Blogger’s Note: The following series is drawn from the unabridged version of a commentary which has been published in edited form this month by The Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.
It won’t be easy, but for starters:
- Redefinition of purpose and structure. Recast the mandate and mission of Global Affairs Canada to create a central agency for the management of globalization and the integration of international policy across government. Functioning at a higher level will require some fundamental re-engineering, legislative action, and a more sophisticated approach to the use of social and digital media. To better generate intelligence and to take full advantage of the vital connection to place, the reform package should feature a more flexible approach to representation, and a smaller, flatter, more focussed headquarters, with more foreign service and an enlarged role for missions abroad.
- Identification of strategic priorities and interests. Since the last over-arching international policy review in 2005, the global operating environment and landscape have become almost unrecognizable. The implications for Canada of power shift from the North Atlantic to the Asia Pacific, the emergence of a heteropolar world order, and the explosive growth of Big Data have not been thought through. Add to that the outstanding questions about managing a growing number wicked, transnational, S&T-based threats, ranging from climate change to pandemic disease, and it becomes evident that a full and fresh assessment is overdue. The appointment of a Departmental Science Advisor, the restoration of analytical capacity and charging the department with developing an international science strategy and plan would represent a beginning.
- Cultural transformation. Foreign ministries are renown for their authoritarian social relations and hidebound adherence to orthodoxy. After almost 10 years of battering – with little resistance – in the face of the Tory onslaught, greater openness and transparency will not come easily. Many existing executives are more comfortable with international treaties than with branding. Some of the clever courtiers who thrived on managing upwards will likely find it difficult to make the transition from risk aversion to risk management, and from following orders to rewarding experimentation and extracting knowledge from failure. Nonetheless, the days of ambitious careerists getting ahead at the expense of those they supervise, while specializing in making the boss look good, must end. Ditto for blessing the received wisdom, judging ideas by their provenance rather than their quality, and, often under the guise of team playing, engaging in corporate cloning. Continuous learning – including from failure – and an openness to experimentation represent a more promising way forward.
- Leadership transfusion. Any properly functioning foreign service must retain a rotational core, post abroad and promote from within the ranks, and wherever possible support long-term career planning. That said, to enlarge professional development opportunities and to augment expertise in certain specialized areas, a degree of cross-ventilation is required. Clearly, more than a few of today’s senior officials who prospered during the dark decade achieved their positions by stifling dissent and otherwise acceding to the draconian strictures imposed by the Harper government. These are not members of a leadership cadre required to offer fearless policy advice, speak truth to power, or to otherwise deliver an activist, innovative foreign policy. Through a more targeted approach to recruitment and an expanded program of secondments and exchanges both within and outside of government, now is the time to turn the inside out and bring the outside in. To weed out chronic underperformers and ensure personal and professional adaptability, make demonstrated managerial proficiency outside the foreign ministry a pre-requisite to promotion into EX group or assignment overseas as Head of Mission.
- Organizational flattening. In an era of lateral partnerships, connectivity and networks, GAC’s organizational structure serves to impede innovation and discourage creativity. The Department’s hallmarks remain its rigid hierarchy, insularity and jealously guarded fiefdoms. In 2017 the department has as many layers between desk officers and the minister’s office – at minimum, seven – as it did when I joined the foreign service in 1981. This costly and inefficient model slows bureaucratic process and disempowers those at the working level who are closest to the issues and actually know the files. The foreign ministry would benefit from fewer stovepipes and silos, and the encouragement of multiple professional identities. For the Head of Mission, this may mean new fashioning a role as a coach, a country or regional brand manager, a network node rather than top dog. Foreign ministries will never become Silicone Valley style idea incubators or “skunk works”, but absent movement away from the cathedral in the direction of the bazaar, progress in building a more modern, effective and supportive workplace will be impossible.
- Tapping new networks. Connect directly with members of burgeoning diaspora communities and harness the potential of this largely untapped resource for political (intelligence), commercial (market access) and scientific purposes. Initiate the targeted recruitment of first and second generation Canadians pre-equipped with vital language and cross-cultural skills. Assign political officers to major Canadian cities with a mandate to forge productive and mutually beneficial relationships based upon cooperation with, and respect for diaspora communities. Engage civil society by renewing long-neglected partnerships with universities, think tanks and NGOs at home and abroad. Reinstate sponsored visits by foreign opinion leaders and rebuild international education programs to dramatically increase the numbers of both foreign students in Canada and Canadians studying abroad.
- Flexible overseas representation. The connection to, and knowledge of place are diplomacy’s indispensable features; representational rebalancing and re-profiling are essential. But the days of cookie cutter chancelleries and fixed models governing the establishment and operation of missions abroad are long past. Contemporary circumstances demand the design of smarter, lighter and sometimes more fleeting diplomatic footprints, including storefronts, souks, barrios, banlieues. World cities and major capitals may warrant high visibility and a distinctive physical presence, but in other cases portability, adaptability and the avoidance of lingering legal and administrative overheads will be crucial. As bricks give way to clicks, Canada will need at least as many brass plaques on hotel room doors as it does gates on permanent diplomatic premises. Manuals, regulations and standard operating procedures need to make space for virtuality, improvisation and imagination.
- Enlightened diplomatic practice. In conflict zones and elsewhere there will always be a place for traditional diplomacy, with designated envoys transacting the business of governments among themselves, often in confidence. However in the 21st century, as engagement, advocacy and lobbying have become increasingly determinant in securing desired outcomes, it is public diplomacy , abetted by burgeoning use of the social and digital media which arose from the revolution in information and communication technologies, that has become mainstream. Science diplomacy, a specialized sub-set of public diplomacy especially attuned to grand challenges such as management of the global commons and the control of weapons of mass destruction, is particularly relevant. Elevate science diplomacy, which remains almost invisible within the current mix of available tools, to top priority status, and reallocate resources accordingly. Absent the robust pursuit of knowledge-based, technologically-enabled solutions to the vexing array of S&T-rooted issues which together constitute the new threat set, Canada will be unable to achieve its promise as an evidence-driven problem solver. This country was once a leader in these areas, but now trails the pack. That must change, with GAC, in close association with science-based departments and agencies, equipped to lead the way forward.