Roberto Alvarez, QMGPI Senior Policy Fellow and Executive Director of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils (GFCC), follows on from his previous blog post on the complexity and reality of policymaking and policy cycles with some potential solutions.
In my previous blog post, I shared a few insights about the importance of coordination in the policy domain. I called attention to the fact that middle-income nations require more effort to coordinate policy than advanced and least-developed economies. The ideas were originated in my own experience in the policy arena, particularly in the industrial, innovation and economic development spaces. Nevertheless, I suspect they can also be applied to other domains.
Understanding the situation is important but not enough for those involved in policy work. What can be done to improve the situation? How can nations better address the challenges of coordination? Here are a few ideas focused on industrial, innovation and economic development policies.
That is, at the President's or Prime Minister's office. This is fundamental for industrial, innovation and economic development policies in middle-income countries, as changes in economic structures and institutions require political capital that is only available at the 'center of power'.
...and are not dominated by vested interests. Any policy or strategy should aim at structural transforming of the economy, while most trade business associations tend to have agendas that aim to conserve the competitive position of incumbent industries and players, not represent the voices of those who are disrupting industries and bringing to life new technologies and business models. Striking a balance in representation is an art.
Leaders must not delegate, in any hypothesis, their leadership and participation in governance bodies, at all levels. The President or Prime Minister must attend meetings of the highest-level forum, and only the leaders individually nominated to governance bodies can participate in meetings. Representatives should never be accepted – if that happens once, the leadership profile is likely to quickly degenerate over time, with 'having a representative' becoming the norm.
...and hands-on knowledge about technology, business, and industry dynamics to play the role of policy secretariat. The capacity to mediate positions is a function of power, relational capabilities, and relevant expertise and in-depth knowledge about the themes, business models, technologies and the dynamics of the industries being addressed. It is fundamental for the team to understand business and innovation strategy of new industries to be able to discuss policy content with all players and mediate positions. Knowledge matters.
Policy content should not be the sum of loosely connected inputs from the different stakeholders that have voice in the process. An industrial, innovation or economic development policy should not be about legitimating or providing an umbrella to the various programs and initiatives that different agencies have. If needed, forget those. If the process is loosely managed, many stakeholders will display a tendency to operate to legitimise what they already do. When the subject comes to industrial, innovation and development policies, what is needed is a coherent set of initiatives that can directly contribute to overarching goal of advancing economic transformation, not business as usual.
The simpler and more easily communicated the 'theory of change', initiatives, goals and metrics associated to the policy, the easier it will be to align perspectives, gain support, engage various stakeholders. Communication is chief, within the government structure, and with industry and society. Have a team in charge and invest to have clear constructs (and documents) that are easy to explain and communicate to all concerned stakeholders. Clarity is fundamental.
Industrial, innovation and economic development policies may involve dozens or even hundreds of projects and initiatives, executed by various stakeholders. A sound management model is needed to keep track of the different initiatives, their progress, barriers, results, etc. Such a model needs to include IT tools, clear roles, processes, and reporting lines. To be implemented, it demands a team of project managers, digital experts, and other professionals.
This list of recommendations was never thought to be exhaustive or provide a recipe applicable to all contexts. It results from empirical observations over the years and the possibilities to adopt even a few of those will depend on the availability of resources and practical constraints to which all real policy exercises are subjected to – in middle-income countries and elsewhere. Coordinating policy is more easily talked and written about than executed. In practice, it is a big challenge.
Governments juggle with many topics and priorities and opening space to focus on one theme or area is always challenging. On top of that, comes the issue about the resources the governments have in hand. Middle- and low-income nations are much more constrained than advanced economies – in many cases they don't have the capabilities, the skills, the personnel, the tools that are needed for the task. Finally, policy efforts are limited by politics and political governance.
There is not a thing like the 'one solution' in public policy and one of the intents of this post was to initiate a conversation. What does your experience in policy tell? What are your thoughts or recommendations? How can countries improve policy coordination? What would you recommend to middle-income countries in places like Latin America? Please share your thoughts on Twitter - my handle is @robertoalvarez and you can also mention @QMGPI or @thegfcc - I would love to continue the conversation!
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