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What Does It Mean to Develop a Policy Possibility?

What does it mean to develop a policy possibility? And why do we spend so much time doing it in our sanctuary projects?

Most IF projects follow the same discussion process: the panelists first develop concerns that Americans may have about the issue; they then select the concerns that they think would be the most useful for the public to discuss; they then generate an initial list of policy possibilities to address those concerns; and then focus their efforts upon developing those policy possibilities; and finally they discuss the actions that might be taken to implement each possibility, and the possible effects of those implementations.

The panelists in my project have spent most of their time exploring and developing policy possibilities. So have the panelists in the projects that I have observed. I think they have done this, because it is important to have coherent, clear, and internally consistent policy possibilities, and because it often takes a bit of time and thought to work out the kinks in our initial efforts. We thus review each possibility several times to clarify what it means, what it is intended to accomplish, and the reasons why someone might propose it. Earlier I said that our possibilities are coherent, clear, and internally consistent. The ‘internally consistent’ part of it applies to each individual possibility, and it is important to remember that the possibilities could be inconsistent with each other.

We develop the different policies by exploring many different questions including:

What concern or concerns is this policy possibility trying to address?

What are the beliefs, values, goals, and interests that motivate it?

Why might someone want to support such a possibility?

How does it differ from the other possibilities that we are developing?


The description of each possibility is constantly being revised in light of our discussions as the panelists revisit it, over and again, with an eye towards clarifying what it means¾ so that the ‘final’ description of the possibility often bears only a faint resemblance to the possibility that they initially began to develop.

By discussing possible answers to these questions the panelists are trying to get at the reasoning behind each possibility. If done properly, the possibilities that appear in the report will emanate from fundamentally different worldviews, philosophies, and ways of life. It is useful to prepare such conceptually contrasting policy possibilities for the public to discuss, because there are a great variety of people in America with different beliefs, concerns, interests, values, and goals¾and because we need to understand the intellectual diversity that exists in America, and integrate it in our political discourse, if we want our democracy to continue to thrive.