Colin James on evidence-based policy

Writing his final column for the  Dominion Post, Colin James examines some recent and upcoming situations that highlight a potential shift in government away from “kick-and-punch personality politics” and towards policy with a more scientific basis.

An excerpt (read in full here):

Science or old politics: a test for John Key

On Wednesday, two reports will go public. They will challenge John Key to go with science or stick to old politics.

The reports are on fixing wayward youth and on early childhood education and will both highlight the critical importance of a good very early start in life. Both are the output of good brains, one tested to international standards. But does that fit with good politicking?

When I first reported politics, 42 years ago this month, the government was in essence a super-conciliator-and-arbitrator among competing interest groups pushing their cases, some doing better with a National government and others with a Labour government.

In 1984 a radical reforming government gave interest groups a hearing only if they made a national-interest case, not a self-interest one. This is still broadly the rule but has been eroded.

Mr Key’s Government has tackled some big issues in innovative ways.

One is working groups or task forces of academics, professionals, business and officials: tax, capital markets, welfare, green growth and hi-tech manufacturing and services.

Another is Nordic-style “collaborative governance”: the Land and Water Forum of 58 interest groups was mandated to reach consensus on water. It broadly did, though it left unresolved some large issues and many details. Nick Smith and David Carter want it to tackle some of those.