Josée Touchette - “Trust Is At The Heart Of So Many Of The Problems That We Grapple With In Government”




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May 29, 2018
by Maryam Ghaddar
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Josée Touchette - “Trust Is At The Heart Of So Many Of The Problems That We Grapple With In Government”

OECD executive director returns to Salzburg Global after 28 years advocating for citizen-centered policies Josée Touchette speaking at Salzburg Global Seminar

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” These lyrics, by famous Canadian poet and singer Leonard Cohen, are words to live by. For Josée Touchette, executive director at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, this quote rings particularly true.

Touchette attended a three-week session on American Law and Legal Institutions in July, 1990. Nearly 30 years later, she returned to Schloss Leopoldskron as a member of the Public Sector Strategy Network for the program titled Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves?

While at the session, participants engaged in peer-to-peer learning on some of the challenges facing the public sector while looking ahead at some of the difficulties that may yet arise. Participants shared their experiences of lessons learned and cross-sector innovations, something Touchette explained was the very essence of what Salzburg Global has always aimed for.

“You had a sense of hope. You had a sense of possibility,” she reflected on her previous visit. “It was a force. It was something that I fed off for many, many years. I made friendships that, to this day, are lasting. We didn’t call it design thinking back then, but the fact that we were coming from such different backgrounds meant that we were tackling issues from very different perspectives… that ability to do it in a safe place is something that hasn’t changed, and it’s a constant in what the Seminar does.”

One of the key themes of this session centered around the topic of trust in governments and the underlying belief more can be done to include public opinion and ideas into the spaces for solutions.
Touchette, who believes global values are “the glue that binds us,” discussed the degree to which public interests and trust can be brought into the conversation on policy-making, highlighting such issues as job inclusion, equality and inclusiveness. She explained that unless citizens are actively engaged in the government’s process of policy-making, policies are “by definition, going to be developed in a bit of a vacuum.”

“Perhaps, what we need to be mindful of is the fact that we may need to change the expression of those values as we go forward because the velocity of change is simply too great to ignore the fact that how they’re expressed and how they are meaningful may not be the same way tomorrow as it is today.”

Elaborating on this point, Touchette discussed the power of social media and how it relates to narratives surrounding governments and a decline in trust in political institutions.

“We have to reconquer that space and make it our own,” she said. “The legitimacy of government, the legitimacy of policy, the legitimacy of policy-makers has to be a part of that, so I think that how we use social media in government is a real opportunity and we’re starting to see governments really innovate in that space… It’s a real opportunity if we’re able to do that and to have that as a platform for trust.”

Management excellence, as Touchette explained, “is often the unsung hero in a lot of the things that we do in government.” Focusing on cost effectiveness, actions, services being delivered, and “engaging with citizens for citizens” paves the way for a much greater chance for success.

However, there are no success stories without a string of failures behind them. Touchette clarified we must “enable the success” and create “a culture that really values those risks that need to be taken.” Speaking on her responsibility in planning a biennial budget for the OECD in Canada, for example, she stressed the importance of “developing good performance indicators” and reaping “the success stories early enough to be able to infuse them as part of the planning for the next biennial. The same thing is true, of course, of the failures.” Touchette humbly acknowledged she is just one person in a much larger team.

“You have to often chunk out the problem and slice it [into] smaller slices to be able to approach and get a small solution here, followed by another one, followed by another one.”

Salzburg Global Seminar has had a strong impact on Touchette’s career, anchoring a core perception of the public sector. “Governance and leadership are inseparable…trust is at the heart of so many of the problems that we grapple with in government,” she said.

Rather than see the world through rose colored glasses, Touchette said stepping away from the everyday challenges and taking some quiet time to gain perspective is the most rewarding aspect of this program. From coming here as a young professional newly embarking on her career path, to returning with nearly thirty years’ experience under her belt, Touchette said, “Salzburg [Global] Seminar has a unique ability to make you think, to help you see the world in a different way and to make you want more. I think you’re a better person when you’re in Salzburg.”

Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves? is part of the Public Sector Strategy Network, a multi-year initiative held in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and in cooperation with Apolitical. More information on this session can be found here.