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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

of cups, pints, miles, kilometers... and innovative accountable governance...

In their 1998 “Understanding Policy Fiascoes” book, Mark Bovens and Paul t’Hart analyze a
framework of understanding “system failure” in policy making, and test the framework on several (ex-
post) high profile cases.

In his decades long work on Pragmatic Eliminative Induction, William N. Dunn offers a
complementary systematic methodology meant at identifying “hidden” from the untrained eye strong
relationships that not-so-well-researched factors affecting socio-economic phenomena have on these

In their best-selling book “Freakonomics” Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner also look systematically
at “the hidden side of everything”. This book offers a great popular introduction towards understanding
what is called usually Quasiexperimentation (Cook and Campbell 1979)

In his classic work on the Advocacy Coalition Framework, Paul Sabatier advances significantly the
field of understanding the complexity and non-linear nature of policy processes. The work leaves open
(to some) the fundamental question on why do (sets of) policy actors who could cooperate chose to
dedicate tremendous resources to fight each other, respectively in support of or opposing one policy
intervention or another. But we digress...

When children are tested for their logical reasoning, they often have to solve problems such as:

“Pint is to glass the same as ___ is to highway.” The answer is of course mile.

For non-US people that would translate of course in:

“Centiliter is to glass the same as ___ is to highway.” The answer should be kilometer instead.

Malcolm Gladwell points out in his Outliers book some interesting facts about socio-cultural and other
environmental factors affecting success of individuals or behaviors of communities, and/or both. It
goes without saying that the above test is by far discriminatory to anyone for whom the International
System of measurements is embedded in their perception and thinking. The reasoning time necessary
when working with notions outside your core “vocabulary” would be clearly much larger than for those
to whom pint belongs in their core set of notions they easily understand well, from having been
subjected to them for long times. Whereas a US grown child jumps straight to the core of the question,
for a non-US born child it take a set of intermediary questions they need to ask and answer before ever
starting addressing the core logical inference question. We mean such “elementary” questions as “what
is a pint?” Except of course for the non-US child these are not that elementary. Furthermore, there may
even be a negative psychological effect of the test on the non-US test taker subjected to the US focused

Things may get even more interesting when dealing with the “glass, cup, pint, ounce” test. Which one
does not belong in the list? It turns out it is glass. Yet, cup in the above list is a very odd member of the
category of volume measuring units to which it belongs. In every non-American English speaker’s
mind cup can be closer to glass than it would be to pint and ounce. Cup is a measuring unit, but it is
also a synonym for mug, and hence perceived as being in the same category as glass (if looking at glass
as a glass of water, and not as what is a window made from).

Our question is then:

What is to truly innovative accountable governance what was the early 1970s oil crisis to highway
traffic fatalities?

Moreover, what barriers to our understanding and addressing comprehensively the question are there?
We mean the barriers hidden from the untrained eye, such as the ones in the above simple tests with
pints and cups and glasses and mugs… Can one draw the systemic diagram of all the factors affecting
our ability to trace down the core factor(s) affecting the likelihood of developing an innovative
accountable governance system? What would it take?

© Dr. Adrian S Petrescu, 2010