Policymaking and the Hidden Failure of Language

One of the most conspicuous ‚’ but least acknowledged ‚’ features of the pandemic has been the increased use of graphs and other visual images to communicate information and ideas.

However, for all that visuals have been deployed this last year, their role in policymaking remains largely peripheral to what is written or said; for the most part, words remain ‚’king‚’.

In light of complex, strategic and multidimensional challenges such as Covid-19 and climate change, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves whether things could be done better.

Poor policymaking is usually blamed on bad leadership, on weak processes and structures, or on bureaucracy. But what if the medium we use to understand and communicate policy challenges is itself holding us back? What if we‚’ve spent so long learning to use written language to describe and remedy our world that we can‚’t see its limitations?

My contention ‚’ based on broad experience in the public and private sectors ‚’ is that policymaking‚’s continuing reliance on conventional linear written analysis is, in fact, an obstacle to the best outcomes.

By trusting almost entirely in words, policymakers risk failing to fully understand the challenges we now face, and failing to design and implement the solutions we need.

Reliance on long-form written analysis ‚’ and the extensive education required to qualify to be a part of the process ‚’ may also mean that policy discussion is less inclusive and diverse than it should be.

With the digital tools now available, there is an opportunity to make an ‚’evolutionary leap‚’ in the way government officials think and talk about policy ‚’ to design and deploy a new part-visual, part-verbal ‚’augmented‚’ idiom of policymaking.




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