Renewal
April 17, 2012

Globalization’s challenge for tomorrow’s public servants

As a new public servant, I sometimes think about the future social and economic issues that will be front and centre during the tenure of my career, and in turn, what the role of governments will be in response.

Admittedly, coming to a definitive conclusion is impossible. The nature of this question requires one to work within the realm of the unknown, predicting future trends and how these may play out. However, while definitive conclusions may not be possible, it seems reasonable to assume that future governments, and therefore public servants, will be increasingly confronted by issues with global roots: issues of breadth and scope that are of concern for the international community in general and beyond the capacity of any one order of government to address.

Many future challenges will not be new in nature, but rather derivatives of current global issues. For example, the growing widespread global concern regarding key environmental issues is well documented. Rising global environmental consciousness has inspired (or required) many governments to establish domestic policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, translating this spirit into international action driven by a commonly shared strategic vision has been problematic. Sustaining governmental support for the infamous Kyoto Protocol (2005) is a primary example. While reasons for this may vary, the sheer fact that sustaining a commitment to Kyoto was challenging requires both present and future public servants to question “why was this so?”, and to seek innovative approaches to ensuring that cooperation and collaboration among individual sovereign governments is both something that is attainable and sustainable for years to come.

Recent global economic uncertainty has also provided national governments, including Canada, with cause for concern. The current Eurozone financial crisis reminds us that economic prosperity among relatively stable economies is not a given, and that the integration of strong national economies into one common economic union does involve risk.

Canada has fared relatively well despite the current European fiscal collapse, a direct correlation, as some analysts claim, to the strong regulatory framework that governs the Canadian financial sector. However, Canada is not completely shielded from the negative ramifications of this event, and will almost certainly experience a slowdown in its national economic growth as a result of the recession in Europe. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Canada will fare as well in response to future global recessionary pressures, a potential reality that could have significant impact on Canadian public servants in the coming years.

Building off of these examples, I challenge you to think about what both present and future public servants can take away from the events of today to better prepare for the events of tomorrow?

I unfortunately do not have a crystal ball capable of predicting the future, nor do I claim to have a well-developed answer to this very important question. I simply position the above examples to illustrate that we as public servants do not work in isolation of variables that are outside of our control. Instead, we work in dynamic environments that (at times) react to issues with causal roots that are beyond the preventive influence of any one government.

I suppose that if I do have a thesis it would be that I expect these complex “global” problems to increase in relevance as my career progresses. Globalization is not a fad, it is alive and well, and is here to stay. As such, the interconnectedness of cultures, economies and even governments will continue to entrench itself within the fabric of human society.

Given this, it is important that we recognize the linkages between our day-to-day work and the broader global picture to proactively prepare for events of this magnitude.

Finally, in recognizing this, I posit that collaborative efforts across governments may enable public servants to respond rather than to react to such challenges. It will be valuable for public servants to reach out and work with colleagues across all levels of government to effectively meet these challenges. Issues of this nature do not abide by jurisdictional boundaries and I would suggest that, in response to these issues, neither should we.


Brent Wellsch is a policy and research analyst with Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. He is also an active member of IPAC’s New Public Servant’s Committee.

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