Dec 292010

A topic I sometimes harp on!    the need to think through and spell out the CONTEXT in which a decision is being made.

Some thoughts regarding context, excerpts from other postings:

A decision process is unsound if it fails to address context.

The principle can be applied generally, but using this excerpt from the Great Sand Hills example:

The CONTEXT in which the Great Sand Hills exist in 2005 should be a separate item in the Reporting Document because it is a crucial consideration, a determinant.

The conclusions I would reach about a child in a refugee camp in Ethiopia could be starkly different from those reached in relation to a child raised in Disneyland Villa because of only one consideration: the context in which their lives are set is dramatically different. Failure to delineate context would be a serious error leading to unsound decisions.

Other examples of the importance of context: decisions about prairie resource allocation would be very different in a contextual setting of 1830 compared to the conditions that will exist in 2030. Decisions related to women could be very different in the context of a fundamentalist Muslim community versus Hollywood.

The Scoping Document identifies some items of context. But what would constitute a comprehensive list? Of what is context composed? … off the top of my head – factors that affect a decision outcome because they constitute the environment in which the decision is made:

– legal context

– system of governance (a decision made in an oppressive regime will be different from the same decision made in a democracy)

– time in history

– levels of awareness (is it an Age of Enlightenment or one of relative ignorance?)

– community values

– ecological context

The CONTEXT in which a decision is made needs to be spelt out. It greatly affects the decision and what becomes of the decision. One benefit of addressing CONTEXT is that some items of context can be changed.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

AND THIS, FROM THE “SMART REGS” (Government Directive on Regulating) discussion.   Ha!  You might think I was high on drugs!  I suggested to the Privy Council Office (PCO) that they include the following 11 items in statements of context for Government regulatory documents.

The terms-of-reference of a report can pre-determine the outcome to support wrong-headed policy. Conversely, the terms-of-reference can acknowledge and give appropriate weight to factors that contribute to a wholesome decision-making process. The inclusion of “context” in the terms-of-reference serves a legitimate need and will contribute to sound decisions, thereby to solid public policy.


The Regulatory Directive is designed to address the realities of our time.

The realities are stated to enable users to better apply individual ingenuity to the creation of a responsive and responsible regulatory regime:

1)  STATE OF THE ENVIRONMENT.  Climate change is a known threat. The pressure on water resources is mounting.  A world standard for gauging threats to biodiversity exists.  Many species face a high risk of extinction in the near future.

2) STATE OF HEALTH.  There are rising levels of disease related to environmental toxins.

3) STATE OF SCIENCE.  Confidence in science has been seriously eroded by corporate purchase and manipulation of “science” and scientists.  Some 6,000 scientists including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences have signed the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) statement, “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.

3) STATE OF GOVERNANCE.  Unacceptable levels of corruption exist.  “Public Private Partnerships” have been promoted since 1982.  Government is a part of industry through entities such as BioTech Canada and other public-private partnerships.  From John Kenneth Galbraith’s, The Economics of Innocent Fraud – Truth for our Time, published in 2004:

… As the corporate interest moves to power in what was the public sector, it serves, predictably, the corporate interest. That is its purpose. …One obvious result has been well-justified doubt as to the quality of much present regulatory effort. There is no question but that corporate influence extends to the regulators. … Needed is independent, honest, professionally competent regulation … This last must be recognized and countered. There is no alternative to effective supervision.

(4) GOVERNMENTS AND CITIZENS OPERATE IN A 4-YEAR TIME HORIZON, with little incentive to take long-term perspectives.

(5) ECONOMIC MODEL IN USE: In 2005, the Governments in Canada use out-dated and misleading accounting procedures. They do not include depletion of assets (natural resources) and cost of rehabilitation in economic evaluations. Businesses have to account for depletion of assets (depreciation). GDP does not. Such a model enables one to justify economic activity that is plunder with no thought for the ability of the economy to function in the future. Businesses could not last if they took this approach. Nor can a national or provincial economy in the long term.

Enlightened jurisdictions recognize the need for GDP to reflect resource depletion and rehabilitation costs if it is to be a helpful tool. There is pressure on Governments to adopt “Accounting for the costs and benefits of Externalities”.

(6) KNOWLEDGE LEVEL: In 2005, we don’t know a lot. If our state is one of ignorance, we should proceed with a great deal of caution.  The Precautionary Principle for sustainable development arises out of the Bruntland Report, or Our Common Future, the report made by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987.

(7) LEGAL ENVIRONMENT IN 2005. In 2001 from the Globe & Mail (excerpts):

. .   the Supreme Court of Canada for the sixth consecutive time came down on the side of environmental protection in a precedent-setting decision. … “The protection of the environment has become one of the major challenges of our time.” (words from Supreme Court decision). “…the Supreme Court upheld the law, noting that environmental protection is a “fundamental value in Canadian society.”. “in the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine, a Newfoundland court issued one of the most strongly worded environmental judgments in Canadian legal history, emphasizing “the urgency of controlling the destruction of the Earth’s environment.”

All Canadians and their Governments are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court.


The movie “The Corporation” has contributed to people’s willingness to challenge the role of the corporation in society.

Corporate power is a major cause of health problems, according to the October/December 2005 special issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Contributions to the issue reveal how corporate structure results in pressure to influence science and place the public at risk from pesticides, lead, asbestos, toxic municipal sewage sludge, and other harmful substances.”


In 2005 it is recognized that we live in a time of great disconnection.

People continue to move to urban centres where “the neighbours” are not known.  People are disconnected from food sources. There is a failure to recognize our relationship to the natural world, that survival is dependent upon the gifts we are given:  water, air, seeds, children.  We abuse that which would be recognized as sacred if we were intelligent beings.  Our ignorance is reflected in our language:  water, trees, energy sources are “resources” to be exploited, not gifts to be cherished.


We are in a period of de-construction and re-construction.  The institutions in the society that do not serve us well are being taken apart and re-defined.  There is increasing movement away from hierarchical structures to relationships based on equality.  The control of information by “credentialled” authorities is challenged by the access to information given by the internet.  Titles used to address people are falling into dis-use.


In response to the problems in governance, there is a proliferation of non-government organizations that seek to organize people around issues.

Leadership is not centred in the political parties but is being provided by growing numbers of people outside government.

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