Sunday, June 29, 2014

What the Lucan Case can Teach us about Rule Making

While much of the debate about school boy hair length has made for lazy TV stories, emotion and re-visiting personal convictions of various “commentators” there are some useful lessons here – highlighted by the judgment.

These largely boil down to trying make useful rules if we choose rules to achieve our goals. We might well note the following:

Making efficient rules involves giving thought to both content and process. In turn:

Content

  1. Rules should be certain and to the greatest extent possible they should avoid ambiguity. Since we don't necessarily want rules to be utterly unchanging forever, clear specified processes for changing them (amongst which parental grandstanding is unlikely to be a good candidate) are helpful;
  2. It is preferable that the content of rules does not involve requirements which can be seen to be hypocritical (rule makers disobeying or near disobeying their own rules) or grossly inconsistent;
  3. Rules which seek to impose subjective judgments are typically troublesome. Seeking to justify such impositions by reference to committees, boards or other small collectives does not overcome the basic flaw; 
  4. Content even remotely approaching “fashion” is subjective. There are no logical constructs which allow its objective evaluation; and,
  5. Remedies and sanctions ought to be spelt out. Those should be proportionate (transportation to the colonies or capital punishment for theft of a loaf of bread is not proportionate by most measures), enforceable and easily understood.

Process

  1. The granting of unfettered discretion to single individuals to interpret, enforce and apply remedies is typically troublesome.  The weaker the content of rules (see above) the worse this problem becomes;
  2. Enforcement and remedial measures should be spelt out before the fact – i.e. when the rule is introduced. Wildly swinging about grabbing for any action which might annoy the rule breaker does not qualify as considered, reasonable practice;
  3. Proportionate application of flexibility in administering rules is useful. It adds to the credibility of the rule, the rule maker and the rule enforcer. Unwarranted entrenched behaviour tends to beget entrenched behaviour.
  4. The abuse of any aspect of the process – from rule design to enforcement – for the purposes of asserting authority for its own sake is both unacceptable and likely to lead to ridicule.

Rule making can be a process which is then “simple” but not “easy”. Less is typically more especially when objectives are unclear, motivations are suspect and the love of good “copy” overwhelms considered thought.

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