Policymakers must quickly change direction in the post-pandemic era

After overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians now face even more challenges that affect their daily lives on almost every front. These include a squeezed economy, a warming planet, a failing healthcare system and changing workplaces. For policymakers, there are no easy off-the-shelf answers. The political environment in the late-pandemic and post-pandemic era presents new obstacles to effective policy development—unless we adapt. Our new environment has three main characteristics.

A Trio of Challenges First, we are in a time of declining trust in public institutions and their leaders.

A recent survey found that more than half of respondents agreed that “official government reports of events cannot be trusted”. In addition, policymakers must grapple with increasingly complex and interrelated challenges that require coordinated, sustained, intergovernmental efforts.

Finally, the amplifying impacts of global issues such as climate change mean that we also face a more uncertain political environment in which long-term planning becomes increasingly difficult.

The first report, released by the newly formed CSA Public Policy Centre, where I have a leadership position, suggests that this perspective will make it harder for governments to implement effective programs and policies, while the need to address critical issues is bigger than ever.

Any delayed or ineffective attempt to increase Canadians’ financial security, including the provision of affordable housing, risks further eroding public trust and undermining future public engagement and outreach efforts.

Strained Politics Canada’s existing approaches to policy making have been strained for some time.

Many Canadians struggle to access pharmaceutical and mental health services – as many as half of Canadians wait more than a month to get the mental health support they need.

Our employment insurance system was also designed for a labor market that no longer exists, leaving too many part-time, temporary and self-employed people behind.

There is a general consensus on what challenges lie ahead and what goals we want to achieve. Less well known and little changed in decades are the mindset, culture and tools at the disposal of policymakers to successfully achieve their goals.

Here are three possibilities for policymakers to consider.

Focus on the long-term Many of the problems we face today are the result of a dominant mindset that is characterized by a short-term approach and a failure to consider the needs of people – especially the most vulnerable – fairly in the decision-making process.

Climate change is a good example where future generations will bear the greatest cost of not taking action today.

Refocusing on the long-term implications of decisions made today and how they impact diverse communities requires a shift in thinking and a thoughtful engagement with more diverse perspectives. Meaningful engagement well done can not only lead to better program and policy outcomes, but also help rebuild trust in public institutions, particularly in marginalized communities.

React faster to emerging issues The lag between an emerging policy issue and a policy response is increasing as challenges become more complex and their impact more uncertain. Emerging technologies are changing human behavior at record speed, making it difficult for regulators to rely on traditional tools to protect citizens while encouraging innovation.

Traditional models of policy making fail to anticipate a number of complex challenges. One example is digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb.

They grew so rapidly and disrupted sectors a decade ago before policymakers could develop regulatory frameworks that addressed medium and long-term issues such as increasing gridlock on city streets and reductions in affordable rental stocks.

Implementing regulatory innovation practices that create room for experimentation for policymakers can help bridge the gap between emerging problems and policy responses.

Expanding Collaboration The most pressing policy challenges are complex and cut across departmental and jurisdictional boundaries. However, political solutions are seldom designed with this in mind. Traditional policy-making tools constrain and limit the possibilities for potential solutions and breakthroughs.

There is a need to significantly improve data sharing and collaboration within government and trusted partners to understand difficult problems.

For example, a key challenge in ending homelessness is getting an accurate picture of how many people are affected. To that end, the BC Data Innovation Program has developed an integrated data project to better understand and respond to homelessness.

Using administrative data for the first time has allowed the BC government to determine an estimated number of people affected by homelessness. This evidence base leads to better policy decisions and service delivery.

A new environment requires new approaches to policy making that can more effectively deal with the complexities of today’s world. Many of our core policies and programs were designed decades ago and have remained largely unchanged.

We know what to do. Now it’s time to rethink how we’re doing it.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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