Public Policy Should Mean Doing the Right Thing

Are we scared to change, overwhelmed, or do we really think the challenges in our communities will go away if we ignore them? 

I’m currently reading Thomas L. Friedman’s book called “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. In it he makes the case that post 9/11 Americans have shifted to a defense mode that has resulted in them exporting their fears rather than their hopes. And, as he points out, it’s impossible to be visionary if you are in a defense mode. It has also meant Americans have neglected such critical issues as their health care system, crumbling infrastructure, immigration reform, Social Security, Medicare, and dealing comprehensively with energy excesses. He also blames the mortgage mess that led to the recent financial crisis as being part of the same kind of overriding mentality…”We’ll get to it when we feel like getting to it and it will never catch up with us because we’re American”.

Having now worked with over 30 different communities, I wish I could tell you Canadians are different. Unfortunately, albeit not to the same extreme, most of us are the same when it comes to change. The good news is that even if we haven’t done anything about it yet, most do seem to know there must be a better way and are open and ready to consider options. After all we’re living in a post-industrial, creativity-hungry era where quality of life is becoming an increasingly important measure of success. In smaller communities especially, there is also an understanding that quality of life isn’t something we can take for granted as there are signs telling us it may be at-risk.

Unlike some politicians and corporate leaders, there are many who already get that this nexus of change demands huge shifts. They know we can’t keep extracting natural resources or consume seemingly infinite resources. Nor can we be a homogenous society that values conformity or thinks only in terms of our local communities. While Canadians still want tightly knit communities, they also understand the value of the creative capital that comes with more cosmopolitan regional communities.

The citizens I’ve met know our health care must shift from its current disease focus to one that is based more on wellness-focused holistic health.They also understand that recreation and culture are necessary for wellness. Canadians, unlike some Americans, are much further ahead in some regards because they do understand that the future needs us to move from “me to we” by balancing individual rights and interests with those of the broader community. Unlike our more traditional politicians, the average citizens we’ve met also understand that we need to move from top-down governing to governance as a shared accountability because it’s just far too complicated for anyone leader to tackle on their own.

This time of change opens tremendous opportunities for positive action and an opportunity to shape a new environment as well as the kind of leadership that will use our resources to protect and enhance the quality of life in our communities. We can create a far more livable future than our current course is aligned to produce by advocating for policy change that will provide for higher quality of life and, in the long term, cost far less.

Typically developing public policy is an activity carried out within distinct policy envelopes that involves research, analysis, consultation and synthesis of information to produce recommendations. And, it typically involves an evaluation of options against a set of criteria used to assess each option.

Along with other issues in our communities, our approach to public policy needs to change because for the most part it isn’t working. A new world needs a new, more integrated and collaborative approach to public policy if we are to better reflect our values and prioritize our resources. My guess is that if we developed a quality of life framework based on the values held true by typical Canadians we’d be on the right track. If our collective values could serve as a filter or guiding policy, it would be much simpler for each of us to be part of the change that will result in an improved quality of life for all. Perhaps it is as simple as framing our public policy decisions on doing the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.

Posted on 05-09-10


Great blog Brenda!  I do wonder how public policy would change if it REALLY came from bottom up as opposed to being imposed on us from top down.  A lot more buy-in and a lot more happy citizens…

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  05/11/10  at  08:41 AM

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