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Why Planning and Policy are So Important!
Three reasons for why the work of public planning professionals is important for all of us.
We include a Planning Section at the Center for Public Theology for three reasons:
1. We want planners to feel welcome here and to develop this section as a helpful resource for their work.
Policy Planners, Policy Analysts, Urban Planners function as public professionals at various levels of government, local, state, federal, world. Their counterparts in business may be located in public affairs departments with various job titles. In non-profit organizations they are the people doing research, writing papers, proposing policies and practices for themselves and others. In church bodies these will be the people in the department of studies, church and society, public advocacy.
2. These public professionals have tremendous influence on public policy, on community life, on the direction for the future.
A metropolitan planning agency is thinking ten, twenty, thirty years into the future. What they decide now are the important issues to be addressed, concepts to be utilized, data to be gathered, policies to be used in guiding decision-makers, will have a powerful influence on future quality of life in communities. It is important for all of us to be more aware of what is happening in these agencies.
Politicians listen to their staff. Yes, the rest of us may get excited by the news of the day, who wins and who loses a particular political fight. Politics does matter. But when real decisions are to be made what makes the difference is not just the political context; it is the recommendations made to politicians by public professionals.
3. Policy has to focus on a reasonable level of abstraction.
Thinking makes a difference. The concepts we employ in our thinking determines how we feel and act.
Political debate often occurs at such high levels of abstraction so far from reality that no matter which side wins a political argument it makes little difference for any particular institutional or community condition. People engage in political fights often for the fun of the game as the media focuses on winners and losers. That's one reason so many people don't care about politics anymore.
Currently the biggest fight is over how to think about economic markets and governmental regulation. In the fight huge generalizations are utilitized, like "capitalism" and "socialism" or "welfare" or "get government off my back" and so forth. The real fight is between governmental and business institutions, of course. The thinking is determined by which of these a person is employed by. This debate is actually now most unhelpful.
What's going on in these debates can be very important, of course. But professionals have to be intentional about the concepts they use as they think about public policy, the use of land, energy production and use, environmental concerns, housing for those who can't afford it, employment, education, security, and all the other matters of concern within communities. Professionals have to think at a level of abstraction which makes sense within the frame of reference and the framework of people and institutions they are addressing. They have to use concepts with which they can design methods to do research and data-gathering to determine what is happening over time and provide accountability for the expenditure of money, time, and energy.
So, the "policy" level of thinking is important. Two persons of good will with very different political philosophies can still come together in a conversation about a specific policy proposal and be very helpful to one another. That, at least, is my own assumption and hope and the reason we have included this section on this website. Public Theology, to have any relevence or application, must be able to address issues on a policy level, at an appropriate level of abstraction.
For these reasons, policy and planning professionals are a very important resource and audience for Public Theology.
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