Presented by Dr. Valentina Dinica

Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

Participatory Policy Analysis (PPA). A seminar on the potential usefulness of PPA models in helping develop optimal solutions to ‘wicked’ policy problems.Valentina gave an overview of the philosophical ideas behind why we might use participatory tools in policy development – essentially asking why, how and when should/could citizens be involved in the policy process – and the barriers to using such methods.The role of policy analysts as so-called objective experts, and their ability to be able to objectively measure or evaluate (think Cost Benefit Analyses etc) was questioned – which was interesting as this can underly arguments against public participation in decision-making processes.She also presented a case study of the Consensus Conference tool, which has been used extensively in Denmark and was (apparently very shoddily) used in NZ in 1996 and 1999 in the development of GM food policy.

Philosophical basis

Policy analysis is full of assumptions, traditionally these are positivist i.e. objectivist and determinist

Positivist Post-Positivist
Reality is independent of our observations i.e. Objectivism Relativity and contextuality of modern physics
Determinism i.e. measurability Uncertainties and indeterminacy i.e. Einstein and the General Theory of Relativity
Foundations in Newtonian principles of science c.17C Quantum theory and the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg
Positivism can be considered a cultural belief ‘the very process of measurement creates that which we measure’

Examples of common positivist assumptions in policy:

  • ‘evidence-based policy decisions’
  • Fact-value dichotomy
  • ‘it’s got to have numbers’ non-sense
  • Risk-benefit analyses in instances such as NIMBY problems, biotech risks and other policy failures

Implications for policy analysis

Positivist Post-Positivist
Policy experts/advisors Citizens and stakeholders next to policy experts and scientists
Scientists ‘Optimal’ not ‘best’ solutions
Quantitative Participatory Policy Analysis
Cost-benefit analyses Qualitative

Matching PPA models to meet challenges

  • Consensus conference – live or internet
  • Scenario workshops
  • Parable to policy/narrative policy
  • Simulations/themes ‘highlander method’
  • Electronic meeting systems

Questions to ask:
Who are the actors?
Who does what/has what role?
Competencies of policy analysts relative to other stakeholders
At which stages are different actors allowed involvement and how is this valued?

Actors being:

  • political decision-makers
  • technical experts/scientists
  • citizens
  • policy advisors
  • (note that lobby groups are a significant other actor)

‘Flows’ between actors – what is being exchanged?

  • Knowledge, data, scientific findings
  • Values, perceptions, insights, worries, questions etc
  • Policy recommendations

The ‘sense’ of the flow – from who to who?

Some insights from cognitive science – interesting to consider in relation to how we see things and implications for policy development

Cupboard brains Fuzzy brains
Positivist Post-Postitivist
Binary focus See the grey
Evolutionary advantage – also aligned with neo-liberal and economic models Beyond fact-value dichotomy
Interestingly, more associated with women and old people…


In Positivist policy development

In positivist policy development, typically, values and goals, scientific data and information flow in one direction only, from policy analysts and experts to citizens. Citizens are only recipients of data/info.

In post-positivist policy development, the model looks the same but questions, clarifications, insights, information, and importantly, policy recommendations flow from citizens back to political decision-makers.

Although this is a simplified model, this distinction is important to understand, as it does touch on key differences in the ways in which citizens are/can be involved in policy development.

One participatory tool – the Consensus Conference

  • developed in the US, used in Demark 22 times between ’97 – ’02
  • involves an
    • advisory committee – 8-10ppl from diverse groups, an overseeing role
    • citizens panel – 10-20ppl, ask questions of experts, diverse views, backgrounds
    • experts panel – citizen elected
  • 3-4 days debate and deliberation
  • Citizens chose the questions to ask of experts
  • Time prior to conference to orient with issues
  • Final report is widely published following press conference

Used in Denmark in 1999. Used, for example, around GM food policy. Consensus is not forced, rather exploration of the extent to which agreement is possible is encouraged.

It was used in NZ in ’96, then ’99, however the conference became more about awareness raising and educating citizens than having genuine feedback from citizens.

‘When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ – so true!