A need for smarter policy making

Anticipatory policy discussions are flourishing in Norway about what will be the next foundation for the
economy after oil is phased out. Could green tech or data as a resource have the potential to generate economic wealth and be the new oil? What if a Norwegian version of the Nordic trust-based governance model could be an export success for other countries to adopt and adapt?

Petra Andersen for Forskningspolitikk

The future is impossible to predict, and we must therefore prepare for new and various policy scenarios. This need is further emphasized by the increasing number of complex societal challenges that requires unconventional policy making efforts across the traditional policy sectors, and between different actors in society. Norway needs smarter national policy making for societal challenges.

Holistic governance

To succeed in this endeavor, we must step out of our comfort zones, incentivize joint challenges, and apply a whole-of-government approach. The mission-oriented policies for tackling grand challenges like the climate crisis require both a bottom-up and a top-down approach allowing for continuous policy experimentation.

Mission-based policy making starts with a joint understanding of common goals and requires a cross-ministerial participation and involvement of a wider society as missions are defined.

We must de-risk new policy ideas and actions by testing them and reduce the fear of failure. Experimentation allows policies to be piloted, and agile methods adjustments can be made and the costs reduced before policies are scaled out.

Smart policy making

Around the world, governments use smart policy making approaches that allow for participatory, data-informed, and quick policy making. Picking the right tool or method to develop an evidence-based policy, is not always easy, but there is experience from other countries to learn from (UK, Australia).

Policy labs are well known and are run in many countries and contribute to bringing evidence and data closer to policymaking. Over the recent years policy labs have engaged citizens to contribute to open conversation on different cross-policy topics. This process of participation serves to build collaborative working models with communities and is establishing trust in society.

The power of the Ministry of Finance

In national policy making, the Ministry of Finance exercises budgetary control over all ministries. The mighty power of this ministry tends to demotivate other ministries to co-create, and the ministries struggle with a cross-ministry accountability mechanism for joint policy making.

Another barrier for joint policy making, is the challenge of measuring long-term effects and the social value created. Estimating how much a policy action will bring about many years in the future is difficult, and not all economic results will be visible as budget cuts for next year.

We need new ways of measuring impact to improve policy making.

All can make a difference

Urgent external challenges are often drivers for policy innovation, but each employee can make a difference. Remember that change is about doing. Technological development is an accelerator and enabler of change, and acting combined with an experimental mindset will make employees overcome cultural and organizational barriers.

Gone are the days when a few ministry advisors developed policies without any interaction
with the outside world. Still, more cross-ministerial policy making is needed to avoid policy traps, and to secure that national policy making is aligned with an increasingly complex and connected world.

We must be consciously aware and contribute to the culture shift in the way policymaking occurs.

Photo: Photo Concepts/Getty