Saturday, August 07, 2010

Policy Innovation - What's the Urgency?

A few months back I had written a blog about the ups and downs of policy innovation. Since then may things have happened.

First, Change Camp 2010 has taken place and I was there as one of the on-line scribes that facilitated the 30 break-out groups of this remarkable event. It was an interesting experience that taught our team a lot about facilitating engagements at this scale (240 people).

Then I organized XCAMP, the unconference discussing the XCLINIC project. With the support of several peers from the Design with Dialog (DwD) practitioner group that meets monthly at OCAD's Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) this smaller event was a great crowd-sourced co-design experience pushing the project a big step forward.

The most important time investment over the past few months (the one that took me away from blogging all this time) was put into developing a brand new graduate course "Business Model & Policy Innovation" and teaching the course to the first class of the MDes program in Strategic Foresight & Innovation (SFI) at OCAD. This has been an exhilarating and learning-rich experience, which we're about to wrap up with project presentations and critiques over the next 2 weeks.

Emerging Trends

During the course I hosted a number of guest lecturers including Toronto City Councilor Gordon Perks and Change Camp co-founder Mark Kuznicki. From the lively discussions throughout the course and the guest lectures, I came out with a renewed sense of urgency for policy innovation. Everywhere we looked (enterprises, government, academic institutions, NGOs) the trend swelling from the grass roots up was towards
more collaborative and participatory mode of working. And in most instances that trend was clashing with the vertical decision-making hierarchies and structures that characterize the 20th century.

Towards a Solution

I had highlighted the inherent risks of not addressing this gap in my previous blog about policy innovation. What has emerged through these various events is the beginning of a discourse about how to do so. In a conversation with Dr. David Wolf, Royal Bank Chair in Public and Economic Policy at the Munk Centre for International Studies, about how to address this gap, he envisaged governments shifting implementation efforts significantly towards grass-roots organizations and NGOs. Karl Schroeder, a Sci-Fi author, future scenarios writer, and graduate student at the SFI program suggested exploring a sequencing of these two different modes of organizing: horizontal networks and vertical hierarchies. Each of these modes excels at certain aspects and could be used at specific times in the process of policy making for example.

Mark Kuznicki provided real examples of how tremendous engagement and creativity by grass-roots initiatives in Toronto got stifled due to infighting between vertical hierarchies in Ontario. Everybody agreed with Mark, that how we address this fundamental issue is the conversation all who seek positive change must engage in. This could easily become a cornerstone of research in strategic foresight and innovation.

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