- If we do not address the misalignment of our current systems of democratic governance to modern realities, then what are the consequences of maintaining the status quo?
This should be evident already. Declining confidence and trust in government; decreased governmental effectiveness; failure to acquire the needed knowledge, resources and power to address our most urgent social priorities; decline in the perceived legitimacy of government and an accompanying movement towards technology-based social coordination; a shift from democracy to autocracy; and growing social instability based on fear of the ‘other’. Our modern, complex, interdependent, unpredictable and emergent society has outpaced the capacity of our old governing systems to provide adequate social coordination.
- What do our governing institutions need to do to be both effective and ethical?
According to one group of public servants I interviewed, there needs to be a change of psychology. From an attitude of control and coercion epitomized by “thou shalt do this”, governments need to adopt an attitude of collaboration and shared learning epitomized by “how can we help?”. To be effective governments need to recognize that they do not have all the knowledge, resources and power to address the issues that are most important to their citizens. It then follows that to obtain the needed knowledge, resources and power, they need to be inclusive, they need to be facilitators and stewards of the collective work of others, they need to become good observers and storytellers of society’s collaborative successes and they need to shed the pretense that government is in-charge. In a partnership where information is openly shared, ethicalness tends to come automatically as the eyes of every partner are watching.
- What are some of the ways we can improve the pooling of collective knowledge and resources to achieve a heightened degree of democracy?
The fundamental of good knowledge and resource sharing is reciprocity: “I will, if you will.” This coupled with the most basic notion of community — that we can accomplish more together than we can separately — are the foundation of democracy. The process of democracy then becomes a process of shared learning, collaboration, building trust and confidence in each other, and celebrating our collective achievements. In today’s world we have forgotten how to work with others and when, as a result, we don’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, we religiously hold fast to the old tools and practices as if they could save us from the uncertainty of change, instead of reinventing new tools to help us create the future we want for tomorrow. Today the world needs more democracy not less.
- What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?
As everyone knows, the first step in dealing with a problem is recognizing that you have one. And the big problem that we have is that our governing systems have passed their ‘best before’ date. In the media it’s all too easy to identify individuals as scapegoats for the problems we face when in fact it’s the system that must change. Swapping one leader for another will do little to address the complex problems that confront us. But “how do I as a single person hope to change such a huge system like government?” You start by making a change in yourself – the only thing you truly have any chance of changing. You take ownership of your condition and examining how your actions or inactions may be contributing to the problem you see. Then you look for others who also see that the status quo must change, connect with them, learn with them, work with them, and make a difference together. Then tell your story. Maybe government is involved, maybe not, but show people that there are real alternatives to a life of dependence on government and they will be more willing to take the chance to cooperate with others.
In the end you will change government, because above all else governments seek legitimacy. If government is shown that they can play a different positive role in facilitating your working together, they will have to adapt to retain that legitimacy or they’ll just fade away.
Christopher in conversation with Toby Fife, editor of Canadian Government Executive magazine, during the IPAC annual conference in St. John’s, NFLD