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How to Evaluate an IF Policy Possibility—Part 4

Once you have a basic understanding of the policy possibility, the reasoning behind it, and whether and to what extent it is likely to work, the final step is to decide whether and to what extent you support it. Thus far we have focused a lot upon trying to understand the possibility on its own terms. But this is where the process of evaluation boils down to whether or not it works on your terms. It is also where it becomes most complicated. This is because there are many different terms that you can call your own, and hence many different reasons why you might oppose a policy possibility or support it.

You might not want to support a possibility if, for example, you think that you don’t fully understand what it means; or that you don’t understand the reasoning behind it; or that you don’t share the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests that inspired it; or that it will not really do what it is supposed to do.

A disconnect at any link of this chain could be a deal-breaker.

Feeling that you do not understand what the possibility means or that you do not understand the reasoning behind it is, or should be, an immediate deal breaker. You may not understand it because it isn’t clearly explained, or because you haven’t put enough work into understanding it, or because it just doesn’t make sense. But regardless of the reason why, supporting a possibility that you don’t understand is just like writing a blank check.

But let’s suppose that you do understand what the possibility means and the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests behind it. That alone will not, or at least should not, garner your support —unless you also share those concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests.

You may understand a policy possibility well enough and oppose it precisely because you do understand it—and do not share the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests (any one of them will do) that motivate it. This is often the primary reason why people oppose a policy possibility. Not because they don’t understand it—as its proponents would always want you to believe—but because they understand it all too well.

But you may also refuse to support a policy possibility—even if you share each and every one of the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests that motivate it—if you think that it has little or no chance of doing what it is supposed to do.

You may think that it’s a truly, truly wonderful and inspirational ideal, but that it’s pie-in-the-sky to think that it could possibly work.

Here, you might conclude that in order to thoughtfully support a policy possibility you have to understand what it means, including the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests that have led people to propose it; share all or at least most of those concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests; and think that the possibility is likely to do all or at least most of what it is supposed to do.

If only life were so simple! For even then, you might still decide not to support it—if, for example, you think that there is another policy possibility that is also consistent with your own concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests—and even more likely to do what it is supposed to do, and perhaps even more of what you think actually needs to be done.

But even this is just the tip of the iceberg. For politics can be a very dirty business, and you might also decide to support a policy possibility that you think is unlikely to do what it is supposed to do precisely because you do not share the concerns, beliefs, values, goals, and interests that have led people to support it—and would like to see it fail.

‘Let the dogs have their day’, you might think, ‘and we’ll see if anyone still trusts them or votes for them again once they see how it turns out’.

All of this—together with the need to understand a policy possibility and the reasoning behind it on their own terms, and the need to assess whether and to what extent it is likely to have its intended consequences—is what makes the business of evaluating a policy possibility so challenging. We hope that our public discussions and their facilitators will help by enabling you to hear what your friends and neighbors think about the possibilities in our reports. But you ultimately have to decide for yourself, and we hope that you will accept the challenge and make the effort to think carefully through each possibility when you evaluate them.