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Comprehensible Policy-making: Guiding Metaphors and Configuring Choices (Part I) (Part #3)


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The arguments calling for greater attention to Arena XII include the following:

(a) Complexity of patterns of information:
There is increasing agreement on the inherent complexity of the patterns of information which must be considered in current and future decision-making. It is becoming clearer that such patterns are far from being readily comprehensible, even to those most skilled at doing so. The question then becomes whether there are not more appropriate patterns within which to encode such information in order to render it comprehensible.

(b) Complexity of necessary solutions:
Assuming the necessity for solutions of adequate complexity to encompass (and contain) the complexity of the problematique, the elaboration and comprehension of such solutions itself becomes a major challenge. The creative process in uncovering and articulating such solutions needs to be sustained by patterns of appropriate complexity.

(c) Insight delivery:
It is one thing for appropriate solutions to be designed by those with the skill and insight to do so, and quite another for such solutions to be communicated to others without the same information background, or kind of skill. There is increasing difficulty in what might be termed 'insight delivery'. Complex insights do not travel well through conventional media. Their necessary complexity is often stripped out leaving what amounts to a simplistic shell. This may be readily rejected or, perhaps worse, implemented in its simplistic and inappropriate form, whilist claiming to honour the level of complexity which inspired it. It has also been argued that it is the attempt to deliver insight 'from the centre' that disrupts social conditions 'at the periphery'.

(d) Insight capture:
Even where there is no problem with 'delivery', the recipient(s) may experience considerable difficulty in 'capturing' the insight within their own frameworks. Even though many insightful proposals may bemade in documents and meetings, the participants may experience difficulty in absorbing and retaining the insight. In such contexts, emerging insights compete for attention with one another and with distracting proposals to repeat initiatives which have already proven inadequate in the past. Conferences typically waste the insight forming potential of the assembled participants -- seeds fall on stony ground, swept by windy debates and subject to emotional floods. There is also a natural resistance to insights into new patterns in preference to patterns which may be perceived as having been satisfactory in the past, even though initiatives based on those patterns may be acknowledged as inadequate. More challenging than the recognized problems of information overload and information underuse, is the challenge of insight overload and insight underuse. This suggests the need for more readily capturable patterns.

(e) Proactive response to corruption and cover-up:
The quality press is replete with reports of corruption and cover-up in every sector of society and at the highest levels. Few could claim that they do not benefit from perks and privileges that could be labelled as corruption by others. It is naturally rare to find any explicit review of the impact of such an 'undertow' on decision-making and on the assessment of policy proposals by the highest officials. In the words of the ecofeminist planner Janis Birkeland (1991): 'Corruption...is the misuse of political or administrative power for the diversion of resources to special interests, whether the motive be for power, for material gain, or for ideological advantage...When such issues are cloaked in value-neutral terms, such as 'externalities' or 'values', the moral-imperative to change is dampened....The term 'corruption' has been narrowly construed in our society so as to make systemic corruption hard to see. It is used where: an individual (a) intentionally betrays the trust of (b) the organization (c) for monetary gain by (d) violating organization rules (e). These limitations block our perception of widespread systemic corruption, such as where an organization (a) unintentionally betrays the trust of (b) the general public (c) due to ideological filters by (d) following organizational (and institutional) rules (e)....Also, because people identify with government institutions 'of, for, and by' the people, disapproval requires self-criticism. Therefore, there is a tendency toward self-denial.' It is questionable however whether, because of their ubiquitous nature, corruption/cover-up issues can be successfully confronted, especially since they may serve an important economic function in countries where officials are chronically underpaid. In this sense the only way forward may be to reconfigure the question proactively by designing into policy-making the pervasive tension between (personal) self-interest and public interest.


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