Towards a collective recognition of common goods

Inclusive Economy27 Sep 2011Patricia Almeida Ashley

Patricia Almeida Ashley advocates for a participative policy making approach that embraces complexity thinking: from the mechanical view of “dots” towards the quantum physics view of  “waves”

A deconstruction of the mechanical view of “dots” and a change to “waves”, networks and relations in the way we conceive processes and results of policy, is what I recommend. We should apply a bird’s eye view—as Escher practiced and taught us through his drawings—to see a multi-level, multi-actor, territorial and integral approach for development agencies and philanthropic foundations. When I mention a focus on “waves instead of dots” in the policy making process and in evaluating policy results, this is an analogy that draws on quantum physics instead of mechanic physics. Here, I am hinting at a conception of policy making that is embedded in network-territories of relations as expressed by its principles, methods, targets, goals, and impacts. It includes explicit stakeholder engagement throughout the entire process of policy conception, planning, implementation and evaluation, by means of a truly participative and democratic process.

When I mention participation, I do not mean only at the beginning or at the end of a policy development process in a one- or two-day large-scale event that gathers the type of representatives that are used to being invited for consultation rounds. These big events in a “dots” approach are commonly used by local government in countries where, traditionally, policy making is technocratic or even autocratic, and serve the purpose of reproducing new drafts of more or less the same policy document (“só para ingles ver”). In this approach, government representatives organize a series of meetings with community leaders, business representatives, politicians, consultants and/or academics. They then tend to ask for listed priorities in their neighborhood without any previous knowledge sharing or building with participants on the urban and rural economic, social, environmental and institutional indicators of development and, hence, the outcomes are mainly based on the limited perceptions of individual stakeholder views as “dots” within a municipality.

Alternatively, complexity thinking in a “wave” approach requires a proper participative process of policy making. From the beginning of the policy process, appropriate methods and language for knowledge building and sharing from a multi-level analysis are needed, both from spatial and temporal perspectives (from “dots” to “waves”, from person to people, from organizations to networks, from human to nature, from business to markets and societies and humanity, from time to history, from local to regional, national and global, from material to energy levels). This will help to consider a collective recognition of common goods as public multi-generational interests (“waves”), instead of the exclusive perspective of subjective perception based on who speaks loudest to make his or her point of view more powerfully than others (“dots”).