|by Nick Charney|
On Tuesday next week I will have the privilege of addressing a large number of policy professionals in the Ontario Public Service as a part of Polivery V: The Future of Policy Work. What follows is a first draft of my remarks, pardon the style, it helps me deliver. As always, your comments are more than welcome... (it's late, this is a draft, and I'm tired, etc).
My name is Nick Charney, I'm the Director for Engagement and Innovation at the Institute on Governance, a small not for profit organization whose mission is to advance better governance in the public interest.
I'm currently on interchange from the Government of Canada where I've spent the last 8 years working at the confluence of people, public policy and technology.
There's a great many things I could get up here and say about the future of policy work.
I could start by saying that in the future having the right skills will be essential.
Or that a talent-focused culture will be critical.
Or that organizational agility is the key to effective outcomes.
But I think I'd rather start out by saying that future of policy work is is still being written.
That there is no shortage of wicked problems, demand for ideas, or the need to bring them bear.
That the policy environment is changing.
That technology and Zeitgeist are changing the nature of public policy and that these changes are ushering in both a wealth of challenges and opportunities.
And that how you deal with them will ultimately determine what your future holds.
First the challenges ...
The hollowing out of capacity.
Strategic policy shops becoming issues management shops, driven by increased transparency and a 24/7 news cycle.
We often sacrifice the long term health of our democracy to deal with that which is immediately before us.
This is the McDonalization of public policy.
It may taste good in the moment, but in the long run it's bad for public health.
We need to make better choices.
Policy makers need to re-claim their relationships with the media, with elected officials, and with each other.
They need to stand by less and stand for more.
The faceless bureaucrat is no longer a tenable position in this environment.
Innovation by check box.
Everyone is suffering from innovation fatigue.
When everything is innovation, nothing is.
Labelling something innovation is often as meaningless as labelling it as secret in today's environment.
Any scrutiny proves it otherwise.
Yes - innovation hubs, labs, dragon's dens and hackathons are all in vogue right now but the true test isn't what goes into them, but rather what comes out of them,.
Too often our best and brightest are put to work on matters of process rather than substance.
Let's put more smart people next to hard problems and stop treating them as puzzles to be solved.
That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table.
That they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed.
It's not true.
"Innovation" defined as moving the pieces around or adding more processing power won't disrupt the status quo.
It is the status quo
Process has always been our panacea.
But by now we must be fast approaching peak bureaucracy.
The point where we simply cannot add any additional layers without incurring untenable costs,
Be wary of those who refuse to do the hard work of flattening hierarchies, simplifying processes and minimizing barriers.
Be wary of those who would rather establish processes to diffuse blame than simply things and consolidate responsibility.
We need more decisions and less diffusion.
The loss of monopoly & Increased competition
We have new roles.
We've moved from that of a monopoly provider to something more akin to a sensor, sense-maker, connector and/or validator.
It can be unnerving but don't panic,
Embrace the fear and explore the new opportunities.
Bask in the complexity
We have never had a better understanding of how things are interconnected.
But focusing solely on technology or innovation actually prevents us from realizing the art of the possible.
The technology is the easy part.
We know that connecting people and ideas has never been easier.
Yes the policy shop of the future deploy technologies to connect people around ideas but also employs people to do the same.
It employs people to lean in and slog through the messy stuff: history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions.
The stuff technology can't fix.
This takes time and effort.
The policy shop of the future retains the time honoured tradition of subject matter expertise and encourages depth not just breadth of experience.
Engage in social media
Listen to what people are saying.
Find the experts.
Weigh their analysis.
Read what they read.
What's the Zeitgeist telling you?
Create content don't just consume it.
Slog through the hard stuff yourself.
Write things down and work through problems.
Turn off the TV and read a book.
Like a paper book!
Experiment with data
Find, verify and link or liberate useful data sets inside your organization or within your field of work.
Explore what happens at the margins where different data sets interact.
Create visualizations that cast an old problem in a new light (caveat opportunity based on time: TBS policy suite visualization)
If you find something interesting broaden the tent and engage others.
If you don't have the skills to do this or the time to learn, find people who do, and work with them.
Use design thinking
Empathize with problem.
Be creative when thinking about solutions.
Be rational when mapping the solution to the problem.
Match people's needs with what is feasible
This is something we are teaching right now in collaboration with the GovLab @ NYU.
Its surprising how effective a two day deep dive on a problem can be if you approach it with the right methodologies.
In case you are interested, the d.school at Stanford has a number of approaches available free online.
Read up on behavioural economics
Commonly referred to as nudge.
There's a lot of books on the matter and some interesting work has been done recently in the UK,
Long story short, slight tweaks in your approach vector can drive vastly superior outcomes.
Behavioural Economics brings sentiment, analytics, and design to ground by emphasizing what people actually do when faced with a given situation rather than what we think they ought to do
I want to conclude by saying ...
How you go about your work will continue to change but ultimately being able to frame up advice that helps leaders make good decisions will always be a critical skill for policy makers.
Indeed, it always has been.
Now if you recall in my opening remarks, I told you that the future of policy work is still being written.
In closing I want to appeal to your sense of agency and remind you that when it comes to policy advice you literally have the pen.
Invest that pen.
Familiarize yourself with trends and new techniques, but don't chase breadth at the expense of of depth.
Do you best to balance both, stay curious, and remember, your pen is mightier than anyone's sword.