Regulatory policies that satisfy the interests involved in policy-making are often assumed to be better policies. Numerous studies purport to evaluate the success of public participation by asking individuals what they think of the regulatory processes and outcomes in proceedings in which they were involved. Although data on participant satisfaction can potentially provide useful feedback to those who facilitate various kinds of policy deliberations, satisfaction is not an appropriate basis for evaluating the overall value of public policies or even ultimately of the processes by which these policies are made.
A policy decision may satisfy those who participate in making it, but this does mean it is a good policy decision. Regulatory policies that satisfy everyone involved in the decision-making process may simply be based on the lowest common denominator of the policy-making group, or they may result from the predominance of a “group think” mentality that leads participants to believe the policy is a good one. The reality is that any policy may prove to be effective or ineffective, efficient or inefficient, and just or unjust. Policies that greatly satisfy participants can still be prone to error. Consider two examples of policies that were satisfactory to participants when they were created, but later turned out to be significant policy failures.