil rich countries might be ranked high in the GDP, but is it a reflection of their policy? Possibly not!  A country like Switzerland on the other hand has very few natural resources and is located in the harsh, geographically isolated Alps. In fact, Swiss soil quality is so poor that for generations Swiss people were cursed with high rates of mental retardation caused by malnutrition. On top of that,Switzerland is landlocked and has no sea ports. Even worse, Switzerland has four distinct linguistic groups in its tiny geographical area, which can form barriers to trade and encourages ethnic conflict. Yet despite of all this,Switzerlandis one of the wealthiest, most peaceful countries in the world with high quality of health, education, law and order services, and life in general. Even though it has a small population to manage, but so too have a lot of other small countries, with the lowest rankings!

The Swiss ‘success’ is clearly a direct result of the policies put in place across all spectra of the society. They say that the Swiss might eat more chocolate per capita than people from any other nation in the world, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their health care stats! Experts believe that Switzerland’s health care policy (with an annual spending of over 10% of its GDP on health) and the resultant system in place, can provide inspiration, or serve as a model, for the restructuring of many health care systems in the world. Many developing countries on the other hand for example, need to realize that to be able to produce leaders that can instill sustainable growth in various sectors of a nation, their governments need to meticulously formulate and implement a uniform education policy that sets the right academic and character building environment from first grade going up to the doctorate level. Applying temporary ‘stop gap’ measures to uplift various sectors, while the ‘minds’ that ensure a sustainable growth are not being made available on a consistent basis, will only prolong their ‘developing country’ status.

A good policy with potent implementation strength can have telling effect on the world at large as well as on nations. When the policy of CPP -calling party pays- was introduced in the mobile communications world, it exploded the growth of the users globally, who were earlier stifled by the unfair payment they had to make when they received a call. Following the formulation of a Broadband policy in Pakistan in 2005, the users- which had previously been just over 30k, built over 3 years – grew to over 1 million over the next 5 years. Starting with a deep slash of the prohibitive bandwidth prices, all barriers to entry were removed. Despite many policy initiatives not being implemented at the government level, the ‘barriers free’ policy opened up the market for both, technologies as well as companies, leading to the exceptional growth rate. At the corporate level too, a good policy can turn around the fortunes of the organization. An HR policy that reflects the department as being a ‘change agent’ and a strategic partner in the profitability as well as the culture of the company, would ensure the best minds stay and grow while the poor performers have a chance of getting trained and show their merit before being rejected. Any Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) exercise can, for example, be made many times simpler if the HR policy frame work acts as both of the above.

So what are the ingredients of good policy making? Firstly, policy making is participative. It is no spectator sport. Policy making think tanks must know this necessity before they embark on their task. Unless all the stakeholders participate in the formulation stage discussions and their buy-in is not registered, there is a good chance that the policy will have a bias towards the only group(s) that was involved; a lop sided and ineffective policy! Policy making can, and should be, participated by at least three groups; academia based think tanks, specific research institutes and members of the civil society / specific users and stakeholders at large, through letters to the editor, pressure groups etc. And good policy formulation should have at least six basic stages of work, if it is to have a chance of success:

1. Identification of the issue (s)

2. Clear definition of end objectives

3. Formulation of all possible options

4. Choice of ‘preferred option’

5. Design of implementation strategy

6. Policy review and reformulation

Every stage has to be backed up with information gathering, its analysis and then followed by consultation. By paying attention to the policy formulation stages and by anticipating how hindrances will be met and overcome, participants in policy-making can get the desired confidence in the effectiveness and acceptability of their product. The resultant policy could either be classified as ‘a Good policy Good politics’, ‘Good policy Bad politics’ and ‘Bad policy Good politics’. The more a nation or a corporate walks down the second type (where despite taking the flak from certain quarters and having trodden on the difficult path, the end result is beneficial for the larger people at stake), the more gold it will strike and the more it follows the third type, the closer is its path to chaos, and yet more chaos.

OliveLit Businesses have industry experts with international Ivy league academic as well as FTSE-100 corporate experience, having developed and successfully implemented policies at the national as well as corporate level. We help governments and organizations, plan, develop and implement an effective policy that has international best practice bench marks, consultation of all the stakeholders and most importantly, the achievement of its end objectives.