The NB Social Policy Research Network recently hosted its annual GovMaker Conference on open government, a concept that strives for higher levels of transparency, stronger mechanisms for public engagement and scrutiny, and greater citizen participation.
The NBSPRN advances this agenda by working to build the capacity of citizens and government to engage in open data, open dialogue and open collaboration.
This is valuable work. At its core is the recognition that no one sector—provincial or municipal governments, business, or education—has a monopoly on answers. With the very serious social and economic problems before us, we must do a better job of listening, working collaboratively and developing evidence-based policy.
This is the value of the NBSPRN. It is making better use of research already being undertaken and making connections between groups that usually work in silos.
This thinking animated the participants at the GovMaker Conference, whether they were experts from Copenhagen, New York City, Austin or STU’s Professor Kelly Bronson from the Science and Technology Studies program. While government may sometimes provide the impetus, it is people who must provide the ideas and momentum.
We have very limited financial resources to tackle the challenges before us. Moreover, I think the public also has much less patience for flawed policy-making. By bringing together government, researchers and activists, the GovMaker Conference may start to change the way that policy is made in our province.
We can’t continue to exclusively look to government to solve all problems. Researchers, academics, sectoral experts, practitioners and informed citizens can each make important contributions to the development of sound, evidence-based public policy.
I often shake my head at the failure of governments at all levels to look more often to the research being done by university faculty. Our government funds research being done by faculty at New Brunswick’s four publicly funded universities, yet it sometimes fails to take full advantage of the high quality research being done here in the province. I am afraid that the media may reach out to faculty experts more often than the government.
NBSPRN should be congratulated for serving as a catalyst to identify experts working on pressing issues and for bringing these experts together with citizens and government. This is a good habit to get into and will lead to better-informed, evidence-based policy in New Brunswick.
NBSPRN also recognizes the voice of the liberal arts in this conversation.
The humanities and social sciences can make an important contribution to our understanding of the issues confronting our world today, and to the education of individuals with the skills needed to ask the right questions and to develop practical, informed evidence-based solutions.
We hear and read constantly about the important role which the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) have to play in solving the economic woes of our province and our country. This is only part of the answer.
David Chaundy, the director of research at the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, recently authored a report on the economic outlook for New Brunswick. When he was asked what he would tell students about the skills they need in the future. He said that he’d tell them, first of all, to follow their passions and interests, but then to develop strong core skills in quantitative and qualitative research, strong writing and communication skills, good critical thinking and problem-solving skills, math, IT skills. Many of the skills he mentioned, and those he mentioned first, were skills acquired through a liberal arts education.
As we saw from the range of presenters at the GovMaker Conference, the solution to our economic woes will not be found just in STEM disciplines but in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math).
The solutions to our most pressing social problems—poverty, literacy, youth at risk, the needs of our Indigenous communities, health care, climate change, public confidence in our political system—require the input of disciplines such as Gerontology, Native Studies, Criminology, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Sociology and Human Rights.
Like the GovMaker Conference, let’s bring more people to the table, more often and tap into the expertise and knowledge already here.
Op-ed submission by Dawn Russell, president and vice-chancellor of St. Thomas University. She spoke at the GovMaker Conference 2016.