Thursday, February 03, 2011

Why Programs Fail

A bit from a new Center for American Progress study on "Design for Success". Part of their answer to the question is:
"proponents [of a program] tend to focus on the politics and perception of a new idea, rather than on less glamorous questions of whether the program is likely to work or whether it is ready to be implemented. They focus on which stakeholder group might back the idea, how it will play with the media and voters, and what effect it could have on future political contests. These considerations naturally lead to compromises, and ideas get amended to increase political support. The changes, however, are rarely about making the idea more effective when implemented, but about luring the support of powerful players.
The problem, then, is that our program-making process focuses primarily on politics, and only secondarily on substantial policy questions. Questions of implementability sometimes seem entirely absent from the process.
(The study in part is inspired by Atul Gawande's "Checklist" book. )

A related quote, on why existing programs continue:
Finally, the political process rewards people who come up with new ideas, not fix old ones. Interest groups court new policies, and reward politicians who champion their ideas. That means Washington decision makers tend to channel their energies into developing new policies rather than fixing existing programs.
 I've skimmed the report which I like. It's more practical than many efforts.  I particularly like the idea in the report that its proposals should be tested on a trial basis, as they recommend for new programs.  However, I'd fault them for being too much a "new idea" (see the paragraph above) and not attending to how existing efforts in OMB and Congress could be modified and improved in light of their recommendations.  It's good my Senator, Mr. Warner, supports the effort, but how much clout is behind it?

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