Rarely has policymaking had to be as agile as it must be today. Governments around the world are having to adapt rapidly to the impacts of the pandemic. That’s placing huge strains on their capacity to act decisively and quickly to support the unprecedented social and economic changes created by COVID-19.
Big investments, bigger decisions
Governments have had to pull their fiscal weight and direct huge sums to cushion the economic blows raining down on individuals and businesses. As a result of that spending, the scale of budget deficits in many countries will be larger than at any point in the last 100 years (and that includes world wars). Many countries have created stimulus and recovery packages to help restore some of the economic damage, as well as sow the seeds for future growth. The EU, for example, has agreed 750 billion euros for the Next Generation Fund. The critical question, of course, is how and where to best direct those funds so that they will have the greatest, positive impact to drive recovery and growth and create equitable social outcomes.
Policymaking in uncharted territory
Many governments around the world have already provided extensive financial support to citizens and businesses in response to the pandemic. The urgency with which they have had to act means that some policies have been put in place that have had unintended consequences. There have been winners and losers and course corrections along the way. But that’s hardly surprising. The necessity of acting fast to navigate largely uncharted territory means governments have not been able to model or work through in any real detail the vast range of scenarios and potential policy outcomes.
Crises and beyond
Of course, it’s not just at times of crisis that governments need to have a detailed understanding of the likely impacts of their policy-making. Maximizing the chances of policies achieving their political, social and economic goals is an enduring challenge. Given the range of contextual factors that influence outcomes, policymaking still tends to be a mix of art and science.
There’s no question that human experience, ingenuity and judgement have key roles to play. But being able to model and understand the huge number of variables that can influence policy success, or predict its outcomes, requires something more. And being able to adjust policies in line with rapid changes to what’s happening on the ground requires a new way to model and explore the potentially thousands of scenarios to which a policy may give rise.
Research Accenture has been doing with the Australian National University, Centre for Social Research and Methods aims to provide that new approach.
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Optimal Policy Modelling (OPM) is designed to help policymakers use evidence, eliminate unintended biases and explore a range of alternatives as they shape their policy responses.
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That work began well before the pandemic. But its relevance has been brought into sharp focus over the last nine months or so.
A new toolset
Optimal Policy Modelling gives policymakers a new toolset for understanding the impacts of policy change. It uses the power of artificial intelligence and analytics to bring together and explore a wide range of data sources. Policymakers can use these to shape and prioritise policy decisions around their potential to achieve specific outcomes. Far from seeking to replace those policymakers, OPM sets out to augment their experience, insight and judgement with a data-driven approach. It’s all about bringing human ingenuity and experience together with AI to create a new approach that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Given the scale of the challenge they face in the coming months and years, it’s never been more critical for governments to design policies that have the desired impacts. In our next blog, we’ll look in more detail at how OPM could help them to do just that.
To find out more about OPM and Accenture’s work with Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods, please visit Policy Modelling Research Paper.