Having overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians now find themselves facing more challenges that affect their daily lives on almost every front. These include the economy under stress, a warming planet, a taut health care system, and the transformation of workplaces. For policy makers, there are no easy answers ready. The policy environment in the late pandemic and post-pandemic eras presents new obstacles to effective policy development – unless we adapt to them. Our new environment has three main features.
A trio of challenges First, we are at a time when trust in public institutions and their leaders is waning.
A recent study found that more than half of respondents agreed that “official government accounts of events cannot be trusted”. Moreover, policy makers face increasingly complex and interrelated challenges that require coordinated and sustained efforts between governments.
Finally, the complex implications of global problems such as climate change mean that we also face a more uncertain political environment in which long-term planning is increasingly difficult.
The first report published by the newly launched Center for Public Policy CSA, where I hold an executive position, notes that this view will make it difficult for governments to implement effective programs and policies while the imperative to implement critical issues is greater than ever.
Every delayed or ineffective effort to enhance Canadians’ financial security, including the provision of affordable housing, risks further eroding public trust and undermining future efforts at public participation and communication.
The policies have strained current Canadian approaches to policy making and have been showing stress for some time.
Many Canadians struggle to get medication and mental health services – up to half of Canadians have been waiting more than a month to receive needed mental health support.
Our employment insurance system is also designed for a job market that no longer exists and leaves a lot of part-time, temporary and self-employed workers behind.
There is general consensus on the challenges before us and the goals we want to achieve. What is less understood and little has changed in decades, is the mindset, culture, and tools available to policy makers to successfully achieve their goals.
Here are three opportunities for policy makers to consider.
Long-term focus Many of the issues we face today are consequences of a dominant mentality characterized by a short-term approach and a failure to equitably consider the needs of people – especially the most vulnerable – in the decision-making process.
Climate change is a good example, with future generations set to bear the greatest costs of today’s insufficient actions.
Refocusing on the long-term effects of choices made today and how they affect different societies requires a shift in mentality, as well as the thoughtful engagement of more diverse viewpoints. Meaningful engagement, done well, can not only lead to better program and policy outcomes, but also help rebuild trust in public institutions, particularly among marginalized communities.
Respond Faster to Emerging Issues The lag between an emerging policy issue and the policy response increases as challenges become more complex and their impacts uncertain. Emerging technology is changing human behavior at record speed, making it difficult for regulators to rely on traditional tools to protect citizens while also fostering innovation.
Traditional models of policy-making cannot anticipate a set of complex challenges. Examples include digital platforms such as Uber and Airbnb.
It expanded very rapidly a decade ago, disrupting sectors, before policy makers could develop regulatory frameworks that take into account medium- and long-term issues such as increasing gridlock on city streets and reducing the stock of affordable rent.
Implementing organizational innovation practices, which create space for policy makers to experiment, can help bridge the gap between emerging issues and policy responses.
Expanding Collaboration Most pressing policy challenges are complex and transcend the boundaries of departments and jurisdictions. However, policy solutions are rarely considered with this in mind. Traditional policy-making tools constrain and limit opportunities for potential solutions and breakthroughs.
Significantly improved data sharing and collaboration within government and trusted partners are needed to understand difficult issues.
For example, the main challenge to ending homelessness is getting an accurate picture of how many people suffer from it. To this end, the BC Data Innovation Program (BC Data Innovation Program) has developed an integrated data project to better understand and respond to homelessness.
Using administrative data for the first time allowed the British Columbia government to generate an estimated number of people experiencing homelessness. This evidence base leads to better policy decisions and better service delivery.
The new environment requires new approaches to policy making that can deal more effectively with the complexities of today’s world. Many of our founding policies and programs were designed decades ago and remain largely unchanged.
We know what we have to do. Now is the time to reconsider how we do it.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)