A Public Policy Renaissance?

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We often hear that we live in a time of unprecedented complexity. What is equally true, but less said, is that we also live in time of unprecedented opportunity to effect change in a complex world.

In Alberta, as well as in other jurisdictions, we are in many ways experiencing a renaissance. Characterized by individual empowerment on a scale unimaginable even five years ago, the entrenchment of the “creative class”, and the digitization of life as we know it, this is a period of historic change and significance. It is undoubtedly a great time to be an idealist, an intellectual, or an entrepreneur – even from within a large bureaucracy.

Yet in the midst of this incredibly productive, innovation-yielding, revolutionary chaos, many of our greatest challenges persist. Income disparities, poverty, homelessness, and climate change are just a few of our biggest concerns today.

These challenges are, indeed, highly complex. As Dr. Ralph Stacey’s well-known model of complexity describes, complex problem are unknowable, and there is a lack of consensus about how to alter the status quo.

Last fall we started a project called “Institutions of Complex Problem Solving.” What started out as an interesting research endeavour – albeit with a stuffy title – focused on administration and process quickly became an inspiring tour of the minds at work in our provincial public service.

The result is a draft discussion paper that sheds light on the ways in which Alberta’s public sector has grappled with complex public policy issues over the last decade, and suggests a path forward for the next.

I decided to release this report in draft form because I would like to create an opportunity for anyone with an opinion on this topic to have a say. Policy and complexity are topics near and dear to the hearts and minds of many people in the Steeves Advisory community, and this paper is by no means intended to corner the market on interesting things to say about them. If you disagree with anything the report contains, or think something needs to be added, please let us know.

We plan to remove the draft watermark sometime this spring, but there is no real limit on the amount of time we’ll allow for comments. That said, if you’d like us to change something before the watermark comes off, please let us know by the end of March. Once we firm up the content, we’ll let you know more about where we plan to take the project from here.