According to Nicola Alexander (2013), a key step in the process of policy analysis is to establish the driving values that decision makers bring to the analysis. Values shape the view stakeholders take on a problem, the basic definitions they set forth, their proposed evaluative criteria, and the various approaches to implementation and evaluation (p. 42). Different values can even lead stakeholders to disagree about what rises to the status of ‘policy problem’ and, if leaders do not effectively communicate about values, they can lead to organizational dysfunction. In short, values matter a lot.
Consider an example from one of my previous organizations, a Sino-American joint-venture school in south China. In February of one academic year, the American school leadership team discovered that many parents had enrolled their students in a so-called ‘cram school’ near our school for additional instruction in a wide variety of coursework. When it was discovered that the cram school was using the school’s own class materials likely supplied by students’ parents, the school leadership team objected because they felt it was a breach of intellectual property. They also believed that parents were needlessly committing resources to an organization whose professionalism was not established.
The American leadership team quickly identified this as a policy issue. Before long, a policy was crafted discouraging families from enrolling in outside cram schools. Vague threats of sanctions were attached to the hasty policy, but the kneejerk response did not allow for adequate policy analysis work. While the academic leadership team viewed this as a policy issue, subsequent events revealed that the Chinese operations team and most of the ‘local’ school community (i.e. parents) did not. They saw the extra classes as a way to improve student performance and, in turn, the school’s reputation. The policy was disregarded and its failure made the administration seem ‘out of touch’ with the community’s priorities. In the end, the policy failed because it was propelled forward by values that were never articulated or scrutinized.
This simple example of failed policy highlights the decisive role of values in policy analysis in intercultural organizations. Leadership in intercultural schools, especially those mainly comprising students from the local population, must bring values to the front of each major policy decisions. In my experience, however, key values are rarely discussed and, too often, efforts to make policy fail as a result.