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Blog post of the month: Generating political will and public will for positive social change

Lori Ann Post's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. For January 2017, the featured blog post is "Generating political will and public will for positive social change" by Lori Ann Post, Amber N. W. Raile, and Eric D. Raile. 

Dr. Amber N.W. Raile, Dr. Eric D. Raile and Dr. Lori Ann Post present Guide to Generating Political Will and Public Will – PPW Toolkit.   

Dealing effectively with social problems requires collective action and coordinated commitment. Those persons most affected by social problems typically constitute weak or powerless constituencies that lack real representation in the halls of power. Consequently, coalitions of stakeholders must make firm commitments if conditions are to improve for the disenfranchised. Helping these immobilized and resource-deprived groups often entails short-run tradeoffs and sacrifices for others in a society, even when social interdependence dictates that sustainable long-run solutions are ‘win-win’ for most or all. Without strong mutual accountability mechanisms, stepping back from the social and policy changes necessary to address these complex issues is simply too easy and too tempting.

Long-term, effective change in complex issue areas typically happens only if the government and key public stakeholders are pushing in the same direction. Political action to address social problems and their deleterious outcomes is not enough to effect large-scale change if opposed or undermined by the public. Efforts originating with the government often coincide with laws that demand change, but not all citizens feel compelled to obey. Similarly, social change efforts driven by nongovernmental entities will flounder if government opposes or refuses to reinforce the change. To achieve success in the fight against adverse outcomes of social problems, the government and large segments of the public must be willing to recognize the problem, understand the problem in a similar way, and agree on solutions.

The Political Will and Public Will (PPW) approach detailed in the PPW Toolkit is different from other approaches to enacting social change. The PPW approach calls for systematic assessment of both political will and public will and maps directly to specific tools. Parallel definitional structures for the two concepts facilitate examination of the interactions between political will and public will.

 ·         Political will exists when “a sufficient set of decision makers with a common understanding of a particular problem on the formal agenda is committed to supporting a commonly perceived, potentially effective policy solution.”

 ·         Public will exists when “a social system has a shared recognition of a particular problem and resolves to address the situation in a particular way through sustained collective action.”

The holistic approach employed here involves collecting various forms of information before choosing the appropriate tactics and techniques for generating political will and public will and for promoting mutual accountability. The PPW approach emphasizes the importance of broad groups of stakeholders agreeing upon aligned problem and solution definitions related to problems such as gender based violence, food security, climate change, and poverty. The assessment procedures treat local context and local knowledge as instrumental in achieving effective long-term change. Interpretation of social problems can differ across contexts, and one-size- fits-all “solutions” often fail to meet their goals. Through the application of observation-based analysis, the assessment procedures identify whether the primary shortcoming is in the area of political will, public will, or both. All this information then informs the choice of tactics for unifying understanding and for holding stakeholders mutually accountable. Parts of the process repeat as necessary. Public and Political Will toolkit provides an overview of the general tasks necessary in developing an effective PPW campaign around a particular problem. The resultant common understanding can then serve as the foundation for effective shared accountability across stakeholders. The toolkit is flexible to allow local knowledge and understanding to play prominent roles. This flexibility also means that the toolkit can be applied across contexts to a variety of different social problems.

Toolkit for Generating Political Will and Public Will and Mutual Accountability

This toolkit outlines five basic tasks that are instrumental in building political will and public will for targeted social or public policy change in a way that also produces mutual accountability. These tasks are listed roughly in order, though some repetition and combination is typically necessary. The first two tasks basically entail measurement of system characteristics, while the third and fourth involve persuasion and accountability mechanisms.

Paying attention to all these tasks in a holistic and connected manner improves the chances of success. The Political and Public Will (PPW) approach is generalizable in that its basic methodology can be applied across contexts, but this does not mean that the tools in the toolkit are universal. To the contrary, the PPW approach emphasizes the importance of local conditions, knowledge, and understandings. The analytical tasks must be completed in order to identify which tools will be most useful given the particular set of circumstances.

The PPW approach offers the following innovations: (1) the recognition that all these tasks must be carried out in a coordinated way; (2) the willingness to integrate ideas and tools from a variety of social and behavioral sciences, including political science, communication, psychology, sociology, business, and economics; (3) the recognition of strong context dependence (i.e., places, issues, understandings); (4) an overriding focus on the alignment of problem and solution definitions among stakeholders; and (5) an argument that mutual accountability is more durable if produced through this approach. Mutual accountability falls apart when stakeholders have different expectations and when they fail to see shared interests and interdependence. The PPW approach enhances the likelihood of mutual accountability succeeding by dealing with these underlying risks.

The process begins by answering the question: Who needs to be involved in the change effort and subsequently to be held accountable? How these stakeholders view problems and solutions as they relate to the issue area is another focus. The goal is to align these views with evidence-based best practices for dealing with the problem. Ultimately,
producing meaningful mutual accountability will be very difficult if the effort does not involve all important stakeholders and does not develop clear, shared goals.

PPW Toolkit

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Submitted by Leszek J. Sibilski on

Congrats Dr. Lori Ann Post! Wonderful post! It inspired me to write my own post on collective action with a positive attitude from the applied perspective. Looking forward to more of your work on this topic! Thank you for sharing you thoughts on the People, Spaces, Deliberation Platform.

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