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Simulation and dissimulation in governance

Models are utterly useful in policy and administration. Without some sort of model, scenario's, visions, plans are hard to imagine, and choice becomes less a matter of deliberation, becomes harder to argue. Yet the dominance of quantitative modelling in ever growing domains of collective decision-making, the lack of interest in theory, in the nature of methods and the implications of their combination, the blindness to shifting semantics of democracy, the eternal return of the Loch Ness monster of modernism, all this makes it useful, very useful, to stop and think about modelling in governance.

Simulation/dissimulation in the sense of Francis Bacon (faking truth/hiding truth) is common in public policy and other forms of collective decision-making where something is at stake, either knowingly or unknowingly, Even if it is knowingly, it is not always strategic, but it can be. In complex governance systems, dealing with politically contentious issues, or with potentially risky or profitable issues (something at stake), there are incentives to simulate/dissimulate everywhere, and they are hard to spot or map out; knowledge of the system itself becomes very valuable, of the potential to use it for private or group gain or for public gain which is known to be controversial.

The proliferation of modelling and simulation in the second sense (numeric imagining of different possible futures), in a world where this complexity of governance and of science and of science-in-governance is routinely ignored and reduced, leads to a multiplication of incentives to blackbox, to hide complexity, to pretend this is the only model, the only scenario in that model, the best outcome which should underpin policy decisions. In addition, the internal complexity of many models makes it often opaque for its own users and opens up the possibilities for simulation/dissimulation in a strategic sense for those insiders or their allies which see both the incentives structures offered by the complex governance environment and the possibilities of modelling tools to fit or reinforce those incentives. In addition, one can say that the cultures and ideologies of many experts in science and in administration, create blind spots and a blind belief in particular methods of research and of decision-making, and a frequent mixing up of research and decision-making tool.

New Special Issue in Futures, edited by Steffen Roth, Jari Kaivo - Oja, Harry Dahms and myself:

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