The federal government’s Blueprint 2020 initiative provides an opportunity to re-think how governments deliver public science in the digital age. The following article argues that government science has evolved from make-or-buy to cloud-and-crowd (the “clowd”).
Blueprint 2020, the federal public service renewal initiative, offers a vision of “a world-class Public Service equipped to serve Canada and Canadians now and into the future.” The question is: how can the federal science and technology (S&T) system continue to support the achievement of that vision?
The federal government uses S&T to meet its legal and regulatory responsibilities and to support strategic national priorities. While it is generally accepted that the government has an important role in funding S&T activity, its proper role in performing S&T has been debated at length in Canada.
It can be argued that while Ottawa continues to support S&T in the academic and private sectors, the public service must also maintain its core capacity to conduct S&T in the public interest and as a key enabler of the nation’s broader science and innovation ecosystem. Key responsibilities include:
• providing scientific information to support regulatory and policy decision-making and standards;
• producing public good products and services;
• supporting public welfare and national security;
• providing capacity to anticipate and respond quickly to national priorities and adverse events; and
• supporting innovation to improve the economic well-being of Canadians.
As Blueprint 2020 makes clear, there are a number of pressures on how the public service operates, and government science is not immune. At the same time, however, Blueprint 2020 offers an opportunity for the public service to embrace the emerging “social economy” in which Web 2.0 tools, social media and mass collaboration are reshaping our traditional institutions.
In his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, Clay Shirky (2008) explains that “we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations” (my emphasis). To understand where we are heading, it is helpful to briefly review where we have been.
Following an early period of “nation-building” activities, government science came of age during the Second World War. The post-war period can be viewed as a series of phases or versions of government science associated with a particular institutional form – hierarchies, markets and networks.
Beginning with the wartime expansion of Canada’s federal S&T enterprise, GovScience 1.0 can be characterized as a period of hierarchy as the government sought to build the required S&T capacity in-house within large departmental bureaucracies. This wave reached its high-water mark in the early 1970s with the creation of the Department of the Environment, but hierarchies remain relevant today.
Under GovScience 2.0, beginning in the 1970s with the federal Make-or-Buy policy, markets (or quasi-markets) were preferred as government science was expected to adopt more market-oriented goals and business-like practices such as innovation support, cost-recovery, contracting out and intellectual property revenue streams. This market logic became dominant over the last two decades and continues to inform, for example, the transformation of the National Research Council.
More recently, in response to the growing influence of innovation systems thinking and recognition of the public good nature of a significant portion of government science, we have entered a phase in which collaboration, partnerships and network-based approaches are increasingly the norm. Of course, government scientists were highly networked long before networks became managerial fashion. Now, however, our networks are increasingly at the level of institutions, not just individuals.
Under GovScience 3.0, networks enable the government to draw on the required scientific expertise wherever it resides to address national priorities. Networks mitigate Canada’s traditional challenge of too little capacity spread over too much geography.
It is important to note that successive waves have not replaced the previous institutional ones. For example, it would be difficult to argue that hierarchies are not still a dominant institutional form in government. Rather, each new policy emphasis is overlaid on top of the previous layers and competes for influence. The key point is that the policy choices for government science have evolved from merely “make” or “make or buy” to now “make, buy and collaborate” and various combinations of all three.
GovScience 3.0 has not yet reached its high-water mark and network-based approaches will likely be the focus through to year 2020. However, it is important to note that the period between the phases is decreasing. As we work to increase inter-sectoral collaboration and fully deploy the network-based approaches of GovScience 3.0 we must also contemplate the next big wave.
Our ongoing penchant for hierarchies has affected our ability to fully embrace the power of networks as a new mode of organizing government science. It is as if the public service runs to its comfort zone by trying to make our networks more like hierarchies. Hence we prefer formal, well-defined “private-public partnerships” and stable, well-structured networks in which we know all the players, have fully negotiated intellectual property rights, and where we can easily track the color of money. We understand that collaboration is essential, but we want it to be managed, planned – frankly, hierarchical.
Through the power of cloud computing and crowd-sourcing (i.e., the “clowd”), we are seeing the rise of “social” science. Here, we are not referring to the social sciences such as behavioural economics and sociology, although integrating these disciplines will be increasingly important as our resource-based economy grapples with adaptation to climate change, sustainable development and the social license to operate. Rather, the rise of “social” science is about a more social approach to government science. The “clowd” allows informal, mass collaboration and social production, in which participation is voluntary, transient, mobile, virtual and less amenable to top-down management and planning.
GovScience 4.0 will embrace open science and open innovation, big data, citizen science, inducement prizes, peer production and new approaches to innovation management, knowledge mobilization and the integration of science and policy.
This can be uncomfortable territory for government. Yet the potential benefits for innovation, citizen engagement, and science in the public interest are huge. As we look to 2020 and the full embrace of network-based GovScience 3.0, we must also exercise thought leadership on what comes next. Canada should lead the world in advancing GovScience 4.0.
GovScience 4.0: Some Quick Hits
As we move forward with Blueprint 2020 here are some potential low-hanging fruit related to GovScience 4.0.
Chief Digital Officer
During his recent Manion Lecture, Dominic Barton recommended that the federal government create a new C-suite position entitled Chief Digital Officer (CDO). CDOs play a strategic and transformational role in enhancing an organization’s productivity and value delivery by going digital. Reporting to the Clerk, the CDO would be a transitional role driving digital initiatives such as GovScience 4.0, Open Government, e-Cabinet, etc.
Drawing on U.S. and U.K. examples, Barton also recommends the creation of a public service “innovation lab.” Consisting of 10 to 15 forward thinkers drawn from across the public service, such a unit (perhaps reporting to the CDO described above) would provide important thought leadership on how to advance GovScience 4.0 as well as other renewal initiatives. For example, GovLab (thegovlab.org) in the U.S. seeks “new ways to solve public problems using advances in technology and science.” We should consider a GovLab Canada.
SPINE – the public servant’s digital backbone
Under the leadership of Chrystia Chudczak, Assistant Commissioner, Northern Pipeline Agency, SPINE is the Social Platform for Innovation, Networking & Entrepreneurship. Exhibiting the best digital technologies (e.g., cloud, big data analytics, mobile, social, semantic search) and integrated with existing tools like the GCDocs document management system, SPINE will help transform how government science is delivered in the 21st century. It will address the loss of productivity that occurs daily due to, among others, document search, email management, and toggling between applications. SPINE will enable crowdsourcing, collaboration, co-creation and community – the hallmarks of GovScience 4.0.
Complex, Adaptive S&T Networks (CAST-Nets)
In 2000, the federal Framework for S&T Advice advised that decision makers should “cast a wide net consulting internal, external and international sources” in addressing public priorities that require multidisciplinary S&T inputs. This advice is even more relevant today and Canada cannot afford to maintain a fragmented science and innovation system – seamless inter-sector collaboration is essential. Building on our experience with various mechanisms in the academic sector (e.g., the Networks of Centres of Excellence), the public service should pilot several complex, adaptive S&T networks (CAST-Nets) that draw upon the best and brightest, regardless of their employer of record, to address the emerging public policy challenges and opportunities.
Canadian S&T @ 150
As we look to 2017 and prepare for the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we should also prepare to celebrate Canada’s many S&T successes, including the discovery of insulin, Marquis wheat and the Canadarm. In the 2016-2017 period, Canada will also observe the 175th anniversary of the Geological Survey of Canada (1842), the 135th of the Royal Society of Canada (1882), the 100th of the National Research Council (1916), and the 50th of the Science Council of Canada (1966), each an important institution in the history of Canadian science and technology.