“do not bombard people with evidence”

Students in next semester’s University of New Mexico Water Resources Program core curriculum will be reading this new paper by Paul Cairney and Richard Kwiatkowski:

To communicate effectively in policymaking systems, actors need to understand how policymakers process evidence and the environment in which they operate. Therefore, we combine psychology and policy studies to produce a three-step strategy. First, do not bombard people with evidence. Human beings have too much information to process, and they use heuristics to filter information to make decisions quickly. Synthesise and frame evidence to help you tailor it to the ways in which policymakers demand and understand information. Second, find the right time to act. Timing matters during key individuals’ patterns of thinking and the alignment of conditions in political systems. Third, engage with real world policymaking rather than waiting for a ‘rational’ and orderly process to appear. To present evidence during mythical stages of a ‘policy cycle’ is misguided, and to ‘speak truth to power’ without establishing legitimacy and building trust may be counterproductive. Our overall message is pragmatic, not Machiavellian: effective communication requires the suppliers of evidence to see the world from the perspective of their audience and understand the policy process in which they engage.

The course’s primary goal is to teach the students basic systems modeling techniques, both hydrologic and economic – linked. But I’m adamant that our students understand that their technical work is intrinsically part of a political and policy ecosystem – that there is no technical work on its own, unencumbered by the messy world of how humans actually use it.

We’ll be modeling the Gila River in New Mexico, which right now is about as messy a political and policy ecosystem as a body of technical work can encounter.

Taking applications for fall 2018 if you want to join us!

One Comment

  1. The effort to teach technical students about policy, and about how policy is made, is a great step in the right direction. Too many excellent technical folks are frustrated because they never learned how government works. Hopefully this strategy will help good people avoid that.

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