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Government of the Future Series: How to Build an Adaptable Government (FON1-V30)


This event recording examines how adaptability can be improved in complex democratic societies like Canada.

Duration: 01:27:07
Published: October 24, 2023
Type: Video

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Government of the Future Series: How to Build an Adaptable Government

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Transcript: Government of the Future Series: How to Build an Adaptable Government

[The CSPS logo appears onscreen alongside text that reads "Webcast".]

[The screen fades to Alasdair Roberts in a video chat panel.]

Alasdair Roberts: Well, hello everyone, and welcome! Good morning to some of you, good afternoon, and good evening as well. My name is Al Roberts. Alasdair Roberts, and I'm the Visiting Scholar at the Canada School of Public Service this academic year. I'm also a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. And it's my pleasure to be your moderator this morning, and I'd like to thank you all for being with us.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging that since I'm located in Ottawa, Gatineau, the land on which we gather is the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I recognize that we all work in different places and therefore you work on a different traditional Indigenous territory. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on this.

We have a great discussion planned for you and want you to have the best possible experience, so I have a few housekeeping items to go over before we begin. Today's event will be in English. Simultaneous interpretation is available so you can follow in the language of your choice. You may also access real-time captioning through the webcasting platform, and please refer to the reminder e-mail sent by the school to access those features. To help you experience the event at the fullest level, we encourage you to disconnect from your VPN, if possible. If you're experiencing technical issues, it's recommended that you relaunch the webcast link provided to you. And throughout the event, you may submit your questions by clicking the "Participate" button in the top right corner of your screen in the video options. We've planned time for questions and answers following our guests' presentations.

So, our theme for the day is Adaptability in Government, and let me take a moment to explain what that means and why it matters.

[A slide is shown with the text:

"What is adaptability?"
"Adaptability is the capacity of a political system to anticipate and respond effectively to long-term challenges"
"Adaptability involves four tasks:

  • Forward thinking about challenges to key national interests
  • Invention of strategies for responding to these challenges
  • Legitimation of new strategies
  • Execution of new strategies by renovating institutions and practices"

"Threats to adaptability might include:

  • Fixation on the short-term because of electoral pressures
  • Lack of investment in "big thinking" about long-run challenges
  • Inability to reach political agreement on critical policies
  • Inability to reform institutions or execute policies competently".]

We start with the premise that we live in a turbulent century. That, of course, isn't exactly breaking news. We've already lived through a series of major shocks in the last 20 years, and we can expect more in coming decades because of climatic, technological, and demographic change, among other factors. So, adaptability refers to the capacity of our governmental systems as a whole to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. We can break that down into four considerations. The ability to anticipate dangers through forward thinking, the ability to invent strategies for responding to those looming dangers, the ability to build political consensus on a path forward, and the ability to actually execute reforms by changing our programs and institutions.

Adaptability is a critical factor for countries to survive and thrive in this century. Successful countries are going to be those that are capable of constantly reinventing themselves to meet new challenges. Lately, though, there have been critics who wonder whether federal liberal democracies like Canada are capable of adapting well. Among other things, they've pointed out pressures in democracy toward short-term thinking, and the difficulties in federal systems of getting different governments to work together. Now, obviously, we don't want to compromise our commitment to democracy and human rights. The question is how we design our governing systems to promote adaptability while respecting those fundamental values. And we can ask, are some democracies better than others at performing the tasks that are essential to adaptability? And are there reforms that we can undertake to improve our own skill, and anticipating and responding to long-term challenges? So, these are critical questions; not just for Canada, but for all our democratic partners. And we're fortunate today to have a panel of extraordinary experts who can help us think about these questions. I'd like to introduce them now.

Our first guest is Geoff Mulgan. He is the Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London. He's had an extraordinary and varied career that has included work as a journalist, head of the think tank Demos, and Director of the Strategy Unit and the Performance and Innovation Unit within the Office of Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's the author of several books, including "The Art of Public Strategy," which was published in 2009, and a new book, "Another World Is Possible: How to Ignite Radical Political Imagination," just published last fall.

Our next guest is Yamini Aiyar. She's the President and Chief Executive of the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, India. Yamini is a graduate of Delhi University, Cambridge University, and The London School of Economics. She's a highly regarded thinker on questions of governance and accountability in India, the world's most populous democracy, and indeed, as of this year, the world's most populous country. She's also a dynamic leader whose initiatives have made the Centre for Policy Research the most exciting and respected public policy think tank in India today.

And our third guest is Jennifer Ditchburn, who's President and CEO of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, which has in November celebrated its 50th anniversary as Canada's leading public policy think tank. Before joining IRPP, Jennifer spent two decades as a journalist covering national affairs, winning three National Newspaper Awards, and the prestigious Charles Lynch Award for outstanding coverage of national issues. Jennifer transformed IRPP's magazine policy options into a dynamic and widely read digital forum, and as head of IRPP, has partnered with the Canada School and policy schools across the country to promote a national conversation on governance and democracy.

So, our plan for today is to have each of our guests speak for 10 minutes on the topic, and then we'll open up the session for conversation. And again, I invite you to send us your questions as we go along. So, I'll begin by inviting our first guest, Geoff Mulgan, to provide some opening remarks on how we build adaptable political systems. Geoff, good afternoon and welcome. And over to you.

Geoff Mulgan: Well, thank you very much, Al, and thanks for the invitation to be with you. I hope we'll get to some answers by the end. I'm not sure I know the answers to your question. And I think I might start by saying that change isn't quite the same as adaptability.

[Geoff Mulgan appears in a separate video chat panel.]

One of the things I think citizens want of governments is a degree of stability, of legibility, predictability, especially perhaps if other things are changing fast. My country had three Prime Ministers last year, which is a reminder that change isn't always a virtue, but adaptability is vital. And probably three dimensions to keep in mind. You have to adapt when new tasks become important, like handling a pandemic or net-zero, which animates much of Europe. How do you actually reshape your government to achieve radical carbon goals? There may be new tools which require you to adapt. There are a whole host of new tools around data and A.I. Collective intelligence, which I spend much of my time working on, is beginning to become used in governments. And thirdly, new demands from your citizens, whose expectations will be constantly changing. And one example is, is mental health, which, according to recent surveys all over the world, the public think mental health is as important as physical health for policy. But governments all over the world still have nearly all their resources and their institutions focused on physical health.

So those are the dimensions. As to how you do that, how do you become an adaptable government, as you said in your introduction Al, part of this is about some understanding of the road ahead, the landscape ahead. And many governments have capacities for foresight, for horizon scanning, for scenarios, and so on, of varying degrees of effectiveness, partly because the future is very hard to know. The ones which I know best include, for example, Singapore has a very strong team - the Centre of Strategic Futures in the Prime Minister's office - which has pretty systematically, over many years, tried to think ahead to all sorts of topics, from potential disasters to a future zero growth economy. And I think they would say it's not so much about forecasting the future, but it's acclimatizing your officials, your Ministers, to possibilities before they hit you.

Some countries have committed to the future in parliaments. Finland has one and had a big gathering of them a few months ago. Wales in the UK, a few years ago created a new role of Future Generations Commissioner, whose job it is to ensure current government decisions take account of future generations. Anyway, we may come back to what does or doesn't work in that sort of, sensing the future task. Where then it hits the... becomes very practical in bureaucratic terms, is the ability to redeploy. And an adaptable government has to be one which can move people around to new tasks, which can redeploy money, which can reshape its structures to the current needs, not the ones of 20, 30, 50 years ago. And most are actually rather bad at doing this.

One of my obsessions is with the incredibly boring topic of public finance, which I think has essentially become stuck about a generation ago, and whose forms just don't fit the needs of today. And you can see this very obviously in relation to spending on people. So, once every government commits spending on a road, or a bridge, or an airport, uses sophisticated investment appraisal methods, but if you're spending on humans - education, health, or knowledge in R&D - they're treated as an annual expenditure with no tracking of impact, no use of data, no use of A.I. to make your finance system intelligent. And I think one of the tasks of this decade will be to really fix that problem. We've got a big lag between what we have and what we need, and that in turn makes it harder to redeploy resources to where you'll get the biggest payback over five, ten, 20 years, which could be in things like early childhood education, or it could be in preventive action in health, or around what's called justice reinvestment.

The other topic, which I think will become a big part of the adaptability question this decade is the organization of intelligence in the round. I, at the end of last year, did a study looking globally, including all the countries on this call, at how different countries and governments had handled intelligence through the pandemic, how they organized data, how they organized evidence, how they tapped into frontline tacit knowledge, how they were creative and problem solving, how they did foresight. And we saw an extraordinary landscape, quite different, I think, from the past. Some, perhaps quite surprising countries, doing very, very well, very creative. Some countries with, in some ways much more long-standing government capabilities, like mine, doing rather badly in the crisis. And out of this, I think, is a possibility of a new way of organizing government with intelligence much more at its core, and no longer having siloed divisions. Not just between functions - health, education, finance - but also the silos we have between statistics, and data, and evidence, and all the different kinds of intelligence relevant to knowledge. So, that may be another topic to come back to.

And then finally, perhaps this issue of imagination. You mentioned I did a book last year on social and political imagination. And I do think part of the job of governing is helping your whole society, not just to know what could lie ahead in terms of threats, ecological disaster, drones taking over, being invaded by a neighbour, but also in terms of positive possibilities. What could our welfare system, our democracy, our health look like a generation from now? And in many countries, that capacity has greatly eroded. Many highly educated, well-informed people really struggle to picture a desirable future a generation or more ahead of us. And that, in turn, makes it harder, I think, to adapt in healthy ways to long-term needs. And in the book, I look a lot at the tools which could be happening in universities, in governments, all the way to museums of the future like they have in Dubai, which help the population in a sense, again, be acclimatized to future possibility. But by and large, we're missing those institutions. We're missing that intellectual labour, which then makes it easier to readapt your resources and overcome all the barriers.

And one final point. You said it right at the beginning, that maybe we as democracies and federal democracies struggle more than autocracies. I'm not sure that is the case. And through it, there were times in the pandemic when people said, "Oh, of course, the authoritarian countries will cope much better." Now we can look at all the data. That's certainly not the case at all. Many people have said in the past, "Well, of course authoritarian countries will handle climate change better because they can impose sacrifices on their citizens, which democracies can't." Again, it's not at all obvious that is the case. But, in a way, that should be the prompt for us to rewire the handling of knowledge, of money, of action in distributed multilevel systems. And again - we may come on to this later - in my view, the future of governance in countries like a Canada, or the U.S., or Australia, is new ways of organizing the shared knowledge and the shared data so that the whole system can adapt in parallel.

Very final sentence. In some ways, the pandemic was an extraordinary challenge for governments all over the world. By and large, they were extraordinarily adaptive. I mean, many within a week or two, brought in new welfare systems, put all their schools online, imposed incredibly draconian restrictions without falling apart. Our real challenge is can we be as adaptable, as effective, on slow burn crises like the crisis of climate change, aging, mistrust of institutions? That's where I hope we can devote our energies. Thanks, Al.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful. Thank you, Jeff. Let me now turn over to Yamini Aiyar, who's speaking to us from Delhi. So, good evening, Yamani, and let me turn the screen over to you.

[Yamini Aiyar appears in a separate video chat panel.]

Yamini Aiyar: Thank you. Thank you, Al, for inviting me to this fascinating and really important conversation. We speak about adaptability a lot in conversations about governance in India, but to be entirely honest, I think there still remains a big gaping hole in terms of understanding of what adaptability means, particularly in the context of bureaucracies that are, by definition, embedded in a hierarchical, silo-driven structure, which is essentially their modus operandi, and in some ways, the only world that bureaucracies know in which they can do things. And suddenly, those very processes and systems are expected to do something that sounds nice but remains a mystery. This idea of adaptability, which essentially to my mind means responding so capacity bodes to have high-quality feedback loops to understand ground realities on the one hand. The antithesis or, certainly the bureaucracies that we encounter in India, inherited from colonial structures and adapted, but very much in the framework of the colonial structures in which we inherited them, with ways of, modes of functioning very much still anchored in an 18th century world to suddenly be responsive to grassroots changes and realities on the one hand, but also absorb them, learn from them, and come up with innovative strategies to respond in ways that close that feedback loop.

This is fundamentally the antithesis of bureaucratic structures, and it's all expected against the backdrop of a rapidly shifting, changing, and crisis-driven world. So, what do we mean? So, how do we understand this? And from that understanding of the challenges of adaptability, we need to ask ourselves the question of what will it take to actually build ideas of adaptive governance? So, from a normative perspective, I think there is a general agreement in this room, and also in how you framed the question in the first place, that adaptivity, or adaptability, is an essential feature of governance in the 21st century that is able to be responsive to the very dynamic crises that governance will confront. And if I were to take that as a starting point, let me identify three core challenges that I see very much from the Indian context. And I want to emphasize that because India is confronting global crises at a point when it still hasn't fixed effectively the 19th century challenges of providing high quality, basic public services to its citizens.

So, we have this combination of two different things. But if you think even about these, the sort of 19th century challenges of health, education, public services, there was a very fundamental shift, particularly from the 1980s and more deeply in the 1990s onward, in terms of global thinking and the role of governments in being able to provide high quality public services through increased participation of citizens in the process of governance. That emerged as an accepted principle. It was one that was adopted rapidly in the Indian context. If you look at any of our policy documents around health, education, social protection, nutrition, whatever, whichever way you want to slice this, you will find a constant refrain to embracing the idea of citizen participation, participatory planning, participatory monitoring, citizen-led social accountability. A whole range of these tools adopted, which in my definition, fit within what we think of adaptable governance. The challenge is that a structure that is designed to be hierarchical and is designed fundamentally to respond to the barbarian impulse of rules, structures, and processes, suddenly having to appeal to citizens and bring citizens in, in what is a fundamentally deliberative process, found itself completely at odds.

So, challenge number one for me is how do we think about adaptability from a system that is embedded in barbarian norms? Well, at least on paper, because there is a whole set of informal norms that come into play. But we'll hold that for a moment. But it requires - because by definition adaptability is about degrees of deliberation, dialogue, and soliciting, and be open to feedback - adopt these deliberative norms, which are fundamentally a challenge for bureaucracy. The second element of this, to my mind, has a lot to do with the kind of federal challenges that we confront in the Indian context. And again, I think that this reality probably resonates with many other federal contexts. And the challenge is fundamentally, I think the best way I would like to describe it is, a tug of war between the impulses of centralization and decentralization. As economies become more integrated, and as you see a far greater mobility and movement of people, you're also confronting increasing divergence within and across countries, right? In the Indian context, for instance, after 1991, when India adopted a path of market-led economic growth, we saw a burst of economic activity and a significant... India was growing GDP growth rates at eight, nine percent, seven to eight average over a good 15-year period. And there was a broad expectation that as the economy grows, the initial divergence of growth pathways would eventually converge. That hasn't happened.

So, you see heightened inequality, spatial inequality in the country. And as a consequence, you see heightened mobility of people as they are moving from poorer areas to relatively greater productive areas. And so, in some senses, there is increased divergence in terms of inequality, but increased mobility, and therefore integration in terms of movement of people and also movement of goods and services. So, there is this pull and pressure, because integration, by definition almost mandates the necessity for a certain kind of centralization. So, India, for instance, adopted a goods and services tax, where state governments, subnational governments, gave up fiscal autonomy to a high degree in order to be part of this goods and services tax, which essentially is about an integrated taxation system. But at the same time, there's huge spatial inequality, and those parts of India that are producing and actually generating productivity to contribute for taxation are the ones that are handing over their taxes to consuming parts of India, and ones which are not as productive. And therefore, it creates its own challenges of equality, of ensuring minimum standards of public services across regions, and also, above all, enabling adaptability. Because adaptability, again, requires that different levels of government play the game of give and take, and respond to calls and pressures. So, that's challenge number two.

And I'll come to challenge number three, which is really essentially - and I think the speaker before me spoke to this as well - which is the challenge of democracy. Across the globe, and India is certainly no exception to that rule, fundamentally accepted principles of democracy and institutions of democracy. In India, for example, this being the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment, created local self-governments that were embedded in the democratic principle of self-governance, i.e., empowered local governments that were elected and that had powers to perform. These institutions of democracy are going through significant crises. In India, for instance, local governments account for barely five percent of total public expenditure, they collect almost no taxes. Subnational governments are supposed to create state finance commissions that devote resources to these local governments. They have chosen actively not to, undermining this very fundamental democratic institution, and therefore centralizing governance in that sense. A much more authoritarian form of, or electoral authoritarian form of democracy that is evolving and emerging means that traditional institutions of democratic deliberation, like parliament and legislative assemblies where dialogue and discourse takes place, which are at the heart of adaptability, are no longer functioning in ways and forms that they should. And most importantly, again, in the Indian context, across political parties in a party democracy is fairly nonexistent. Again, that creates context where the ability to understand and be responsive to realities on the ground and engage with those to make policy that reflects the dynamic nature of crises that we face come into play.

So, three challenges, as I said. Number one, the challenge of hierarchical structures having to become deliberative. Number two, the pulls and pressures of centralization and decentralization as you see greater inequality, but also greater integration in the form of movement of people and movement of goods and services. And, of course, climate crises are going to exacerbate all of this. Thirdly, the trend towards undermining of core democratic institutions and democratic structures functioning much more authoritarian than genuinely democratic norms and principles, all of which create challenges for adaptability. I don't have good answers for how we need to get past these. I think we are in the midst of that challenge. But perhaps I will end my opening remarks with a cop out, of saying recognizing the problem is the first step towards trying to identify the solutions, and I hope we can talk about that a little bit more as we go along.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful. Thank you, Yamini. And now I'm going to turn it over to Jennifer Ditchburn, who is joining us from here in Ottawa. Jennifer.

Jennifer Ditchburn: Thanks, Al. Kwe. Bonjour. Good morning.

[Yamini Aiyar appears in a separate video chat panel.]

Well, good morning for us here in Ottawa. And thank you to my fellow panelists. It's really a really interesting conversation. So, when I got some of the background materials about this event, I thought about all the different challenges and dangers that Canada is facing right now. And we just lived through a major one, which was the COVID-19 pandemic. And we could have a very interesting conversation about whether this country adapted properly to that crisis. And, in fact, my organization is in the process of organizing a conference in June on what lessons that we learned during the pandemic, and how we can make our institutions more resilient. So, I feel like I'm cribbing a little bit during this conversation, in advance of that conference in June. I could talk about a lot of things that have gone on in Canada in terms of our adaptability. For example, the housing crisis and how Canadian governments failed to adapt to the presence of disruptive new players like Airbnb and international speculators. We could talk about the education system. We know that provincial... we know that supporting our higher education, making sure we have skilled workers for the future is pivotal to Canada's future. But provincial governments have been abdicating their funding responsibility, allowing those institutions to become incredibly dependent on foreign students to keep operating. Yamini, you talked about 18th century policies, structures, and governance structures in India. In this country, we have a 19th century piece of legislation, The Indian Act, that persists almost 150 years later, despite the way that it stifles adaptability, prosperity, and rights in Indigenous communities. There's many, many examples, but I'll focus on just one example that I think will illustrate how Canada's ability to adapt is severely strained. And I'll offer a few reflections on why I think our ability to adapt here in Canada is so weak.

So, the organization that I run, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, is one of the oldest think tanks in the country, and not so old. We turned 50 last year. And by definition, we're supposed to be doing long-term thinking and help governments foresee challenges - and also opportunities, to what Geoff was talking about. It's not all doom and gloom. We're also looking at a brighter future as well. Back in the 1980s, for example, we did significant work for government on the environment and helped with preparations for the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Maybe some people watching remember that period. That conference gave birth to The UN Convention on Climate Change, among other things. So, I arrived in Ottawa in 1997, the same year that the Kyoto Protocol was seeking to operationalize the 1992 convention and set some targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. And so began a kind of dance in Canada around climate change action, which was really a bizarre tango that stepped and leaned backwards and forwards. And for many years, carbon pricing, referred to pejoratively as a carbon tax, was a taboo policy inside of government. Even the New Democratic Party at one point did not want to talk about or refer to carbon pricing in its own platforms. There were plans created, and largely abandoned, and I remember that period very well because I would go every few years to a climate action news conference put on by one Environment Minister or the other, and it became sort of a tragic comedy where climate change announcements ultimately led nowhere. In late 2016, and I know many people who are watching today will remember, that there seemed to be a brief moment where Canada was taking a step forward on climate action rather than a lateral or backward step, the federal government promised, and provinces agreed on a pan-Canadian framework for clean growth and climate change. But that moment of peace, I'll say quote peace unquote, quickly eroded as new elections in the provinces and territories brought in a whole new cast of players.

So. in 2018, so two years after that, the Auditors General from across Canada published a joint report on climate change action in Canada. And at that time, 2018, the report found that most provinces and territories had not developed detailed climate adaptation plans, nor had the federal government. The auditors had found there was limited coordination of climate change action within most governments, and that seven out of 12 provinces and territories, seven out of 12, had no emissions targets. Remember, that was then 20 years after the Kyoto Protocol. So, I don't want to be overly negative. The emissions intensity for the entire economy has declined by 39% since 1990 and by 26% since 2005, according to 2022 data. Emissions from the oil and gas sector, however, have increased. Still, the private sector in Canada is not confident that targets, and laws, and regulations that are set by one government won't be reversed by another government. And this comes up frequently in conversations and is seen as an impediment to investment in Canada and new environmental technologies and solutions. In the United Kingdom, by contrast - and Geoff will know a lot about this - there's been a climate change act in place for 15 years, which embeds emissions targets into law through five-year carbon budgets. And in the meantime, of course, people in Ottawa will remember the derecho that we lived with. But Canadians are experiencing climate change on a day-to-day basis, atmospheric rivers, heat domes, catastrophic forest fires, tornadoes, damaging winds, storms. The pace of public policy around climate change action and climate adaptability has not kept up, despite now 30 solid years of international policy and projections that's told us exactly what to expect, or more or less what to expect. Even as the world starts to go through some major changes in energy demand, we have not been able in Canada to adapt quickly, and we'll be confronted with major challenges involving electrification. The lack of an East-West electricity grid is one example. We do not have good infrastructure for electric vehicles, we don't have a sophisticated national conversation underway about how the energy transition will impact workers in communities across the country.

So, that's very gloomy, but I will offer some reflections on why I think government's so slow to adapt. And I offered climate change as one example. I'm sure there are many people here watching that are far, far more expert on that particular policy area than I am, but here are some reasons I think that adaptability is such a challenge. Chief among them, I think, is the what we call the permanent campaign. We have many great scholars in Canada on campaigning and how it's evolved over the last years. But I'll quote Canadian scholar Anna Esselment, who describes the permanent campaign as, quote, "Electioneering between elections when no official campaign is underway. The concept neatly captures the essence of employing, while in the process of governing strategies and tactics that are usually used in the campaign setting. Political parties practice permanent campaigning for two reasons. To advance their current agenda, and to position themselves well for the next electoral battle." So, experts point to two main drivers behind the permanent campaign. One is a decline, a steady decline, in partisanship in the population, which means that political parties are always trying to attract and assemble a minimum winning coalition of voters to help gain or retain power. And the other driver, at least in this country, is the change to fundraising rules about 15 years ago which means that individual donors in Canada, no longer corporate donors, are key to a political party's success. And those voters and their dollars have to be cultivated and constantly chased by those parties, and they find wedge issues and politically charged issues as a way to unlock those dollars.

So, in the context of the permanent campaign, which is naturally based on short-term thinking around elections, long-term thinking takes a back seat. When you think about expensive long-term investments that this country needs to make to adapt to what's coming at us on the horizon, those aren't really that interesting to politicians that are trying to attract that minimum winning coalition right now. And the impact on people who work in the public service, as a result, is more of a focus on issues management and communications rather than long term policy development. And I won't belabour that because I'm sure there are many people who have thoughts on that. But this kind of approach to government, the permanent campaign can breed cynicism with Canadian voters, ultimately. When the motivation is to find the issues where Canadians are divided and capitalize on those issues, it's very hard to later find the political consensus that you need when you're really faced with a major issue, and the pandemic is a great example of that. The second important factor that I'd point to is the structure of national decision making in a very decentralized federation. The different levels of government in Canada obviously remain very siloed. Going back to what Geoff was talking about, data sharing is extremely poor, and data is really at the core of smart decision making, and making our country ultimately more resilient. The Auditor General pointed to some of the gaping holes, as just one example, an infectious disease surveillance in one of the recent reports, even after a raft of recommendations that emerged following the SARS crisis so many years ago. And that permanent campaign I was talking to also impacts intergovernmental relations, as the different jurisdictions play up grievances between the provinces, territories, and the federal government to try to win political points. And this has fed resentment between people who live in different parts of the country. The IRPP is involved in something called the Confederation of Tomorrow Survey, which does annual polling across the country on different points and does it over many years so we have some comparative data. And it's suggested, for example in our latest results, that people in Saskatchewan have the highest level of resentment towards other parts of the country, feeling that they contribute more of their fair share to the country compared to other provinces. At a more operational level, it's difficult for small jurisdictions to keep up with the pace of government consultations and policymaking, as often these are very small governments with much smaller staff, and I would include in there First Nations governments.

One thing we heard when we were traveling across the country last year is the bewilderment of provincial officials when they feel like they're trying to make heads or tails of federal climate policy, as one example, and understanding where federal thinking is going on certain major policy decisions. And of course, there's the question of overlapping policy frameworks and regulatory systems. Right now, there's a very important conversation going on about whether major projects can get off the ground in Canada fast enough to help us compete globally. For example, the exploitation of critical minerals or liquid natural gas. Environmental assessments by the provincial and territorial governments, and by the federal government, sometimes look at the exact same elements without being coordinated. So, these questions around how the federal community works are key, because we have many national challenges to solve, and coordinated action is going to require leadership that thinks beyond short-term political and local considerations. We might also talk about, and there's a conversation to be had about whether there are different structures in the federation that would help nurture more collaboration.

I'm close to wrapping up. I'll just say, at the public service level, and I'll be careful what I say here considering the audience, but there are many voices who will say that there's need for modernization and reform. This has come from former clerks such as Paul Tellier, Michael Wernick, academic voices such as Donald Savoie, Amanda Clarke, Rob Shepherd. There's a lot of commentary you could find in policy options over the last year around this, and we can have a very interesting conversation about the Federal Accountability Act and its consequences for adaptability of government, which some people would say, and I would excuse my language here, that it's cultivated a "cover your ass culture" in the public service rather than one that's dynamic and iterative. If you think about adaptability on a personal level, it's about being able to change track when plans change, and roll with a new reality. I certainly feel like that when I'm planning travel these days, I just sort of assume that my travel is going to get canceled and I'm going to have to roll with the punches. But the structures inside the public service can work against that. Think about the barriers to mobility just between government departments here in Ottawa. The months and months, maybe over a year, it can take from someone to go through security clearance just to work in a different department. Again, I think there are lessons that could be drawn from the pandemic. One might be from some of the decision-making processes that were created during those years. For example, the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, which created a forum for experts and industry leaders to come together and advise government, and perhaps de-risk decisions at a certain level.

And finally, I'll say something incredibly self-serving, and that's that Canada does not have the type of think tank culture that exists in the United States or even in Europe. Our think tanks in Canada are incredibly small and often exist in a permanent state of precarity. Many have disappeared. I'm thinking of the Canadian Policy Research Network, the Mowat Centre, (inaudible). There are others. This means that there's fewer sources, independent sources of research that governments can turn to now when they don't have that capacity. And so, I think we've come through a time where links between the public service and external experts from think tanks or post-secondary institutions were not viewed very favourably, and I would give kudos to the Canada School Public Service for helping to build connections, to forge those relationships again between government and institutions like mine, where I think we can work together to make the government more resilient. So, I will leave it there.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful. Thank you, Jennifer. And thanks to all the panelists for some great opening comments. I've got some questions that I'm going to pose the panelists in a moment, and I want to remind our participants that you can also contribute questions by clicking on the "Participate" button. Geoff, let me ask you the first question, and this actually picks up on some comments that Jennifer was making, it was about the tendency towards short-termism in democratic systems. It is the case that in some countries, governing parties have been forced to work harder to win elections because of declining party loyalty among voters and lower trust in government. And this does seem to be inducing a stronger focus on the electoral cycle and less focus on long-term planning. Does that perception seem right to you? And what do you think we could do to correct that tendency?

Geoff Mulgan: Yeah, well, certainly what Jennifer said about the permanent campaign applies in many countries. And I think there's a paradox here about adaptability, that for some kinds of adaptability, you need to slow things down rather than speeding them up. So, there are many policy fields where turning or creating structures and processes which take some issues a little bit away from the everyday competitive party politics, is better for adaptation. So that's true of infrastructure. We've experimented here with infrastructure commissions, which are meant to look over many decades. It's certainly been true of pensions in many countries, as in Australia last month, which had very good, essentially cross-party pension reform. The issue Yamini raised about tax is so important, and it's very hard to do any fundamental tax reform, like to a GST or to probably tax land, let alone to tax digital, which has been a huge failing of recent years, without some cross-party way of doing it. And net-zero, Jennifer mentioned, in the U.K. one of the reasons we've been moderately successful, we've cut carbon emissions about 50% in the last 20 years, is because a set of institutions were created. There was an act, there were various parliamentary committees, which in a way took it a little bit out of the kind of political contest you have in the U.S. and in Australia too, which hugely impeded their ability to grapple with net-zero. So, as I say, it's a paradox that sometimes you need slightly different, slightly depoliticized institutions to deal with fundamental difficult long-term challenges, and those adapt better than the frenzy of social media-driven, competitive party politics.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful. Thanks, Geoff. Yamini, I've got a question for you. There are - and actually, this picks up on something Geoff was saying in his comments, too. There are some people who argue that authoritarian systems like China are actually better at responding to crises because central government seems able to take charge, and it seems able to mobilize resources, move resources around more effectively. Do you think that governing in turbulent times is going to mean that we're going to end up with more centralized government?

Yamini Aiyar: I think that's the easy option, and I would argue strongly that that's the worst option. In the following sense, I think that there are very fundamental trade-offs that need to be considered between efficiency gains of... short-term efficiency gains, rather, of centralization versus accountability. And we know from history that the big difference between the democratic context versus authoritarian contexts is that there are very clear feedback loops, and those feedback loops translate themselves into demand from citizens that politics has to be responsive to, in some way or form. Sure, those demands from citizens sometimes articulate themselves in chaotic ways, sometimes articulate themselves in ways that slow down decision making processes. They create pulls and pressures which may occasionally end up in uncomfortable compromises. But there are risks, but cumulatively these are responses to citizens. So, think back to the whole famine argument (inaudible) back in the comparisons of India versus China, the presence of repeated and regular feedback loops ensured that India, despite many of its problems, never went through a famine. And by the way, even in the context of COVID, when we had this very draconian, top-down imposed lockdown, and a government that was somewhat more recalcitrant than many others in terms of the generosity of its welfare package, had to eventually respond to pressures from below to both ensure that it expanded its food safety net, and also loosened up over time on several aspects of the lockdown in order to be able to accommodate citizens needs. And so, we ensured that despite some very dark prognosis early on, that nobody died of hunger and starvation, even as there were many other challenges that COVID presented.

So, I do think that fundamentally, accountability requires a system that is able to capture where citizens are able to articulate their voice or express their voice where it is heard, and there's a virtuous cycle of accountability that gets built up with all its flaws and all its challenges. When you go for a very centralized system, you inevitably walk into the prospects and possibilities of closing off feedback loops, of moving further towards draconian and authoritarian decision-making by governments. All governments' power - I mean, let's not forget who has monopoly over violence. And the only checks and balances to that come in the form of democracy. So, I would argue that ultimately good, adaptable governance is based on consensus building. And in fact, I would also say, at least building on the very complex Indian experience, that where we have built consensus on reform, you see massive steps forward. Where we fail to build consensus on reform and try to centralize power and push reforms down through the federal structure all the way to the grassroots, you see significant slowdown and pushback. Institutions are also, even as you try to de-politicize or take institutions outside of the mess of the hurly-burly of everyday politics, if it doesn't come at the back of deep legitimacy in the democratic consensus, institutions too lend themselves very easily to capture. So, let's not skirt from the political economy and the complexity of politics. Let's not put it aside as a problem. Let's embrace it as a reality, and a reality that one has to negotiate with, work through, eventually to arrive at a slow, sometimes dragging, but I think fundamentally better consensus than one that was pushed on through centralization.

Alasdair Roberts: Yamini, while you were speaking, we had a question come in from one of our participants. And you're basically making, I think, a case for a sort of democratic approach to adaptability. And the participant is wondering whether the alternate scenario might be that authoritarian regimes actually become better at using consultative mechanisms. They sort of figure out how to use the mechanisms of consultation in such a way that they can reap the benefits of consultation and engagement while never compromising on the sort of core idea of authoritarian central control. What do you make of that argument?

Yamini Aiyar: I'd be very curious to hear what cases they are picking up to make this argument. I think, normatively speaking, authoritarian structures essentially are not designed to be as responsive. Sure, they need to create a form of legitimization and sometimes do try and create a structure of deliberation and dialogue. But by definition, these are not spaces that need to be accountable to their citizens. In fact, they work towards creating walls and ensure that fundamental freedoms are curtailed in order for those forms of expression to not find their way to challenge decisions. So, I don't think in the long run, this works. And the trade-offs on freedoms are significant. And I'm not convinced, especially coming from a context where we are flirting quite often with these ideas, that those are necessarily going to lend themselves to a more efficient and better forms of governance. You get really good types of democracy and you get really bad democracy, very good governance in good democracies and bad governance in complicated democracies, and vice versa. You get good governance in authoritarian contexts and you get really bad governance in authoritarian contexts. And to me, what's worse is in those contexts you don't have forms of expression and freedoms to actually change things around.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful. Thanks, Yamini. Jennifer, I've got a question for you. In many countries, we've seen concern about changes in technology, about the growth of social media, and a worry that it's actually corroding our ability to focus on long-term challenges and engage in a civil conversation about how to meet those challenges. Do you regard that as a problem? How big a problem is it, and what can we do about it?

Jennifer Ditchburn: Yes, I think it's a huge problem. I mean, if you look at, just as one example, there's an organization called V-Dem that does a democracy progress report every year, and it's suggested that democratic advances around the world, basically, we've erased 30 years of democratic advances. And there's suggestion that there's a link between the kind of polarizing discourse that exists online that can be attributed to that. And here in Canada, Edelman does a trust barometer that they put out. They do one for the whole world, but there's one for the Canadian context that came out just a few weeks ago, and it said 60% of Canadians feel that our country is more polarized, or there's the perception there, as well. I think when you look at the impact that social media has had on our democratic discourse or a political discourse, where some people feel even driven out of the public sphere by trolling, toxicity online – and the Samara Centre for Democracy here in Canada does a lot of interesting research around toxicity online – I think we're at the point where we have take a real stocktaking of what's happened in our country in terms of the quality of the discourse and what kind of online harms are happening. The EU, and Geoff will know about this, has a new Digital Services Act which is trying to address online harms, and our federal government is looking at what it can do as well. But I think, when I was talking earlier about what happened with housing and Airbnb, I think was part of something that we have to grapple with, which is a kind of inability to do policy thinking and take policy action when there are serious disruptors that suddenly emerge in the marketplace, and the platforms are just that. So, the Canadian governments took a very hands-off approach to the Ubers, the Airbnbs, and also to different online platforms, sort of leaving the marketplace to evolve. And we've seen how the marketplace has evolved. We've seen the impact on our children. I mean, I have a couple of teenagers and I've seen what the impact on their mental health has been in terms of social media. So, one thing I would just throw into the mix of conversation is the ability of our governments, and in particular our public servants, to be able to evaluate what's happening in the digital space, and the competencies that we might discuss in terms of our civil service, and how we might ensure that they're able to evaluate these situations with their own sets of expertise and knowledge, in terms of new technologies and ensuring that when they're faced with pretty intense lobbying from platform organizations and technological groups, that they're able to counter that with their own research and their own knowledge when they're adapting and developing their own public policy.

Alasdair Roberts: Thanks, Jennifer. Geoff, I've got a question for you. Jennifer was just talking about the problem of toxicity in public debate. You've mentioned that one of the things we ought to be doing is thinking about how we promote imagination among the public, about the future, if I understand it correctly. So, how do we get from toxicity to imagination? What is your sort of short list of things we might do?

Geoff Mulgan: Well, perhaps I could comment on the last couple of questions, because I think that they're really interesting ones...

Alasdair Roberts: Absolutely.

Geoff Mulgan: About how we shape digital for the future. So, the question, which came from one of the audience about what you could call consultative authoritarianism, I think is a serious question. It used to be argued in China that because the government employed thousands and thousands of people to monitor Weibo and other social media platforms for comments or complaints about government, that this was in some ways more richly democratic in spirit than the highly centralized systems of countries like the U.S., dominated by lobbyists, dominated by oligopoly, media and so on. Now, it was as a slightly spurious argument, but it had a grain of truth. And on environmental campaigning, I think they in many ways were more responsive than the big democracies. Obviously, they didn't respond if you said let's get rid of the communist party. But I thought there were things we need to learn from them about how to build into Western democratic governments, and India too, a capability to think of communications, not just in the 20th century terms of a team in the heart of government doing press conferences and TV, but actually jumping ahead on social media and engaging there. Now, Taiwan, in my view, is well ahead of any of the other democracies on thinking like this, partly because there they have a whole team who used to be hackers who are now in government. So, there's a serious point to be made there.

Following up what Jennifer said, I think in retrospect, history will think governments were crazy to be so laissez-faire on the Internet, and then on A.I. It's literally only now we have Internet regulation and laws coming in, 30 years after it became part of daily life. On A.I., it's only this year, actually, the EU is bringing in laws. China did last year. And we now have huge evidence on the harms. There's a fantastic piece in today's Financial Times by, probably the best data journalist around, John Burn-Murdoch, on social media effects on teenagers. And it's overwhelming. The trends are remarkable, in many, many countries. But governments have essentially had their eye off the ball, haven't had the institutions to think, and adapt, and shape how to get the best out of the technology, but also avoid the worst. And I think there'll be a lot of criticism in the future of this, partly ignorance, and neglect. The challenge, though, and this comes up to this question of centralization and decentralization, is often the best things in digital do have some standardization, harmonization, and centralization, which then makes possible greater variety. I don't know what Yamini says about Aadhaar, I was quite involved with some of the people designing Aadhaar a few years ago. And to my mind, in many ways that was quite a good example of what could be done at scale in order then to allow more variety around it, what the EU is trying to do on digital services, but also on payment systems and identification. Then again, it's you centralized the platforms or the elements of the protocols in order to enable more decentralization. And I use the language of mesh as a way we think about this. It's not a zero-sum game between the centralization and decentralization, it's rather what are the ways we can get the full benefits of both. Because, if you are the Chinese government, definitely you're too centralized, you're so far from the reality you don't know really what to do.

And probably just one final point. When I was in government, I commissioned a study on whether there was any relationship between scale in governments and their performance, whether national governments or local ones. And I wonder if any of you can guess what the answer was? Well, the basic answer was there was no relationship at all. You could be a phenomenally competent government at really, very large scale, or like Iceland with 300,000 people, or Luxembourg. And the same was true of local government, and that tells us a lot of the assumptions of the centralizers - and this is where I really do agree with the Yamini - are usually wrong, usually trying to find these economies of scale and centralized power doesn't deliver any of the benefits which are promised. But as I say, the one exception is if you can standardize digital protocols. And that's how the Internet works, of course, is very simple standards globally, which then allow a myriad of different things to thrive on top of it.

Alasdair Roberts: So, we've got two questions from participants about bureaucracy, and I'm going to bundle them together and then just go around the clock, because everybody has mentioned bureaucracy at one point or another. The first question is basically, what's the sort of big structural change that you would like to see in bureaucracy that would make it perform better? The second question is a little more granular. It's about working within the system. And the question is, I'm a senior analyst in government, I see the silos, I experience the day-to-day grind, and I have hope that systems can improve so that we can be more adaptable. But what can I do as a rank-and-file bureaucrat to contribute to change? So, one is about the design of the system and the other is about working within it, and you can pick either one of those. Yamini, can I put you on the spot to lead off on either of those questions from your perspective?

Yamini Aiyar: Thanks. I think I'm going to say two things. At least, when I think of how the Indian government is organized, and how it mobilizes its resources and then initiates the process of implementation, it tends to operate on the back of schemes rather than thinking more broadly from a systems perspective. And schemes lend themselves to silos, to line departments. It's a vertical top-down that goes from the centre all the way down to the expenditure entity. Every resource, our public finance management systems, our decision-making systems, they all stack up exactly that way, but they never think about the horizontal integration. So, I would think that the first step towards becoming more adaptable is to think from a systems point of view. So, what is a kind of social protection system you want to build? And within that, because you're still a bureaucracy and you're not working from ground zero, break it up into schemes rather than just thinking about individual schemes that then lend themselves to the siloed departmental structures that bureaucracies like ours in India adhere to. So, that would be the biggest structural shift I would like to see, and it will lead to incremental automatic changes, including the most fundamental and foundational, which in the Indian context for me, most importantly, which is, empowering with resources local government systems. The minute you start thinking from a systems approach, you're not thinking somebody sitting in Delhi is designing a scheme that has to be implemented in far out rural India, but somebody in rural India looking from a broader perspective of whether they need to have a job program running in their area of jurisdiction, or want to spend a little bit more on education. And I think we'll see a significant change then in the culture of government and the culture of accountability, that will lend itself to more adaptability.

Alasdair Roberts: Great. Thank you, Yamini. Jennifer.

Jennifer Ditchburn: I have to say, I'm always interested in unpacking what is stopping something from happening. So, in the Canadian context, we've had a lot of different studies about how to reform public service, how to make it more adaptable, modernized. Some people on the call might have been involved in Blueprint 2020, and beyond 2020, I think it was called the Follow-Up, and some other processes to look at modernizing Canadian federal public service. And so, there's a lot of goodwill and a lot of great people inside our government that are trying to think about how to change things, how to de-silo. Is that even a word? I don't know. But so, why? I guess to me, the most important question is, why haven't any of those initiatives been able to get off the ground in a truly transformative way? And so, I think it always, to me, always ends with the political and that there's no, not really, a whole bunch of political will to focus time and energy on the public service and making it work more. And so, that's where I think, from our perspective in our organization, we now have a full-time journalist that just reports on the public service, Kathryn May. And we thought that was an investment that we needed to make to keep public service issues in the media, and because without any media pressure, I think no one will ever do anything. And so, to me, we're in a kind of golden spot right now because there is a pressure point between citizens and the public service. So, citizens are annoyed that they can't get their passport on time, they're annoyed at the different interactions they have, such as they are with the federal public service, and I think that perhaps their minds are attuned to, hey, maybe there are things that needed to be updated, even though they don't understand how the machinery of government or how the federal public service works. So, I think in our context, what we need to start with is some kind of concerted process. And there's different... I think Donald Savoie wants to see a federal commission like The Glasgow Commission of 1960, and there are others who are saying, no, commissions don't go anywhere, let's start with a process that looks annually at how we're modernizing the public service. So, I think there's some great ideas out there. We need political leadership that will support the time and effort that will be needed to make the change in Ottawa. And there are those of us who really care, we just need to make other people care.

Alasdair Roberts: Great. Thanks, Jennifer. We'll make "de-silo" a word, that will be our decision for the day. Geoff, can I turn the question of bureaucracy over to you?

Geoff Mulgan: Yeah, well, I strongly agree with what's been said. We inherited these vertical structures from the 19th, 18th century, and before, and they've lasted long, far longer than they should have. I'm just running at the moment, for the European Union, a project on the whole of government innovation, working with the national governments on how they can better work horizontally using matrix structures, horizontal budgets, roles, teams, delivery. There's a whole array of methods which should be much more widely used, precisely as both Yamini and Jennifer said, to focus actually on the outcomes you want, the tasks you want to achieve, rather than just the traditional structures. I'm publishing a thing next week on those. And I'd agree with Jennifer, part of the reason these changes don't happen is politics. There's often not enough payoff for the politician relative to the cost, but I also think it's... vested interests are a major part of the story, that around each silo you will have a whole set of interest groups who actually exercise power by having their champion department in the capital city. So, there's a there's an issue there of political economy. My hope is that good politicians who expect to be in power for five or ten years, and really care about issues like a net-zero, or inequality, will see that it's actually in their interest to really get a better balance of the vertical and the horizontal. And that has happened sometimes in the past. I've worked with various governments which did do quite radical reshaping in that respect, though they were usually quite small countries. I think it may be harder in big ones.

And the one other thing I'd say for bureaucracy, bureaucracy ever since it was invented in Sumerian 5000 years ago, it's basically arrogant. It's built into its nature to be inflexible and also arrogant. I think what we want, and what is non-Weberian, in a sense, is a learning culture and a humility in bureaucracy, which in everything it does, it sees as an experiment, is trying something, and really institutionalizing those feedback loops. Is it working, are you on track, what could you be learning from someone else? And there's an extraordinary amount of recent science on learning out there, on how we as humans learn, how institutions learn, very little that is really embedded into the daily life of bureaucracies. And I think that's what our citizens deserve from their bureaucracies, because there aren't the competitive pressures which drive learning in business or even in fields like science. We have to institutionalize it in a different way, that pressure constantly to assume yours is not the best possible answer, you aren't doing the best job you could be, you could be doing. And through that humility, maybe we end up with better results.

Alasdair Roberts: So, I've got two questions here. One is about skepticism and one is about nihilism, and I'm going to bundle those together and then I'll see if one of our panelists would like to respond to it. So, the question about skepticism is, how can we convince an already skeptical public to have faith and trust in government plans to become more adaptable? And then the question about nihilism is this one. As a member of the younger generation, I find that while many people are working seriously to change things for the better, a lot of my peers have a very negative and almost nihilistic view of the future, especially on the issue of climate change. How can we get the next generations more involved in adapting governance to face future long-term problems? Would anyone on the panel like to take a run at those two questions?

Geoff, over to you.

Geoff Mulgan: Well, on nihilism, I think it's really important to tell stories of success. So, one of the things which prompted me to write a book on imagination was, I kept asking audiences, mainly in Europe, what they thought had happened to carbon emissions in the last generation. And almost everywhere, even quite well-informed people, assumed they'd gone up, even in countries like the U.K., where they've halved in a generation. And so, even when there are fantastically good stories of governments actually achieving quite a lot with partners and doing sophisticated things, people assume they're not, they assume everything's getting worse. So, we have to be better at telling those stories. I thought there was an excessive fatalism, excessive nihilism, compared to the achievements made all over the world on health, on environment, on education, and in many countries on extreme poverty as well. And on, just on the first question, I would never use the... I don't think that people should have faith in government, government is not a religion, and trust should be earned not assumed. And I mentioned the humility and learning in bureaucracy. I love the slogan of our royal society, the first ever scientific body in the world, and their slogan was "Nullius in verba", which basically means don't believe anything, be skeptical about everything, but use it as a prompt to learn, not to be nihilistic. And that's what we want in our governments, that kind of healthy, continuous skepticism.

Alasdair Roberts: Wonderful, thanks. Jennifer, would you like to weigh in on the skepticism question?

Jennifer Ditchburn: I will go after Yamini because she put her hand up first, and then I'll say something, yes.

Alasdair Roberts: Sounds good. Yamini, over to you.

Yamini Aiyar: Thank you. This is a fantastic question, and I'll take the skepticism one head-on, but it's interlinked with the nihilism one, which I think Geoff really effectively showed the connections there. Some weeks ago, I was actually listening to one of the architects of the great digital revolution, the (inaudible) and the India Stack that came about as a consequence, that Geoff you mentioned a little while ago. And in the retelling of that story, it's a relatively recent story, all of this has sort of unfolded in the last, less than a decade, the one thing that struck me is that India was able to achieve all of this rapidly on account of the fact that there was a complete elite consensus between government, the leaders of the industry and the innovators, and in some senses, the public, by and large, that this was something that needed to be collectively worked towards. So, while there has certainly been pushback, democratic pushback, particularly on the very critical question of privacy and centralization, and we did all of this and we still have all of the data protection laws and that leads to all kinds of infringements. The fact that technology would be the base for a massive revolution of how we conduct our everyday lives actually emerged on the back of a very clear consensus amongst all forms of social organization, governments, private sector, markets, people. And then I compare that story to the fundamental things that citizens in a democracy, or actually citizens in any nation state, expect their governments to do, basic public services, health, education, and I apply that to the Indian context. And just a quick look at data tells you that even though the Indian state went through this process of mass education and built out massively primary schooling infrastructure in India through the 2000s, the early expansion of education took place in the private sector. At one point, pre-COVID and pre the economic slowdown that in India preceded COVID, the rate of privatization of education, as in parents actively choosing to send their children to private schools, was racing at about 30%. And in urban areas where you had more access to private schools, it was massive, it was even more significant.

In conversations I had with bureaucrats, because I fundamentally believe that you can't... I don't know of any single nation that has been actually able to achieve high growth and significant human capital without a robust public system that co-exists with a robust private system, and so I push hard for the need for the public system to work. And when I talk to bureaucrats, I find increasingly that the only person in the room that is convinced that the state can actually deliver on high quality education if it puts its mind to it, is me, not necessarily those who are in the state. They think perhaps the private sector can do it better. There is no consensus, and that lack of consensus drives skepticism, and drives distrust, and therefore doesn't actually use the tools of democracy to place accountability on politicians for delivering on these very basic things. But we did it with that very complicated animal called technology, and we did it at a time when we didn't actually have the kind of digital penetration that we have today, and we did it because there was consensus. So, for me, this whole question of skepticism needs to be tackled much more from the point of view of, what do we as citizens really expect the state to do, and in what ways and forms can we ensure that there is actually a genuine elite consensus around its ability to do this? India was clear that the Indian state would be able to spearhead vaccination, and the people were ready to do it, and we managed to achieve it. Despite multiple pitfalls in how we managed COVID, we still managed to vaccinate faster and more, eventually, when we arrived at that public consensus. So, skepticism will only be broken when we get to that consensus. The pathways to that, I think, is what we should be debating.

Alasdair Roberts: Jennifer, over to you.

Jennifer Ditchburn: I just wanted to make a small note because I wrote it down when Geoff was talking about imagining futures and the power of that. One thing that we don't talk about often in policy conversations is the arts and the role of the arts, and I think it's an interesting question about how the arts can help us imagine positive, bright futures. I know there are interesting arts projects in Canada imagining Indigenous futures that are a lot different from what we read about in the news. So, just a small footnote there. But one thing, trust in government is just so, I think, so critical to our advancement as a country, our prosperity. Once trust in government erodes, I think we're in pretty... and government officials, we're in trouble. And just talking again about the Edelman Trust Barometer, for many years they've shown in that, or suggested through those surveys, that Canadians have more trust in corporations now than they do in either government or the media, which kind of blows my mind. But I would just introduce into the conversation also the question of equity and inclusion, and how essential that is to building trust in government because so many people do not feel that they are reflected in government. They don't feel that... either reflected in government in terms of seeing themselves, and in senior officials, reflected in the composition of senior ranks of officials. But also, that their particular issues are not being addressed. And we saw that manifest itself in different ways during the pandemic. But I think that there is a reckoning going on across North America. I don't know about the situation in the U.K. or in India, but definitely here, I think we're still processing how, although we have a certain narrative about prosperity in our countries, and how decisions that we're making are going to help advance the GDP, and I could go on and on, our multiculturalism policy and how great it is, there are many people who are living a completely different reality based on their racial background, whether they're come from a First Nation, Métis, or Inuit community. And so, I think that is a really important conversation to have when we're talking about trust in government, and the erosion of trust in government.

Alasdair Roberts: We're almost out of time, but we've got... there's a couple of questions that have come in, and I want to do a quick go around on this, and Jennifer, I'm going to start with you. It's about remote work, which is certainly a timely question, the question of remote work for government workers. And the question is whether the move to remote work is going to be an impediment to achieving adaptable and innovative government. And so, Jennifer, I'll go quickly to you and then see if the other speakers... whether this is an issue in India and Europe as well.

Jennifer Ditchburn: Wow. That is a really great question, and I don't know that I have a... I'd have to ponder that one for a while. But I think one interesting thing to consider is, in the sense that remote work can actually bring more people into the public service from different places in Canada, I wonder whether there is a certain, perhaps enhanced adaptability, that would be introduced. So, rather than having most of the public service from the national capital region, having it more distributed across the country and into smaller communities and people from different... bringing people from the north and remote communities into the public service, whether that would actually enrich the conversation that we're having inside. I don't know. I'm just throwing that out there as a possibility.

Alasdair Roberts: Thanks, Jennifer. Geoff, how about I turn it over to you? Has this been a live issue in the U.K.?

Geoff Mulgan: It's live everywhere and generational attitudes seem to vary greatly on this. My bias is that you do need people to come together physically to have a strong culture and ethos, and I would always try and get civil servants to go out and see face-to-face the people they're trying to help, the school they're trying to influence. But I may just be showing my age, because I know those views are not held by the under 30, under 35 civil servants who'd rather welcome much more remote working.

Alasdair Roberts: Right. Thanks, Geoff. Yamini, last word to you.

Yamini Aiyar: Thanks. I don't know so much about the remote working at the government. I, in fact, even through COVID was actually very actively working on the ground in the field, trying to reach citizens. And in fact, that was one of the most interesting parts, aspects of COVID. When everybody else was kind of working from... all other sectors of the economy, were working from home, were re-adapting, the frontline worker was out there putting themselves at great risk and actually didn't have any structures, too much around structures of compensation, of etc. In fact, one of my colleagues did a really important paper on the frontline worker risking themselves, and it's something that we don't acknowledge much in our debates on COVID or discussions of how governments responded. It's a huge service to put your physical health at risk and just be out there all the time, and they did it without any questions asked. It speaks to the value of public service. I will say one thing that technology has done in the Indian context at any rate, and I think I would say that's probably global, is that it's brought the bureaucracy into constant communication with each other. So, video conferences, WhatsApp, all the works, it's always there. There's constant communication. However, technology is only a tool and you will never be able break the hierarchies, or silos, or forms of functioning, the cultures of working, the norms that have been built over decades in the Indian case, and centuries in many others, just through technology. It certainly can enable a lot, but you first have to do that hard work on the base. And if you don't do that, it's one of many tools with some good, and lots of status quo, and some bad.

Alasdair Roberts: Jennifer, last quick word.

Jennifer Ditchburn: I'll just add one element that Yamini made me think of, is that if you ask a lot of smaller organizations that don't have big budgets to, well for lack of a better term, lobby government or talk to government, actually, this has been quite democratizing for them. And especially in a very vast country like Canada, that you're able to talk as a stakeholder and not spend a bunch of money on an airplane ticket and hotels. So, that's a factor.

Alasdair Roberts: And technology obviously enables us to have fascinating cross-border, cross-continental conversations like this one today. Unfortunately, we're at time, so we're at the end of our event. On behalf of the School, I'd like to thank you for being a part of today's discussion from coast to coast, and indeed, around the world. I'd like to thank our panelists for joining us today and helping to fuel this important dialogue in the federal public service. And I hope everyone's enjoyed today's event. I'd love to thank our participants as well for your great questions and incredible engagement. The School has more amazing events in the future, and I encourage you to visit the School's website to keep up to date and register for future learning opportunities. So again, thank you to all of our panelists for a wonderful conversation on this critically important topic, and thank you to all our participants. I hope everyone has a wonderful day, and Yamini, I hope you have a wonderful evening. Thank you.

Geoff Mulgan: Thank you.

Jennifer Ditchburn: Thank you.

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