Who can do the most for a better state? Politicians, experts, officials or the public? It probably won’t surprise anyone too much that we can move towards a better future only if we manage to bring all the mentioned subjects together. Everyone can contribute something. The problem, however, is that in the current setting of Czech governance and decision-making, there are not so many options for doing so efficiently and sustainably. The research organization Czech Priorities, which brings together public sector experts, strives for improvement and tries to show the way that would make the Czech Republic a pioneer in working with scientific knowledge and in approaching trends that affect the quality of our life.
The Czech public administration has a number of problems, but it is by no means out of place in the world context. Administering the state is, according to co-founder and current director of Czech Priorities Jan Kleňha, an extremely complex matter. The non-profit think-tank, which he created together with Ladislav Frühauf, does not aim to criticize the state and officials, but rather to give them a helping hand and support them in solving problems more effectively.
“Supporting and improving public decision-making can have a huge societal effect. The state decides on important matters and the impact of these decisions is long-term. And we believe that even with small improvements in public administration decision-making, we can make big changes,” explains Kleňha. There are many ways in which Czech Priorities tries to help the state. But the basic building block of all of them is the so-called evidence-based policy, i.e. decision-making based on data.
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In Czech Priorities, they do not criticize the state, but try to give it a helping hand
“The state should make more decisions based on the best possible data and scientific findings. It is an approach that is appearing more and more abroad. However, there are not many such organizations in the Czech environment, which is why we came up with this idea in 2018,” says the co-founder of Czech Priorities.
From the beginning, they wanted to support evidence-based policy by creating their own analyses, studies and supplying the state with their knowledge and data. But then they realized that it would be much more efficient to direct the state to be able to procure the necessary data itself. In addition to their own analytical activities, in Czech Priorities, for example, they started directly teaching analysts in ministries to work more efficiently with data.
“An example is a project financed by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic, which is called Support for Analytical Capacities. We cooperate with various ministries and several other institutions. We have reached a stage where we have succeeded in rooting out the shortcomings and are applying a number of interventions to improve them,” zooms in on Kleňha.
An analytical look into the future
However, own analyzes are still an important part of the operation of Czech Priorities. One of them was, for example, a recent study for the integration of refugees from Ukraine after the outbreak of war, which was created in cooperation with sociologist Daniel Prokop’s research organization PAQ Research. It served the state to set up an appropriate system of integration of refugees in the areas of accommodation, education and work.
The covid pandemic was a similar crisis situation that required a quick and thorough response. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we used forecasting methods. In the Czech public environment, there were not very good predictions at that time, for example, about what the number of infected people would be in two months. But we also started predicting the effects of various measures,” explains Kleňha.
For example, it was a prediction of how people’s trust in government measures will develop, the mood regarding lockdowns, but also the number of people with depression. In such a case, these are very complex and, moreover, new situations for which standard data models cannot be used. That is why in Czech Priorities they chose the aforementioned method of forecasting – a tool that allows experts to think about the future.
“We can model some developments on the basis of already existing data – this concerns, for example, inflation or unemployment. But precisely when there is not enough data, it is advantageous to predict the future based on forecasting. This approach is extremely important because it gives us at least some predictions.”
Kleňha adds that Czech priorities use so-called judgmental forecasting. It simply looks like a large group of experts make their own predictions, who then consult each other, explain why they made this or that estimate, and adjust their predictions. The aggregate of all the guesses from people with different expertise adds up to a prediction that you can rely on.
It could be said that this is one of the long-term goals of the Czech priorities, which could ideally be reflected in the improvement of political decision-making. The ability to work with information and the ability to think probabilistically is an important aspect of critical thinking that think tank people try to cultivate.
Precisely when there is not enough data, it is advantageous to model the future based on forecasting.
“People should be able to think in probabilities and work with uncertainty. From the point of view of a politician who has to make a decision based on the recommendation of an expert, it is extremely important to know the estimate that something will happen with, say, a 30 percent probability. Thanks to this, work can be started more quickly on further measures,” specifies Kleňha.
Policy needs greater involvement of experts
According to a survey by the BehavioLabs agency, which was carried out in collaboration with Czech Priorities, up to 79 percent of Czechs think that it is most important to involve more experts in political decision-making. And this in such a way that experts are not afraid to give useful advice even in cases where they know that their estimates may not be 100% accurate. According to people from Czech Priorities, it is important to give estimates, even if they are not completely certain.
“Then even people from the academic environment will start to give more advice to the public administration even in situations where there are no verified scientific studies, but a qualified estimate needs to be given. We need to teach people how important it is to work with uncertainty, which we do, for example, through forecasting tournaments. The next FORPOL tournament will take place from October 3rd and anyone can sign up for it.” invites the director of Czech Priorities.
Foretelling is a skill that almost anyone can have. And among the good “visionaries” there are people from different fields and different educations – from people from the banking or insurance sector to mothers on maternity leave.
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The majority of Czechs are in favor of greater involvement of experts in political decision-making
The predictions made in this way have the potential to be more reliable and accurate than the predictions of individual experts, moreover, they are especially important for public administration that needs to have reliable data available. Judgmental forecasting is a method with which, for example, the American or British state administration is already operating. A deeper familiarization of people with this method can thus expand the possibilities of government officials, at the same time it can contribute to a better understanding of public policy.
“Citizens’ trust in the state is built in a complex and gradual manner. Our mission is for the state to use data, scientific knowledge and make better decisions based on it. Because when he makes better decisions, citizens will see that and their trust can grow.” says Kleňha.
The state can make better decisions thanks to a detailed analysis of megatrends that will determine the direction not only of the Czech Republic, but of the entire world in the coming years. These are trends such as climate change, the environment, resources, energy, but also migration or science and innovation, which should serve as a basis for further strategic work in these areas.
Forecasts are especially important for public administration, which needs reliable data.
“We tried to provide the state with an overview of how the future will develop and, therefore, what the strategies should look like, which will develop concrete measures. And that is already happening. The RIS3 strategy (the concept of the strategy of intelligent specialization of innovation policy – editor’s note) reflects the analysis of megatrends. The Government Council for Science, Research and Innovation also uses it in its activities – for example, as a basis for deciding in which scientific fields it would make more sense to invest public resources.” adds the head of the think tank.
This is, after all, the main mission of Czech Priorities – to make the Czech Republic known in the future for being able to make smart decisions and effectively prioritize public resources. “If we can prepare smartly for the future and take advantage of the opportunities that come, it can significantly improve our quality of life. If we anticipate before other countries, for example, that there will be a need for research in a particular area, we will receive research capacities from all over the world before other countries.” concludes Kleňha.
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The Czech Priorities team