Appraising and evaluating policies

Policy appraisals and evaluations also need to become more open, inclusive and deliberative. Contentious decisions will have to be made, and it is impossible to please everyone, but nevertheless channels of influence should be exposed, and all participants given confidence that their voice will make a difference. To have value in building legitimacy for policy change, legally binding procedural requirements are often needed, as the temptation to cut corners is strong. Resort to legal action is often the only redress available to opponents of policies introduced in excessive haste or by unfair means.

There are three distinct motivations for involving wider society in policymaking on issues like this, and each has different implications for best practice. The first motivation relates to democratic legitimacy: policies must be acceptable to the public, and public involvement is 'the right thing to do' in a democratic society. Some consider this an inviolable principle of democracy, immune from concerns about costs, delays or unpalatable outcomes. A second rationale is instrumental: a level of public involvement may help foster public acceptance and make decisions easier to implement. A third distinct reason for public engagement is substantive. Bringing a broader knowledge base to bear, and identifying more options, uncertainties and possible framings of the problem makes the process more rigorous, and decisions more scientifically and socially robust. The exact emphasis in any specific appraisal or policy consultation will differ. As a general guide, however, the following eight principles should be applied.

(i) Neutrality: The process should not be framed such as to privilege any particular stakeholder perspective, discipline or policy option.

(ii) Breadth: The process should give full attention to the importance and implications of uncertainties and gaps in knowledge, including differences of interpretation under different expert viewpoints.

(iii) Transparency: The process and course of argumentation should be fully transparent and accessible to third parties.

(iv) Precaution: Given the inevitable uncertainties and complexities, the process should be precautionary in nature.

(v) Openness: The imperative to make concrete policy commitments in a reasonable time should not be used as an excuse to restrict the scope of attention or constrain deliberation during the appraisal process.

(vi) Diversity: The process should involve a range of different event formats, using different processes to access different kinds of public opinion relevant to the policy decisions ahead.

(vii) Inclusion: The existence of groups with little or no 'voice' in deliberations further emphasises the need for governments to 'hold the ring' in a situation where policymaking is in danger of being skewed by powerful voices.

(viii) Commitment: Finally, participants should be guaranteed in advance that their inputs will be taken seriously, and the initiators of the consultations should be explicit about how the outputs of the consultation will be used in policymaking.

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