Having faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians now find themselves facing even more challenges that impact their daily lives on almost every front. These include a strained economy, a warming planet, a resource-strapped healthcare system and transforming workplaces. For policymakers, there are no easy, ready-made answers. The political environment of the late pandemic and post-pandemic era poses new challenges to effective policy-making – unless we adapt. Our new environment is characterized by three key elements.
A trio of challenges First, we live in a time of declining trust in public institutions and their leaders.
A recent survey found that more than half of those polled agreed that “official government accounts of events are not to be trusted”. In addition, policy makers are grappling with increasingly complex and interrelated challenges that require a coordinated and sustained intergovernmental effort.
Finally, the cumulative effects of global issues like 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 recently launched CSA Public Policy Centre, where I hold a leadership position, suggests that this prospect will make it more difficult for governments to implement effective programs and policies as the imperative to respond to critical questions is bigger than ever.
Any delayed or ineffective effort to strengthen the financial security of Canadians, including the provision of affordable housing, risks further eroding public trust and undermines future public engagement and education efforts.
Policy Pressure Canada’s current approaches to policy development have been under strain for some time.
Many Canadians struggle to access pharmacare and mental health services – up to half of Canadians wait more than a month to receive the mental health supports they need.
Our employment insurance system was also designed for a labor market that no longer exists and that leaves too many part-time, temporary and self-employed workers behind.
There is a general consensus on the challenges ahead of us and the goals we want to achieve. What’s been less understood and little changed for decades is the mindset, culture, and tools decision makers have to successfully achieve their goals.
Here are three opportunities policymakers can consider.
Focus on the long term Many of the problems we face today are the consequences of a prevailing mindset marked by a short-term approach and an inability to give fair consideration to people’s needs – especially the most vulnerable – in the decision-making process.
Climate change is a good example, with future generations bearing the highest costs of not doing enough today.
Refocusing on the long-term impacts of choices made today and how they affect different communities requires a shift in mindset, as well as thoughtful engagement of more diverse perspectives. Done well, meaningful engagement can not only lead to better program and policy outcomes, but also help rebuild trust in public institutions, especially among marginalized communities.
Responding faster to emerging issues The time lag between an emerging policy issue and a policy response grows longer as challenges become more complex and their impacts more uncertain. Emerging technologies are changing human behaviors at record speed, making it difficult for regulators to rely on traditional tools to protect citizens while fostering innovation.
Traditional models of policy-making cannot anticipate a range of complex challenges. Digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb are an example.
They escalated so rapidly a decade ago, disrupting sectors, before policymakers could craft regulatory frameworks that take into account medium and long-term issues such as increasing congestion on the streets of the city and a reduction in the affordable rental stock.
Implementing regulatory innovation practices, which create space for experimentation for policy makers, can help bridge the gap between emerging issues and policy responses.
Expand collaboration Most pressing policy challenges are complex and cross departmental and jurisdictional boundaries. Yet policy solutions are rarely designed with this in mind. Traditional policy-making tools restrict and limit the possibilities for solutions and potential breakthroughs.
Significantly improved data sharing and collaboration across government and trusted partners is needed to understand difficult issues.
For example, a key challenge in ending homelessness is getting an accurate picture of how many people are experiencing it. To this end, the BC Data Innovation Program has developed an integrated data project to better understand and respond to homelessness.
Using administrative data for the first time has allowed the government of British Columbia to generate an estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness. This evidence base leads to better policy decisions and service delivery.
A new environment calls for new approaches to policymaking that can more effectively navigate the complexities of today’s world. Many of our fundamental policies and programs were designed decades ago and have remained largely unchanged.
We know what we have to do. Now is the time to review our way of doing things.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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