March 16, 2017

Policy as a magical black box

Jonathan Davies, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

“Sometimes policy is talked about as if it is a magical black box

– you pour in evidence and a policy solution will emerge. This may partly reflect a wide range of different meanings of “policy” – from over-arching political commitments to legislation to public budgeting”, one of the participants of the discussion group on Policy noticed. The group of about 25 attendants had a lively discussion during the African Landscapes Dialogue in Addis Abeba last week.

The remark made very clear that ‘policy’ as a concept is difficult and the discussion around policy and good governance led to a few interesting comments which we want to share here.

DaviesALD-foto2-blog3--web

Participants in the African Landscapes Dialogue discuss policy action for sustainable landscapes in Africa. Photo by Baud Schoenmaecker/Change Magazine.

At the national level, there is not much explicit recognition of how different actions are contributing to policy implementation. At the same time, national policymakers are not being involved in innovative actions. The policy makers may be partially culpable, but projects/actors can do more to engage policy makers. One way to do this is to make explicit reference to how an initiative is contributing to a policy or commitment – to support government to report on its own progress.

There is a tendency to highlight a need for better policy without considering (or at least presenting) what policies already exist that are somehow allowing good practices to evolve. If this was clarified it might help to give a more precise diagnosis of what specific policies or laws are required.

We might need governing frameworks that implicate many ministries

Problems of jurisdiction can crop up in landscape management. For example, responsibilities between sectors (e.g. who is responsible for trees in crop lands) or between administrative areas. Policies and laws are typically written for the responsibility of one sector – one ministry – and may not be the best tool for achieving “multi-jurisdictional” action. One way to overcome this may be through establishing “soft law” – governing frameworks that implicate many ministries. The process by which such soft-law is developed is critical and again reinforces the call for strong participation, representation etc.

Governance issues come up quite peripherally, yet they are fundamental policy issues. This particularly refers to governance at the government level: this does not diminish the importance of local (e.g. community) governance, but we must also not lose sight of effective public institutions and institutional responsibilities for integrated landscape management.

 

This post originally appeared on Change Magazine. It is reposted with permission.

More From Jonathan Davies

1 Comment

  • Hans Groenendijk
    March 17, 2017 at 8:12am

    I sincerely hope that this picture does not reflect existing interest on the international level for the Landscape Dialogue.

Leave a Comment