A cartography of Yes-But


The Island of Yes-But has two tricky cross-currents that surround it. On one side is the tide race about how no one wants to hear policy and management issues are more complex than they know. Yes, but then again we have a duty of care to ensure decisionmakers understand the issues aren’t as simple as they’d like.

On the other side is the tide race about why we analysts never know what we have to advise decisionmakers until we can make it a story or succinct narrative. Yes, but then again analysts know there has been the dumbing from a five-page memo into a fifteen-minute PowerPoint presentation into the three-minute elevator speech and now the tweet. What next on the graduate school syllabus: Telepathy? “The knowing look” in 10 seconds or less? And yet—it remains true that we have to be able to sum up what’s going on and what can be done.

A good part of the Island’s policy analysis and management should have been speaking truth to power. But there seems little point to that when power already knows “the truth that matters,” while the rest, analysts and managers, are tossed in the tide-races.


Further those of us inland, , we’ve been distracted by “If implemented as planned” and “The best will probably be a combination, depending on the context…” Some of us are learning to be on the look-out for different types of uncertainty as a source of information ahead.

For example, “a” politics of uncertainty rather “the” politics of uncertainty opens possibilities that there are many politics of uncertainty. There aren’t just the current ones of: the politics of the techno-managerial elites in deploying concepts like “uncertainty” for instrumental advantage, the politics of international corporations who see uncertainty as the volatility necessary for always-late capitalism, and the deep skepticism over how anything like remedies can be implemented on the ground.

In a world of multiple politics and uncertainties, neither innovation nor catastrophism (respectively, the cuneiform of markets and of technology) are enough. Actually, what makes the rest of us anxious mirror the two tide-races: the centripetal pressures of closing in on what we think we really know (or can know) and the centrifugal pressures of opening up recasting what has been taken as unknowable or for granted.

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