Planning Decisions

Making decisions such as finding the best location for a police station in Santa Barbara are often difficult and controversial. But the answer is not to leave it to the experts, whose role is not to make the decisions but rather to make sure that the decision, when make by the duly democratically constituted government bodies, is fully informed. Experts would help ensure that all the feasible locations are considered in the public deliberations leading up to the decision.

Experts can indeed review the possibilities, clarify alternative consequences, estimate alternative costs and benefits, and clarify what the consequences will be, including on whom they will fall.

Specifically, if the issues are very controversial and involve serous differences of views and values, such as the location of prisons or homeless shelters, experts can make a very positive contribution. Approaches such as the preparation of Social Impact Statements and the inclusion of perspectives from other fields, such as economic development, education, social work, the appropriate roles of government, the legal and constitutional aspects of proposals, can be brought into the discussion. And, of particular importance, the social and moral values involved in comparing alternatives can be clarified, and experts can help marshal the relevant facts.

If asked, experts may even help facilitate the decision-making process, and help provide that all relevant voices can be heard and participate. Experts can provide responsive technical assistance where needed through open workshops and through responsive research.

But to make the decisions, with the inevitable balancing of moral as well as economic and social effects, must remain the responsibility of the duly empowered and democratically responsible public bodies.