5. Reframing Policy Analysis And Formulation Using The Values Of Social Sustainability

  All decisions of minor or major importance, whether made in a micro-second or that take years to result in outcomes, are always made based on a set of values. Whether a person is a policy analyst, executive, or anyone else, values are always present, even when there is an overt effort to produce “value-less” options and policies. What often makes neutral, unbiased policies almost impossible to formulate is that values over time become assumed, obscured, and invisible to policy analysts and decision-makers. This leads to inconsistent policy implementation and is often the cause of complaints of bias from groups of citizens.

Values And Ethics In Policy Formulation

In a democratic society, public social policies are formulated to provide a means of making decisions that are consistent and effective without bias or special interest. Yet, policy analysts shy away from open discussion of ethical issues involving values as it raises too many annoying questions. Their unease has been due to their inability to capably argue the ethical implications of their analyses as they have not had the benefit of a set of fundamental values that are universal to all people of every race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and nationality.

The excerpt below is from Ted Trzyna’s “Raising annoying questions: Why values should be built into decision-making.” 9

According to the political scientist Douglas Amy,10 the reasons analysts usually give for shunning ethical debate – that it is impossible, unnecessary, or impractical, or that it injects personal biases into the analytical process – are not the real ones. The real reason is that ethical analysis "conflicts with the practical policies of the institutions that engage in policy analysis." There is a tendency in ethical analysis to raise annoying questions, and bureaucracies put an emphasis on consensus and following orders. They are not debating societies, and they are not designed to encourage frank discussion and dissent. Given these institutional realities, there is little incentive for analysts to raise ethical questions.

According to Amy, policy analysts cultivate a professional image as purely technical advisors whose work is value-free and apolitical. The administrators who are their bosses "are reluctant to encourage ethical investigations both because the inquiry itself might raise questions concerning established program goals and because the style of analysis conflicts with the technocratic ethos which dominates bureaucratic politics."

Ethical implications “may often be the subject of informal discussions.” But the point is “that such ethical deliberations are ad hoc and they are unlikely to be made public or to be the subject of careful and systematic investigation in formal agency studies and reports." Like policy analysts and administrators, members of legislative bodies also tend to shy away from value questions – in their case, to avoid alienating fellow legislators and important segments of their constituencies (Amy 1984, 575-84).

Tryzna concludes that “these are powerful arguments for building ethics into decision-making. Value judgments are always made. Incorporating ethics into the policy process, subjecting value choices to the same kind of rigorous analysis as facts, will make those in authority consider the moral implications of their decisions.”

The lack of values leads to the failure of institutions and organizations because there is no consistent value system available to point the way forward to consistent outcomes. Such absence points us to the imminent necessity of embracing and implementing the ageless, consistent, and integrated set of values that have sustained our species for over a quarter million years.

Progressive Policy Formulation And The Values Of Social Sustainability

Until now, quality of life, growth, and equality were unrecognized as the timeless, fundamental values that have urged our species to make decisions that have contributed to our individual and collective social “progress.” Now that we are aware of them, we can intentionally begin to incorporate them into policies and decision-making processes so that our societies begin to move toward social stability and peace.

Because these values are universal to all people, we can begin to publically discuss their application to the broad spectrum of social issues and topics without fear of unwittingly being biased toward any group of people. The inconvenient questions about ethics in policy development can, then, become an open and transparent discussion about the moral and ethical implications of those values.

Being consistent, they inform us how to develop justifications and rationales for consistent policy analyses. Being consistent, we can begin to create integrated, holistic methods for developing sustainable options, choices, decisions, and actions. This has the potential to create a system of uniform value-based decision-making that will enable public policies to finally integrate our existent discordant social systems into a unified system of systems. Social, political-governmental, and economic-financial systems will then begin to contribute to the organizational sustainability of our democratic societies.

A Methodology For Socially Sustainable Policy Formulation And Decision-Making —

The work of strategic planners, policy analysts, and executive decision-makers will become transparent to the public as they begin to rely upon these core values to formulate strategic plans for the social evolution of our societies. Because of the self-evident and universal nature of these six values, we can anticipate that community leaders of every type will eventually choose to use them.

Set in the Schematic for Social Sustainability Validation, (see the link), the values provide a consistent and clear means of understanding how public social policies can assist communities and societies to achieve social stability and peace. Doing so, public disclosure will take on renewed meaning as these simple devices of moral, ethical, and social validation become common practice by citizens everywhere.

All of the above may sound naïve to anyone who has fought their way through election campaigns to become elected, or who has been appointed to a public office. Yet, never before has there ever existed a consistent set of values that are universal to everyone regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, gender or social status, wealth or position.

“Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget ‘responsibility and strength,’ because there is no true empathy without them.”11

Historic UNsustainable Policy Formulation

1.   Consider the following historic juxtaposition: 

a. The sustainability of the Homo sapiens species. The three values of social sustainability have sustained the Homo sapiens species because they drive our species with a hunger for an ever-improving quality of life that seems to never be satisfied. These values have driven us individually and as whole societies to incessantly explore our innate potential to do so, and has resulted in the progress of nations. 

b. The UNsustainability of Organizations. When we examine the history of human civilizations one startling fact emerges: All civilizations, societies, nations, organizations and their administrations and policies have failed.12  They all failed to survive!

2.    Consider some of the causes for these organizational failures: 

  • None were founded on an intention to become sustainable. None were designed to become sustainable, either materially or socially. 
  • They failed because the three values that have sustained our species were not embedded in their founding documents and operational decision-making processes. 
  • Most importantly, all failed because they were not designed as “learning organizations.”13  Learning is the result of our urge to grow to improve our quality of life, individually and collectively. When organizations take on the three core values of social sustainability, (quality of life, growth and equality), they will necessarily become learning organizations to grow into sustainable organizations.

They failed by not learning from their experiences, and did not keep functional libraries of wisdom to guide them.

3.   All historic organizations failed to learn to adapt to changing conditions.

Summary —

The core values of social sustainability level the playing field between all groups of citizens in a democratic society. Being universal to all people of every nation, race, culture ethnicity, and gender using these values prevents explicit and implicit biases in the processes of policy formulation and decision-making.

The primary three core values of social sustainability, (quality of life, growth and equality), will aid any policy analyst or community to formulate social policies that support their movement toward peaceful social stability. The secondary Value-Emotions of social sustainability, (empathy, compassion, and “Love), will help assure that what the policies they do develop are humane.

If you are an executive who is concerned about corporate social responsibilities, you can now point to the timeless, universal, and irreducible values of quality of life, growth, and equality as rationale and justification for social policies that are applicable to all people without bias or special interest.

Acceptance and use of the six core values of social sustainability provide a consistent morality for examining and designing sustainable social policies and practices, would allow public policy analysts and the public in their communities to finally get “on the same page” of social issues.

Our lifestyles are unlikely to improve until we accept the goal of moving our democracies forward toward social, economic, and political sustainability. It will take all of us developing the inner potential of our societies, working together to achieve social sustainability. It requires millions of people having the same collective vision of arriving in the future, together. The separatism of a “me-first” culture jeopardizes the goal of achieving social sustainability because that goal needs everyone going in the same direction. Yet, that does not require individual citizens to sacrifice their unique personal goals!

In order to move into and occupy the huge space of shared responsibilities of the 2nd Paradigm of Democracy, “I” cannot become great until “you” become great, and “we” are all greater by our mutual contributions to each other. We can do that when our public policies are holistically consistent within democratic societies. My personal intention is to empower you to your greatness, so you can do the same for others.


9 - Trzyna, Ted 2001. California Institute of Public Affairs Publication No. 105, August 2001 © CIPA 2001. Citation: Ted Trzyna. 2001. "Raising annoying questions: Why values should be built into decision-making." California Institute of Public Affairs, Sacramento, California.
10 - Amy, Douglas J. 1984. Why policy analysis and ethics are incompatible. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 4: 573-591.
11 - Lakoff, George *2008) The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. Viking, Penguin Group, USA. p 47. 
12 - Diamond, Jared 2005 Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Viking, Penguin Group, New York
13 - Senge, Peter M. 1994 The Fifth Discipline, Currency Doubleday, NY.