Towards Policy Analysis 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges in Collaborative Policy Analysis

Decision-making is hard, and it can often be made harder still when the issue or environment is complex. Profound uncertainty, rapid emergence and multiple issue interconnectedness are some of the features of a complex policy environment that challenge public policy makers. One approach to dealing with complexity in a policy context is horizontality, the act of working across the various ministries and divisions of a government in order to harness the organization’s capacity and resources and direct them towards the solving of the complex problem. And one prominent mechanism for meeting the horizontality challenge is the promotion of greater organization-wide collaboration, knowledge sharing and active knowledge seeking amongst a network of knowledge workers. The emergence of Web 2.0 tools and approaches has raised the possibility that we have entered a new knowledge management era – Enterprise 2.0 – that can address the horizontality problem, facilitate the sharing of knowledge across organizations and promote transformative governance.

“Towards Policy Analysis 2.0” is based on recently conducted research into the contemporary policy formulation environment in the British Columbia Government. In early 2012, Justin Longo (Principal Associate with eBriefings.ca) interviewed members of corporate policy units throughout government as well as deployed an on-line survey of BC Government policy analysts. His research was aimed at the question of how governments can deal with the challenge of policy complexity by supporting horizontal policy formulation, what barriers might stand in the way of the sharing of knowledge and efforts by public servants to collaborate with colleagues, and what challenges might arise as we move further into the collaborative social enterprise environment.

From the web-based survey and the interview data, it appears that attitudes (which measures what the respondents’ values and experience tell them is the right thing to do), followed by norms (measured as what respondents hear from their colleagues and superiors as being important) were the strongest and most consistent predictors of the intention to collaborate and share knowledge. A third measure – perceived behavioural control – was weakest, indicating that while policy analysts may believe and be told that knowledge sharing and collaboration are the optimal path, they may not feel they have the authority or latitude to do so; in fact, the data indicate that policy analysts may refrain from sharing knowledge with colleagues using technology networks in order to avoid contributing to their colleagues’ information overload. A curious gender result also emerged from the data: women were found to be less supportive of knowledge sharing and collaboration than were men. It also appears that a policy analyst’s organizational social network is instrumental in being able to locate knowledge sources and collaboration opportunities outside of their immediate location, with the reach and density of one’s social network related to career length.

The significance of the findings lies in the implications for organizations to provide support for knowledge workers to make effective use of the organizational social network, technology and organizational capacity to jointly solve problems. The results point towards strategies for organizational leaders to promote and support a knowledge organization, and towards tools for policy unit managers and individual policy analysts to navigate the challenge of responding to complex policy issues in a world of too much information and difficult to locate knowledge. Caution is advised that attempts to impose knowledge management technology solutions may face significant barriers where the organizational culture is not aligned with open knowledge sharing and collaboration. And the implications of the findings regarding gender must be considered, by looking at the culture and climate of the organization to determine whether it is having a negative impact on the ability and willingness of all employees to contribute. The potential power of organizational social networks, facilitated by an enhanced collaborative technology infrastructure, to bridge between the organization’s various sub-cultures is one possible path for helping to build the knowledge organization.


Are you curious about how new information and communication technologies – especially those under the heading “Web 2.0” – can be used in your policy analysis environment to improve knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst your team and across the organization? Or have you been using Web 2.0 in your policy analysis work, but are starting to wonder why it’s not working as you hoped? Collaborative web technology like blogs, wikis, social networking platforms and cloud sharing can enable the knowledge organization to reach new levels of productivity. They can also lead to information overload on the demand side, and can fail to engage knowledge workers as content contributors on the supply side.

Justin Longo, Principal Associate with eBriefings.ca, is available for an executive level briefing or to participate in a practitioner discussion forum to discuss the results from his recent doctoral research and how those insights can help you get started in collaborative policy analysis or navigate the challenges of Policy Analysis 2.0. Please contact justin by email (justin@ebriefings.ca) or phone (250-686-7288) to get started. The abstract above provides a sketch of the topic, but the content of a briefing or discussion forum can be suited to your particular interests.

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