Policies are often not based on analysis of data and evidence, and are not systematically monitored and evaluated on their effects. Policies may be sectoral, but without a cross-sectoral perspective or contextual analysis it hampers addressing larger institutional cross-society issues like (“umbrella”) policies on inequality and vulnerability targeting, climate crisis, fighting corruption, civil society strengthening, media strengthening, outsourcing of service delivery, or innovation. A strict sectoral approach to policy development may therefore lead to less desirable policy effects in other sectors.
Processes and structures for multi-stakeholder policy development are to be strengthened, taking into account a) data and evidence available as well as gaps; b) an analysis of possible intended and unintended consequences, including values and behaviors; and c) how best to monitor, evaluate and adapt policies. This should also feed into informing what kind of data should be made available for good policy development (Visser, 2017).
Governments, their partners, and the UN system could contribute to the broader dialogue on the processes and structures underlying good policy development, building upon the good work of agencies in several sectors where they already may have contributed to evidence-based sector policies, like health, education, nutrition, anti-corruption and climate crisis. Case studies and research could be useful on existing policies and for capturing experiences from the past.
Often there is a prevailing short-term and linear way of thinking within governments and a high accountability for annual plan activity implementation (problem identification, planning and activity implementation) without considering the larger context affecting society. This does not adequately address existing complexities, emerging trends and future projections (such as climate change impacts). A strong drive to act and solve problems, without analysis of underlying or systemic causes risks addressing only symptoms or part(s) of the problem. This results in a focus on WHAT needs to be solved, without deliberation on HOW best to achieve this in a multi-stakeholder context. Often, political environment problems are seen as political risks instead of a development challenge, which emerge naturally out of a development process and a changing country context. Development challenges and opportunities need to be understood and addressed with a systems view as part of an ongoing and evolving change process.
To fully understand underlying causes of development challenges and to optimize development opportunities, addressing immediate needs as well as forcing sustainability, governments and their partners may need to strengthen strategic and system thinking (assessment) capacities.
This is especially valid at policy level as well as at the level of local governance. In many countries local governments (and central agencies) capacities have largely been developed to implement pre-agreed annual plans as a blanket approach without flexibility for strategic interventions to address (emerging) inequalities and specific vulnerabilities within the specific local context. Separate programmes are developed, often implemented by central level agencies, to target specific geographical pockets of vulnerability or people with higher vulnerabilities.
It is therefore important that strategic (vulnerability) planning, based on localized data, and for addressing diversity and vulnerabilities will become part of “routine” for local governments’ functioning. This is especially important as the share of resources will substantially increase with new devolution processes and budget allocations such as these in Kenya. Capacities required need to be strengthened in line with the new approaches, and to be applied in policies, as well as in strategic multi-year planning processes at the implementation, notably local government, level.
Support can be provided in analysis of underlying causes of challenges with a systems perspective and on advising on more strategic approaches and capacities required to address these. Strategic thinking is, however, not a capacity, which can be developed in isolation. It requires a continuous engagement and dialogue with organizations and staff, in all their operations, on how to become more strategic and what kinds of resources would be required. It therefore needs to be embedded within other capacity assessment and development interventions.