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Policy making steps
“The person who made this skatepark is not a skater. It won’t work,”
When local youth shot down the design of a future skatepark, a Danish town’s Mayor had an epiphany: the traditional top down approach to public policy making was starting to show cracks.
And what was true for skating was true for all other areas of policy: failing to include citizen’s knowledge meant making mistakes that not only cost public administration precious resources and time, but can produce policy that can feel disconnected, slow or even plain stupid. Bad policy also provides ammunition to various ideologues seeking to upend representative democracy.
“What I realized is that we make so many mistakes because we don’t talk to the people who actually use the service.”
To ensure public policy maximizes its effectiveness and legitimacy, the Danish city of Gentofte, a town north of Copenhagen, radically changed how it makes decisions by creating a new way of enhancing dialogue between citizens and politicians: “Political Task Committees”.
Today, the application of Political Task Committees has grown well beyond skateparks and reshaped how local representative democracy functions everyday, with reaching implications for youth policy, professional insertion for refugees, health and wellbeing, ways to make the city green and sustainable, and a plan for turning libraries into cultural hubs.
“Council members also were yearning both for more power to change things locally, and for deeper conversations with their citizens.”
Surveys from 2016 and 2021 have shown some encouraging results for the 42 PTCs organized. They have produced tangible changes. Politicians, citizens, and public administrators who facilitate find that the committees support the development of a more nuanced understanding of the problems at hand, and provide input and stimulate discussions that lead to innovative policy ideas and strategies for carrying them out.
The mayor transformed how the city council makes decisions using the PTC model to enhance discussion between citizens, politicians and administrators.
PTC are free to organize the way they work, with one guiding principle: maximize the diversity of the minds around the table.
Their core is composed of 5 politicians from different parties, and 10 citizens. To ensure that the 10 citizens are both diverse and able to contribute valuable input, they are chosen according to “competence profiles.” Citizens sign up to join a PTC if they recognize themselves in a profile, and consider they have useful insights on a given PTC’s topic. Operations last 6 to 8 months.
Politicians decide which problems PTCs should be tackling through open discussions during “inspiration seminars”.
To better understand a problem and generate solutions, PTC members gather input from communities with an interest in the issue in various ways:
PTC’s meet monthly, and supplement these regular meetings with smaller working-group sessions with a subset of participants, and a variety of thematic events where other citizens or politicians contribute to the discussions.
Political Task Committees (PTC):
A task committee is a political working procedure passed by the city council where citizens and politicians co-operate on different subjects to produce recommendations for policies and strategies related to subjects prioritized by the city council. Deliberations in PTCs last several months, during which the committees have access to institutional support and rich opportunities to seek input from various sources of expertise at different stages.
Collective Political Intelligence:
Collective Political Intelligence refers to the study of how increased collaboration between government and citizens can improve public policy quality and legitimacy. This involves accepting disagreements as an integral part of pluralistic society, what it would require to make decisions that satisfy several views, and what the costs would be of making decisions that generate losses for others. CPI implies vertical dialogue between citizens and politicians, meaning it relies on politicians that can exercise a particular kind of interactive leadership that thrives on extensive and close dialogue with citizens on the substance of policy, and aims to integrate this activity in the institutional architecture of the policy-making process.
A key notion in innovation is how you bridge different fields of knowledge and increase acceptance for your ideas. Politicians began to function as “boundary spanners” between the PTCs and traditional city institutions, with the result that policy proposals developed in the former stood a better chance of gaining recognition within the political system as a whole.
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