Sean Moore, the wise and big hearted walrus of public policy first remarked this several years ago.  Most government departments have either eliminated or pared to the bare bones their policy development arms.  This means there are few staff dedicated to policy research, policy formulation, policy surveillance, and policy exploration.

The time has come, Sean urged us, to practice, 'Do It Yourself' public policy.  In other words to assume the responsibilities we used to rely on government policy shops to do i.e. to write policy briefs following the format of Cabinet briefing documents; to invest in policy research; to call federal-provincial meetings; and to establish our own task forces.

That's exactly what Tim Draimin and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) did when they established their own Task Force on Social Finance.  First, SiG tried to interest various government in co-sponsoring perhaps even initiating one on its own.  No luck, not the right time.  So SiG created its own. 

Having been in three of our capital cities (Victoria, Toronto and Ottawa) within the past two weeks, I know this strategy is working.  Governments are paying attention to the Task Force recommendations -  elected officials and senior public servants are indicating a strong interest in its findings.  British Columbia and its Parliamentary Secretary on Social Enterprise Gordon Hogg, has already endorsed them in principle. 

There is a strategic and the practical value to do it yourself. When governments don't have the agility or the predisposition or the political priority to do the preliminary research or convene the many different players you can do it for them.   And for us.

There is something deeply democratic, reminiscent, even ennobling about civil society leading public policy development.
One, we get back to defining the problem ourselves – on our terms not within the narrow constraints and short term perspectives of systems.
Two, we determine the solutions, again on our own terms, assessing all our assets not just those of governments. Many of the Task Force recommendations seek to unlock resources we already have at our disposal.  For example, Recommendation # One urges foundations to invest a minimum of 10% of their capital for public benefitThis would liberate another $3-4 Billion to address socia and environmnetal challenges.
Three, we engage in our own problem solving, using all the resources at our disposal and assemble our collaborators as we see fit.  The Report reaches out to more than the usual partners to solve our tough challenges  – businesses and corporations, private investors, private and community foundations, pension funds as well as government and community.
Four, we determine which external resources or supports we need from government and others, when we need them and under what conditions. Several of the Task Force recommendations urge Governments to create an enabling infrastructure for social enterprise and community investment.  For example, Task Force Recommendation Five urges Government to remove regulatory barriers to non profit and cooperative social enterprise.  This makes it easier for us to solve our own problems.

After one successful foray into Do It Yourself Public Policy I wonder what comes next? How about a Federal-Provincial Conference on Implementing the Social Finance recommendations?

NOTE: I am indebted to John McKnight founder of the Asset Based Community Development Institute for first bringing to my attention these four elements of democratic problem solving.


3 Comments

  1. Tonya Surman

    Great comments Al… and I agree that DIY public policy is very empowering… but I think that it is vital to also mention how important movement building is to making it happen…SIG has had the budget to engage highly placed stakeholders and create serious momentum around the social finance mandate… this is great and fortunate… but it does beg the question, what does one do with issues that are less sexy? where there are fewer interests? And what is the time line on these changes? It took 8 years and roughly $2m for the ban on Bisphenol A which triggered a market transformation around the content of plastics… I just signed a petition to stop Loblaws from putting Ontario plums in plastics clamshells… there were 700 signatories… quite sad… when it comes to DIY policy, I am a huge supporter and I think that it would be great to really dig into what it takes to able to generate the profile and support around issues that matter. What is the money to movement ratio?

  2. Al Etmanski

    Thanks Tonya
    You have raised the vital link between ‘Do It Yourself’ public policy and movement thinking and acting. I attempted to get at this in a previous post, http://www.aletmanski.com/al-etmanski/2010/12/the-back-story-social-finance-in-canada.html . There is indeed a cast of characters, thousands of relationships and many many activities over long periods of time before results surface.
    Re: resources – what I continue to appreciate is how strategically the limited resources were applied to move the social finance agenda forward. The UK social finance agenda benefits from hundreds of millions of pounds of investment. The resources leading up to and supporting the Task Force recommendations are a drop in the bucket compared to the UK.
    I haven’t thought about a money to movement ratio but I will give it consideration. After 30 years of involvement with direct advocacy without government funding I continue to be astounded by the untapped community assets just waiting to be mobilized. In my experience, acting like a movement is tougher to achieve than accessing resources.
    What do you think?

  3. Isabela Traynor

    Isabela Traynor

    Im obliged for the post. Really Cool.

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