Social policy can’t just be about addressing the easy issues – there are very few – but has to tackle really deep-seated and complex problems such as poverty, health disparities or homelessness. I just published an article on promising community-driven directions for addressing such fundamental inequalities and the policy frameworks needed to address such “wicked” policy challenges.
Poverty, health disparities, and concentrated social disadvantaged and exclusion are pervasive and incredibly damaging in Canada and other rich countries. These problems are complex: they are shaped by many inter-dependent factors , all constantly changing, and deeply rooted in the fundamental economic and social structures of capitalist society. These kinds of complex social issues are seen as “wicked” problems in policy circles. This means that they cannot be “solved” by a program here or an investment there, but require interventions from many levels of government, and from the community and private sectors; there is little agreement or conclusive evidence on effective solutions; the effects of any policy changes are unpredictable and uncertain; and even if successful, the impact may take years to show up (meaning well beyond the life of the current government).
One really promising direction to address complex social problems has been comprehensive community initiatives – broad coalitions that bring together residents, service providers, governments, private sector, community advocates and other players to address poverty, community development and other common local challenges. The cross-country network of Vibrant Communities initiatives mobilizing to reduce poverty is a tremendous example. Wellesley Institute did a report for a strategic review organized by the Tamarack Institute assessing the evidence for the impact of such initiatives and their potential as an avenue for fundamental social change (click for my presentation to the review).
My article “Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Promising Directions for “Wicked” Problems” in the federal Policy Research Institute’s journal analyzes the significant potential of comprehensive community initiatives to address complex social problems and “wicked” policy challenges; and sets out the policy, funding and other enablers needed to realize this potential.