A Solution-Centric Mindset is Fundamental to Public Policy Work

Albert Einstein, widely regarded as one of the greatest physicists of all time, had famously remarked “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Einstein, in all likelihood, made this statement to influence scientific temper and inculcate the value of scientific thinking, but his quote is easily admissible to other walks of life – economic, social and even political for that matter.     

Policy, among others, is one area that demands a multidimensional view, given the associated economic and political sensitivities, and of course interdependencies that are national, trans-national and/ or also local (state-level) in some instances. Extraneous factors such the pandemic or a global conflict or the distributive impact of a shift triggered by an economic union only add to this complexity. It can get daunting for any public policy professional to navigate this complex and ever-changing landscape given the limited monitoring mechanisms on hand and often the circumspect nature of the change itself. 

On the other side, policymakers, and regulators have far greater challenges on hand in my view. These include dealing with short-term goals as opposed to taking a long-term view, opting for even growth vs. chasing innovation and of course dealing with the ever-present challenge of striking a balance between what’s right with what might be more acceptable. Let’s face it, these are often tough calls to take and could on occasions go unacknowledged. 

It is crucial for a young public policy professional to understand these ubiquitous facets of policy work that do not necessarily change with geography or jurisdiction. The key to success here is the development of a collaborative and solution-centric mindset that begets an affirmative action in the end. 

A McKinsey Quarterly article from the year 2020, identifies six approaches used by leaders known to be the best problem solvers from across business, non-profit and policy sectors. These are (1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; (2) being imperfectionists, with a high tolerance for ambiguity; (3) having a “dragonfly eye” view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; (4) pursuing occurrent behaviour and experimenting relentlessly; (5) tapping into the collective intelligence, acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and (6) practicing “show and tell” because storytelling begets action. The noticeable connecting link in these approaches is the deep-rooted desire to find a solution and this is exactly what a policy practitioner needs to learn early in his or her career. 

The appetite to relentlessly monitor and track progress must be combined with the intent to devise a solution that could help regulators strike the right balance and chord with its public beneficiaries. Of course, in the longer term the solution must also exemplify social or economic benefits or both. For policy professionals to affect these transformative steps, it is imperative to have an ear-to-the-ground approach – understanding the landscape, engagement with pressure groups and scoping the unknowns are crucial parts of the job. One of the other techniques is to do break-point analysis – the point at which public confidence drops significantly due to a policy shift. Presenting these researched and curated findings can often be a win-win and help to break the biggest of gridlocks between Government and corporate citizens.  

In our brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible (BANI) world the space for problem-solvers has only increased. Owning up to policy challenges versus look at them with disdain and coming up with solutions that work in conjunction with the social, economic and political spectrums will likely underpin the success of any public policy work in the future!


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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