First, IF reports neither make recommendations nor aim for consensus. Most of the public policy reports produced today end with a list of things that must be done to avert Armageddon. It is true that IF reports often include lists of ‘possible implementations’, but they are—as the title suggests—mere illustrations of how a conceptual possibility might be implemented. Our reports do not recommend that our citizens or policy makers adopt any of the conceptual possibilities in them—but only that they consider them at their leisure. There is, moreover, no consensus in our reports on what the problems are in an area of concern—or what their solutions might be—and there is no push for consensus about anything in our discussions.
Second, IF reports do not aim to solve any problems. Most policy reports are prepared in crisis situations to solve a specific and imminent problem. IF reports, on the other hand, give several different bird’s eye views of the conceptual landscape of an area of concern. They delineate the different concerns that people might have about them, the different conceptual policy possibilities for addressing them, their different possible implementations, and their different possible consequences. They are not stuffed with facts, numbers, and pictures intended to inform citizens about problems pertaining to our current policies. They are stuffed, instead, with different conceptual possibilities that are intended to provoke thoughtful discussion about an area of public policy concern. Each of these conceptual policy possibilities may raise their own special problems. But IF reports are not trying to solve their problems—they are simply trying to describe the different conceptual possibilities.
Third, IF reports are prepared by citizens for thoughtful public discussion among their fellow citizens. Most policy reports are prepared by policy experts for the purpose of advocating certain policy positions to policy makers. Our reports are prepared by two panels¾one consisting of experts in the area of concern and the other of interested citizens¾for the purpose of engendering thoughtful public discussion of a wide range of contrasting conceptual policy possibilities for dealing with the area of concern. This discussion may include policy makers, but they are not our primary audience.
Fourth, IF reports describe fundamentally different conceptual policy possibilities. Consider, for example, IF’s report on Privacy & Privacy Rights. This report explores different policy possibilities that emanate from four different concepts of privacy: 1) privacy as liberty, or the right to be left alone; 2) privacy as autonomy, or the right to control one’s thoughts and actions; 3) privacy as property, or the right to own information about oneself; and 4) privacy as secrecy, or the right to keep information about oneself confidential. It recognizes that Americans think about privacy in each of these senses, and it does not treat any of them as the correct definition of privacy or more fundamental than the others.
Finally, IF reports aim at improving our public policy choices by stimulating discussion about these deep and fundamental conceptual differences. The United States is a very diverse country. People not only look differently from each other, they have different experiences, values, goals, beliefs, interests, and ways of thinking. Your next-door neighbors might feel very different about their privacy, property, food choices or regulation than you do. They may also have fundamentally different policy preferences. And the aim of our reports is to explore and develop these differences so we can understand them better and, ultimately, make policy choices that better fit our own values, goals, beliefs, and interests.