The COVID-19 pandemic has upended every aspect of society and, at the same time, the urgent need for a response has spurred collaboration, innovation and creativity. For Chris White, Managing Director at Microsoft Research, this global crisis crystalized the need to adopt a mission-oriented mindset to research that focuses on durability instead of efficiency, emphasizes a community-oriented perspective and leverages a collective problem-solving approach.

Recently at FWD50 2021, Chris joined the Microsoft Canada team to lead an interactive workshop that explored how new technology can play a crucial role in building capacity for resilience and how we can apply these learnings in the public sector. The discussion focused on the importance of evidence-based policy, the increasing need for open collaboration and what societal resilience means for Canada’s public sector.

Workshop with Dr Chris White, Pauline Martin, and Christiane Coda from left to right, counterclockwise

Evidence-based policy

One of the greatest levers we have to achieve societal impact at scale is policy; Chris notes that evidence-based policies are more likely to have beneficial impact than those focused on assumptions. To this end, Microsoft Research’s Societal Resilience team is developing open-source software tools and infrastructure that are aimed at empowering non-technical experts to address challenges that accompany crises. From global pandemics and climate change, to corruption, cybercrime, misinformation and human trafficking, these tools will allow experts to organize their data and leverage real-world evidence to engage in real-time causal analysis, and share insights with others for decision-making that is grounded in real information.

Breaking down silos for collaboration

Secure and compliant digital platforms that allow for open data sharing and offer aggregate insights are critical to enabling effective collaboration – not only within an organization, but between organizations and across global borders.

  • Within organizations: Many public sector organizations need to move away from the current system, which measures performance and outcomes in silos, towards an open data system that better understands the impact across the organizational structure.
  • Between organizations: Cross-industry collaboration with the private sector, public sector and academia is more important than ever. Siloed data is incomplete and constantly evolving, and the coordination between different groups who need access to data is complex. A policy ecosystem that is grounded in science requires tools built for the speed and scale of a crisis, such as open-source platforms that uphold the privacy, accessibility, interoperability and validity of data.
  • Across global borders: Our biggest resilience challenges are global in nature. To help solve these challenges we need to enable global collaboration and combine individual expertise with a collective problem-solving approach.

Resilience in Canada’s Public Sector

Discussions during the FWD50 workshop made it clear that the pandemic created a new, digitally-enabled model for collaboration that offers significant benefits for the ecosystem. We have seen diverse stakeholder groups across Canada’s public sector work together on a single, urgent cause for society. This was supported by a cultural shift to adopt, adapt and learn together, with a prioritization around digital skilling at scale and at speed.

This cultural shift has had broader implications and has demonstrated the value of establishing a flexible, hybrid working environment that breaks down barriers and geographic restrictions to collaboration. We’ve also gained better understanding of employees as “whole persons”, recognizing diverse working styles, motivations and ways to support each other. And, importantly, it has brought greater awareness of, and attention given to accessibility and inclusion.

Opportunities to strengthen Canada’s resilience

As we look forward to the year ahead, leaders within Canada’s public sector are leveraging the lessons learned and are prioritizing strengthening digital platforms that enable better collaboration. From our workshop, we have identified four key opportunities for our government organizations:

  1. Step boldly up to big challenges, building a cross-industry ecosystem with common goals
  2. Use data to improve collective understanding, response and results
  3. Measure outcomes (not outputs), report and share transparently
  4. Include diverse stakeholders (internal and external) and industry experts to define the challenge, and in developing the solution

As the Federal government works to achieve its mandate goals in 2022, it’s clear that strengthening Canada’s resilience aligns to its efforts to solve big problems, such as climate change, systemic discrimination and inequality, and deliver results for Canadians.

Where to go from here The world has forever changed, and our public sector needs to change with it. Every organization has unique needs, challenges and opportunities for societal resilience. We are working alongside our customers to assess their organizational resilience through tailored workshops that focus on areas of highest value and priority. To learn more about Microsoft’s Societal Resilience research, visit