close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

September 30, 2020

Reasoned policy matters

Opinion

September 30, 2020

Public policy in Pakistan is ubiquitous and impactful. To gauge the net impact of the seventy plus years of policymaking, we can look to see where the sum total of public polices has left us standing. For instance, how does Pakistan compare with other countries in levels of corruption, intolerance, malnutrition, infant mortality, incidence of polio, violence against women, illiteracy and poverty?

The answer, unfortunately, is that we do not compare too well with too many countries. One way to improve the quality of policymaking in the future is to further privilege reason in the decision-making process. There are many decision-making tools that draw on mechanisms of reasoning and understanding the complexities, strengths and limitations of these tools and then appropriately using them can certainly contribute to more reasonable future policymaking in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, like most other countries, the consequences of policies are widespread and they affect lives in very impactful ways. Policy decisions taken by different levels of the government are conspicuously reflected in the everyday life of a Pakistani. Policy decisions decide the cost of a unit of electricity, rates of income taxes, state of healthcare, quality of educational institutions, adequacy of piped water supply, frequency of garbage collection, etc. Notwithstanding the impact of policy on the population, in general, it appears that there is little understanding in the public of the intricacies of the policy decision-making processes. To supplement for the lack of meaningful public sphere communication, we need to look towards promoting better-reasoned processes of policymaking.

In policymaking, as is in life, every decision taken has a cost. Though this truism has instinctive appeal, it is not bereft of complexity. The benefit-cost analysis (BCA) or the cost-benefit analysis approach takes the estimated costs of a certain action and compares these costs with benefits that might accrue to decide whether to take the action or not. BCA can also be used as a tool for comparing alternative actions and it can be used at various stages of the policy process. It can be a basis for deciding whether to draft a certain policy or start a certain program and it can also be used to decide to continue, discontinue or revise an existing policy.

The philosophical foundations of the benefit-cost approaches draw on utilitarianism and these approaches saw practical application in decision processes during the first half of the 20th century, notably by the US Army Corps of Engineers. In terms of complexity, firstly, the calculation of quantifiable benefits and costs is sometimes difficult to do. There may be difficulties in resolving questions of intangibility and uncertainty. Many psychological and social benefits and costs are intangible and hard to quantify. Long-term environmental impact may be hard to gauge. Also, the uncertainty aspect comes into play because the calculations of costs and benefits extend into the future and thus are risk-laden.

Second, a complex facet of this nature of analysis is that within the population that is affected by the consequences of a policy decision, all will not be uniformly impacted. In some cases, a certain policy decision may be beneficial for most individuals in a certain population but there may be some who are negatively impacted. Such situations may raise the need to compensate those negatively impacted to an extent that they lend their support to the policy.

To better understand the utilization of the BCA method, we can look at a practical example. Healthy ageing is commonly believed to be beneficial for individual older adults and for welfare states that provide healthcare to their older citizens. To better apply this belief in the policy decision-making process we need something that is better reasoned. Stronger reasoning necessitates fact-based quantifiable support.

Such support could be provided, for example, by the 2003 research study conducted by the University of Washington that looked at the changes in healthcare cost for older adults who participated in a community-based exercise program and compared these with the costs for similar older adults who did not participate in an exercise program. The researchers found an almost 20 percent reduction in the healthcare costs of those who participated. Even though there may be other intangible benefits and costs that are a consequence of the participation or lack of participation, still this research does manage to provide a relevant basis for decision-making.

Benefit or healthcare cost saving could be used as one of the inputs to help take a well-reasoned decision about financing a new community-based exercise program for older adults in communities where these research results are applicable to the population.

A better quality of life for the population in general needs better-reasoned policy decisions. Appropriately using tools that are based on mechanisms of reasoning can help in taking better decisions.

Perhaps these tools are being used to some extent in policy circles but the point is to expand the influence of reasoned policymaking in Pakistan by better understanding and more appropriately using such tools. To make better policy in Pakistan in the future, we must further privilege reason in our policy decision-making processes.

The writer heads a university-based policy centre in Islamabad.