Quality control/improvement - for governments

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Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby stevenf » Fri Jan 20, 2012 9:35 pm UTC

Quality control and improvement systems are now almost universal in manufacturing and the service sector. When well implimented they can be valuable.

Do the processes and principles involved lend themselves to governments?

Would it be possible for an 'indifferent observer' to establish a continuous process of objective evaluation of overall government performance that could find particular value at election time but would also provide continuous evaluation between times?

I envisage a large number of domains, each with a validated scoring system, and an overall summation score.

What domains would you nominate? Could this be done on-line? Can you think of anyone who might consider funding such a thing?
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby elasto » Sat Jan 21, 2012 3:07 am UTC

Attempting to measure quality of governance is essentially about measuring the quality of leadership, though. What QC systems in manufacturing and service actually objectively measure quality of leadership in that company? The main measure I can think of is external: Increase or decrease in share price during and after the period of governance. But that's obviously related to profitability moreso than directly leadership - and all sorts of things beyond a company's control can affect that.

I'm finding it hard to come up with anything that's not subjective really - such as a 'rate your manager' questionnaire - which is obviously a highly suspect metric in a politicised situation.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby cookiemobsta » Sat Jan 21, 2012 5:26 am UTC

The problem is one of incentives.

Businesses have very strong incentives to be high quality and to improve their processes. If they improve their quality, more people will buy from them and they will make more money. If they don't improve, fewer people will buy from them and they will lose money and market share and may eventually go out of business.

Governments, on the other hand, do not have strong incentives to be high quality. If you are good at getting elected, you will get elected even if you are bad at governing. You would think that a person who is bad at governing would be thrown out by dissatisfied voters, but most voters are not very good at figuring out if their elected officials did a good job or a bad job.

So it's something of a mess.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Anaximander » Tue Jan 31, 2012 10:30 pm UTC

stevenf wrote:Would it be possible for an 'indifferent observer' to establish a continuous process of objective evaluation of overall government performance that could find particular value at election time but would also provide continuous evaluation between times?

The biggest challenge with any watchdog agency is the potential for rampant corruption. Unless a system can be established which guarantees virtuous intentions, how much money would you need to pay employees of said system to prevent them from participating in collusion or taking kickbacks and bribes? Finding indifferent or impartial entities is very difficult so long as you are relying on humans to not abuse power for their own self-interest. "Corruptio optimi pessima."
stevenf wrote:I envisage a large number of domains, each with a validated scoring system, and an overall summation score.

What domains would you nominate? Could this be done on-line? Can you think of anyone who might consider funding such a thing?

I think this sort of thing might work in a very well-educated society where you could count on the full participation of a free-thinking populace to critically evaluate their own government. Unfortunately, maintaining a society like that is a challenge in and of itself. I'm sorry and I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but my experiences with bureaucracy and power structures over the years have instilled a serious distrust of authority and the people who seek to obtain or regulate it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. :|
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Qaanol » Wed Feb 01, 2012 12:03 am UTC

One simple thing that would prevent a lot of bad laws from being passed, at least for the United States, is to make there be consequences for all legislators who vote for any law that is later ruled unconstitutional. That would provide a serious incentive for lawmakers to read the laws they’re voting on, and be very careful to err on the side of not overreaching the powers granted to the government by the constitution.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby sardia » Wed Feb 01, 2012 5:27 am UTC

Qaanol wrote:One simple thing that would prevent a lot of bad laws from being passed, at least for the United States, is to make there be consequences for all legislators who vote for any law that is later ruled unconstitutional. That would provide a serious incentive for lawmakers to read the laws they’re voting on, and be very careful to err on the side of not overreaching the powers granted to the government by the constitution.

Errrr. The dred scott vs Sanford, and Citizens United would disagree with you. That means you would be punishing legislators for trying to solve problems that SCOTUS reversed. Hardly a great solution. A better rule would be to maximize civics in the country. Make voting mandatory in both primaries and elections, provide free campaign finance to prevent money from corrupting the system, etc etc. Declare elections and primaries a holiday. If you forced everyone to vote in every primary alone, that would cause upheaval in the GOP and Democratic party. My god, they would have to consider the youth vote, and minorities. =.=
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:14 am UTC

stevenf wrote:Would it be possible for an 'indifferent observer' to establish a continuous process of objective evaluation of overall government performance that could find particular value at election time but would also provide continuous evaluation between times?


Once upon a time, such a thing was said to exist. It was called an "independent media".
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Feb 01, 2012 1:15 pm UTC

In many respects, any system with a bicameral legislature (two separate bodies that both need to pass a law) is supposed to do this already. In the Westminster system (i.e. UK and its inheritors) this is quite formalised. The House of Commons initially formulates new laws, and is composed of politicians who have to answer to the populace (through elections) every 4/5 years. The laws then get passed to the House of Lords, who because they aren't elected, have a different set of priorities. If they think a new law is crap it gets passed back to the House of Commons for alteration. This has happened very recently with a bill to cap social security payments. The Congress/Senate split in the US is supposed to serve roughly the same purpose.

Of course, part of the problem is that new laws is not everything a Government does. There's the day-to-day running of the country to get on with as well. The scrutinization of this is supposed to be carried out by all the various Committees and Sub-Committees. Modern Government is supposed to be about "checks and balances", so that in the end the different branches of Government end up watching each other to make sure everyone is doing a good job. Whether this system is currently working as intended is left as an exercise to the reader.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby dockaon » Fri Feb 03, 2012 6:46 pm UTC

First off most parts of government do have quality control/improvement processes in place. In my day job I work as a contracter on improvements in the Defense Department's logistics system. So as long as there are clearly defined goals the government can do that just as well as any other established massive lumbering bureaucracy as long as it has an the motivation to do so. Which generally comes in the form the politicians being scared of losing the next election if they don't get something right. (Which does happen, in 1979 the mayor of Chicago lost reelection over ineffective snow removal. Since then the mayors of Chicago react to snow like it's World War Three.)

The issue is that there is no objective way to judge relative importance of all the different goals of a modern government. In a business, it all comes down to profit and you can relate everything to that. In the government, what the important goals are is a large part of what politics is all about. Is GDP more or less important than the median income? Is the total annual deaths due to terrorism more or less important than total annual deaths from natural disasters? Does the quality of the country's cultural output matter? Should the government concern itself with the welfare of it's citizens at all beyond ensuring their rights are not violated?

There's no way to avoid the messiness of politics, because there is no universal conception of what is good. All you end up doing is hiding the important debates behind technical jargon, excluding more of the populace from participating in the debate, and frequently biasing the debate through the technical assumptions that you make.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Ixtellor » Fri Feb 03, 2012 7:39 pm UTC

There is at least one Republican pushing for Six Sigma implementation for quality control of the bureaucracy.

I personally like the "5 Whys"( a product/method of Six Sigma) method even though I recognize its limitations and flaws.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys

I think this could be an interesting starting point for you research, because a lot of what they do should be doable in the government sectors.

Going back to a previous poster. I think there isn't always a correlation between bad politician and bad implementation. Frequently bad politican just means = I have no ideas. Its not that they would be opposed to fixing things. And more importantly the Bureaucracy at the federal level has great latitude in implementing their own quality control. Frequently the Prez or Congress just tells them "find savings", and they are free to find solutions.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Anaximander » Fri Feb 03, 2012 10:14 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:There is at least one Republican pushing for Six Sigma implementation for quality control of the bureaucracy.

Ha ha! Really? Hysterical! Which one?

Maybe that's an idea for quality control in governments - don't allow the same useless fools from the corporate world who unilaterally implement quality control processes over things they don't understand anywhere near public office.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Turtlewing » Sun Feb 05, 2012 6:17 pm UTC

The problem with a quality control system for government is that it's turtles all the way up (ultimately whatever system you put in place is itself subject to the same basic problem of power and corruption going to well together).

The idea behind a bicameral legislature (get two bodies with differing priorities who have to agree to any action) or checks and balances (one group makes the laws, and a different group enforces them), but those can be corrupted by the existence of political parties. Which in my opinion is the main problem the U.S. is facing now.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Mon Feb 06, 2012 9:50 pm UTC

The idea in a representative democracy is that the electorate are doing the quality control. We evaluate how the elected representatives are doing, and if we think they're doing a bad job we elect someone who seems better. But if you look at historical approval ratings (which are usually in the 20-40% range, with jumps up to 50-60%) and historical re-election rates (which are consistently in the 80-90's percent range) it's obvious that we're not doing a very good job of QC, at least according to our own standards.

I think a major cause of this is that political parties have come to dominate the election process, and political parties focus almost entirely on questions of “what should government do?”

Questions like:
“Should the government provide health care, or health insurance?”
“Should the government stimulate the economy with spending”
“Should the government intervene in other countries politics?”

Which are important, but political parties just want to focus on these relatively simple yes/no questions. Binary questions like that are convenient because one party can take one side, and the other party can take the other side. Or to be more realistic, the parties choose platforms composed of divisive issues, and only focus on the small minority of these kinds of questions where there’s any debate i.e., they completely ignore every issue where there’s widespread agreement.

What’s wrong with that? Well, once we’ve answered a question one way or another “yes the government should/shouldn’t do this” then we have to answer the much more difficult question of “how should we handle this issue/solve this problem?” In general, how well politicians can solve problems is a good reflection of our approval ratings, if they’re doing a good job addressing the many issues we can all agree government should be working on, then we’ll most approve of the job their doing. But if they spend all their time arguing over a few issues where there’s no consensus then they’ll probably end up with low approval ratings.

The problem comes when we get to an election and the republicans say that liberals are leading the country to socialism because they want to talk about how to get people health insurance and democrats call the conservatives heartless because they think that health insurance should be an individual decision. No one wants to talk about moderate positions, or talk about actual solutions.

Basically the idea of deciding where you fall on the political spectrum and then voting for people who are similar to you is the only issue that gets discussed in politics anymore. The idea of electing people who are good leaders, or people who are good at finding compromise solutions has been completely pushed aside. And I understand why, partisan politics is easy, you don’t have to do a lot of research (a lot of people just pick “R” or “D” down the ballot), you don’t have to understand complicated solutions. Basically, you just trust that someone who is the same political party as you will be a good leader. And then you end up with representatives with low approval ratings getting re-elected almost all the time.

Do we need QC for government? Yes, and we’re the ones who are supposed to be doing it, but we’re not – because it’s hard. Or at least more difficult than the myth of easy politics that the political parties are giving us.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Zamfir » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:10 pm UTC

The idea in a representative democracy is that the electorate are doing the quality control. We evaluate how the elected representatives are doing, and if we think they're doing a bad job we elect someone who seems better. But if you look at historical approval ratings (which are usually in the 20-40% range, with jumps up to 50-60%) and historical re-election rates (which are consistently in the 80-90's percent range) it's obvious that we're not doing a very good job of QC, at least according to our own standards.

Then again, how would the electorate know when to stop criticizing their representatives? Even in a hypothetical best-functioning government, most people would still disagree with the compromise course. No matter how well the compromise, they would still pressure their representatives to move the compromise more towards their personal views.

Beyond the unavoidable problems of compromise, even the best-run organization will have failures. The cost of reducing failures will at some point outweigh the the cost of accepting some failures. A six-sigma approach only makes sense if such 1-in-a-million failures rates are achievable at moderate cost, which isn't true for most activities. And people should hold their government responsible for failures even when the rate is at an optimal low. If only to keep the low rate of failure low, and because they can't know that a particular rate is close to optimally low.

That makes approval rates not a very useful criterion to judge the quality of government. With a better government people will readjust their expectations, and stay critical.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:10 pm UTC

I think that most approval rating polls/surveys are done as simple yes/no questions, and don't usually ask for a percentage rating i.e., a 40% approval rating means that 40% of people asked think the government is doing a good (or at least approval worthy) job, and 60 don't - not that 40% is the average of everyone's approval ratings. If we had a government with a low "failure" rate, if people had individual approval ratings of government in the 60-80% range then I would expect approval ratings in national polls to be very high.

Obviously approval ratings mask a lot of detail, for example the difference in a nationwide poll where most people were 90% satisfied and one where most people were 99% satisfied would likely be very similar (probably close to 100% approval ratings). But at least they're comparable to voting results, which are also a binary choice and hide a lot of detail.

I'm not sure what the approval ratings for a really well functioning government would be, I'd hope it would be well above 50%, but I'd expect approval ratings and re-election results to be similar, or at the very least to show a correlation. Right now in the US, from the historical results, it seems like approval ratings have no impact on re-election results at all.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Zamfir » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:24 pm UTC

Hmm, is that true? This article suggests the opposite, that there is a strong realtion between approval rates and reelections, at least for presidents and if the approval rates are chosen towards the end of the term.

This is in the article:
Image

I don't think you should expect reelection rates and approval rates to be similar in magnitude, though. A good politician balances their popularity with their political goals. If you have an approval of over 80%, you can afford to push for policies that you and your strong supporters like, but aren't deeply popular over all.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:01 pm UTC

I wouldn't have expected such a strong relationship in approval and re-election rates for president, just from the history of polling and predictions being less than stellar. But it looks like 538 did some good work pulling together, and adjusting the available polls to make the comparison as accurate as possible. And using the approval ratings as close as possible to the election helps too, even a year out things can change dramatically. There's probably also a noticeable difference in how people think about presidential elections vs congressional elections. The approval ratings I was looking at were for congress, as a proxy for 'government'. I'm assuming there's some effect of people thinking that "all those congressmen are bums, except for the one I voted for."

All that being said, I still think there's an issue of people being convinced to choose an easier way to think about elections over a more complicated, but more useful way. Basically, political parties would be happy if the vast majority of people just picked a party and voted for all that party's nominees in every election. Then the parties could just focus on a few issues to jockey for position around the edges to try and capture a majority of likely voters. At least, if I was a politician, and my only concern was keeping my job, that would be the easiest way to get re-elected.

A simple test to do is to take out a sheet of paper, and draw a 2x2 grid. with "Good ideas" and "Bad ideas" at the top and "Past" and "Future" down the side axis. Then pick a politician (someone running for office now, or one of your representatives) and try to fill in each square with at least one problem that they've either solved (well or poorly) or have proposed a solution. To make sure that the ideas you're filling in are actual solutions, and not just empty rhetoric, make sure that each ideas identifies: the problem, the solution, and a prediction.

I've tried this exercise, and it's very difficult to find a politician that has a platform or published record that includes well defined problems and solutions, and practically impossible to find a single prediction (beyond empty statements like "I will bring back American values"). Which most voters seem to accept without a problem, but in virtually any other organization, that almost complete lack of information would be laughable.


Edit, here's an example of what I was talking about:
I just spent about 20 mins putting together a quick comparison for Obama. I actually hadn't done one before because I figured it would be relatively easy for someone running for 2nd term - they'll have lots of stuff to brag about (hopefully) and their critics will too. But even with so much information available most of it avoids anything approaching concrete ideas. Even things like lists of "Obama's biggest mistakes" are filled with fluff answers like "he should have done more for the economy" without any specific counter ideas or other criticisms. And of course the Obama 2012 site had lots of good sounding accomplishments that didn't go in to any detail. But all in all it was an interesting exercise. Here's some examples of the first things that I filled out for each of the boxes:

Good/past, i.e., accomplishment: Found out about specific portions of the Recovery Act and American Jobs Act that provided funds at the state and local levels to either hire more teachers, or avoid laying off teachers. The changes seemed to be well panned, with specific goals, and they seemed to meet or exceeded expectations.

Bad/past, i.e., mistake/failure: The administration is still trying to negotiate some kind of mortgage relief act with the states, which seems way over-do by now. It sounds like the biggest hold up is trying to balance helping homeowners with holding banks/lenders responsible for various kinds of fraud. My initial reaction would be that those two goals should be split up and approached separately.

Good/future: Portions of the affordable care act will be kicking in, the parts that specifically caught my eye were provisions to increase access (mostly pay for) preventative care. Again, it looks like these changes were well thought out, and had concrete goals.

Bad/future: There were a number of proposed changes to federal student load programs, including a lot of provisions to forgive loans after 10 or 20 years. It's a concrete proposal, at least in terms of benefits, but I didn't see any cost analysis. Also, and more importantly, while I'm sure it would do something to make college more affordable over the long term, it doesn't seem like the most efficient way to approach the problem.

Of course good or bad is all personal judgment, and just finding one example in each section isn't enough to make a good judgment about the candidate. The reason I go through an exercise like this is to force myself to ignore all the empty political gesturing and fluff statements that don't really lead anywhere (but are so easy to get caught up in), and just focus on ideas that actually have an explanation to back them up. Something I can point to, and hold the candidate accountable to. It forces me to put in some effort to judge what's a good idea and what's not and not rely on easy, and over-simplified, judgments.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Dark567 » Wed Feb 08, 2012 7:43 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote: just from the history of polling and predictions being less than stellar.
I am fairly certain, at one point 538 actually looked at this point and basically concluded it was a false piece of common wisdom. That in fact scientific polling was generally accurate, as long as it was done well(i.e. not biased questions). Although they do point out that its tending to become more true as more of the demographic only uses unlisted mobile phones.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby Zamfir » Wed Feb 08, 2012 7:45 pm UTC

Why would you expect individual representatives to present themselves that way? It's not their position to do that kind of things. They are a small part of a large deliberative body, very much on purpose.

It's a fairly fundamental trade-off, the inverse of the spiderman principle. You don't want to give individual people too much unchecked power to make decisions, and by extension there will be no strong individual responsibility for decisions. So both the power to determine policy and the responsibility for that policy goes to groups of people. Official groups like a parliament, cabinet or committee, or self-organized groups like parties, coalitions or factions.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Wed Feb 08, 2012 8:07 pm UTC

I'm not really talking about how much power, or responsibility a single representative has. I'm more interested in the platforms they're running on. Do they look for support for consistently sticking to party ideals? Which basically boils down to a few issues where democrats and republicans disagree over what government should be involved in. Or do they run on solutions or improvements? Which, to be realistic, will almost always have to be about issues where both parties (or all parties) agree that government should be involved, and then we have to answer the question of what is the best policy?

Virtually every election I've followed, and virtually every candidate I've paid attention to, has always been about the simplest possible level, the least possible detail, as few facts or figures as possible and a pathological aversion to making any prediction that they might be held accountable to at some point. I'm not 100% sure how we got here, but I'm pretty sure that talking about anything substantive has been pushed out of elections, and that the voting public has been complacent in allowing that to happen. I don't think that all politicians set out with the goal of avoiding discussing the issues, but if that ends up being the most reliable way to get re-elected I'd guess that most of them would end up taking advantage of it.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby induction » Wed Feb 08, 2012 8:33 pm UTC

TristanC wrote:I'm not 100% sure how we got here, but I'm pretty sure that talking about anything substantive has been pushed out of elections, and that the voting public has been complacent in allowing that to happen.

The assumption here is that it used to be different. Is that true? My suspicion is the opposite. More data with which to judge a politician's performance is available now than ever before (granted, not everyone takes advantage of it). I remember Ross Perot getting a lot of credit in the 90s for showing pie charts at debates and forcing the other presidential candidates to discuss the issues in more detail than anyone was used to.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:23 pm UTC

I have a few issues with the "it's always like this" or "it was bad then and it's bad now, so there's no point in doing anything" or similar arguments.

1. Some people will always have a negative view of government, or dislike some recent decision. But all "bads" aren't the same. We have right now the lowest approval ratings for government/congress in the history of surveys. And not just by a little bit, and it's not getting better, after it hit historical lows it continued to decline.

2. What periods are we talking about? I have a pretty limited experience compared to the history of the country. Even if politics aren't noticeably worse/more corrupt now than they were 20 years ago, what about 50 or 100 years ago? As the time frame expands it becomes increasingly difficult to argue that there aren't swings in the effectiveness of government over time.

3. There might be some bias, being a US citizen, things might always look 'worse' from the inside. But there is evidence that other countries used to hold the US model of government in high esteem, but that the view of government (or at least the results it has produced) has declined sharply in the last few decades. NY Times article.

4. Even if things really haven't improved, is that a good sign? There is a legitimate expectation that things, including how we govern ourselves will improve over time. At the very least through a process of guess-and-check we should eventually find improved solutions to common problems, and hopefully we can use our experience, research and innovative thinking to find way to improve. A great book that lays out the argument for changing the way we think about government, and therefore hopefully improving government is The Gardens of Democracy, which is short and well written.

At somepoint I hope that the discussion can go from "things will always be like this there's no reason to talk about improvement" to "here are some ideas for how to improve things." I have no idea what the best way to improve things is, or even if trying to find a 'best' way is the right goal, but it seems like looking for a better way is at least a worthwhile goal.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby induction » Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:33 pm UTC

To be fair, I never said:
"it's always like this" or "it was bad then and it's bad now, so there's no point in doing anything"

I said, that in my opinion, more data is now available to the general public with which to judge the performance of politicians, and that politicians seem more likely to publicly discuss their strategies and platform at a greater level of detail than in the past (which was not very much). If your goal is to find a strategy for improving government, this is a relevant detail, especially in light of:
Virtually every election I've followed, and virtually every candidate I've paid attention to, has always been about the simplest possible level, the least possible detail, as few facts or figures as possible and a pathological aversion to making any prediction that they might be held accountable to at some point...I'm not 100% sure how we got here, but I'm pretty sure that talking about anything substantive has been pushed out of elections, and that the voting public has been complacent in allowing that to happen.


So, how does greater access to information and increased ease of fact-checking correlate with approval ratings or the willingness of politicians to make concrete statements of facts or predictions? Is this technology (the internet) in any way responsible for the decrease in approval ratings? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that if there is a correlation, then there can be significant problems with using approval ratings as a metric of governmental effectiveness. Consider the fact that approval polls are part of a feedback loop that affects the decisions of politicians, and that reliance on approval ratings might lead politicians to provide easy answers that please people in the short term, instead of developing long-term solutions (or even at the expense of long-term solutions). Consider how much detail and nuance must be ignored to make any particular subject amenable to polling.

Finally, consider several hypotheses. The current low approval ratings are caused by:
1. decreased competency of government,
2. increased expectations from the public,
3. increased political polarization of the public,
4. increased diversity of the public,
5. a bad economy,
...
n. some specific combination of the above

It seems to me that the answer to the question of why approval ratings are so low could have great impact on any strategy for improvement, or at least on the utility of using approval ratings as a guide for such a strategy, and that information regarding whether things are improving or getting worse is entirely relevant to the discussion.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:49 pm UTC

induction wrote:It seems to me that the answer to the question of why approval ratings are so low could have great impact on any strategy for improvement,


Ok, ignore approval ratings then. This has been a great example of how people can spend a lot of time discussing/debating "whether" something should be done without ever bringing up a single example of "how" we might go about doing it. Find any one area where there's some room for ambiguity or uncertainty, and focus on that one area. This is exactly the problem I have with politics today, politicians spend all their time (whether campaigning or in office) arguing along party lines of "what" the government should do and completely ignore the "how" should we be solving problems question. And I can see why, if you never offer up a suggestion then no one can shoot it down, it's an extremely safe and low risk strategy, and it will work great as long as most people are willing to accept those kinds of answers.

I, personally, won't. I think that in politics, like in virtually every other area, it just ends up sidetracking the discussion and preventing any real progress. I'm not saying that I think we should use approval ratings as a way to measure government success, it's just one example from a much wider perspective. I'm saying that if we're in a situation where every time I talk politics with anyone they think that government is doing a terrible job, and that political bickering is preventing any real improvement, that we should think about how we got here, and what we as voters can do to get us out. What we should be doing is talking about "how" we can improve political discourse, not if it's something worth doing.

And if someone thinks that we can't possible improve politics in this country (either because it's either already so good, or because it will always stay the same) then they should either 1) contribute to the discussion by showing how the predictions or solutions of different proposals aren't realistic or 2) stay out of the discussion - because if they're right what difference does it make anyways? Or better yet, try to come up with the best possible way, the idea with the greatest possible chance of success in improving government, and show that it still has flaws. If we're going to have a discussion, either as part of politics or even just about politics it seems like it's only worthwhile if people are contributing new ideas, or counter proposals instead of just pointing out ways that everything is wrong or a bad idea. Even if everything is wrong or a bad idea, at the very least point out which one is worse, and which is "least bad."
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby induction » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

TristanC wrote:This has been a great example of how people can spend a lot of time discussing/debating "whether" something should be done without ever bringing up a single example of "how" we might go about doing it.
...
And if someone thinks that we can't possible improve politics in this country (either because it's either already so good, or because it will always stay the same) then they should either 1) contribute to the discussion by showing how the predictions or solutions of different proposals aren't realistic or 2) stay out of the discussion - because if they're right what difference does it make anyways? Or better yet, try to come up with the best possible way, the idea with the greatest possible chance of success in improving government, and show that it still has flaws.


I'm confused.

The government is doing a bad job and we need to fix it. The obvious question is: how do we figure out exactly what's wrong and how to fix it? This is the first step in attempting to fix anything, not just governments. You suggested using approval ratings, and many people suggested that there are some difficulties with this approach. Without stating that your approach is wrong, I proposed some discussion of how to try to account for these difficulties and offered some questions that should be answered in order to improve confidence in any strategy the approach leads to (in line with your later instruction #1 below), but you claim that any discussion of this type is just sidetracking the discussion, so I should just shut up (in line with instruction #2), and we should all just ignore your suggestion.

You seem to be equating debate over whether a particular suggestion is worthwhile with debate over whether or not we should try to fix the government. Nobody has argued that politics in this country is awesome and shouldn't be improved, nor that this is impossible. But I assert that it is possible to make it worse. So any suggestions for changing things deserve serious discussion to ensure that the cure isn't worse than the disease. This includes analyzing the assumptions that underlie the suggestions. Eliminating any such analysis as 'sidetracking the discussion' seems like a recipe for disaster.

I sympathize with your desire to just fix things already and I, too, am frustrated about political bickering and gridlock. (Though I don't think that any of the discussion in this thread in any way resembles the political gridlock you compare it to.) If you have a suggestion on how to solve this problem, we would all love to hear it (no sarcasm intended), but you should be prepared for people to follow your instruction #1. These sorts of debates are very much like science: even if an idea is good, we should try to knock it down (I should say especially if it's good). If it doesn't fall over, it might be worth doing. You'll just have to take our word that we do so with intellectual honesty, and that we can recognize the difference between honest debate, cheap one-upmanship, and political axe-grinding.
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Re: Quality control/improvement - for governments

Postby TrlstanC » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:58 pm UTC

Ahh, I see the problem, I never said that I think approval ratings should be used to improve government. Or if I implied it, or seemed to say that, that was certainly a mistake on my part. My suggestion for people who want to improve government is improve the quality of discussion by ignoring political parties, and focusing instead of each individual's specific solutions (either from their record or proposed) along with some ideas on how to sort out actual solutions from empty rhetoric e.g., look for predictions.

I certainly think that the fact that approval ratings are usually low, and have been getting extremely low recently, all while re-elections rates stay very high indicates that there's some kind of problem in the way we're discussing and/or electing representatives. I think it's a symptom, but I don't think we should be treating symptoms, we should look for the root cause of the problem. Of course, I may be wrong, it might not be a symptom, it may be a statistical artifact of polling, but everyone's pretty much in agreement that there's something(s) wrong. So, what should we do to fix it? Eventually, any problem comes down to us, we're picking the politicians, if we're picking the wrong ones, or picking the right ones, but giving them the wrong incentives, then we need to do something wrong.

And I would definitely suggest that everyone at least tryout my 4-square exercise once, it was certainly enlightening the first time I tried it, but if nothing else it's something concrete to criticize and improve. I'd love to hear more ideas on what we as voters can do to give politicians (or people who wouldn't normally think of themselves as politicians, but might be good representatives) the right incentives to run and make decisions for the common good.
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