Using Time Well
Based on NEUSTADT, R.E. & E.R. MAY. (1986) Thinking in Time.
NY: Free Press.
In analyzing issues to develop policy, it is important to know
the past. It is not because the past determines the future; it
does not. There is a story told about a person who slipped from
the top of the Empire State Building and was heard to remark as
he passed the 50th floor, "Well, so far so good!" Nor
is it because, out of a loose jumble of names and dates, one can
surely find something to justify any position. The other
side also knows that trick. The use of history in designing policy
is, rather, first to understand what is going on in the present,
and then to search in time for as many occasions as possible when
the same dynamic was occurring and learning from the way those
events played out. The past, in this use, is prologue.
Neustadt & May suggest 6 steps for "thinking in time":
- Focus on the present situation, concerns, and/or objectives
(rather than jumping to a solution)--ask what is
- Identify analogues from other times, but block misleading
analogies by listing
- differences with the present situation.
- Define your objective. What new situation should replace
the one at hand? There are several ways to do this:
- Goldberg's Rule (What's the story?)
- Time lines
- Journalist's Questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why?
- Array the options. This raises the issue of feasibility.
- Test presumptions. Given the lessons of history, what
expected causes/effects make certain options preferable? Two ways
to test them:
- Bets & Odds (What are the odds? How much would
you bet on this option?)
- Alexander's question (What new information would change
your estimation? When would you need this information? Why would
it change your estimation?)
- Placement--How does this policy fit its historical context?
Articulate the cultural stereotypes (who are the relevant people
and organizations, and what are their considerations?) Two ways
to do this:
- Time-line of events (public history) and details
- Notice patterns.
Finally, Neustadt & May offer suggestions for identifying
sources of local history:
- Old hands
- Issue histories
- Personal biographies
- Organizational histories
- In-house historians
Working in groups of 3, choose a current issue (e.g., congestion
around River Hills Mall, vacancy of Mankato Place or Madison East,
regional recreation planning, absence of affordable housing
and follow the six steps to develop a proposal for resolving the
© 1996 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised13 January 1997