Tag Archives: Governance

Year in, year out the same political theatre

Government and parliament in the UK are not doing their duty and consistently weaken the nation. They must be overhauled without delay.

Both government and parliament in Britain are negligent in the execution of their duties towards society. As a result, they consistently weaken the nation. Government has ignored substantial calls for a fundamental overhaul of its operations for nearly a decade. And parliament in its function as control institution over government on behalf of the people fails to ensure the effectiveness of government operations.

Take a look at the following three incidents:

Already more than eight years ago by now, in 2012, at the time of the Cameron government parliament found that the strategy making process in government was, let me call it, “completely unprofessional”, and would harm the nation seriously in all kinds of policy areas including, as parliament wrote in its report, “strategic defence and security review, energy and climate change, child poverty targets and economic policy”. We can take this enumeration of examples to mean all policy making.

One has to take in practically every word of the observations by parliament to realise the severity of the warning: “We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach… there remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of Government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments… Policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation.” [1] A shattering verdict on the quality of government operations and their effects on the UK.

Even if such a stark warning on substantial deficits in central policy making processes in government would have warranted an immediate major review and correction of the observed deficits, over the years nothing has happened, neither government nor parliament in its supervisory role since took the responsibility to fix the operational deficits identified at the heart of policy making. Now the Johnson government appears to function even more irrationally and erratically than the Cameron government. It, moreover, is repeatedly accused of operating in an ethically questionable way, to say the least, more sharply, in a sleazy, if not corrupt fashion.

In the year 2013, by now also already seven years ago, two UK professors, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe,  published a substantial book with the title “The Blunders of our Governments”, describing major failures by UK governments and their causes over several decades. One example is the poll tax under Margaret Thatcher.

In an article on the book with the pointed title, “Why is Britain badly governed?”, a title which in a way warrants a closer look at the operations of the British political system by itself, Igor Crewe writes in 2014: “Almost all of the blunders were gestated largely in-house, within the executive branch… Government did not engage in serious deliberation.” On the work of parliament he observes: “Parliament turned out to be an irrelevant spectator in the policy blunders we examined…On all essential points the members of the governing party in the Commons did little more than support their ministers’ legislative proposals.”

Crewe recommends as a solution “Institutional reforms should be designed to inject a larger measure of formal policy deliberation outside the executive, including pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament and formal public consultation of organised interests and expert individuals.”

In other words, also King and Crewe in 2013 and 2014 recommended a major overhaul of processes in government, and implicitly, moreover, in parliament. Parliament, Crewe writes, was an “irrelevant spectator” in the policy blunders they examined. Guess what government and parliament did over the last seven years in terms of the requested restructuring.

Example three: Concerned about low voter turnout in recent UK elections – from a high of 83.9% in 1950 to a low of 59.4% in 2001 and around 65% in the 2010 election –  in 2014 parliament conducted an inquiry into how to improve the situation. In an evidence of exceptional frankness professors Martin J. Smith from the University of York and David Richards from Manchester University pointed out that the problem had far less to do with political apathy on the side of the voters largely assumed as a given by the authorities than with the traditional, elitist, disconnected, and unengaging style of policy making by the political system.

They suggested a fundamental approach was required to fix the problem. They wrote: “There is a need to rethink both the nature of institutions and the mechanisms of political participation,” and further, “The emphasis has to be on building structures and mechanisms capable of harnessing the energy and enterprise of the civic arena, or else the sense of drift in the public’s dislocation and alienation from traditional forms of politics will continue.”[2]

Again, an utterly sincere and urgent call for a significant overhaul of government operations was issued. Guess what happened over the last six years, since 2014. You are right, again nothing.

Interestingly, parliament in its report on voter engagement went as far as even venting the idea of a “Commission for Democracy”. If the independence of the organisation is assured, it could well provide the best way forward to ensure the highest degree of professionality and effectiveness in the political system and to ensure satisfactory involvement of the public in political processes. Yet, ever heard of the commission? Also to call on parties, as parliament did in the report, to develop plans for improved voter engagement and to suggest it was ultimately up to voters to “dictate” their preferred approach to the parties at the ballot box appears more than unrealistic, especially taking into consideration that the very problem to be addressed by the inquiry was the fact that 40% of the people did not vote. It is the government which must design effective ways and means to reach out to the people and implement them.

The failure both of government and of parliament to initiate a comprehensive review of government systems and operations on all three occasions in a timeframe of nearly a decade can only be called appalling and irresponsible. Who, in government or parliament, one wonders, does their duty to the nation?

Present government operations appear to be worse than ever before, determined by personal whims and ambitions, they involve bullying, sleaze, if not corruption (questionable consulting and purchasing contracts on health sector equipment, unlawful granting of a development permit in East London). Can Britain really afford to have governments of such quality?

In the light of the infighting and chaos we just witnessed surrounding the departure of Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the communications director Lee Cain, MPs are now calling for “order” in government operations. That call appears faint and fuzzy, in comparison to the rather precise demand for a fundamental overhaul of government operations issued by parliament itself already in 2012 and subsequently by others as well. What is “order” in government operations supposed to mean precisely?

What we seem to witness over the years is always the same political theatre, without any improvement in the way things work. Government conducts policy making on the hoof, according to the headlines in the newspapers, as parliament commented in 2012, without any recognisable structure, while parliament complains, without, however, ensuring any substantial and lasting improvements in the way government operates.

But then, yes, one would like to suggest, that the nation, the people, and the world finally after nearly a decade of calls for it, desperately require sincere leadership and a comprehensive systemic overhaul of government operations in Britain. At the same time, however, one wonders in how far the present government is at all interested in doing its duty and in taking the necessary steps to ensure the utmost quality of its operations. Zero chance, one might assume witnessing the erratic way in which the present government conducts its business. Does the UK, like the US, need as a first step to sound policy making a shift to a government of high integrity? Does the Johnson government fit the bill at all?

Clearly, this is the test:

If the Prime Minister truly wants to serve the nation and wants to create trust in his operations, he must now without delay install the fundamental review of government operations demanded  over and over from different angles since 2012. If he does not do it, he fails the nation and cannot be in office. To make the process effective, he must keep it absolutely open for public deliberation and include the widest scope of perspectives, as also King and Crewe demand for the process of policy making.

And evidently, if parliament as the supervisory institution over government acting on behalf of the people does not ensure that Boris Johnson now initiates this review and adopts its findings in the way he runs government, it lets down the nation and its people profoundly. It also does not do its duty.

Looking at the way government operates and the urgency of the matter, parliament as the supervisory body over government should probably take matters in its own hand. It should initiate a parliamentary inquiry on the subject of how to ensure optimal government operations and also on the question of how to optimise citizen involvement in political processes. Ultimately, as the control institution over government, parliament itself must have a well-grounded foundation on which to judge and ensure the soundness of government operations, a foundation which the inquiry will provide.  

One fundamental question which also needs to be clarified is, why, over the last decade or so, parliament failed to ensure that government conducts its business in an effective way serving the nation. One factor appears to be that parliament does not have a clear idea at all on how to control government operations effectively. It deeply engages in the debate on select individual policy issues, but neglects ascertaining the overall performance of government. A second reason for the ineffectiveness of its control over government is likely to be the lacking independence of parliament from government. With the majority of parliamentarians being in the same party as government, parliament is reluctant to fire a government which does not perform. Issues like these need to be addressed as well. Society needs an effective control organisation over government.

Presently the world is facing the most complex problems it has ever faced, even of an existential nature to humanity. In such a situation a democratic nation like the UK by any means requires a government which employs optimal systems and processes in the way it runs the nation. If the two key elements of the political system in the UK, government and parliament, do not do their duty and do not operate at the highest levels of performance conceivable, the nation is in serious trouble. Then it is time for society as the ultimate stakeholder and the highest sovereign in democracy to take action on its own, to form a suitable initiative, to overhaul the operations of its political system and to ensure its optimal performance on its own.  If parliament does not establish a “Commission for Democracy” the public itself must do it.

In any case, democracy cannot mean a free hand for an elected government to operate as it pleases. Being elected still entails the obligation towards the nation to ensure the optimal performance of government operations. Parliament as the control organisation over government must ensure that government employs optimal systems and processes in its policy making.


[1] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge? Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12 Volume I: Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, HC 1625 Published on 24 April 2012 by authority of the House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Limited file:///D:/Documents/JOB/A%20%20%20Democracy%20Book%20%20Back%20Up%20Information/Z%20%20%20Countries/UK%20Back%20Up%20Gov%20Eff/UK%20gov%20Strategy%20Making/strategy%20making%20report%202012.pdf

[2] House of Commons, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15 Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report, Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 10 November 2014, Published Written evidence submitted by Professor Martin J. Smith and Professor David Richards, Item 39 [1](VUK 42)

Optimizing Democracy in Brazil – Two Concrete Steps Necessary

Brazil has been seeing huge protests for more than two weeks now against many issues – mostly against a lack of transparency, corruption, and ineffectiveness in government.

How can these protests lead to a concrete, lasting improvement in the quality of government?

The model described in this blog provides a solution:

To govern a country like Brazil, to reduce poverty and corruption, and to solve the many other policy issues as effectively and efficiently as possible with only limited resources, “best practices” in policy making are necessary.

What are the best practices in policy making? Hard to say. To establish best practices in policy making Brazil like any other democratic country needs an effective organization working on behalf of the citizens which identifies what best practices in all aspects of governing a nation are. The citizens themselves must set up the organization, so they do not depend on “anybody else”, i.e. for example the politicians, to tell them what best practices supposedly are. The citizens themselves must identify them, so they can be sure they get the best solutions.

Second, the people must ensure that those best practices are actually applied in policy making, concretely that structures and processes in the policy making system are as effective as possible, serve the common good, and do not leave room for inefficiency. One system which the people must optimize is the system for corruption control.

To implement those two steps the citizens must join and create two organizations:

1. A citizens’ organization, lets call it “Optimizing Democracy Brazil” which initiates the necessary actions.

2. A “Citizens’ Public Policy Know-how Institute” which informs the citizens about the best processes and systems in policy making necessary to make their democratic policy making system effective.

The writer Ignácio de Loyola Brandão is very pessimistic about the outcome of the demonstrations. He expects the protests to ebb off after a while and Brazil to return to its “normality” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 June 2013).

If people want to see a concrete improvement in how they are governed they must establish a joint initiative taking the necessary, constructive measures towards achieving this goal. They must identify the best practices in policy making and work together to make sure they are applied.

Brazil is an example for what needs to happen in all democratic nations to optimize their democratic policy making systems.

Italy – A Citizens’ Association for the Optimization of Democracy

How can Italy get a stable and effective democratic policy making system, now and in the future, a policy making system able to handle the challenges of the 21st century? In Italy, like in any other democratic country, the citizens themselves are ultimately responsible for the fate of their country. They themselves must fix any problems with their policy making system.

For decades the Italian people have been hoping for a strong man or a better party to establish stable and effective governments only to be disappointed over and over again. Now the situation is getting urgent. Due to the financial crisis and probably also due to the process of globalization industrial production in the country has fallen by 25% since 2008. Unemployment continues to be high, especially among young people.

Many people in Italy now recognize the need for a radical restructuring of the existing political institutions. But this issue is not being moved forward effectively. Citizens continue to elect politicians and to hope for the political system to fix itself. This cannot work. Politicians have their own agenda. And they may not know how to establish the most effective policy system conceivable. Citizens themselves need to take action.

What needs to happen?

  1. People in Italy, like in any other democratic country, need to change their perception about their role as citizens in a democracy. In a democracy the people are the highest sovereign in the state. They govern themselves. The policy system is their tool for managing their public affairs. The people need to realize that they cannot hope for a politician or party to repair the democratic policy system on their behalf. The citizens in a democratic society must ensure that the system works, they themselves.
  2. In the light of the complexity of the problems of our globalized world of now seven billion people only the best policy making system will suffice to solve the problems of the country. In Italy, like in other democratic nations, citizens, therefore, must aim to optimize the performance of their political system.
  3. To take concrete action citizens must establish an initiative which identifies the best options for making their democratic policy making system effective and which ensures that those concepts are implemented.
  4. Only with the best objective and independent know-how available in Italy and the globe can the citizens be sure to arrive at a democratic policy making system of the highest quality conceivable. The initiative must set up a know-how system which is completely open, invites contributions from anybody who may have to say something on the matter, and identifies the know-how of the required level of quality.
  5. Citizens must realize that making their policy making effective on the long run does not only take isolated one time action, but constant effective citizen control. They should establish the initiative with a view to turning it into a permanent element in the political life of the country and of the constitution, a “Citizens Association for the Optimization of Democracy”. The association will be responsible to persistently monitor the performance of the policy making system and to identify possibilities to further improve its performance.
  6. The qualification of politicians working on behalf of society in policy making is perhaps the most crucial element necessary for the policy system to be able to cope with the problems of our globalised world. The best qualification is of relevance in any function and at any level of the policy making system, especially at leadership level. Specific subject matter qualifications for making the economy competitive and to create millions of jobs are also of the highest importance. The association must make sure that those qualifications are “in place” to ensure that the system is as effective as only possible. One key effect of the objective qualification and performance standards, which the citizens’ association will aim to generate, will be a considerable reduction, perhaps even the nearly complete eradication, of widespread corruption and nepotism presently existing in the policy making system.

For the time being the politicians elected by the Italian people must fulfill their responsibilities for the country and the citizens and form a joint government. But the factors affecting the performance of Italian governments must be analyzed as soon as possible, so the necessary performance level can be established for the policy making system. Only an overhaul of the political system in the sketched fashion can make the country strong enough to handle the challenges which the country is facing.

Democracy is government by the people, as one element of the definition formulated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. The citizens of a democratic country govern themselves. They must make sure their tool for governing the country, their democratic policy making system, works optimally, in Italy like in any other democratic country.

Who tells a Head of Government which ones are the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems?

Whatever a democratic constitution may say in detail: In my opinion the Head of State in a democratic country is responsible to build effective systems and organizations for policy making and delivery. That is why we elect him or her. The fate of a nation, the state of infrastructure, of health systems, of schools, even peace and war and the life of people depend on the ability of a Head of State to take the lead in building effective policy making organizations.

But who tells a Head of State which methods exist and which ones are the best ones to build effective organizations, organizations which fulfill their purpose without wasting tax money?

A builder has his methods to measure whether a wall is level or not, a teacher has her methods to get a certain subject across to her students, a butcher has his methods to skin, let us say, a cow, a structural engineer has his methods to calculate the stability of a building. But what methods does a Head of Government have to build effective systems to serve a country and its people? Who tells the Head of Government about these methods?

We could argue a Head of State should know those required methods, just as a teacher knows their teaching methods. But in reality, our Heads of Government do have all kinds of professional backgrounds. Knowledge in methods on how to build effective organizations is usually not part of their qualification.

Just a couple of hours ago I had the exceptional opportunity to talk to a very high-ranking politician in a European country about this subject. I tried to convince him that the Cabinet Office, the office for co-coordinating the work of all government departments in that country, needed a know-how system to inform the Head of Government and best also the ministers about how to build the most effective organizations in designing and delivering public policy measures.

The conversation surprisingly lasted quite a while. But he, a full-blooded, long-time politician was completely convinced that the existing systems and organizations in policy making in that country were perhaps not perfect, but still rather good, and if they did not perform well enough, there were already plenty of institutions and processes both in the political and public spheres in place to correct any malfunctioning. Those were institutions and processes such as the national audit office, scrutiny by the media, or protests by citizens with concerns over a policy issue.

What we do not know, however, is how effective those processes and organizations are, whether they check in fact all policy making areas, how timely their work is, and which influence they have in establishing more effective policy making processes. The press as one means of control will generally get only involved in high-profile issues with a “story” value. Furthermore, as any professional person knows: Correcting mistakes which somebody made who did not (quite) know what they were doing, most often is a tedious and inefficient exercise. Sometimes people in charge rather decide to start over from scratch. Better to make sure from the beginning that things are done right, especially in the public arena where millions of public funds are at stake and where the well-being or even the life of citizens might depend on the effective design and implementation of public policy.

Heads of Governments need to know which methods exist for building effective systems and especially which ones are the best methods. They are not only responsible for the work of government departments and hundreds of thousands of and public employees, but also for the effects of policy making on millions of citizens. Heads of Governments are also responsible for building effective international institutions which have to tackle the complex and urgent problems our globe is facing. If our institutions are so effective, how come that carpets of plastic garbage the size of the middle of Europe are floating on our oceans? Is there no chance to stop this pollution? Or have we simply not tried well enough?

Even if we ask: “Who tells a head of government…”, we must realize that the knowledge on building effective organizations and systems is vast and may change. An individual person, or two, or three, are unlikely to have the best and up to date knowledge, on what the best methods to build effective public policy systems are. They might come from the same school of thinking, have a certain preference for one or the other approach, they might be lopsided in their judgment. That is why we need to build a truly effective system to inform the Head of State and his or her ministers on the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems. In addition, we need a system to check, whether previous Heads of Governments and ministers did their jobs properly, whether they have built truly effective institutions. From the perspective of politicians in the UK today that doesn’t appear to be so in the case of the EU.

Of course a Head of Government and his or her ministers do not only need to know what the best approaches to building effective systems are, they moreover must apply them. One reason keeping them from applying best practices may be that they are corrupt. That is where the relevance of an effective citizen control institution, suggested in other places in this blog, comes in: Citizens must make sure, first that a system exists to inform Heads of Government and their ministers about best practices, second that those best practices are in fact applied in their policy making work.

Who tells a Head of Government which ones are the best methods to build effective policy making and delivery systems? Unfortunately I did not come up with that question in the conversation with the politician. Would that have convinced him of the need to establish a know-how system to inform government about the best approaches to run a country? Does the question convince you? Let me know what you think.

Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps

Whichever way we may be aiming to contribute to improving policy making, be it by wanting to influence an individual policy area only or by improving the overall policy making system, given the size of the policy machines in democratic countries we must maximize the effectiveness of our own action, if we want to have any success.

The graph Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps describes how making a contribution of such a quality should be possible.

Presently there are many movements for better policy making in various countries: Better government initiatives, movements for direct democracy, initiatives to enhance transparency in policy making etc.

Competition and independence of thinking is necessary to allow the best ideas to come forward. But in order to move ahead effectively, agreeing on a plan and combining energy around its implementation is required. Any plan to make democracy better necessitates the approval of and legitimation by wider society anyway. If the initiatives to make public policy better cannot agree on the “best plan” to move forward, how should society then be able to support a particular concept? Initiatives working for an improvement of democratic policy making should jointly aim to present the best plan to wider society. This does not mean they should agree on the handling of concrete individual policy issues, but simply on the concept for generating the most effective policy making structures and processes.

Deciding on an effective way forward requires agreeing on a specific goal in the wider scope of “enhancing the quality of policy making”. Some people concerned about the state of our democratic countries propose concentrating on urgent individual policy issues, such as employment and social stability only. But what about global warming, the most severe threat for humanity as others suggest? How can we establish with greater certainty how large the threat truly is and what we must do concretely to fend it off? What also about health, about establishing international peace and understanding and avoiding further unnecessary deaths in lingering or new international conflicts? If we succeed in reducing unemployment at the present time, global warming might shatter any advancement in the well-being of society based on such success completely in the next twenty years or so, if we neglect doing something about it.

Given this interdependence of policy issues we suggest a comprehensive approach to making our policy making systems better. In the light of the relevance of our policy systems for our countries and in fact the management of the entire globe, we suggest not to settle for “improvement” as a goal but for “optimization”. As also mentioned in the graph, aiming now for setting up the best democratic policy making structures and processes will furthermore contribute to maintaining the best quality of policy making in the future. This might become important, if let us say in ten or twenty years from now, discontent with established parties were to increase to such an extent that more extreme parties came to power. To have mechanisms which even in such a scenario were to contribute to sound policy making would not be bad.

Once we have agreed on a specific goal, the graph suggests as a next step to analyze the parameters affecting the achievement of this particular goal achievement. It should be useful to insert at this point that the suggested steps here are a rudimentary application of a systemic problem solving methodology suggested by Hans Ulrich and Gilbert Probst in their book “Anleitung zum Ganzheitlichen Denken und Handeln” (Translates roughly to: “Guide To Interconnected Thinking and Action”), Haupt publishers, Berne 1991, a book which unfortunately does not appear to have been published in the English language so far.

The key factor of relevance for the quality of our democratic system as a whole will be the effectiveness of each individual step in the process of policy making, from identifying public policy issues, to prioritizing them, determining the best ways to tackle them, and attributing the required public resources to the solution of each policy issue. A rather intense debate on the role of the state has been led in the United States for some time. Many people demand the government’s “downsizing”. What democracies should have is a highly effective system to define the tasks of the state.

We suggest that the quality of each of these individual steps and of the processes to manage individual policy issues depends on five factors:

• The available know-how on optimizing the performance of policy making systems and processes
• The qualification of politicians and civil service employees
• The motivation of politicians and civil service employees
• The adequacy of resources to allow each system to achieve its purpose.
• The quality of control over each system.

In order to optimize democratic policy making, the initiative would have to ensure that those parameters are in place and optimized for each individual step in the policy making process itself, and also for each policy area. Systems thinkers suggest rightly that also communication between system, sub-systems, and stakeholders is of relevance for its output. We propose here that effective control will also take care of setting up effective communication systems and processes.

Control as the key parameter for success will also ensure that the other four factors mentioned are in place. It will ensure that policy makers and civil service employees have the optimal qualifications for their tasks, it will identify the best processes to check that both, politicians and civil service employees work only for the common good, beyond a fair salary, rather than for their own interests. It will arrange for an optimal match between the goals and tasks of public policy and the available resources.

In another part of this blog we emphasized the importance of know-how next to control. The first know-how element of importance is how to set up an effective control system over policy making as a whole. Once this know-how and an effective overall control system is established, this top level control system should set up a system to establish the optimal know-how for all detailed elements of the entire policy making process. As we also pointed out the support of wider society is required for establishing the optimal know-how for all of these processes.

An initiative which goes through all of the steps suggested exerts control over the policy making system. In the course of its work the initiative will realize that the aim must be to constantly ensure the optimal operation of the democratic policy making system. It becomes clear that a permanent citizens’ organization needs to be established to take on this responsibility. Last not least an initiative to optimize our democratic policy making systems would also have to examine the proposals made here.

How to optimize democracy? – Two things are necessary

From a very fundamental analytical perspective it takes two things to optimize democracy:

1. Optimal know-how in setting up the most effective democratic policy making systems and processes conceivable.

2. Making sure that this optimal know-how is adhered to and applied.

In the following a short discussion on what is required to establish the optimal know-how for making our democratic policy making system effective and for making sure that this know-how is applied. For a graph visualizing the issues discussed click here: How to optimize democracy – A graph

Establishing the “optimal know-how” for setting up an effective policy making system.

The following key factors appear necessary to establish an effective “know-how system”:

1. Assembling and scanning all know-how available in a country and the world.
2. Absolute openness for any suggestion whatsoever on the matter of “optimizing policy making” and even soliciting input from wider civil society on the issue (excluding one view only could mean we miss out on the best option for addressing a certain problem).
3. Optimal know-how in the objective assessment of approaches to system optimization.
4. Adequate human and financial resources.

What, as a next question, does it take to make sure the optimal methods identified for building an effective policy making are actually applied?

We suggest as the key factors: power and resources, next to effective communication.

Whose power and resources? Who is responsible for optimizing the system?

Democracy is government by the people, as one of the elements of the definition of democracy formulated by Abraham Lincoln.

So far we rely on our politicians to optimize policy making by themselves. This is wrong. Following the statement by Lincoln, the people, the citizens of a democratic country themselves, are responsible for optimizing the way they identify and handle their common policy issues.

Acquiring the necessary resources to identify the best know-how and the power to make sure that it is applied.

Achieving the goal to optimize democratic policy making processes in as short a time frame as possible requires an effective citizens’ organization which operates directly on behalf of the citizens and whose task it is to optimize the policy making systems and procedures. One task which the organization will have is to define the optimal dividing line between issues to be handled by direct democratic procedures and those to be handled by indirect democratic procedures.

Citizens must pool their resources to establish such an organization. No system is effective without effective control. Without such an organization the effectiveness of the policy making system is not guaranteed. The more people join the smaller will be the required contributions. The more “normal” citizens join, the larger the power of the association to ensure that no specific interest groups on the inside or the outside of the policy making system abuse it and reduce its effectiveness in working for the well-being of society as a whole.

Like a union working on behalf of society as a whole.

All in all we can envision the organization like a union working on behalf of society as a whole and making sure that the democratic policy making system works optimally for the common good. One task the organization will have is also to ensure that the national policy making system contributes in as much as only possible to establishing the most effective international organizations.

Our own knowledge not substantiated enough.

Optimizing democracy must begin with the initiative of citizens to set up a citizens’ control organization over policy making. This organization must then also set up an effective know-how system. Our knowledge as individuals or groups, or even as policy institutes is not substantiated enough to optimize our democratic policy making systems. We need effective systems to generate the best know-how.

How to optimize democracy? – Organizing the debate

Presently many proposals on improving democracy are discussed nationally and in the international public domain. The problem appears to be: The discussion is not organized, we don’t have an overview over all proposals, and we do not have an effective system to determine what the best solution is. Maybe all proposals have advantages and draw-backs, maybe we need to combine various proposals to arrive at optimal solutions. Our greatest problem: While we do not manage to determine the best options for optimizing democracy, our actions in improving democracy are stalled. In the meantime problems such as global warming and the threats to economic and social stability get bigger and more urgent from day to day.

One of the disadvantages of our present discussion, on how to improve democracy appears to be that we all think our proposals are the best ones. Governing our world is, however, a task of such complexity, that our individual knowledge does not suffice to establish what the best way forward is. To move ahead we, therefore, very urgently need to establish a highly effective system to analyze and evaluate all proposals which are presently “out there” in the public domain and to shape and determine the best solutions.

If we were to agree on this approach the questions remains, however, who precisely must take this action? Who must install such a system, before it is too late?

Democratic governments in this world should go ahead and establish already know-how systems to optimize decision and policy making in public policy, so we do not lose time. The final conclusion will, however, be that we, the citizens ourselves, as the ultimate stakeholders in democratic nations, must take the initiative to establish an effective organization which takes these tasks on.

What we as citizens would need to know or figure out is, how to set up an effective organization to fulfill this purpose. In addition we need to gather the resources to set up an effective organization, an organization outside of the established policy making systems working directly on behalf of citizens to optimize the policy making systems.

The main issue is to get started on making democracy effective and to then jointly determine the most effective way in going ahead. For this we need to take any suggestion for the most effective way forward on board to be sure we do not miss the best option.

How to optimize democracy? – Some basic thoughts

Democracy is government by the people, as one element of the statement by Abraham Lincoln on the nature of democracy.

The prime way for citizens to take control of their world and their policy making systems suggested in this blog is to join in and support a citizens’ association for “Optimizing Democracy”.

Our current control systems such as the parliaments do not work effectively. But no system works well without effective control. Also our policy making systems don’t.

Citizens, therefore, must establish effective systems to shape and control the democratic policy making systems. We as citizens ourselves are responsible for the way our policy making systems work, for the quality of our governments in whichever country we live, and for the way we treat the globe.

In a democracy complaining about the work of governments is not enough. We as citizens must take constructive action to optimize the way our democratic policy making systems work.

Why optimize democracy?

Many regions in the world and the world as a whole are facing severe actual or potential crises:
1. Global warming could well turn into the most existential crisis for human beings across the globe the world has seen so far.
2. The West has been seeing increasing gaps in income and wealth and wide unemployment, especially also among the young generation, already dubbed the “lost generation”.
3. The Arab countries are struggling to build effective democracies which help to secure fair opportunities and balanced well-being for all its citizens.

In addition the fight against global poverty remains a gigantic task after more than 60 years of international development corporation. We see conflicts in many parts of the world over matters of religion, land or resources which urgently need to be resolved in order to avoid further unnecessary bloodshed. Pollution affects the state of the globe everywhere. Our oceans are covered with carpets of plastic rubbish the size of central Europe, rubbish which also threatens to enter the human food chain. No individual human being would approve of such pollution, but the policy systems we have in place do not prevent it. At the same time the expected steady increase of the global population to 9 billion by the year 2050 continues to add to the pressure on the resources of the globe year by year. Finally, as a completely different problem largely unnoticed by the public in the light of these more imminent challenges, advances in biogenetic medicine could well endanger even the dignity of human life. Our policy making systems would have to keep us updated on those developments and, next to the benefits, the risks for humanity involved in them.

Democracy as we operate it does not appear to be able to cope with these challenges.

It has a number of inherent deficits which need to be fixed. One of them is that it forces politicians to look out for the next day’s headlines and for votes in the next elections, rather than for long-term and sustainable problem solutions. Another problem of democracy is corruption, more generally the tendency of many politicians to put their own benefit above their work for the common good, a problem widespread in many countries. Those deficits severely affect the capacity of democratic policy making systems to cope with the economic and other challenges of our time.

As a consequence of the ineffectiveness of democracies in dealing with the problems especially in the area of economics we have seen and keep seeing uprisings in many countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, as well as the rise of the Occupy movement in the US and Europe. Also the London riots of 2011 have been attributed to the lack of opportunities for the young generation and the fact that, as a consequence, many young people do not have a stake in society.

Since the pressure on employment and income in the West is likely to rise with ongoing globalization, some observers consider it highly likely that the number of protests and riots will increase. They warn against a potential outright economic and social collapse of the old industrialized societies in the years to come. The distinguished British-American historian Tony Judt writes: “ Few in the West today can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But what we know of World War II – or the former Yugoslavia – illustrates the ease with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of unrestrained atrocity and violence”.

Our only chance: Optimizing the performance of democracy

All problems mentioned above, global warming, pollution of the globe, unemployment, global population growth and establishing balanced well-being in a world in which 80% of the people live in so-called developing countries are problems of the highest complexity and urgency. Many of those issues are interdependent, such as reducing poverty, creating peace, establishing strong economies, and effective administrative systems. Also in our interconnected world the economic development in other countries is likely to affect employment and well-being in our own country.

Dealing with such interdependence and complexity, fighting those challenges and avoiding crises potentially arising from them, requires the most effective and efficient use of our resources. We have to get our priorities right in the way we spend our resources and we must learn, how to achieve our goals in each policy area with the minimum amount of resources necessary, so we can free resources up for other tasks. Achieving these goals requires the most effective policy making systems conceivable.

The goal of only “enhancing” the performance of our democratic policy making systems is not enough in the light of these challenges and the existential risks connected with some of them. In a highly competitive sport athletes will tickle every bit of reserve out of their bodies. They will optimize any element of their preparation from training to nutrition and mental fitness to enhance their competitiveness. For democratic states the complexity of the challenges and the highly competitive nature of the world today mean that also their national and international systems must perform to the highest standards and make the best use of any resources available to them. On the international level we must jointly create the very best systems and procedures to handle the problems our globe is facing.

Optimizing Democracy, setting up a competent and fair policy making system of the highest standards, is also of relevance for countries which try to build sustainable and strong democratic systems, for example Egypt, countries which need to provide fair and equal chances and balanced well-being to different ethnic, cultural and religious segments in their societies in order to establish and maintain peaceful and productive co-existence between these segments.