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 benefit. This 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.