Creating conversation with policy labs

Monday, December 16, 2019

How do we prevent nuclear war? Ban autonomous weapons? Champion climate action, or effectively regulate the effects of technology and warfare? Sometimes hard questions are best left alone, and sometimes we need to dig in.

Project Ploughshares is addressing these concerns by choosing dialogue as a method for understanding through cross-country policy labs. To conduct these conversations, Ploughshares is leveraging its passion, perspective and position to create space for Canadians to voice their concerns.

Policy Lab in Waterloo
A policy lab, by definition, involves merging design thinking and critical analysis with policy creation. Project Ploughshares’ labs have focused around inviting Canadians to share their views and concerns on the future of Canadian defense and security.

By encouraging diverse voices and experiences, Ploughshares’ policy labs are ensuring a level of un-comfortability. Conversations about controversial issues are sure to have tensions running high between the grassroots activists, humanitarian organizations, and military leaders present. Instead of fostering division through these conversations, the labs have encouraged participants to actively confront their perceptions and assumptions about the policy work, and their fellow attendees. By taking the labs from Waterloo, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, and Vancouver, Ploughshares is creating ample space for discussion, collaboration, and informed decision-making all across Canada.

The labs, made possible by a Targeted Engagement Grant from the Department of National Defence, are part of a larger call by the federal government for innovative policy ideas. Using hard and soft data from the labs, Senior Researcher Branka Marijan and Research Assistant Kelsey Gallagher are compiling reports and analyzing trends to provide a more comprehensive assessment of Canadian understandings of rising threats and concerns. While these reports will surely prove useful for a variety of purposes to a variety of stakeholders, Marijan and Gallagher say that the real value of the labs comes from the conversations that emerge once barriers are removed.

Which brings in the importance of positioning. Project Ploughshares has worked for over 40 years to be a bridge-builder across fields, engaging with governments, academia, civil society bodies, and on-the-ground workers on issues relating to humanitarian rights, disarmament, peace and security, and more. It is from this same pool of connections, those familiar with the discourse of defence and security or not, that Ploughshares draws from for its policy lab participants. As Marijan explains, “regardless of what your role is, as Canadians, we are going to be impacted by coming trends in defense and security.” By witnessing the passion that emerges from various perspectives at the table, Project Ploughshares has positioned itself as a safe space for honest discussions that will drive policy forward in 2020 and beyond.

Policy Lab roundtable discussion

As for why these discussions are important, Ploughshares’ vision lies in the recognition that, “the big problems facing Canadian defense and security in the next 10, 15, 20 years, are so multifaceted that traditional approaches are not enough.” While many feel policy-centric discussions are too complex for the average person, Ploughshares is choosing to invite all Canadians, regardless of prior knowledge, to provide a unique perspective. It is this system of cross-cultural collaboration that may just be the future of policy creation in Canada.