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The concentration of people, diversity of activity and collision of ideas in big cities also makes them places in which innovation and change converge. How municipal governments ought to respond to change – particularly disruptive change with uncertain impacts – is increasingly a source of tense debate.

There are three elements of certainty in this new normal of disruption. Municipal governments need to balance: nimbleness with care; asymmetries of knowledge with new knowledge creation efforts; and expectations of inclusive engagement with expert and evidence-based input.

First, rapid change is disruptive to government decision making processes and timelines. Municipalities design policy and regulation to set priorities and directions for public good. The most effective regulations are those that begin with a particular goal in mind, and then identify how to design regulations that assist in meeting a set of pre-defined goals. The speed at which private firms operate means that in order to respond effectively, governments need to be dynamic and nimble. However, in policy-setting this has to be weighed against the need for government to be thoughtful, careful, and protective.

Second, there are disparities leading to particularly deep asymmetries of information between municipal governments and multinational firms. For instance, multinational firms have access to global marketplaces for capital, information and talent. These firms have the ability to collect insights about global regulatory practices and challenges that no individual municipal government could hope to acquire on their own. To respond effectively, collaboration is key. Municipalities must learn to build networks that facilitate the sharing of information with other cities, levels of government, and with all manner of stakeholders. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for cities – each operates under a unique set of circumstances, history and trajectory.

Third, inclusive engagement matters. Welcoming a range of voices, ideas, organizations and people, including those who may be new to the city, is part and parcel of a healthy civic society. And at the same time, it is crucial to understand that ensuring meaningful, consultative input does not mean that everyone has an equal voice. While engagement and co-creation is an important component of decision-making, expert and evidence-based input may be paramount. Inclusive engagement, along with democratic practices, also mean that compromise is fundamental to managing change.

Canadian municipalities and our governments, industries, institutions and people are capable of responding to disruption. Collectively we are learning to adapt, build new capabilities, design policy and regulation, and continue to act in favour of the public good.