Georgina Aboud: Just do it

Development Policy28 Aug 2009Georgina Aboud

This week The Broker is blogging from the Towards Knowledge Democracy conference in Leiden, The Netherlands. Conference Blogger Georgina Aboud will report back from the event which invites participants to share visions and experiences on how to deal with the challenges and possibilities that occur on the interface between science, politics, society and the media.

“Diplomacy is about surviving to the next century. Politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.” Whilst this is a quote from a 1980s British sitcom called Yes Minister, it might have been taken from the session I attended on the final day of the conference called ‘Towards a better Governance of Long Term Decision-making.’

The session was based on a paper written Louis Meulemen and Roeland J. in ‘t Veld which offered recommendations around sustainable development and long term decision making and talks about the tension between achieving change and politicians wishing to retain public favour. The recommendations were founded on the idea that ‘ we have no right to make decisions which would, according to our present knowledge and values, impose on future generations such costs and risks we would not be willing to assume by ourselves.’ Other suggestions in the paper include the idea that decisions should have a sufficient degree of resilience, that perseverance, consistency, continuity and reflexivity are secure for both a series of interventions and institutions, and that the trade offs between short term and long terms objectives should be transparent.

The sessions’ panel then discussed the paper and added their own recommendations to improving its vision. The speaker who particularly impressed me was Miranda Schreurs who was both articulate and insightful. She suggested that it was important to work on regional and global levels and not just local and national. She also asked us to question our structures of process and gave the example of Asia which had in fact been less participatory in economic decisions but was far better at strategic long term decision making. She, like members of the candlelight conversation, said that risks and experimentation were vital for innovation to occur.

Perhaps what was so interesting about this session was the idea that the future had real possibilities, and it ranged from dystopia to a utopia. In the first plenary session Marjolein van Asselt suggested that the future is open but futures are also in the making so we are always dealing with dual characteristics. This idea came up again in this session and the tension between waiting and urgency forcing you down one road but once you are on that road, your options narrow and the further down you go, the less options you have. There is always a chance to do things differently though. In Yes minister a character says “In government, many people have the power to stop things happening but almost nobody has the power to make things happen.” At its heart, democracy was never set up to simply reactive, it was to be proactive. It is by proactivity that we will make mistakes but it is also by the same urgent sword that we can make fundamental changes to the world.