Open Policy Making Team
Doing good policy-making at pace – could the ‘agile’ approach help?
It’s a much-observed fact that the policy environment often moves faster than the typical months-long (or even years-long) process that generates a published policy document, like a white paper. In this IFG evidence paper, a range of interviewees made clear that existing guidance and models of policy-making are too distant from real-world policy-making to be useful.
An effective policy-maker must be able to do good work, again and again, at pace – all the while making sure they have enough the time to do this ‘openly’. It’s not easy.
There’s a lot of interest amongst those we’ve spoken to inside and outside government, and from governments overseas, in the applicability of ‘agile’ development and project management techniques to the policy process. We’re interested in whether a broader understanding of this may help policy-makers to work openly and innovatively – but quickly and without undermining quality.
Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the US, in a recent interview set out how his understanding of the technique, and how it could ‘unleash innovation’ in Government (you can read the full interview here):
“Todd Park: Yes—fanning the flames of entrepreneurship in the government by using a philosophy called “lean start-up.” Government is obviously not a start-up, but initiatives to effect change are best thought of as start-ups: you want a small interdisciplinary team, you want to go to market with the simplest possible thing that consumers will actually use so that you can start learning from actual experience and then iterate rapidly. Cycle times of updating your product are days or weeks—not months—long.
“Contrast this with the traditional mode of making change happen in a large organization, which is the “waterfall” process: spend six months coming up with some brilliant strategy, another six months doing a great operational plan, then six more months building a great systems plan. A year and a half later or more, you launch an aircraft carrier that sinks immediately.
“The mode of operation I used at HHS was not waterfall—it was the iterative, rapid-prototyping process. It worked incredibly well.”
We’d be really interested to hear what you think. Would a better understanding of ‘agile’ approaches help you and your colleagues in advising ministers? Where have you seen it work best?
Open Policy Making Team, Cabinet Office