Action / re-action

Is it just me, or does it feel as though public policy is getting increasingly reactive? My analysis of what is driving changing change among local government and its partners is that the drivers fall into three categories. First, there is a whole set of agendas relating to efficiency and productivity – getting more for less, essentially. The second set of agendas centre around the changing relationship between the citizen and the state – choice, personalisation, user focus, and so on. Both these categories represent the continuation of policy development that you can track back over time, often for a decade or more, as thinking and policy making has developed. There’s a third category that you might call the ‘blindsiders’ as they become agendas due to events, sometimes more or less out of the blue. This includes demographic factors such as migration or the ageing population, and realities such as the credit crunch and climate change (the two CCs), not to mention food and oil prices. I have no evidence for this, but it feels to me as if the third category is getting bigger. If policy making is getting more reactive, is this simply a return to the norm? Or perhaps this is one of those things that goes in cycles. And, if it’s true, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Instinctively, if you work on strategies, you are bound have reservations about an approach that’s more re-active than pro-active. And yet, aren’t the sort of issues contained in this category the type of issues that can engage the public in politics and decision making? As a citizen, I suspect that the effects of the credit crunch, food prices and climate change are easier to engage with, if I believe that the state can have an impact, than a ‘choice agenda’ or community empowerment as an end in itself.

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