We would like to introduce a new section on Canadian Government Executive – Game Changers. In this section, we will profile executives who are contributing to making a difference to the public sector community both in Canada and overseas, as a game changer.
In this inaugural Game Changers piece, we are excited to announce Game Changers: Lisa Witter, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Apolitical and Robyn Scott, Co-Founder and CEO of Apolitical.
Here is the interview that J. Richard Jones, Group Publisher of Canadian Government Executive conducted with Lisa and Robyn.
Q: What is Apolitical all about?
Robyn Scott: Apolitical is a global platform that helps public servants anywhere in the world quickly find essential and inspiring policies and programs around the world and connect with the people who’ve worked on them. We have our original reporting on topics that range from cities and data through to early childhood development inclusive growth and women’s empowerment.
We also write about how to manage, lead and innovate in the public service, and our platform is full of interesting, important ideas from our members, as well as from around the Internet.
Q: Can you tell us how your organization started?
RS: As an entrepreneur, I’ve worked on tech and social change all my life. I was ultimately drawn to government because of its potential for scale and to get upstream of problems – dealing through policy with their causes and not their consequences. And when I started looking at the government space, I got more and more excited by the opportunity to use technology and great design to drive change scale.
It seems crazy that in a world where we’re celebrating innovation in the private sector and civil society, we hardly ever celebrate the innovators and government, despite the fact their work affects so many lives.
We hardly ever talk about what’s working in government and what makes innovation so much harder. It also makes it harder for government to attract and retain talent, and perhaps most importantly, it means citizens lose trust in institutions of government, potentially leading to populism. We wanted to show that governments could have heroes and policies can be fixed, so we founded Apolitical to make this happen.
Q: How can Canadian public servants become involved with your organization?
RS: Any public servant in the world is welcome to sign up to our private network. We’d be delighted to have as many Canadian public servants as possible join. They can visit apolitical.co and join thousands of inspiring, innovative and influential public servants from more than 120 countries, including mayors and ministers. There you can search policies, suggest policies you think we should feature, and find peers in other countries. You can join communities of practice on the platform; for example, we have a policy labs group of 70 different labs from 40 different countries – they have a private group on the platform. And we also host a monthly show-and-tell where we feature one lab’s work.
Q: The Prime Minister of Canada has a strong focus on feminism. Can you share with us how people can use Apolitical to learn more about innovations around gender equality?
RS: Women’s empowerment and gender equality is one of the flagship topics that we featured in numerous policies and programs. We track this critical issue around the world with analysis, overviews and trends. We also host a community of public servants around the world, working on gender equality to share what they’re learning. So, there’s plenty to find on this topic on Apolitical.
Q: With these priorities in mind that our government has – for example, gender equality and the reconciliation with indigenous communities – how can Apolitical help to move these along?
RS: We help accelerate policy change in two fundamental ways. We make it easy to find the best ideas wherever they are in the world, and then speak to the people who’ve made these ideas happen. This is crucial as ideas often fail at the implementation stage and talking to someone who’s been there before helps a lot. We also think it’s important to showcase what’s working to the general public as this helps build trust in and support for government work. We do this around gender a great deal already and are starting to cover innovative work around indigenous communities.
Hear the full interview with Robyn on CGE Radio.
Q: Some of the key areas of focus for public service in Canada are the reconciliation with indigenous Canadians, income equality, and pay equity and gender equality. What’s your perspective?
Lisa Witter: International Women’s Day is something we think a lot about at Apolitical. We not only think about it because the issue is important to us, but it’s an issue that as Robyn and I were founding the company, came up as a vital topic for governments around the world. But not only from the perspective of fulfilling rights provided either in constitutions or legislation, but also because governments see this as an important factor for GDP growth.
We’ve been proud to partner with a public-private partnership in Australia to do some in-depth reporting on what’s working with gender equality. One of the things that is quite important to us is to focus on what is working to solve problems instead of focusing on the problems. We took International Women’s Day to highlight some real innovations going on around the world on gender equality.
Q: Are there any lessons that you can share with our readers?
LW: A big lesson that we’re learning that works, and is particularly effective in Aboriginal communities, in Australia is more of a way to do policy versus an outcome of policy. One of the trends we’re seeing is co-designing policy and practice with the communities itself. So that’s more of a collaborative policy process. Some other processes on the other end of the spectrum that seem to be working are what we would like to call blunt force policies. These are hard edge policies that look at just solving the problem.
Q: Can you comment on some of the initiatives that you’re working on in Canada and how does Canada rate as compared to other countries?
LW: There’s no doubt that Canada is leading the way on gender rights. I think part of that comes from the very top with Prime Minister Trudeau making significant statements like calling himself a feminist.
Throughout government, this topic is being seen and talked about as a big priority. Concerning rankings, Canada seems to be trailblazing in lots of different ways around gender. One example: Canada has recently issued a feminist foreign policy, which is no small thing. Consider the role of women and peace, women and foreign policy and women and development.
Ministers in Canada have been very forward thinking and not just because it’s a feminist perspective, but they see it as an effective perspective. Canada is making a mark by saying, this is important to us.
Hear the full interview with Lisa Witter on CGE Radio.
Q: What does the future look like for Apolitical?
RS: We are hugely ambitious with Apolitical. We want to put the best ideas at the fingertips of public service anywhere in the world, whether they in a rich country or a poor country, whether they’re tackling cities policy or inclusive growth. We want to make it possible for everyone to find what’s working, and in doing so, we want to save the taxpayers a huge amount of money and create a tremendous amount of value for society. We also want to change the perception of government for the general public to show that there are great things happening everywhere and to build support for these great things.