Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good article ...

Here is an well written article "A Wealth of Municipalities, and an Era of Hard Time" that raises a number of interesting points.

It does serve to prove our point however, that when it comes to rational decision making about the best method(s) for providing services, we are not all singing from the "same hymnal" with regard to data and analysis.

The first step in coming to a reasonable, collaborative resolution is the normalization of the data and the creation of "dynamic" system rather than the "static" system that currently exists.

Part of the One Long Island series of ideas is an attempt to remedy this problem.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dynamic Action vs Unintended Consequences:Part I

Unintended consequences are outcomes that are not (or not limited to) the results originally intended in a particular situation. The unintended results may be foreseen or unforeseen, but they should be the logical or likely results of the action. For example, historians have speculated that if the Treaty of Versailles had not imposed such harsh conditions on Germany, World War II would not have occurred. From this perspective, one might consider the war an unintended consequence of the treaty.

Unintended consequences can be grouped into roughly three types:

Discussions of unintended consequences usually refer to the situation of perverse results. This situation can arise when a policy has a perverse incentive and causes actions contrary to what is desired.

The law of unintended consequences

The "law of unintended consequences" (also called the "law of unforeseen consequences") states that any purposeful action will produce some unintended consequences. A classic example is a bypass — a road built to relieve traffic congestion on a congested road — that attracts new development and with it more traffic, resulting in two congested streets instead of one.

This maxim is not a scientific law; it is more in line with Murphy's law as a warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them. Stated in other words, each cause has more than one effect, and these effects will invariably include at least one unforeseen side effect. The unintended side effect can potentially be more significant than any of the intended effects.


The idea of unintended consequences dates back at least to Adam Smith, the Scottish Enlightenment, and consequentialism (judging by results). However, it was the sociologist Robert K. Merton who popularized this concept in the twentieth century.

In his 1936 paper, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action", Merton tried to apply a systematic analysis to the problem of "unanticipated consequences" of "purposive social action". He emphasized that his term "purposive action… [is exclusively] concerned with 'conduct' as distinct from 'behavior.' That is, with action that involves motives and consequently a choice between various alternatives".[1] Merton also stated that "no blanket statement categorically affirming or denying the practical feasibility of all social planning is warranted."[2]


Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world's inherent complexity (parts of a system responding to changes in the environment), perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception or other cognitive or emotional biases. As a sub-component of complexity (in the scientific sense), the chaotic nature of the universe – and especially its quality of having small, apparently insignificant changes with far-reaching effects (e.g., the Butterfly Effect) – applies.

Robert K. Merton listed five possible causes of unanticipated consequences:[3]

  1. Ignorance (It is impossible to anticipate everything, thereby leading to incomplete analysis)
  2. Error (Incorrect analysis of the problem or following habits that worked in the past but may not apply to the current situation)
  3. Immediate interest, which may override long-term interests
  4. Basic values may require or prohibit certain actions even if the long-term result might be unfavorable (these long-term consequences may eventually cause changes in basic values)
  5. Self-defeating prophecy (Fear of some consequence drives people to find solutions before the problem occurs, thus the non-occurrence of the problem is unanticipated)
We will attempt to explore over the next few posts how our concept of "Dynamic Action (or Dynamic Planning, Dynamic Legislation etc)" may potentially serve as a hedge against the unintended consequences of what appears to be the "correct" decision at a particular moment in time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The County of Long Island: Part One

With all the talk of statehood for Long Island and the recent push for consolidation of various forms of government, it just stuck me.

Why not combine the two?

Why not reform all of Long Island into a powerful "semi independent" region capable of having its own constitution and rethinking and reinventing how all services are provided and how we leverage our educational organizations and business for maximum opportunity for all its citizens?

After all, couldn't we use almost all the ideas we've been promoting in "One Long Island" in the "reformation" of Long Island?

Sure we'd probably need fewer elected officials, but I mean, what the heck. Let's do it for the good of the citizens. Besides, a unified County of Long Island would have much greater political power in Albany because it would be less about traditional political affiliations and more about the citizens of Long Island. The "labyrinth" of divisions would truly be mended.

Why take half measures? Fix the problem across the board. In fact let's have a referendum on the idea. You know people are serious about real reform when the proposers actually have to sacrifice something themselves. And the only way to do that is through a "meta reformation."

We can have the newly constituted Long Island Regional Planning Council as the vehicle to craft the proposal. After all they are in the midst of a new "master plan" for Long Island anyway. Let's have a truly coordinated effort to solve our shared problems.

Also is it time for a New York Constitutional Convention? Do we have so many difficult issues to address that is is time for a New York reformation? Is this the best method for fundamentally restructuring government and addressing other important social issues?

Certainly we have the brainpower here on Long Island to figure it out. Perhaps One County first, statehood later after we've proven ourselves?

More in Part II

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Comments ...

Some good ideas in the proposal. More needs to be done however to determine the actual savings of the plan and the impact it will have on the structural governance of the service providers and the delivery of services. Also the legislation should include all governing bodies, not just those cited.

They did well with the information they had available, but Long Island (and New York) needs a more formal plan to normalize and analyze data and otherwise engage in “meta-planning” and “meta education.”

We should also use “collaborative technology” in a “dynamic” way so that the results of any report or proposal including the present “static” one, have broad support from the public based upon actual knowledge and input.

Congratulations on a good job however in “moving the ball forward” and engaging the public in an important issue. More here

Review: Part One

I thought it was time to start a review (and possibly expand) on some of the 300 or so previous posts.

Simply stated, ‘One Long Island’ is a series of interrelated projects designed to foster productive collaboration on Long Island through the utilization of common technology, interdisciplinary education, public participation and a shared Long Island philosophy. In short it is a way to change the way we solve problems on Long Island in a sustainable manner.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dynamic Ethics Commission?

"How emblematic is it of Albany's challenges that the latest scandal involves the commission that's supposed to oversee ethics and lobbying? It's over the Troopergate matter again, the scandal that doesn't seem to die. State officials must recast this commission into one the public can trust."

Can the public trust itself?

Perhaps the new "Commission" should be akin to a rotating jury process, although not quite as "open ended." After all there are laws to be followed and facts to be applied.

The idea is that if there is a large pool of individuals involved, from diverse backgrounds, it is more likely it is that the result will be fair.

Can any "commission" appointed by powerful people ever be truly independent? Perhaps. But usually elected officials appoint folks who generally think as they do, so there will always be some sort of bias, whether overt or unintentional involved on the selection process I would suspect. The current political culture is too strong to really avoid this result.

So how to select these folks? How do we provide them with accurate, unbiased information upon which to render an fair judgment?

First we have to reform how information is made available (as we have been talking about for the past 15 years or so).

Perhaps the ethics laws themselves should be reformed. Are they too stringent so as to stifle creative work and restrict attracting quality public servants in the state or are they not restrictive enough?

What levels of investigation are there? Perhaps certain categories can be handled by a smaller appointed "commission." Perhaps larger cases should have "regional" directors elected by the public. Elected members may have no political affiliation. Perhaps all cases should be handled by this larger commission.

After all if you wish to "regain" the public trust shouldn't you allow the public to be part of the process?

As with any reform, it is important to understand how the change will affect not only the area contemplated, buy any ancillary issue as well.

This why we advocate the "meta" approach for comprehensive change and the direct engagement of the public and additionally, providing the public with the tools they need to assist in their own governance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Solution or Distracter?

Is this partial solution helpful or what we have referred to before as a "distracter?"

10,500 sounds like a lot of government, but is it really going to save money if you consolidate certain parts of government without first understanding how services are provided in New York and, more importantly, what the best alternatives are (see Best Practices Wiki, Virtual Constitution, Meta-Data Project etc in previous posts.)?

Once again we have a static report on which we purport to make sweeping legislative changes.

I personally believe it is a good thing to allow the public an easier route to modify their government through referenda. I would have regularly scheduled "cycles of referenda" in fact to keep the public engaged in a "dynamic process" rather than require the public to get signatures. I would also give the public broader powers to reform how they are governed generally.

Here I'm afraid is a partial solution which at the end of the day will not lead to significant cost reductions (especially on Long Island) because it does not include school districts and other large forms of government, where the bulk of the tax dollars go.

It also does not provide a clear methodology for determining cost savings based upon empirical data gathered neutrally and analyzed by collaborative means. How do I know this? Because it doesn't presently exist. But it should and it can with a reasonable effort.

Put simply. No one knows with any reasonable certainty the outcomes of their actions or legislation.

Again we have a lot of effort going for a partial solution when we can be putting more effort into crafting a broader framework for more sustainable progress in New York State.

The intent of the individuals involved, I'm sure, is noble and for the right reasons. But do we really need a another partial solution?

The problem may seem to be insurmountable, but it is not. It just takes a little organization and a little collaboration to unleash the immense talent of the individuals and organizations in our state.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Meta-analysis continued ...

"Last year, DiNapoli launched, a website containing searchable databases of spending by more than 100 state agencies and more than 60,000 state contracts. It also includes school districts.

And there are other groups shining sunlight through the clouds on school districts as well. The
Empire Center for New York State Policy, an Albany-based think tank and project of the nonprofit Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, provides an easily accessible, easily searchable database for government payrolls, labor contracts and expenditures across the state—including school districts’ teachers and superintendents—through its SeeThroughNY Web portal ( "

All of the above projects (and others of a similar nature) are good and worthwhile. But, yet again, we see similar projects executed without "normalization" or a "common language."

Can they be converted to become part of the "whole" and thus more productive and useful elements? Of course.

Will they?

No, unless we (as Long Islanders and New Yorkers in this case) demand that they do.

This data, while useful, still does not allow us to engage in the "meta-analysis" we require to come to rational and collaborative decisions about our future.

At best this information is a beginning. At worst it allows advocacy groups of all stripes to pick and choose only the data they want from the data source(s) they wish to use to perpetuate their already established beliefs.

We can, and must do better.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dynamic Legislation continued ...

"A proposal for political accountability: add up all the costs imposed on localities by New York State through its actions, then deduct all the benefits localities get from the state.

We’re unsure what the answer would be, but there is some anecdotal evidence that the cost to localities has been moving upward in recent months."

A good example of what we've been talking about. No one really knows the impact of their legislative actions.

To be fair, this is a longstanding problem and not just in New York State

However it is knowable.

As we've discussed here among other posts, we require a new methodology for coming to rational solutions.

More later ...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Piercing the Haze: Part I

What is a "distracter?" A "distracter" is technology which is employed to make it appear that the provider is interested in your input or that the information you provide will be used for a constructive purpose.

The less cynical view is that the provider doesn't know any better and is using the technology because they feel they have to to look current. The more cynical view is that they do know what they are doing and are using the technology to promote a specific agenda while using the technology as a sort of "Trojan horse" to gain your trust.

Filters are those elements which prevent the public form getting accurate information.

So what we are attempting to do, in part, with the One Long Island series of ideas is to "pierce" the haze of filters and distracters toward a more unified "language." Yes there will still be disagreements on policy, but at least we'll all be "singing from the same hymnal" so to speak.

More in Part II.