Changing Public Policy

If you, as a public administrator, have a positive attitude and pass that on to all involved, and have plentiful time to air out all the issues surrounding a change, there will be a fair chance of arriving at a change most can live with. You’ll never please everybody, but you can at least try to reach the majority.

Allowing all stakeholders affected by the change to have their say in a meeting makes a significant difference, even for an administrator. I have often gone into such a meeting with one opinion, and walked out with a different view.

As a wise instructor once told me, “The world you see depends on where you stand,” so you sometimes have to move away from what you believe, and listen to others involved in the process. In public policy there are often more than two sides to a story.

Perfect Timing

Time is also important in making effective changes. The carrier captain needs about three minutes to smoothly change the ship’s course without throwing his crew overboard. Public administrators need ample time as well.

Changes brought on by “knee-jerk” reactions to a situation often result in backtracking and changing the change. Time will be dictated by subject matter. Sometimes changes are so radical that a year or more may be necessary to identify stakeholders, isolate issues, organize discussion groups, and really massage the subject. Sometimes the changes can be completed in a matter of weeks or months.

Often, an issue will be presented as a “crisis,” but when it is further discussed, it really isn’t a crisis at all. Or, maybe one aspect of the overall issue may need immediate attention, but other aspects can be given a longer time frame.

So, like the ship’s captain, the public administrator has to decide whether an issue demands an emergency change, how much time is needed to make a reasonable course change, and how to use the functional tools available to maintain a steady course.

I suspect that seasoned public administrators who read this magazine have advice and practical applications on how to make effective change. If you’d like to share, contact me or the PRB staff.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail dls@peachtree-city.org.

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One comment on “Changing Public Policy

  1. Paul Walsh on said:

    I liked the article. Well done.

    Shame on the person who chose the artwork though. Mr. Gaddo, is discussing the Nimitz class aircraft carrier (U.S.) but the artwork appears to be either a European or Russian aircraft carrier. C’mon folks. You can do better than this.

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