Chris Wilson


Changing Paradigms of Public Policy

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In case anyone has failed to notice, the world has changed! We are 'globalized' and at the same time 'villages'. We have treasured our individualism and now lament the loss of our communities. We seek certainty in an uncertain world, applying a bounded rationality to realms which are often both unpredictable and unknowable. We seek to isolate and reduce phenomena and then are surprised by the 'side effects' that arise from their contextual dependencies. We have paid homage to to a 'real' objective world only to find that there is no reality beyond that which we have created for ourselves.

In business we hear about the 'New Competition', the 'global paradox', the 'knowledge economy', the 'learning organization', the 'death of competition' and of the 'new regionalism'. In government we hear about 'subsidiarity', about 'social learning' and 'partnerships', about the 'end of the nation state', the 'new public management', and 'social capital'. These are all expressions that people are using to try and help map out new human territories. Why? Because things don't seem to make sense any more. That dissonance between the way one would expect things to be and the way the world is actually experienced is because the old rules, the old paradigms, no longer apply to the world as it is experienced today.

What might be of interest to some is the Newtonian or classical basis of much of our asumptions about life, and our relationships amongst ourselves and between us and our environment. While this world-view is adequate for simple everyday life, our lives have become so complex, so information dense, so interlaced, so uncertain that the simplicity of this classical outlook fails to help us make sense of our world. The following table summarizes some of the axioms from the classical world view that have been guiding our present day understandings.

Classical Basis of Liberal Democracy *

Classical Paradigm

Human Corollary

Public Policy Ramifications

Reality is separate, fragmentable, and atomistic. Humans are separate, self- contained autonomous units. The environment has no intrinsic claims to respect or consider. Emphasis on the principle of individualism. Minimization of ‘community’ and maximization of mutual exclusivity.
Certainty is possible, reality is predictable. The behaviour of every human being is pre-set and controlled, governed by the same laws, i.e. no one operates from an alternative set of behaviours. Each person is thus interchange- able and there are no unique persons. Future human events are predictable. Given expectations, policy is the optimization of rational alternatives. Emphasis here is on equality and conformity. For example, since everyone is struggling for self-satisfaction, one can assume fair and equal competition because everyone seeks the same outcome. Optimal distribution of resources thus requires a policy of free market access under given environmental constraints.
Context free generalizations are possible. Due to mutual exclusivity and environmental independence, the primary mode of human behaviour is conflict. Behaviour becomes mainly an act of defending one’s space or interests against another. Social interests, defined as the aggregate of individual interests, are the collection of powers to defend and control possessions. Freedom is a function of possession.
Independence of knower and known Creation of the notion of ‘objective knowledge’ as the reliable source of wisdom. Objective knowledge is value-free. The principle of representative democracy - social governance is delegated to virtuous, knowledgeable people to work on behalf of those lacking in ‘objective knowledge’. Public policy is based on objective knowledge free of vested interests.
Absolute space & time Human behaviour takes place against a fixed geographical, cultural and temporal background. Conformity of behaviour across space and time. Adaptive periods are long. De-emphasis on regional and local concerns in favour of centralization. Long adaptive periods favour mechanistic bureaucracy to improve efficiency, and enhance power and control.
Existence of linear causality Human beings are unitary wholes, unfragmented and motivated by precise, rational, and predictable desires. Principal among these is the motivation to act in one’s own self-interest. Business, government, & society relations are additive, resulting from the actions of separate parts on one another. For example, the promotion of competition among a nation’s self-interested citizenry produces a compromise that benefits everyone.
Force is energy applied to overcome or resist change The differences of attainment between those that have and those that have not, produce equalization forces. These forces act in both directions - for and against change. The perfection of public policy requires the perfect adjustment of all the forces among its constituent elements. The continual adjustment of social forces is the basis of interventionist government. The goal of this intervention is stability, often interpreted as non-change.
Man can shape the environment As a separate entity, the environment has value only according to its usefulness, and is modifiable to enhance that utility, using predictable, objective knowledge. The environment does not posses any intrinsic value. Public organizations have a responsibility for the minimization of scarcity and the preservation of natural resources in order to prolong the usefulness of the environment for future individual interests. Environmental value equals market value of the environment.
*Adapted from C.D. Slaton, Quantum Theory and Political Theory, in Quantum Politics, T.L. Becker, (ed.) Praeger Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1991: 41-63

The problem with this classical approach, is not so much its inaccuracy, but its incompleteness. Just as Newtonian physics eventually proved inadequate for describing a complete picture of the physical sciences, the application of the classical paradigm to governance issues and public policy is also proving to be insufficient. Barber states that the fatal flaw of applying classical physics to politics is the major axiom of liberal democracies that “humans are material beings... and are governed by the laws of classical mechanics.” This axiom leads liberalism to “resist systems that have activity, uncertainty, spontaneity, complexity, ambiguity, and process as major components”. Critics of this axiom, however, are labelled non-scientific and irrational even when its basis has been shown scientifically to be incomplete. All the while the “pretensions [of the classical paradigm] to objectivity and philosophical certainty... have proved inimical to practical reason and to participatory political activity” (Barber, 1984:29).

Although the classical paradigm is strongly entrenched, the forces of change are creating cracks in its hold on political and social thought. Among them Becker points to its “superficiality and inconsistency”, its “narrowness and rigidity”, and its “obsolescence”. Rudolph Rummel has worked for over a generation attempting to place complex social phenomena in the context of a theory of social fields. He sees his work as “manifesting a shift from a Newtonian approach to man scientifically and quantitatively to a quantum theory perspective; from an emphasis on known variables and determinate observations and functions to unknown variables and indeterminate observations and functions; from an emphasis on absolute characteristics and fully specified functional relations to a view of the whole, the interrelatedness of men, groups, and characteristics; from a focus on a few well chosen variables to the system of relations between hundreds of variables; from the emphasis on curve-fitting functions to the space of functions, or the function of functions; and from a focus on fixed data and entities to probability density functions” (Rummel, 1977: 483).

The following therefore is presented as an outline of a new quantum framework of public policy that is as I believe more aligned with the current realities of business, government and society. Move over Sir Issac!

Summary of the Quantum Mechanical Paradigm of Public Policy

QM Paradigm

Human Corollary

Public Policy Ramifications

Reality is unified wholeness. It can appear in discreet units of excitation but remains embedded in a network of relationships Human beings are spiritual beings - expressions of an underlying wholeness that is shared with the environ- ment. An individual is defined by the quality and density of one's inter- relations, and the networks in which one participates. These networks imply a need for obligation, trust & co-operation. Focus of the new paradigm is on relationships, wholeness, and co-evolution. Lessening emphasis on individual rights, and greater emphasis on community rights, social ethics, and information sharing. Instead of principle of separation of powers, the principle of cooperation & inter-dependence dominates.
Uncertainty - knowledge has its limitations. Reality is approximate and stochastic if not grasped in its entirety Individuals are unique, non-substitutable, often acting irrationally and with conflicting purposes. Human behaviour is not predictable except stochastically. Given uncertainty, governance tries to create response potential by developing vision, social learning, and learning capacity. Harmonization brings mutual satisfaction among different social elements & broadens the opportunity for more complex organization. Devolution and subsidiarity minimize the effects of uncertainty.
Only context dependent generalizations are possible Man is not independent from his environment. Due to reciprocity and mutual inter-dependence, the primary human behaviour must be sharing. Critical elements can not be isolated & dealt with separately from the systems they impact. Policies should promote a culture of shared fate. Social interests, the expressions of the Business-Government- Society whole, will demand the ability to marshal the required human and natural resources at the required time for the required purpose. Freedom is the knowledge that that support will be there.
Interdependence of observer, process and observation The world is an extension of our consciousness and different states of consciousness produce different knowledge. Reality is tripartite - object, subject, and process, the most significant of which is subjective. Knowledge is not value-free. Society is a process that maximizes individual growth through interactions with others. The principle of participatory democracy applies - general participation of polity because the lack of objective reality prohibits anyone from effectively representing the subjective perceptions of others
Space & time are not absolute and do impact events Geography, culture and time are determinants of human behaviour, resulting in a variety of acceptable behaviours among and between regions. Adaptive periods are short. Decentralization, devolution, & subsidiarity to ensure the appropriateness of activities at each meso level and to cultivate regional comparative advantages. Short adaptive periods require more organic structures & social learning to maximize flexibility and responsiveness to environmental conditions.
Existence of non-linear causality, non-locality, & coexistence of opposites Human behaviour is often irrational and unpredictable, desiring contradictory outcomes simultaneously. Individuals can influence society as a whole. Together, business, government & society constitute a non-linear process structure with only temporary states of stability. Conformity promotes stability but only coherent individual innovations promote evolution. As future stable states are not predictable, goals and means must be developed on the go. Transcendence among competing interests creates harmony that benefits everyone.
Forces result from field fluctuations that maintain symmetry The unit of individual consciousness is the unit of a social field like a thread woven in a tapestry. As individuals adjust to consolidate themselves in response to some influence, the social tapestry is pulled. Individual fluctuations drive social evolution. The basis of business, government & society is a social field. In times of change, government must be outward-looking, a catalyzer of social change, continually reorienting itself, and dynamically balancing regulation with the promotion of ingenuity. Visionary governments set the direction, help provide for the infrastructure, and facilitate cooperation among players.
Man must live in harmony with the environment Man is an integral part of the global ecosystem. The evolution of one depends on the evolution of the other. The environment has an intrinsic value that is related to our own self worth. Public and private organizations have a responsibility to foster social and environmental obligation, subjective capacity, and evolutionary ethics. Minimization of ‘social friction’ & factors impeding the development of social ingenuity to maximize resources & evolution.

If you have comments, suggestions, or please email me at

Links to Sources of new paradigm development

Alliance for Regional Stewardship: A network of collaborative community builders and regional stewards

Aspen Institute: The Aspen Institute's library of publications on social issues such as education, ecology, work, gender equality, quality of life, etc. is thorough

CommunityIntelligence: CommunityIntelligence is an organisational transformation agency, committed to augment the capability of people and organisations to learn, work and evolve together.

Couchiching Institute for Public Affairs: Canada's oldest annual forum for the discussion of public policy issues

Generon Consulting: Generon is the creator of the Change Laboratory, which is based on a new social change model called the U-Process. Developed by Joseph Jaworski, C. Otto Scharmer and others, the U-Process involves a distinctively different approach that enables individuals and groups to generate transformative leadership by identifying and acting on emerging opportunities.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice. Founded in 1980, the CCPA is one of Canada’s leading progressive voices in public policy debates. By combining solid research with extensive outreach, they work to enrich democratic dialogue and ensure there are practical alternatives to the generally advanced solution to issues facing Canadians.

Rupert Sheldrake: Rupert Sheldrake, one of the world's most innovative biologists, has revolutionised scientific thinking with his vision of a living, developing universe with its own inherent memory. He first worked in developmental biology and is best known for his theory of Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance. His latest book, "The Sense of Being Stared at" develops his concept of the extended mind.

Society for Organizational Learning: SOL is an intentional learning community composed of organizations, individuals, and local SoL communities around the world. SoL was created to connect corporations and organizations, researchers and consultants to generate knowledge about and capacity for fundamental innovation and change by engaging in collaborative action inquiry projects.

The Chaordic Commons: This is a global network of individuals and organizations in every sector committed to pioneering new ways to organize, based on the discovery and expression of deep common purposes and essential principles of right relationship. This work encompasses:

The Collective Wisdom Initiative: This is a community of practice that was created to help make visible an emerging field of collective wisdom, its study and practice. The practitioners believe there exists a field of collective consciousness — often seen and expressed through metaphor — that is real and influential, yet invisible. When individuals come into alignment with this field, there is a deeper understanding of our connection with others, with life, and with a source of collective wisdom. 

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