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Hyperloop Advocacy: A Case Study on Good Policy Proposing
Have you ever wondered how certain issues end up on the Students’ Union (SU) agenda? The SU has almost 50 documents on its policies page, detailing its beliefs, direction, interests, procedures, and guidelines on student issues. On the surface, this might seem like a classic example of the infiltrating evils of bureaucracy. Maybe the conspiracist in you sees this as the demise of simple democracy at the hands of those crafty politicians, who skillfully entangle the innocent with their “red tape.” But wait – before you grab your pitchfork and dedicate yourself to overthrowing bureaucratic regimes, it’s important to consider the purpose of these governance documents. These documents, collectively referred to as “Union Policy,” formalize the SU’s commitment to student issues. This formal commitment in turn helps guarantee their accountability to the students they represent.
As your elected representatives, the Students’ Legislative Council (SLC) members have the final say on Union Policy decisions. However, any student can help shape the SU’s governance and advocacy. The SU invites undergraduates to participate in policymaking through the Policy Proposal Submission Procedure. The goal is to provide students with an avenue to get their ideas and concerns on the agenda. Submissions might involve proposing a new policy relating to a concern and/or a solution to an issue, or a proposal to amend or repeal existing policy.
The SU also has a mock advocacy policy proposal based on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop to inspire the bureaucrat within you.
The SU has a Policy Proposal Package that breaks down each step of this process. However, at first glance, this seven-page document can be quite intimidating for someone who simply wants their voice heard. But never fear, aspiring policymaker! The SU also has a mock advocacy policy proposal based on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop to inspire the bureaucrat within you. Apart from the sheer ridiculousness of Jane Anne Doe’s proposed overhaul of Calgary’s LRT, her proposal represents the intent and approach that the SU expects from students’ proposals. Based on Jane’s desire for innovation and her quest for an end to the ills of Calgary Transit, consider the following tips as you draft your own policy proposal:
99 Problems, But Research Ain’t One
Jane’s proposal is problematic for several reasons. For one, claiming that Hyperloop advocacy is vital to achieving the SU’s Strategic Plan is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, we can’t accuse Jane of not doing her research. Though imperfect and exaggerative in places, Jane referenced an adequate number of authoritative sources regarding municipal transit initiatives. She also consulted and attempted to align SU governance documents with her proposal.
Good policy research needs evidence, not anecdotes. This does not mean your proposal requires the same level of citation as your 15-page term paper. What this does mean is that the SU expects your work to reflect the severity of the issue you’ve identified, proving it exists beyond your experience and requires your prescribed treatment. At a minimum, this will likely require consideration of existing SU legislation, relevant external policies, stakeholders, and costs. Do your best to be unbiased and practical in your research, which is probably more than we can say for Jane and her cherry-picking.
Pros and Cons, Not Pros and Pros
Another win for Jane was her inclusion of the positives and the negatives regarding her proposed courses of action. Though brief and dismissive in some places (e.g. responding to criticism that the Hyperloop could have deadly consequences with “no battle worth fighting is easy” isn’t the strongest argument), Jane does show that she at least considered the costs and potential barriers to implementation. Failure to mention a glaring “con” to your proposed solution does not mean that this “con” ceases to exist. Chances are, the SU’s governance team will stumble across this obstacle in their own research process, and will question why you didn’t acknowledge it yourself.
The SU isn’t trying to poke holes in your research, but the SU expects at least an acknowledgment of downsides or opposing views. It would also be unreasonable for the SU to expect you to offer solutions to each potential obstacle you encounter. Rather, the SU is looking for potential ways to mitigate these obstacles, or even an argument as to why these obstacles are less problematic than leaving the main issue untreated.
Ask a Professional
The process of proposing policies can be extremely technical, inter-disciplinary, and overwhelming. Proposals like Jane’s could require technological, infrastructural, legislative, and financial competency. Rest assured: the SU does not expect this level of policy complexity from your proposals.
The SU is looking for thoughtful proposals that can practically and feasibly enhance student life. We recommend you bring in a draft of your proposal, or even initial thoughts regarding an issue, to the SU Main Office to speak with the Policy Analyst. Speaking with the Policy Analyst can help you save time, since they will likely know off-hand whether your issue has been tackled before or if it is already on the SU’s agenda. Furthermore, the Policy Analyst can support you in writing your proposal through the drafting and editing stages.
Student-initiated policy proposals help the SU make informed governance and advocacy decisions that directly reflect what you identify as problems and solutions. The SU encourages students like Jane to take initiative (albeit with less melodrama) and help champion undergraduate perspectives.
Jessica is a part-time Research Assistant at the Students’ Union and a full-time Secondary Education/History student. She is a professional to-do list maker, and spends her spare time perfecting her multiple colour-coded calendars. She also used to enjoy a good book until university made her feel guilty for not reading something course related.