Jonathan (Jon) Yazer

Meet the IIU’s Challenge Prize Fellow: Jon Yazer

Impact Canada

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What attracted you to apply to the Fellowship Program?

My interest in the Fellowship program was strong and immediate. The reason why was simple: because the method works. Impact Canada is dedicated to pursuing considered, evidence-based approaches that achieve outcomes which address big, pressing public policy issues. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a team doing that kind of work?

Based on your skills and past experiences, what unique perspectives do you bring to this work?

As a City of Toronto Urban Fellow, I led a project to design and launch an innovative procurement policy that added flexible options to the Requests for Proposals process. The experience gave me unique insight into the barriers to public sector innovation, and the many opportunities for solutions-seeking beyond traditional models in government.

My diversity of experience — from urbanism to international affairs to community organizing — give me a solid knowledge-base from which to analyze barriers and opportunities in different issues areas. More importantly, my experience helps me better understand the needs, interests, and abilities of people — of communities and of stakeholders. I have come to appreciate how non-traditional actors and marginalized voices can bring invaluable knowledge and perspective to problem-solving approaches.

In what way do you believe innovation and outcomes-based approaches can effectively support the Government of Canada’s response to big problems we face as a society?

From climate change to pandemics, the problems that we must confront as a society are becoming more numerous, intense, and complex. Solving them will require approaches that depart from ‘business as usual’ and that can marshal the full collective ingenuity of human problem-solving potential.

Outcomes-based approaches use the power of government to think and act at the speed of the private sector to serve the public good. These approaches can support the Government of Canada’s response to big problems by crowding in smart people and a host of tangible and intangible resources — attention, ideas, financing, to name a few. In turn, such approaches have network and multiplier effects that accelerate and improve the quality of problem-solving efforts. Outcomes-based approaches add an effective, adaptable tool to the Government of Canada’s innovation toolkit.

What is an innovative solution to a problem, big or small, that has inspired you?

I will briefly offer two innovative solutions to problems that act as sources of inspiration for me:

1. The Bloor Viaduct in Toronto. When it was being built in the 1910s, the city’s chief of public works insisted on adding a lower deck for rail transport, at great additional cost. That decision proved visionary when, almost half a century later, the city used the lower deck to expand the subway system to the city’s east side. The lesson for innovation: think ahead to the problems and the opportunities you will have in the future, not just the ones confronting you now.

2. Controlled burns to diminish the frequency, size, and intensity of forest fires. The lesson for innovation: sometimes, it’s the counterintuitive solution that works best.

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