Top-down vs bottom-up policy creation: new book compares "designers and gardeners"


According to a new book from Dr. Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Ottawa-based think tank MacDonald-Laurier Institute, policy makers can fall into two categories.

The new book, Gardeners vs Designers: Understanding the Great Fault Line in Canadian Politics, outlines that there are two types of thinkers when it comes to politics — those who design policy or programs (the designers), and those who are more willing to work with what’s already in place and that cooperate or cultivate society (the gardeners).

“The argument of the book is when designers get in charge — the people who are telling us what to do from the top — inevitably, the plans that they come up with are less complex, less rich, and fit our specific needs much less, than when we design things from the bottom up,” says Crowley.

There’s divided narrative happening within Canadian politics at the moment, and those two categories of policy-makers are at odds about the issues facing Canada. The designers intend to “fix” all of the nasty, vile, hateful things in our society, and the opposing view from the gardener angle is that Canada is the envy of the world, but it needs more “gardeners” in top positions.

“Canada is a rare jewel in human experience. We’re one of the richest societies in the world, we’re one of the fairest societies in the world. It’s not that we’ve never made mistakes or that we don’t have problems, but we work hard to try and identify those mistakes and those problems and to fix them,” says Crowley.

In Crowley’s opinion, the problem with designers is that they believe they know enough about every detail of our society and that the policies they design will match up with issues, such as how the economy should be organized, or how the environment should be fixed. But, in actuality, Crowley thinks the designers know very little, because so much knowledge is embodied in an individual and their behaviours. We know that designer-made solutions don’t work very well in the long run, says Crowley.

This isn’t a left or right thing though, there are gardeners and designers on both sides of the aisle, he says.

Listen in to the full conversation between Crowley and Shaun Haney below: 

Looking for the book? Check out “Gardeners vs. Designers: Understanding the Great Fault Line in Canadian Politics” here.

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