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Policy Geek Posts

Taking a Break

I have been running a blog of one sort or another since 1998. Recently, I have found myself struggling with being able to develop posts that I was happy putting out on the internet. Eventually, I started to feel guilty for my lack of effort on this blog. I have made the decision to take a break from the blog and focus my efforts more on the policy analyst tools I’m developing and collaborating on. I also want to take stock of what it is I’d like to write about and whether this focus is appropriate.

Thanks to everyone who sent kind words with regard to my little break to reset It means a lot. I will still be around and still be opinionated, I just won’t be posting here for a while. I’m looking forward to the break and being able to better define my goals. Thank you for your patience.

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Jump in!

Whenever I finish a major milestone or project, I often feel a bit of sadness that I don’t get to work on it anymore. I think this is because I tend to jump in wholeheartedly for each new project. That said, my patented method for dealing with this feeling of emptiness is to just ask anyone who will listen if they could use help. Poke colleagues, friends, family, and twitter-folk. There are always people trying to do interesting things and they’re under-resourced.

If you have a project that you think could benefit from a hobbyist coder, economic analyst, and general public policy wonk, let me know!

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What do I want to do with this blog?

I have been writing a blog since early 1998, and I have often went through both the feast and famine aspects of creativity.  For some time, I have felt underwhelmed by this blog and have often let it go months or even a year between posts. 

I really don’t want this to be the case.  I have a lot of things I’m interested in and would like to share with others, but there are several factors affecting my ability to write.

  • I originally set out to write a blog about policy analysis, specifically in the Canadian regulatory context.  This is a very niche topic and generates very little to no engagement. 
  • I am disappointment by my ability to reach people and learn new things.  This is, of course, due to the lack of content. This one hits a littler harder than you might think. It makes me confront questions from my ability to commit to projects and how much value I derive from others, rather than doing the work.
  • About a two years ago, I took on a new role at a different department and found that I was in no position to think or write about work after a long day.
  • I started getting back into programming and developing useful tools to help my team and hopefully others.  This meant even less time for writing.

When I think about what is happening, I know that it’s mostly negative introspection and constant comparison to the may great writers I follow that are getting in the way.

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

Barbara Kingsolver

Just rereading this list of barriers makes me hopefully that I can move past them.  Here are some ideas of ways that I can help get back into the habit of writing:

  • Change the topic from just policy analysis of regulatory affairs to all matters of policy.  This would allow me to write about all manner of topics and examine them from a policy perspective or a distributional lens.
  • Write.  Just write something.  Sometimes getting started is all it takes.  So I will try to write three posts no matter how big or small a week for four weeks and re-evaluate how it’s going.
  • Remember that writing gives me a sense of accomplishment and I really enjoy writing content that people have opinions about as I love learning new things.  While I may not feel like writing some days, if I get back in the habit, I will likely feel positively about it again.
  • The final idea I had was to invite other authors to write on Policy Geek.  I could convert the site to a bilingual site and ask any public servants who want a place to write that they can help author content and hopefully build a community of people who like to share their thoughts.

If you know anyone that wants a place to publish their writing publicly, but may not have the resources, or desire to manage a content management system by themselves, let them know that I’m looking at adding authors to the site.  A best case scenario for me would be to generate interesting conversation and learning opportunities for people who write for or read the site.

Today is August 11th, 2021.  I’m going to try these for a month and I will re-evaluate how I want to handle the site going forward. Hopefully by then I will have a better idea of how I want to run the site going forward. I’m happy to hear any other ideas you have on how to move forward.

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Policy for the Real World

Policy analysis comes in many forms, but in all of them, the goal is the development of a policy based on evidence that supports the objectives of the organization. Often, the subject matter experts are removed from the policy analysts in regulatory affairs. This often leads to situations where program areas seek to amend regulations without a clear articulable understanding of the purpose or the potential impacts.

In the policy paper template we use, the first question on the first page is:

In one sentence answer the following question “What real-world problem are you trying to solve?”

This question is so important because the difficulty of summarizing the problem in one sentence is inversely related to how much thought you’ve put into problem definition. In my experience, a well-articulated problem and objective are the single-biggest indicators of a program area that is ready to begin the regulatory process.

Regulatory amendments can only operate within the existing legislative framework and political environment. While many situations do necessitate regulatory change, more do not. During the intake and research process, after problem definition, nothing is more important that a complete review and understanding of all non-regulatory options that could achieve the same objective. Examples of common non-regulatory options:

  • Administrative alternatives under the current legislative framework;
  • Performance or incentive-based regulation;
  • Self-regulation ;
  • Market-based Instruments; and
  • Information and Education.

The regulatory process is long and relatively complex. Before undertaking a regulatory change, it’s important to be sure that the alternatives have been thoroughly considered. When regulatory options are chosen, there should be a clear rationale as to how it is superior to the non-regulatory initiatives. Oftentimes taking a less ‘command and control’ approach to regulating a sector can yield less stakeholder opposition and more collaboration between the program area and their stakeholders. Finally, most non-regulatory options are considerably less resource-expensive to implement, for both the Government and the regulated sector.

As a policy analyst in the regulatory affairs sector, one would think that I’d be the first one to see a regulatory solution to a policy problem. Instead, I spend the initial phase of intake trying to convince my colleagues to exhaustively consider all the alternatives before proceeding with regulations.

This has additional benefits of ensuring the most cost-effective solution that maximizes net benefits, ideally to the Government as well as stakeholders. As stewards of the public purse, civil servants have a duty to ensure that Government funds are used in the most effective way to achieve policy outcomes for Canada and Canadians.

Finally, the investigation of the core of the problem and all of the alternative solutions provides decision-makers with a significantly better data about impacts. It assists with the Triage Statement and RIAS development phases because everyone has reviewed, analyzed, and documented all of the policy options and their respective effects.

As a regulator, it may seem counterintuitive that I always start by ensuring my clients can convince me that regulating is the best way to achieve their objectives. That’s why all of my regulatory consultations begin with question “In one sentence tell me ‘what is the real-world problem that you are trying to solve?'”

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