Quote of the week
“…we all need to commit to action and to take individual ownership for change in this next phase of our journey.”
— Wayne Wouters
Why is it so hard for the public service to embrace true, transformative change?
I was at a presentation by Don Tapscott who reminded us that there are four main drivers for change in the public sector: the technological, economic and social revolutions, and the rise of the net generation.
(PS: It is scary for some us that the net generation now outnumber us baby boomers, who are kind of used to running the world…)
He reminded us that government must respond to these changes if it is to remain legitimate. He quoted U.S. political theorist Seymour Martin Lipset: legitimacy is “the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for society.”
Legitimacy of government speaks, of course, to our democratic system, a system built on the Westminster model.
Tapscott argued that this system is facing the challenge of new expectations raised by what he calls a second wave of democracy. The first wave focused on elected and accountable institutions dependent on “a weak public mandate and an inert citizenry.” He argues the second wave will have “strong representation and a new culture of public deliberations built on active citizenship.”
A new book by Mark J. Barrenechea and Tom Jenkins approaches the challenge of legitimacy and the need to respond in a slightly different way, although the conclusion is similar. The book also says our system of government is outmoded, and if we can’t adapt, it is at risk. It puts forward a template for the evolution of democratic values taken from European Commission research.
First, there were 18th century Liberal Values that covered constitutional structures, justice and individual rights. Then there were 19th century Democratic Values that focused on citizenship and democratic participation through representation. Third, 20th century Social Values that focused on inclusion and service delivery.
And now, Empowerment Values, covering how “citizens, communities, groups and interests in society can be empowered to further their own as well as collective benefits.”
Empowerment values or second wave, the impact on government is the same. And so is what I think is the unspoken worry for public servants: how will we respond to this unnerving, power-seeking phenomenon? What will be its impact on our traditional expectations, as public servants, of being able to manage and control the agenda?