Sometimes, when you have an in-depth conversation with someone about certain issues, there’s a process of talking out loud and in doing so, your scattered thoughts on certain issues congeal and are aggregated to form an actual viewpoint. I enjoyed such a conversation recently with a reader of the Black Iris, and in doing so I realized something I had concluded long ago and figured was worth articulating here.
Students of public policy are required to constantly look at the evolution of policy: from its inception to its formation to its implementation to its evaluation. In Jordan, the first two stages are always the easiest and in their most simplest and apparent form, they generally go something like this: a single party will observe a problem and complain about it, the complaint reaches the King who publicly orders the government to do something about it, the Royal Court handles the technical details privately and orders the government what to do. At this point, if the policy is implemented in the form of say an initiative or program, it is carried out by a single Ministry; if it is in the form of legislation, it will go to Parliament for approval, amendment or rejection.
The scenarios and players will some times differ, but the above scene reflects the ongoings of the larger scale productions.
Now what comes next?
This is where our country tends to run in to a lot of trouble: the ability to review or evaluate a public policy with the objective of actually seeing if there are tangible results. Policy evaluation generally allows the government to conclude whether the problem is being fixed or not. In this way, we are able to have sustainable public policies.
To give an infamous example that is common in Jordan.
The problem of computer illiteracy in Jordanian public schools has been addressed several times over the past few years. There was a famous photo of a public classroom in Jordan where a bunch of computers, still in their boxes, were piled at the back of the room, unopened, untouched, unused, gathering dust. To work backwards, the policy probably went something like this: a party complained that students did not have access to computers, the King ordered the government to do something about it, the government struck a deal with a computer company to provide for the facilities (perhaps spending millions in the process), the company delivered the hardware and the problem was declared solved.
No one thought to perhaps, open the boxes. Or to put it in non-sarcastic terms: no one thought to partner up with an international company such as Microsoft or IBM, perhaps as part of their corporate social responsibility drive, and set up an actual organization whose sole purpose is to implement a nation-wide campaign to go into the schools and teach these kids how to use computers. A program that is not based on a single short-term course, but an actual long-term initiative based on levels, where students continue to advance in computer knowledge as they progress in school years. No one thought to start school competitions to encourage project-based learning or even e-learning.
Another infamous example is energy.
Not only are we a water-stricken nation, but we are energy barren as well. The move towards the nuclear option is a long term goal that everyone knows will probably be inherited by Khaled Toukan’s children’s children. Why are regulations not put into place, implemented, regulated and monitored? In many countries around the world (ironically those that have energy), regulators will often go from home to home to ensure energy compliances are in order. As I’ve argued before, large-scale development projects should have strict guidelines to adhere to when it comes to providing some self-sufficiency with regards to energy.
The list of examples is endless.
Some might argue that the main obstacle to comprehensive public policies is funding. However I am certain that given the amount of money given to Jordan by various countries and organizations, for a variety of projects (some of which are quite wasteful), I would think the state could sell the idea of the bigger concepts like education, energy and health care.
So why do things, as Yeats would put it, fall apart?
Policy implementation and evaluation is so complex and bureaucratic in Jordan (when it is present) that often times we will see a three-tier system of supervision. For instance, Parliamentary committees will have committees that monitor the work of other committees and so on and so forth.
Training is one aspect. How well are government employees trained to carry out on-the-ground policy initiatives. Is their coordination; a large drawing board some place some where? How well are they paid? Are their time frames for consistent return evaluations?
In many cases there is confusion as to who is responsible for what. Often, you’ll see government entities passing the responsibility to one another, like a hot potato no one wants to get caught holding. This results in the policy, or problem itself, falling through the cracks.
The blueprints need to be redrawn and an actual mechanism of policy creation, analysis, implementation and evaluation needs to put into place, inclusive of alternatives and quantitative methodologies. Responsibilities need to be designated. Extensive training needs to be conducted. The public needs to be heavily involved, in the form of a public forum where people can air out their concerns and feedback directly.
The list of solutions is also endless and until a high-level restructuring takes place, public policy in Jordan is like solving the problem of an empty bucket by filling it with water, all the while ignoring the gapping hole at the bottom of the bucket.