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This is the user page of Sonja-Maria Ignatius.

DARM course (2015)

Assignment 1.

What is shared understanding?

Shared understanding is an ambitious goal of open policy practice. When shared understanding is attained, all parties or individuals concerned with the topic can understand each others views about it. Shared understanding does not mean that everyone agrees on the topic but rather than everyone understands what others think about the topic and why. In shared understanding the principle is not to find the one best option but to identify one or more poor decision options that can be rejected. This principle I find very interesting and I would like to learn more about it. Shared understanding can be achieved with skillful execution of open policy practice.

In my previous job at Finnish Environment Centre me and my colleagues studied the different uses of Paimionjoki watershed. Important part of the study was to get different interest groups together to create a basis for decision-making on improving the state of the lakes and rivers. There were many different groups with partly different interests: recreational fishermen, summer cottage owners, tourists, farmers, authorities, hydropower company... By getting people together the researchers and hopefully also the attendees of the study gained a better understanding, yet of course not a complete shared understanding. Working together helped to clarify some misunderstandings: people were afraid that the water level would sink if some measures were done by the hydropower company, although this was not the case. Also it became evident that people from different groups had many common goals. For instance many farmers also had summer cottages and were avid fishermen.

Shared understanding can help to make decisions because people understand each other better and this way can become more willing to make compromises as well. On the other hand, if there are people who can´t stand each other, decision making will not become easier but maybe even harder.

I realized that it was difficult for the people to understand that the researchers are not going to do the actual measures of rehabilitation. This should have been communicated more clearly to avoid possible disappointment.

What are the main differences between open assessment and most other assessment approaches?

Open assessment aims at producing relevant information for decision making and thus supporting the process of achieving better (=more acceptable and holistic) decisions. Open assessment attempts to improve societal decision-making by organizing scientific information and value judgments. A crucial, distinctive element from other assessment approaches is openness. In open participation anyone who has something to say about the topic of assessment can join the assessment. Anyone can promote a statement, and it is considered plausible unless it is invalidated. This is important, because anybody can have useful information about the topic regardless of his organization. All statements and arguments are under consideration and must be defended or attacked. The process aims at falsifying irrelevant or invalid statements.

Open assessment allows people who are really interested in the question and want to contribute to the decision making to participate. This is very different from traditional steering group work where the participants are named to be representing their organization. It might be that these people are not the actual experts but are there because of their status. Also they might not have motivation or time to contribute to the assessment. In open assessment it is possible for a large number of people to contribute to the decision making. [more]

Assignment 3.

Question 1.

I would need clarification about which parts in the picture
refer to open assessment as a part of open policy practice. Is open assessment present in the whole decision-support stage or is it some part of it?
Open assessment is work that is done to create a good understanding of the decision situation, and it happens before the actual decision making. In the diagram, it is located in execution, and it is a major part of that work.

Question 2.
Quite often it is not possible for various reasons to embrace the whole methodology and ideology of open policy practice. I´d like to have ideas on how you can support the transition to open policy practice in an organization step by step - or do you see in decision making you have to utilize the whole package of open policy practice because just taking some parts of it at first doesn´t work? For instance there is an assessment of the potential of decentralized renewable-based energy production and energy efficiency going to be conducted in Helsinki in the following months. The organizers are reluctant about open participation. If Env. Centre is too pushy with promoting openness, it is likely to make the organizers even more against it. So, I am interested in how you can promote openness in a way that it is seen as useful for the business as well.

This is an important question, but practical knowledge about this is limited. However, we know that the idea of openness is supported by many (not all or even most!) experts, and in several cases an assessment or evaluation report has been written in an open wiki as a collaborative writing exercise. Typically, the experts participating in such work don't know about the details of open policy practice, but the system still works. It is also possible that practical online models and other tools will become a major product for disseminating expertise even if they only utilise small parts of the methodology. However, although such online models exist, there is not yet good evidence how experts are able to develop such tools in a collaborative way (as it is much more specific than writing a report), and also the end users have not yet realised the potential of such tools. In an ideal situation the demand for such useful outputs changes the practices of experts toward openness and thus gradually toward open policy practice in its full potential.

Question 3. (I have too many questions :P
What interests people is how their participation actually affects the decision making and is it possible to trace how the conclusion was drawn from the input of participants. In lecture 3 Mikko referred to the risk of decision-makers steering the assessment, if the process is not open. It is an interesting question, in which stage the decision-makers should join. In many cases it would help them understand the constraints and scope of assessment if they were part of it. On the other hand the decision-makers rarely have time to participate in the assessments and rather wish to have clear suggestions to decide upon. How do you see the role of decision-maker, is it crucial for him to be part of the actual assessment and how should he contribute?

In the 1983 Red Book a lot of emphasis was put in making sure that decision makers don't decide the outcome first and then order an assessment that supports that conclusion. Their solution was separation of risk assessment and risk management, and risk assessment was kept strictly expert-driven. In open policy practice, this problem is solved in a completely different manner. Complete openness makes is very difficult to promote hidden agendas - promoting agendas as such is OK, but they must be made public. Another method to avoid pre-determined conclusions is criticism. All statements can be criticised by everyone, and observations are the ultimate criteria to decide which statements fail. In such an environment, a decision-maker that tries to push hidden agendas will fail at latest when the decision they make cannot be understood based on the publicly available knowledge, values, and objectives.

Assignment 4.

My assignment is related to organizing the climate work in the City of Helsinki. The draft of the assessment can be found hereSignatiu_DARM_Assignment4_2015

Seminar presentation


Notes (under process):

Linkages of open assessment to decision making I think the role of open assessment in actual decision making should be made clearer. Open assessment can produce crucial information but it does not necessarily affect decision-making. The linkages of open assessment and decision making are interesting. What is important is how the results of open assessment are actually taken into account in decision making. Also, how much should the decision-makers be active in the open assessment stage?

Why is participation important? What people are interested in is that their opinions are taken into account even if they are chosen to be rejected. The process is as important as the actual outcome (explain why).

"Toiminnan kehittämistä ehdottavalle on kolme voimaannuttavaa lopputulosta. Ensinnäkin se, että ehdotus toteutetaan. Toiseksi se, että ehdottaja oppii asiasta niin paljon lisää, että huomaa ettei oma ehdotus olekaan paras vaihtoehto. Kolmanneksi se, että näkee asiasta päättävän tahon ymmärtäneen mistä on kyse mutta selkeästi ilmaistuilla arvoperusteilla kuitenkin päätyy eri ratkaisuun kuin mihin ehdottaja olisi päätynyt." (by Jouni Tuomisto)

How to get contributions to the assessment If a person opens up an assessment without promoting it, it is unlikely to get many contributions: promoting the assessment to get more participants also takes effort.

Right to join an assessment vs. actual access.

'Involvement of people The description of open assessment is pretty theoretical and I can understand that people have difficulties in imagining how it will work out in real life. Added to the formal description it is very important to get cases and test the method of open assessment and open policy practice. It is important to identify important steps and think how we can make the first steps of using open assessment more easy to take. You shouldn´t be required to adopt the whole package at once.

Open assessment requires facilitation because otherwise it can become a mess. This is what people are afraid of. The use of online tools such as Opasnet and its possibilities for statistical analyzes is stressed in using open assessment. Opasnet is one of possible tools but open assessment shouldn´t be coupled only with it. Also, it is important to remember that the website itself does not solve anything but it is only the platform. Good process management is needed. Online material allows everyone to participate. However, in practice a lot of personal contact is needed. A lot of work can be done and usually will be done outside Opasnet even if the documentation is in Opasnet: this can be an obstacle, but on the other hand a lot of communication is needed to get people really involved. People will not feel involved by only writing on a webpage, they need more connection. How to get people work together and become motivated in writing in Opasnet should be paid attention to, as well as how to design the actual process of open assessment and its linkage to decision making.

I think added to a facilitator there should be a core team who will be most responsible for the assessment. On top of this there can be and hopefully will be a lot of contributors. However, in my opinion it is important to have an active core team who will also steer the discussion. The core team will have a lot of contact with each other. How to organize the work of this core team is important. This question arises in developing monitoring of climate adaptation. If the core team works well together and writes in Opasnet, they can motivate their colleagues and other people as well.

Kokeilukulttuuri A lot is discussed about experiments, piloting and scaling up the successful experiments. This approach can ease the utilization of open policy practice.