All activities involve some risk, some
uncertainty in the outcome, the balance of costs and
benefits. To achieve the purpose of an activity we
have to regulate the activity's risks effectively,
within the limits of our resources.
results in obvious benefits but risks infection with
airborne diseases - there is risk, uncertainty of
outcome, but the benefits outweigh the costs. When
swimming underwater, the cost of breathing greatly
increases altering the cost-benefit ratio so the
costs now outweigh the benefits and we hold our
breath. Breathing is regulated: it is freely
expressed when reasonably safe but repressed when it
risks too much harm. But regulations don't have to be
black-or-white. Another regulatory option might be to
use a snorkel or scuba gear, but both have their own
costs and benefits which will depend in part on our
purpose for swimming underwater. The snorkel may be
good enough and the only cost-effective option for
swimming underwater on holiday, for recreational
purposes, but for commercial purposes scuba gear may
decisions is like a journey. We start with a problem,
A, and want to get to a solution, B. We need to be
clear where we are and where we want to get to.
Internally our purpose is to get from A to B.
Externally our behaviour, our method of regulating
our location, may take many different paths between A
and B or even use different vehicles. This means
people may share a common purpose but argue about the
best route or best vehicle. But sometimes people
arguing about the best route or vehicle come to
realise that they really disagree about the purpose.
In drugs policy clarifying the purpose is a crucial
issue: is the purpose to reduce/eliminate all drug
use or is it to reduce/eliminate all harmful drug
use? Or is it in fact both, one rule for minorities
and another for the majority? If its the latter then
they are really disagreeing about the problem, seeing
the drug problem as only concerning the minorities
involved with drugs classified as illegal while
alcohol and tobacco are an entirely separate problem.
do costs and benefits fit in? A simplistic view is
that we start with costs, the problem, and that our
regulatory method aims to turn them into benefits,
the solution. But that is unrealistic. The problem is
never all bad, it will have some benefits and the
solution won't ever be all good, it will have costs.
And the various alternate methods, the options for
regulatory behaviour, will also have varying costs
and benefits. And each will have some uncertainty
attached. We also have to consider our resources -
the method we chose must be cost-effective. Also a
particular regulatory option will be a benefit to
some people but a cost to others - it will have
Suddenly things have become very complex. Rather than
set out to get all this relevant information it is
easier simply to get all those affected by the
decision involved in the decision making process. The
decision can then evolve and emerge from discussion
rather than be planned by expert decision makers.
individuals, organisations and Government attempt to
regulate their activities to maximise benefits while
minimising costs, in the most efficient way. The
Government is responsible for regulating the social
system, a complex, developing system made of diverse
and often conflicting groups. Individuals must
regulate the complex developing system they are
responsible for, themselves, made up of diverse and
often conflicting motivations. No Government,
organisation or individual knows how to do this -
there is no reason they should - though many present
their guesses as certain truth. Without knowledge
Government's decision-making must rely on policy and
individuals' decision-making must rely on attitudes.
decision-making depends on conscious objective
information, the more it must depend on unconscious
subjective attitudes. These unconscious attitudes are
not consciously chosen but are adopted unconsciously
from role models: parents, peers, employers, society.
Humans are social animals and the natural default is
that individuals imitate the behaviour of parents and
'the herd' unless there is reason to do otherwise.
This is the low risk option: do what everyone around
does. In contrast, human development - collectively
and individually - has depended upon innovation and
altering natural behaviour to alter the environment,
a high-risk strategy. Had humans prohibited the use
of fire because of the natural fear of harm we might
still be in the caves. As humans develop,
collectively and individually, they increasingly rely
on information gained from experience of the group,
consensus information, a step away from subjective
experience toward objective evidence. Science and
rational conscious decision-making aim to depend on
consensus information that has been tested in novel
situations to confirm that the information is
correct. Such information then becomes knowledge.
government has introduced a programme of government
modernisation aiming to rationalise Government policy
and individual attitudes by encouraging
decision-making to become more conscious, based more
on objective evidence than on ideology.
Decision-making is judgement. Judgement reached
before evidence is obtained is literally prejudice -
pre-judgement, judgement before evidence. All
children in the UK are taught about conscious
decision-making in the Personal,
Social and Health Education curriculum (PSHE). The World Health
Organisation supports conscious decision-making as a
vital part of mental health in their Mental
Health Guide to Problem Solving. The Government has reviewed
the processes of making policy, regulations, risk
assessments and the use of science in policy and is
actively encouraging adoption of best practise.
Government's Policy Hub:
"From Opinion-Based Policy to Evidence-Based
Evidence-based policy has been defined as "the
integration of experience, judgement and expertise
with the best available external evidence from
systematic research" (Davies, 19991). This
involves a balance between professional judgement and
expertise on the one hand and the use of valid,
reliable and relevant research evidence on the other.
Gray (1997) has suggested that evidence-based policy
and practice involves a shift away from opinion-based
decision making to evidence-decision making.
Evidence-based decision making
draws heavily upon the findings of scientific
research (including social scientific research) that
has been gathered and critically appraised according
to explicit and sound principles of scientific
inquiry. The opinions and judgements of experts that
are based upon up-to-date scientific research clearly
constitute high quality valid and reliable evidence.
Those opinions that are not based upon such
scientific evidence, but are unsubstantiated,
subjective and opinionated viewpoints do not
constitute high quality, valid and reliable
Government has found immense resistance among
Government Departments to change. They describe an
'organisational culture' that is risk-averse.
Departments may do what they do simply because they
have always done that. There is also a 'blame'
culture. In short Departments, like individuals, are
dependent on unconscious habits, fail to learn from
experience and tend to blame others for problems.
Blame is a strong indicator of unconscious decision
making: all responsibility is placed on one group or
individual, contrary to evidence.
seeks social inclusion and integration. This would
encourage the full diverse range of organisations and
individuals to participate in policy-making and
implementation, the co-production of policy and
co-responsibility for implementation. This aims to
remove the 'us-and-them' division between public and
Government, the powerless and the powerful, and so
reduce conflict. Public involvement is then a key aim
of the Government's modernisation programme.
See our summary
attempting to integrate Government
decision-making principles with their practical
legal decision making:
Unlike the top-down,
designed approach of the Government's modernisation
campaign, the legal system has evolved from the
bottom-up, from citizens demanding justice from the
state. Naturally enough the courts agree that
governments' legal decisions should be within the
limits of the law made by Parliament and for the
purposes defined by law. But the courts have
established that that it not sufficient. In addition
decisions must be rational and must follow fair
Rationality and fairness are two of the qualities
that make potentially conscious humans different from
unconscious animals. These qualities are emerging as
humans evolve. The psychologist Carl Jung suggested
that conscious humans develop two information
processing functions that unconscious humans and
animals lack: intellect, for analysing objective
logical relationships (e.g. "is it true?"),
and feeling, for analysing subjective values (e.g.
"is it good?"). These appear equivalent to
the legal concepts of rationality and fairness.
More on legal
decision-making at www.drugdiscrimination.org
More on Government decision-making.
approach, or 'systems thinking', is the basis of the
Government's modernisation programme. For a friendly
introduction to the scientific background of the
systems approach - seeing the bigger picture - see The Macroscope - a new world