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GOVERNANCE, POLICY ANALYSIS AND THE PUBLIC SERVICE

 Dr. Akintola, Benson Oke

The policy making and implementation function in governance is vitally important because governments are repeatedly confronted with problems that call for apt and appropriate solutions. In contemporary times, these problems have taken on rather complex features. Also, they usually demand urgent attention and response.

Thus, the government of a metropolitan state such as Lagos State, for instance, cannot afford not to have a pool of skilled, trained and current policy analysts and developers who will assist the government in designing the right, appropriate and suitable answers to these complex and urgent problems.

According to Carl V.Paton and David S. Sawicki, while there are different ways to describe the problems confronting modern society, these problems are not only seldom well-defined, their solutions cannot also be proven to be correct before application. Also, there is never a guarantee that the proposed solution will achieve the desired or intended result. In same vein, the adequacy of the solution is often difficult to measure against notions of the public, while the fairness of the proposed or adopted solutions is often usually difficult to measure objectively.

Without a doubt, those involved in the public policy process need to possess strong analytical skills and the ability to apply a variety of research and evaluation methods within a complex political and economic environment.

Policy analysts and planners usu­ally give advice to their principals; they do not make decisions for them. This has important implications for the types of analyses that are done and, even more importantly, for the methods of communicating the results of analysis. The principal will make the final choice and should be able to re-analyse the policy data. This means that critical assumptions, values, and uncertainties must be reported.

Thus, when the analysis is properly done , the decision maker will be able to weigh the con­sequences of changes in assumptions, values, and uncertainties and come to an independent conclusion. In some cases the principal will be seeking a recommendation. In such a case, the reccomendation should be clearly spelt out and presented.

The relevant questions to ask are:what factor of the problem is most important to the government? On what criterion is the decision likely to be made? Will it be minimizing the cost of some service? Or might it be to spend more effectively the funds now allocated to the activity? Perhaps it will be to broaden the base of those being served by the programme. On what basis can we judge the merits of alternative policies or programs? Without doubt, identifying the central “nugget” of the problem is essential.

In some cases, the criterion can be inferred from legislative intent; in others you might have to exhume it from a mountain of seemingly patternless reading material. Yet, focusing on the central decision criterion will help identify needed information. Of course, there are dangers in choosing the nugget prematurely. There is indeed a tendency to choose the one that can be defined and measured most easily (e.g., least cost) while possibly ignoring more important but less quantifiable goals and impacts and forgetting about who pays and who benefits from the pol­icy. There is also a distinct possibility that several competing and equally valid decision criteria exist, and that early focussing will dismiss the alternatives forever.

It is a well known fact thast some disciplines spec­ify analytical routines in detail for many circumstances. This may encourage some people to begin work on a policy problem because it lends itself to their favourite method. Ideally, and in my view, the problem should dictate the methods, not vice versa. I advise using the simplest appropriate method, and using common sense to design a method, if one does not already exist.

Indeed, the principal tools of the policy planner are logic, common sense, and ex­perience with particular substantive areas. It helps to be skillful in data analy­sis,rational problem solving, and other specific skills. But more often than not we design our own approach or methodology to policy problems. This kind of creativity becomes easier the more policy analysis we do and the more we learn what the recipient of the report, be they real or simulated (in exercises and cases), find under­standable and useful to their deliberations.

Neophyte analysts are often tempted to isolate each parameter of a policy problem and then establish their most likely future values. Having tacked down the key parameters of the problem (because the task is never-ending, many spend most of their allocated time on this phase), they believe the problem can be solved. This approach is often a waste of time. There­fore, more experienced policy analysts recommend basic methods of decision analysis and sensitivity testing that can aid in analyzing important parts of a policy problem even if one cannot find values for certain variables.

Learning to live with and work with uncertainty is a must for policy analysts. Therefore, policy analysts, must accept and reconcile themselves to the fact that uncertainty is present in nearly every public policy problem.

 Thus, given the dynamic and complex nature and characteristics of the problems that confront policy analysts and developers, the need for their constant training and retraining cannot be over-emphasized. It is in view of this that the Lagos State government has been investing massively in the training of policy analysts and developers in the state’s public service.

The state government under the leadership of Mr. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has made it clear that the mandate to train and re-train officers of the public service must not only be executed, but must also be dynamically executed in such a fashion as to ensure that officers of the Lagos State Public Service are equipped with the most current skills and knowledge necessary to assist the government in the discharge of its sacred constitutional and democratic duties.The overall goal is to build a crop of public officials who could efficiently assist the government in proffering possible solutions to difficult problems.

 

Cheerfully, the investment is gradually paying off as we are steadily but progressively achieving a Lagos State that is administered by a public service peopled by able, skilled, emotionally-intelligent, assertive, confident, goal-setting, visionary and articulate officers. This is what makes Lagos a model to others and this is a tradition that the current administration is determined to sustain and surpass.

 

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