I’m in the very grand surroundings of the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, about to run a workshop on open policy making for the senior BIS leadership team. However, you get the pre-release version…

I’ve been thinking about the term “open policy”. I understand where it starts from, and I also know it’s the term we’re stuck with, but I sometimes wonder whether it’s quite the right one. A BIS director said to me a few weeks ago that they thought open policy making was just “good policy making” and I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

Open policy is about listening broadly, finding new ways to engage people, using the fullest range of evidence, and being open and honest about the reasons why decisions are being taken. Those are all the characteristics of good policy making

Specifically, I think open policy making is good policy making that reflects three changed realities in the civil servant’s environment.

First, that there are fewer civil servants around, and less money for research, so policy making can’t be done just inside the team. Policy officials have to rely on resources outside, and on simple fairness grounds that can’t just be the well-funded groups with their line to push.

Second, that there are more ways of spreading the discussion, so reaching people is easier. Policy makers can made hidden processes open, and bring the outside world into conference rooms.

Third, that people are less willing to accept things on trust and defer to authority. The public may not always want to be involved, but they always want to have the opportunity. They may not always want to see the evidence, but they always want to know they can.

So, I would say, don’t think that open policy making needs a Macbook, or an understanding of the word “selfie”. It’s good policy making, brought up to date. As a fan of 30s architecture, I might call it Modernist Policy Making. But you already know what it looks like, because you’ve got the experience to know “good” when you see it.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

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