GovMaker always leaves me with more questions than answers. That’s a good thing.
This year, the question I can’t square away is how we do policy innovation while recognizing the reality of our political system. To be honest, this is probably the same question I left GovMaker with every year that I’ve attended.
First, what is GovMaker?
“Presented by the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, GovMaker is designed to advance open government theory and practice by mobilizing knowledge, creating cross-sector relationships and building the capacity of citizens and governments to engage in open dialogue, open data, and open collaboration.”
When I first learned about the idea of open government, I remember thinking that it was bizarre that governments weren’t already delivering on a citizen centred open government model. At its core, open government is a government that puts its citizens at its centre — that’s the kind of country I want to live in.
But, as I started spending time working inside of government on the political side I quickly realized that open government is the stuff of fairy tales.
Why is that?
The political arena seems to be getting farther away from openness, transparency, and real evidence based policy dialogues in favour of emotional decision making.
We hold our politicians to an unreasonably high standard. We ask for openness and authenticity all the while feeding into a sensationalized end of the world narrative if a politician makes one miss step. Our opposition is trained to score political points rather than provide meaningful dialogue on future building. And when they do provide meaningful ideas, our governments are trained to vilify their motives.
In response to answering to the executive council, a panelist said: “give me the space to breath so I can figure out what you’re asking and how to actually address it rather than give you the answer you think you want.” So I ask how might we as citizens give elected officials room to breath rather than expecting them to be experts on all things?
That’s a tough question — particularly when quality of life for citizens is in question. I don’t pretend to have the answer.
But what we do know, as one speaker mentioned, is that policy challenges are getting more complex and so the solutions will need to be more innovative and disruptive. We also know that society is developing faster than policy innovation — you can easily see this by how governments use technology to serve their citizens — not nearly as well as private companies.
Dr. Christian Bason said “we’re doing policy development by looking at what has happened rather than what will happen.” We also know that public policy is currently focused on putting out fires rather than creating a vision, or focusing on future building.
So how might we shift our focus to real evidence based policy, rather than policy based evidence all the while recognizing the political system that we operate in?