The world is complex, and the rapid pace of change increases the complexity. We’re asked to grow, avoid risks, innovate and adapt, but when the rules change daily, it can be a real barrier to transformation. A birds-eye view of our complex world can be helpful, and many organizations attempt to provide structure and perspective to help us manage complexity with policies. Policies guide public and private sector behavior to support the whole and have the ability to advance or curb innovations across sectors.

And policy making is getting more complex too. Typically, the policy cycle follows a defined process: issue identification, analysis, consultation, policy formulation, consensus-building, program design, implementation and evaluation. While policy creation can vary slightly, industry shifts have created change across the board. We’re tracking five currents shaping the sea change in policy making:


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With the development of technologies and methodologies, new data can guide policy making in unprecedented ways. In an effort to achieve better results, stakeholders can now test available evidence to establish what works and what doesn’t in more informed and rapid ways. Taking a cue from evidence-based medicine, evidence-based policy design relies on rigorous scientific research to inform the best path forward. Social goals are met with science-backed evidence, which has broad implications for systems improvement, but requires researchers to avoid conflicts of interest by adopting transparent, objective methodologies. A newly released bi-partisan report commissioned by the U.S. Congress has called for further advancement of evidence-based policy making. For policy makers, this means putting renewed emphasis on data, measurement and methodologies to mine opportunities and broaden possibilities for better outcomes.



Human-centered design continues to permeate the innovation and design spaces, and human-centered policy is poignant in its possibilities. The idea is to reframe all issues from a human perspective. Often times, there’s a disconnect between the stated needs of society and the offering of public and private sectors. In trying to bridge the gap, human-centered policy design seeks to reconnect citizens to process. It means including stakeholders more intentionally, reframing issues with less jargon, and considering how policies will impact humans as they are implemented. As we reimagine future cities, safe and sustainable infrastructure requires a commitment to human-centered policy and technology. For policy makers, this means putting renewed emphasis on stakeholders, audience insights and their needs to better inform policy recommendations.



Global issues such as climate change, and population shifts such as an aging planet have created urgency for our civilization’s infrastructure. Are we prepared for the next climate disaster? Are we prepared for the global age wave? How about food security? Are we prepared to feed current and future populations? These issues add gravity to policy making that insists on bold solutions to make big differences quickly, and analytics that enable faster course correction. For policy makers, this means prioritizing issue areas and how issues are connected before they reach crisis level.



As access to information and transparency increases, humans are developing a shared global mindset along common goals. The UN Sustainable Development Goals support a common vision toward 2030 addressing (time-sensitive) challenges that apply to our global population. And the development world is shifting as well: new data shows the incentives to a global mindset by demonstrating that development challenges are not independent; they are connected. This global mindset is not just for policy makers. It is led in part by Generation Z, which has come of age with a front row seat to global wars and uprisings, global financial crisis, mobile technology and the internet. They self-identify with being compassionate, open-minded, responsible and digital natives – meaning they share a global perspective that moves beyond geographic barriers through digitization. For policy makers, this means recognizing that stakeholders bring a global perspective and expectations for shared impact.



Across the spectrum of issues, citizens are engaging more directly to ensure their voices are heard. The ability to rapidly connect and mobilize with others enables increased action and engagement levels. This can leave us feeling fractured as well. Neo-tribalism, targeted cable channels, specialized websites and social networks can create echo chambers.  Yet there is an emerging role of people power—one that doesn’t necessarily result in chaos. It simply means more voices demanding more action in more areas. It means the framework for creating policy will need to embrace the tools of the populace (access to information, impact data) to respond to authentic, human-centered needs around time-sensitive, meaningful issues. In serving this populace, policy makers will need to make sense of the complexity, in a way that can address local issues while creating shared impact.

As we develop new policies to chart the future together, we’ll need innovators of all kinds to navigate this sea change. And we’ll need integrators: communicators who can connect with various stakeholders, and advance the common good.