Technological innovation and leadership in the public interest – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

Innovations
May 21, 2014

Technological innovation and leadership in the public interest

Accelerating technological change remains among the most powerful driving forces impacting our lives on planet earth, both individually and collectively. It has been said that we tend to overestimate the impact of this change in the short-term and to underestimate its impact in the longer term, and this especially holds when considering the implications for public servants and public service institutions.

Moore’s Law, formulated in 1965, predicts that the capacity of digital technologies will double every 18 months. This means an exponential increase in capacity accompanied by decreases in the cost of technology. The prediction has been accurate so far: how long such an exponential rate of change can be sustained is under debate.

Against this background, let’s look at three interdependent examples of how technological innovation is impacting our individual and collective well-being. In each case we will consider the way forward in keeping with three principles: a) leaders are necessarily guided by purpose and values in the face of uncertainty; b) digital technologies have increased our capacity to share information and to collaborate in the public interest; and c) the new collaborative policy environment must be used to creatively leverage our capacity to meet the challenges of accelerating change.

Using data within competitive environments
Contemporary databanks and analytic tools offer the capacity to grasp demographics and personal information with increasing levels of precision. For example, psychodynamic demographics involve translating every click and every eyeball movement to a personal value with a potential monetary or political value. The personal data of citizens may be used to sell a product or to target a political policy to specific citizen profiles and obtain a predicted percentage of the vote. Accordingly, organizations such as private sector firms, political parties and intelligence agencies now integrate such data and its analysis into their organizational strategies and processes. But the relative lack of adequate oversight means that public discussions regarding expectations of privacy and the security of personal information depend to a substantial degree on unauthorized disclosures about real world events.

Recently, a WikiLeaks disclosure alleged that the NSA used a Facebook site to infect computers with malware. Further to a series of incidents, the issues surrounding privacy appear to be as important as they are intractable: my right to privacy may be equal to the extent of privacy I am prepared to deny to those who may be intending to harm me (as this is equal to the authority I am prepared to delegate to an intelligence agency to monitor my communication). Once established, the technological capacities involved in capturing, storing and monitoring communication can and are being used by a range of political regimes and multinational organizations around the world within competitive political and economic environments. In some instances the suppliers and the users of the systems are the same global companies. Only the purpose of those at the controls differs.

The NSA example also raises issues related to governance, oversight and accountability. The issues raised cut across many agencies and departments as well as the interests of citizen and private sector stakeholders and stretch beyond electoral cycles and national jurisdictions.

Access to technology and asymmetric threats
Technology has increased to the point that Internet instructions now give amateurs with malicious intent what they need to achieve their goals with as little as a few commercially available supplies and a domestic kitchen. This illustrates the asymmetry between the massive investments in military capacity of governments and the minuscule investment required to inflict damage to citizens and infrastructure. Such asymmetry has developed at a time when the mutual understanding between ethnic and religious populations is at risk and when travel and intermingling of global citizen populations is pervasive.

If we agree that mutual understanding and social capital are the foundations of a healthy society, perhaps we as public sector leaders have a role to play in promoting such messages in policy advice, within our organizations and the communities we touch. Without healthy communities, security is an illusion. Let’s use that awareness to renew our purpose as leaders in the public sector and mobilize partners and stakeholders in the search of new and creative approaches in support of social cohesion.

Testing the limits of the world’s ecology
Against the background of technological and economic progress, the World Bank has documented a progressive rise in the average GDP per global citizen and an increase in income inequalities, accompanied by an increase in the average size of the environmental footprints of the ever more numerous habitants of our planet. This tests new limits in our environment’s sustainability from water and energy reserves to climate trends.

Here again, the pace of change and emerging risks prompt us to think about the public interest. Among global environmental scenarios, Shell’s research has elaborated a “Scramble” and a “Blueprints” scenario, the former short-sighted and reactive in nature and the second more proactive and collaborative. Where do we wish to position ourselves? Once again, the current situation prompts us as public sector leaders to reconsider our purpose, the potential for creative and collaborative ventures, and fresh policy initiatives.

Commentary on the significance of technological innovation typically includes promising perspectives for the future. We all hope some of these expectations will prove to be realistic. But the examples above suggest that technologically-driven social and environmental change can also bring longer-term challenges for leaders into sharper relief. Examples include the adequacy of oversight of collective and individual interests; the foundational importance of social well-being to the common good; and coming to terms with how private interests interface with public interest.

In times of rapid change, all contributors to society need to focus on their purpose and their values as a guiding direction. Abraham Lincoln, for example, sought to promote learning in challenging times of war and social unrest. His suggestion was that “no man has the right to govern another without his consent.” Accelerating change heightens the onus on leaders to consider the welfare of others and seek their engagement. We need to use our power wisely and in a manner that inspires trust, citizen engagement and consensus-building at a time when challenges are increasingly complex.

Lincoln also put forward the principle that “if you would win a person to your cause, first convince them that you are their sincere friend.” As you and I lean forward to look into the eyes of our friends, perhaps they will see the passion for the public interest in our eyes. If they also see our receptivity to any suggestions they may have to offer there is hope that we can learn together how to cope with the very real interdependent challenges facing Canadians.

As Canadian public servants, we need to demonstrate our passion for the well-being of Canadians. In taking care of others, we may also be taking care of ourselves.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Innovations
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) is pleased to welcome Microsoft as its Platinum Sponsor for...
 
We are happy to share with you the September 2017 issue...
 
We are pleased to provide you with an opportunity to help...
 
Innovation is vital in every sector; public service is no exception....
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) and CATAAlliance , Canada’s one voice for...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance) is Canada’s One Voice...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Over the decades, technology has been grafted into governments around the...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with its 28 independent member countries...
 
The rapid advances in digital technology, demographic and societal shift even...
 
The latest issue of Canadian Government Executive is currently available. Some...
 
Bill Gates once said that “Technology is just a tool. In...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
After shifting its focus away from manufacturing smartphones, BlackBerry  announced yesterday that...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
There is already a surging literature on the application of design...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Rules and accountability are helpful in developing and standardizing processes but...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
At last the the nostalgic fun of the CNE decends upon...
 
In this episode, we discuss the top stories from our latest...
 
Dispersed organisations can be very powerful structures. There is ample evidence...
 
The local electric vehicle industry just got a boost from Ontario...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Here’s some bad news for organizations contemplating projects that have something...
 
In January, the BBC and BuzzFeed jointly released an exposé on...
 
Things just get curiouser and curiouser. Lewis Carroll (1865): ’s Adventures...
 
Nearly half of Canadian organizations are falling behind on implementation of...
 
The Ontario government and telecom gear maker Huawei Canada yesterday announced...
 
Over the last decade we have seen many changes in the...
 
The idea of converged infrastructure and converged systems in the datacentre...
 
VMware is zeroing in on DevOps and day-to-day concerns of IT...
 
Written by Jason McNaught It took approximately 18 years for carbon...
 
Public sector innovation, once dismissed as a contradiction in terms, is...
 
Changes to the Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) will help...
 
Innovation (design or change) labs are the hottest thing in government....
 
The rapid growth of unmanned systems for military applications has been...
 
sharing and checking into Google Plus regularly; that only leaves brands...
 
The economic development agencies of 12 municipalities have banded together to...
 
The City of Grande Prairie in Alberta has received a “green...
 
Governments and managers can promote innovation in Canada by crafting a...
 
Two weeks ago, CGE wrote about the selection of Toronto as...
 
Despite the international media circus created by Mayor Rob Ford, Toronto...
 
A regulator’s job is to fulfill its mandate in the public...
 
but what does this mean when plugged back into your starting...
 
Innovate Manitoba is a not-for-profit community-based organization established in 2012 to...
 
as articulated in Thaler and Sunstein’s book of the same name...
 
or is this more or less a way to talk about...
 
e.g. lateral thinking...
 
Whether we are welcoming advanced technology into our homes, driving vehicles...
 
“Innovation” might be an overused buzzword in defence and security circles,...
 
Ontario and Alberta have joined forces to encourage the development of...
 
For government to fulfill its mandate of serving citizens, considerable spending...
 
The need to innovate has become so common a goal in...
 
While not all cities are created equal, great competition should bring...
 
It has long been postulated that tidy desks are more conducive...
 
In “Public sector, disrupted”, a recent study published by Deloitte, a...
 
We are only at the first phase of the Digital Age...
 
In Smarter Information, Smarter Consumers, www.hbr.org, Richard H. Thaler and Will...
 
A Saskatchewan team of geologists, physicists and palaeontologists is hunting for...
 
The judges are in place. The clock is ticking. The best...
 
At first glance, federal defence scientists focused on research supporting the...
 
What is British Columbia doing to change its approach to scientific...
 
In a knowledge-based global economy, continuous innovation is crucial to enable...
 
There is no reason for Canada to be an innovation and...
 
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment is leading a new approach built on...
 
Governments have long known that although across-the-board percentage cuts may meet...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.4 April 2007 Education, creativity, research and innovation play...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 Innovation is one of those concepts...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty spoke...
 
Today, thanks largely to the internet, the kind of creativity and...
 
When William Eggers wrote his landmark book, Government 2.0, in 2005,...
 
What exactly is hunger and why is it an important global...
 
En décembre 2008, la fonction publique de la Colombie-Britannique a lancé...
 
La fonction publique de l’Ontario œuvre dans la lutte contre les...
 
The Ontario Public Service has been in the business of putting...
 
In December 2008, the BC Public Service launched Spark, an internal...
 
Once seen as stable, even glacial, the public service is now...
 
D’abord vue comme stable, même figée, la fonction publique connaît maintenant...
 
Au cours de ma longue expérience auprès de différents ministres d’allégeances...
 
Le leadership au sein des organismes du secteur public est l’un...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.8 October 2007 A modern public service is one...
 
Quote of the week “An innovative APS starts with individual public...
 
Le plus souvent, toutefois, nous devons nous affairer activement à trouver...
 
Sometimes innovation happens serendipitously – a Eureka moment, when the answer...
 
2012 has the potential to be an important year for Canadian...
 
As the Ontario Public Service readies for its involvement this April...
 
TED is a non-profit community devoted to the theme of “Ideas...
 
Becoming an innovative organization takes more than a call to “be...
 
Thousands of other research projects in Canada have become a reality...
 
Conducting a large number of detention reviews under difficult conditions and...
 
How can we increase productivity, build resilience and enhance quality of...
 
Innovation is critical and urgent as public servants continue to improve...
 
To the reporters who’d gathered in the Alberta Legislature press room,...
 
Robert Louis Stevenson a déjà affirmé que « la politique est...
 
You’ve made a good choice. If you’re in the public sector...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.10 December 2007 David Crombie, former Toronto Mayor, Conservative...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) is pleased to welcome Microsoft as its Platinum Sponsor for...

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.