How to be a Policy Expert

I’m a Policy Expert!


YOU TOO can be a Policy Expert if you follow these simple steps!

Step 0: DON’T follow what other Policy Experts do.
Most self-proclaimed Policy Experts write up policies, they don’t change things so that policy happens. They also write up strategies, plans and protocols. Don’t worry, these don’t change things either.
Ask a person with “policy” in their job title what their theory of change is, how they think people change their behaviour. Listen to their response. Think of how this relates to what science says about human psychology and learning. Then airily dismiss it with a wave of your hand. Flounce, if needed. Whatever.
KEY LESSON: Stay one step ahead of the False Policy Expert by knowing the difference between writing about things you’d like to change and actually changing things.

You may now start the real steps, starting with, of all things, Step 1.


Step 1: Learn how to tell if a Policy exists.
Look around you at what people are doing and saying. That’s the policy. Don’t look for a document, nobody cares about what’s written in a document and only losers will refer to them.
Written policies spend half their pages justifying why they exist. They link to other policies, state how they’re contributing towards delivering key themes etc. As if they could wish themselves into existence. They can’t. Wishing is not the same as actually existing. The tea mug I’m drinking out of right now never wished for anything in it’s life and yet there it is, full of tea. If it were anything like the “policies” I’ve come across it would be linked and themed to other cups, mugs and saucers and my lap would be soaked through with tea.
KEY LESSON: Find out what’s there, not what you’d like to be there.


Step 2: Learn that writing a Policy/plan/strategy is a pointless waste of time
The way people behave is governed by the system they are in, they look to see how people around them act, what they consider relevant and important. Then they copy them.

They don’t read a policy/plan/strategy then decide, “hey, I’m going to be a forward thinking blue-sky thinker, because those 14 pieces of stapled paper tell me it would support an organisational development theme!”.
No, they don’t.
If you start off by writing a Policy/plan/strategy, you’re engaging with paper, not people. This is starting all wrong, you’ll continue to engage with paper as the problem you’ll then face will be about getting the right combination of words on your paper so that will be “approved”. Getting your paper approved, signed off or whatever the phrase is in your organization, that then becomes your purpose, not actually changing things. The right words in the right order is the aim of a poet, a laudable occupation but not to be confused with improving a pest control service or helping people get back on their feet and on with their lives after having a stroke.
KEY LESSON: Do not invest any time in things that aren’t real.


Step 3: Give up on your dreams
Yes, I said that. You have no idea what can actually happen. Change will happen, or not, but given change is emergent it isn’t a thing you can write down in advance as it will be something you couldn’t have engineered. Change is best written afterwards, then it will be completely accurate.

You’ll not know what “success looks like” until it’s staring you in the face, so don’t start trying to imagine it as a swarthy Mediterranean when it could turn out to be an icy Finn. Or a small ash-tray, a grey bowler hat or even a thin brown ferret. You’ve no idea.
KEY LESSON: What works will turn out to be what works, not what you’ve decided months in advance in a piece of paper with words in them (see Step 2)


Step 4: Start off with reality. That’s where you are and where you’ll end up.
It’s best to avoid flights of fancy, as described in Step 3. Stay fully engaged with reality, the work. Do not be confused or misled by opinion. What a senior manager wants is opinion, that is not reality. Work will tell you what is required. Waiting round for a steer from someone paid more than you is what lickspittles and spongers do.
All the real answers are in the work. That’s where you go, and where you stay.
KEY LESSON: Go to the work, and stay there.

Step 5: Don’t listen to bollocks.
The greatest crises facing the world today is the amount of bollocks in it.
It is concentrated in the workplace. There is all sorts in there. Avoid it.
I encountered last week some bollocks called “demand management“. Someone, somewhere, had heard of what people were doing with using demand as a starting point for learning and understanding their service and the people who needed things from it.
They then didn’t follow through on this to help unlearn what had caused their service problems in the first place, but stopped right there. “Thats it!” They cried. “We need to manage this demand!” Hey presto an entire theory of work comes into being, all bollocks. Not content with finding out that when you don’t meet customer purpose you create failure demand, they decided to create about 37 different varieties of failure demand. Look!

CaptureImagine the chin-stroking this stimulates, “Hmmm, so is this Avoidable Demand or Preventable Demand?

No, Honey-Pie, it’s just bollocks.

This stuff is palatable because it is all categories and themes, something people (see Step 0) are comfortable with. It is exactly the same sort of thing that people ordinarily do, this is how bollocks flourishes. Engages with its novelty, flatters with its familiarity, fails with its bollocks.

If you want to be a Policy Expert do not fall for this. Things catch on because of their catch-on-ability. Like urban myths, their truth is irrelevant, what matters is whether this stuff can survive and be spread in the environment it lives in. People around you will be infected with this. Don’t be one of them.

You can spot the bollocks coming by people nodding seriously and agreeing, “we need to manage our co-dependent Demand” is a phrase that sits happily within command and control thinking. It doesn’t require any unthinking. It can sit happily inside a brain, it is a parasite.

KEY LESSON: Bad thinking is a parasite on your brain. It will suck out the good stuff.

Step 6: Don’t be a Policy Expert.
Yes, I said that. Ultimately you’re in the wrong place to be a Policy Expert. Places like Strategic Departments, Policy Services, Performance Units, they are all symptoms of command and control thinking and when you become a Policy Expert you’ll find that ironically, they are not fit places for Policy Experts. Note, Policy is not the same as policy. One is a noun, the other a verb. When performance turns into Performance it becomes something else entirely different. (see step 5).

Learn about performance, you won’t be able to work in Performance.
Learn about strategy, you won’t be able to work in Strategy.
Learn about policy, you won’t be able to work in Policy.

These noun-places are where people go who don’t want to become Experts, so they hide in the easy work. Make no mistake, document wrangling is easy. I listen sometimes to the sound of it coming from the keyboards rattling around me. It is the sound of hiding. If you want to change things, it isn’t from behind a keyboard. Change does not sound like that…it sounds like this…

  • damn, look what we’ve done!
  • well, I never would have known that until I’d done it for myself“.
  • how come we’ve been doing it this way for so long?”
  • how about we try it and find out what happens?

This is the sound of people becoming Experts. It is the sound that people make away from keyboards. It is the sound of people finding out what is happening in their work and why it happens.

Help people make those sounds, this is is how you become a Policy Expert.

This entry was posted in command and control, public sector, purpose, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How to be a Policy Expert

  1. Pingback: How to be a Policy Expert | Systems thinking | ...

  2. Some valuable lessons there for any work environment.


  3. David says:

    You may find this amusing (in a grimly ironic way):

    “Instantly download dozens of information security policy samples from the compliance and security experts at […] Remember the days of painstakingly authoring security documents from scratch, interviewing employees and asking basic, mundane questions about what they do, systems used, etc.? That’s all in the past,”


  4. Pingback: On the internet nobody knows you are a Policy Officer | thinkpurpose

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