Good Governance Project: ‘Reformcraft

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1. The key question is ‘Why should we care?’

Should we try to preserve a separate social and cultural space in the northern half of the North American continent, in the face of globalization and fragmentation and increasing economic integration with the United States? This is a societal question not a governance one. But good governance is essential to answering it, and to societal steering thereafter.

2. The evolving status quo is not enough; we must think differently

If Canada matters, the increasing irrelevance of governments to their citizens (including elites who are increasingly asking ‘why care about governance?’ and some ‘bad’ working around of governments) is reducing its capacity to steer itself just when the need is increasing (facing the unimaginable; novel issues with no good options; risk of decline in world influence). Good governance is needed to define Canada (as it evolves) and its place in the world, and to sustain it.

A few broad shared values and a willingness to work and live together must provide the continuity to the system of governance (how society steers itself) when the predominant characteristics of the environment for the foreseeable future are interconnectedness, complexity, and continuing change. E.g. what enables the marine platoon’s adaptability and the priest to function in Africa (i.e. what the Pope would do if he were in Africa?).

Canada is no longer shared geography and ethnicity, but shared values (e.g. in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and underpinning the Social Union Framework) and a commitment to work and live together despite significant geographic, cultural, historical, and other differences. The shared understanding and commitment to these values and to working together (embracing not just tolerating the differences) must be built up slowly over time. This means that the existence and health of the on-going public conversation in Canada is the key. Growing tensions associated with aboriginal issues in Canada provide an important opportunity to learn how to engage better in this on-going conversation.

Institutions and structures, which used to provide the continuity to systems of governance, must become consequential and changing (i.e. more flexible and more networked and thus more-resilient). The focus needs to be on people, process, and capability. E.g. corporate giving tied to the employees to give to the organizations where they volunteer, not to specific organizations as in the past.

3. This means a focus on people, processes and capabilities

Increasing attachment to something outside oneself is a basic human need. From the perspective of the ‘public good’ locally through to globally, the continuum of this need at a societal level is inclusion through integration to belonging, and at the level of the individual, casual through connected to committed (i.e. pride).

The objective is to cluster actions so as to enable and support people and society in moving up each continuum - starting where they are; planting and amplifying rather than breaking and re-building, and putting a focus on ‘youth’ because working in networks may be easier for them than for others.

For example, for society this means:

  • building on what emerges spontaneously (e.g. remembering that intense globalization can produce intense local production, and that communities using broadly-inclusive processes often know best);
  • focussing at the right level (often the community);
  • ensuring real decision-making is provided combined with clear authority, responsibility, financial flexibility and transparency.

And for the individual this means:

  • making real decisions that they want to make (combined with the necessary authority, accountability, responsibility, financial flexibility and transparency);
  • learning the art of dialogue and consensus-building, i.e. ‘new leadership’ skills;
  • helping people to apply these leadership skills at levels of decisions of broadening scope (e.g. local, community, provincial, national and supra-national) when they are interested, with mentoring to help at each transition point;
  • recognizing that risks are built in to this approach (e.g. raised expectations and interfaces with ‘traditional’ approaches);
  • starting with the very young, inculcating these leadership skills and building a culture of civic decision-making, and responsibility throughout life.

There is the need for several things as a result. For example, new, inclusive mechanisms for working together; the building of capabilities to design, construct, use, and adapt these mechanisms; knowledge about how to participate in these mechanisms so people can be informed participants if they want to. In other words, there need be processes and spaces for public dialogue, and ways to communicate shared values.

In this paradigm, one sees governance as ‘process’ with appropriate, flexible institutional and structural expression. One sees the importance of process principles (for example the credibility and accessibility of information, and mobility across organizations, networks and structures). The benefit seems obvious of starting at the bottom and working up in terms of allocating authority, not just at the top and working down; and the role of elected officials as keepers of the community vision and brokering in the sense of bringing people together (not in bringing money to the table).

4. The Reformcraft model can help

It says: strengthen values, consent and learning; start using action levers now; and measure progress with success criteria.

a) Strengthen values, consent and learning:

These areas have emerged as ones that seem to be the key. Most people I talked to agreed.

Values - There are several goals. Taking a normative not deterministic view of the future (weaving the future); raison d’humanité partially displacing raison d’état because some values bind us together as humans around the planet; and putting morality (including integrity) back at the center of politics and government. We can achieve these goals through a pluralistic, values-driven political philosophy; more-explicit, more globally-sensitive value choices; the existence of a healthy on-going public conversation to slowly build understanding and commitment to the shared societal values, and to help manage differences in other values (e.g. by region, culture, history) constructively.

Consent - The goal here is to strengthen consent to improve the link between governors and governed. Improve the link through informed participation (not just sharing ignorance or immorality); increased inclusiveness and transparency (accountability, performance measurement and timely public reporting); and getting consent at the right place. Where real inclusiveness means providing places for people to speak for themselves, using processes that are meaningful to them, and hearing what they are saying - listening even if the ‘right answer’ isn’t missing. We need to ask as well if enough Canadians feel economically, socially, and culturally secure enough to participate, regardless of the processes.

Learning -The goal is to strengthen learning at all levels (individual through to societal) in a climate of blaming. This can be accomplished through knowing what learning means (including truth telling); just ‘doing it’ (i.e. ensuring feedback loops at the right levels (including values) and using and sharing the learning); and by walking the talk, as well as by requiring governance, institutions and processes to compete to learn, and not just to blame.

b) Use base action levers starting now

Three action levers are part of the reformcraft model and can be used right away. They all strengthen values, consent and learning and were selected because, although very different, they are strategically important in moving towards good governance. They are: politicians helping understanding; network-based institutional innovation; and horizon scanning entities.

Politicians helping understanding by asking the right questions and framing issues the right way. There are three questions that spring to mind. What are the implications for elected officials and advisors (political and other)? Do current operations and rules of political institutions and processes help or hinder? How could they be improved?

Network-based institutional innovation to strengthen collaborative relationships. Important issues include the following: What are the most important institutional gaps to fill this way now? What are the implications for roles of elected officials and advisors (political and otherwise) of these roles? What is the feedback loop design and operation for these roles (including timely public reporting)?

Credible horizon scanning entities for emerging issues with understandable results that are linked to decision makers and to people at large. Several questions need to be pursued here. What are the roles of academics, existing think tanks and policy advisors? How are viability (including financial), credibility (including efficiency), and timeliness preserved? How is effective and efficient linking of issues to people (including decision-makers) enabled, required, and sustained?

c) Measure progress with success criteria:

Good governance should have several features. It should enable and safeguard integrated democracy; be values based; be globally sensitive; enable informed participation; be consent based; integrate human considerations; and learn and enable learning. The criteria are elaborations of each feature, and work on them has begun.

To optimize its use, the Reformcraft model should be applied to the set(s) of (territorially-based) units where change will be most effective. The characteristics of such set(s) of units are the next big intellectual puzzle, and should be a focus of attention.

5. Doing better is everyone's business

Moving towards good governance is not just the work of academics and the public sector (although governments can be catalysts and leaders). It is everyone’s work because it affects everyone. Business must become actively involved. Business is better off with progress towards good governance than with the evolving status quo because this means two things. First, increased public confidence and support as well as real improvements in society’s ability to steer itself. These produce a more-predictable business climate in the Canadian market; a more-post-modern business climate in Canada sooner; better influence over evolving supra-national governance; and increased mutual trust for sectors, elites, and leaders. Second, it means credible choices about what Canada wants and needs, which makes for greater clarity and predictability about doing business in Canada; and greater integration of global realities into the societal choices made.

The status quo on the other hand means not enough change fast enough in governance systems. Governments still influence the business climate in Canada and they still have coercive power over businesses and people in Canada. The ‘old ways’ of trying to influence them don’t work well anymore. And the gap between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ regions, groups, and individuals is growing and will eventually produce real fractures that will affect business. Governments will have to try to respond to these fractures, thereby reinforcing the vicious circle of mistrust; exclusion; pressure; inadequate response; and more mistrust.

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