Critical Thinking and Policy Development and Analysis

Critical Thinking and Policy Development and Analysis

Greenman House
Greenman House

This blog builds upon Part 4: Policy Development. It is the opening part of a series on critical thinking and policy development and analysis. It provides the framework, as shown in the opening figure, for policy development and analysis. Following parts will use this framework to assess some key US federal policies.

I suspect we have some significant issues in policy development and analysis at the federal level. The examples we will use in Follow-on parts will help to illustrate this problem. Roughly speaking, the drivers for this problem include:

I have seen firsthand some policy problems and failures. The causes of the problems and failures include:

  • Poorly defined policy objectives.
  • Poorly defined end state and success criteria.
  • Limited risk analysis, mitigation, and balancing.
  • Poorly designed processes to implement and assess the policy.

While the follow-on pieces will address specific policy problems, the table below summarizes key policies and their problems.

Table Example Policy Issues
Policy Issue(s)
Food quality The ostensible objective is to maintain a safe and healthy food supply. Yet obesity and other food related problems are exploding. Using ethanol in the fuel supply pulls corn away from food. What are the balancing metrics?
Drug Effectiveness The ostensible objective is to provide safe, effective, and affordable medications for the American people. Yet drug prices are high, effectiveness is sometimes questionable, and they often compromise safety. An example is Alzheimer’s drugs. Recent reporting shows they are not effective. Same with drugs for ADHD. The drugs are increasingly tainted with fentanyl and as we medicated our kids to make them pliable, are we risking death and future impairments?
War on Drugs The ostensible objective is to eliminate the flow of addictive illegal drugs in America. Yet drug deaths have continued to increase, and the flow of drugs is up, especially across porous borders. Drug trafficking organizations are strong and rich.
Poverty The ostensible objective is to ensure American citizens have a quality of life and the goods and services they need to maintain it. Yet between the New Deal and Great Society programs, we have spent trillions of dollars and poverty is still with us and by some metrics is getting worse. How do we define poverty? Are the current definitions dated? Why don’t the programs work?
Afghanistan The ostensible objective was to protect the American homeland from attack. Yet twenty years of combat took a toll on the American psyche. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan was problematic and left the Taliban in charge and potentially more dangerous than in 2001. The enormous expenditure of time, talent, and treasure spent in Afghanistan may have been better invested in the southern border and working to create more stable conditions in Latin America.

I used the term “ostensible object” in Table 1 because these objectives are not really clearly stated in publicly available documents. And in a Republic, where the citizens are owner operators, that is a huge problem.

The framework above provides a vehicle to address these problems and issues.

Table Policy Development and Analysis Framework
Component Description
Qualities (C3V2)
Critical Thinking Critical thinking provides the engine from policy development and analysis. See Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Key Components and Dimensions. Critical Thinking: Logic and Rationality Critical Thinking: Decisions and System 1 System 2 Thinking, Critical Thinking: Bounded Rationality and Time. The critical thinking framework and approach in these blogs is important for effective policies.
Competence In the age of Social Justice, where hiring, especially in the government, is based more on demographics than competence, competence is an issue. To the extent hiring focuses on demographics or surface diversity, it may sacrifice cognitive and technical skills. Critical thinking and the associated activities require cognitive capabilities, training, and experience. The social justice focus is on the surface rather than deep diversity, which emphasizes cognitive diversity. Effective policy development and analysis require cognitive diversity.
Credence and Veracity Credence and veracity are two sides of the same coin. Veracity is the truth, and credence is creating the conditions that convince people you are telling the truth. Like counterfeiters, policy-makers, however, can readily debase the credence and veracity coin. People hired for a specific trait often consciously or subconsciously shape their thoughts, decisions, and actions around this trait. On a conscious level, they may push programs that further this trait-focused agenda and perhaps compromise their veracity and rely on social engineering to prop up their credence. On a subconscious level, they may engage in several cognitive biases that could blind them to data and shape the way they see the environment. Regulatory capture may also skew policy and processes, and bureaucrats and legislators seek to please those they regulate in hopes of future lucrative jobs and campaign contributions.
Virtue The antidote for potential debasing is virtue. Virtue helps people rise above their trait-focused agendas and biases to do the right thing. See several blog entries on virtue: Virtue, Wherefore Art Thou?, Virtue: Honor and Integrity, Virtue Leadership and Power. and Virtue And Courtesy are Requirements for Effective Solution Development and a Healthy Society. Unfortunately, our society does not seem to teach and value virtue and the political process is almost based on compromising virtue to make deals.
Processes I discussed processes and process develop extensively in my book, Thrive in the Age of Knowledge. A policy is virtually meaningless without an implementing process or set of processes. The process(ess) needs to deliver the policy’s objectives and meet the desired end state. Therefore, the process needs to identify the factors and metrics to assess performance and achievement. They need to be instrumented to collect the data required to assess the metrics and evaluate them against established standards.
Data Data, by itself, holds little value. Rather, it is a foundational element to create information and actionable knowledge. As mentioned above, processes need to identify the data required for metric assessment, create it and store it in a repository. Assesses data, such as evaluating a metric against a standard, creates information. Understanding the assessment implications and having the wisdom of what to do creates actionable knowledge. Thrive in the Age of Knowledge has chapters on data quality and assessment, repository development, and processes to manage the data>information>knowledge chain.
Policy Update & Adjustment There is a robust literature on program analysis and evaluation. The materials apply to policy analysis and evaluation as well. The textbook we used in our doctoral course on program evaluation is pretty good and easy to read: 2Rossi, P. H., Lipsey, M. W., & Henry, G. T. (2019). Evaluation: A systematic

approach (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. ISBN-13: 9781506307886. In addition to the concepts in this and other books and papers on program evaluation, the policy needs an evaluation process. Ideally, the process uses workflow to collect data and assess metrics. The workflow provides alerts if a metric is out of tolerance. The policy also needs a formal review process on at least a quarterly basis to assess performance against the desired objectives and to determine whether positive results for this policy negatively impact other policies or areas of concern. Balance is critical and policymakers need to establish trade-offs and rules to determine whether the policy does more harm than good.

The framework above has value only if it is used. It requires a bipartisan effort to put into place and to hold legislators and bureaucrats accountable for its use. The current aggressively partisan environment could, and most likely will, hinder any implementation. Therefore, the electorate must also engage in critical thinking to assess why politicians and bureaucrats resist accountability. The electorate are the owner-operators of the Republic. Politicians and bureaucrats are their agents.

And these agents have consistently violated their duties as agents. The owner-operators need to hold them accountable at the ballot box.


4 thoughts on “Critical Thinking and Policy Development and Analysis”

  1. Thus we face words from “politicians” – the worse Citizens there are. Political Art is to talk and not say anything. Which is why politics is too important to left to politicians.

    NEEDED: Persons to be elected for management positions – the shorter the term the better. Elections every year until further notice. Stability is produced by shorter terms an instability of time produces greater stability. Can this be worse than what passes for a federal government today ?

    • Eric, we are clearly not adhering to the intent of the founders. I doubt they wanted a political class of permenant officeholders. Shame they did not put that into the Constitution. The US would be very different if they had put term limits into the Constitution.

  2. Good stuff Jeff. We were trying to turn some of this around with our Ombudsman and a data science approach to answering our Employee Climate Survey. Absentee leaders who are terrible managers are a huge problem in civil service. Our agency was going bad by having our best analysts compete for management jobs to advance and make rank: that is never a good idea in an analytic based organization.

    But the swamp is deep and wide and largely unaccountable. Many of us railed during Sequestration when the government did endless analysis of alternatives on how the workforce was to be furloughed if and when the mandated cuts had to be made by self-inflicted feckless leadership on the hill. Over the course of at least 6 iterations in a handful of years we had ground down to only about 14% of our 8600 person agency was “mission essential:” it made no sense whatsoever when to a person each leader and politician declared our people our most valuable asset. Satellites and airborne mission were still flying, taking pictures, none of our enemies agreed to quiet down during this time-forces still needed support in Iraq and Afghan, Korea-you name it. It was idjiotic and struck me as a ploy by Obama to push Civil Service back into unions in a big way. We eventually did furlough, but Clapper and Hagel went to the matt with OMB over authority and only about 60 people from our organization who unfortunately and by a quirk of fate and bad luck were still funded by the Pentagon (MIP) after the DNI stood up and missed one day every two weeks for about 6 pay periods-10% or so each pay period-we took up a collection to make up for their pay-none of those lower GS’ could afford to give up pay over a month.

    A lot of military entered civil service over the GWOT period-many like me retired for the second time and now it is largely folks who have never served and in my opinion they lack the ethics and moral baseline that service provides and are too quick to think and act for number one.

    No amount of good technique and training in critical thought is going to make up for deficiencies in ethics, morals, understanding and respect for the constitution, appreciation for our military and an aversion to socialism-be it in the form of Critical Race Theory, masked as Unconscious Bias or the bastardization of history represented by things like 1619….many of these folks don’t even know the basic military problem solving process –and could not identify the “real” problem if their life depended upon it–and to too many of them-it doesn’t-its just a job….


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