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ARCHIVE: PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE


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Our Mission in the Age of New Media

Anne Golden, President and CEO
The Conference Board of Canada
December 23, 2010

In November, The Conference Board of Canada honoured Paul Tellier at our 2010 Honorary Associate dinner in Montréal. As part of the evening’s program, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 450 people in attendance about the challenges facing Canada at home and abroad. Given that these challenges are becoming ever more complex, the need for thoughtful and informed public policy debate and analysis is greater than ever.

Paradoxically, we have entered an age of new media and networking that is transforming how people get information, how public opinion is created, and how public policy decisions are made. These changes are undermining serious thought and analysis at a time when thoughtful analysis is needed most.

The News Environment

This transformation has two dimensions. First, online media and networking are changing the democratic process, revolutionizing how climates of opinion are formed, how we elect leaders, and how citizens interact with government. Second, globalization and technology are imposing radical changes on how the media operate. Audience fragmentation, reduced budgets for mainstream media, 24-hour news cycles, and the rise of the blogosphere have dramatically reshaped the environment for reporting and analysis.

I really believe that the new media revolution underscores the importance of the role that organizations like ours play.

This theme became top of mind for me after seeing the movie The Social Network. It led me to reflect on both the downside of new technologies and the new possibilities they open up—specifically, what this new media age means for independent, non-partisan think tanks like The Conference Board of Canada. Although this may sound self-serving, I really believe that the new media revolution underscores the importance of the role that organizations like ours play.

News Travels Faster Than Ever

Canadians increasingly get their news online rather than on hard copy or a television screen. Online technologies allow news organizations to see story by story what people are reading and what they are not—and to modify their ongoing coverage accordingly. That may be good for business—ask Fox News. But I fear it is having an impact that goes beyond simply dumbing down the news.

The speed and shallowness of media coverage affect how politicians present their ideas to the public. Everything a politician says now has to fit into sound bites. The result of the Toronto municipal election for mayor last fall is widely attributed to the winning candidate’s ability to stick to a policy platform of just four words: “Stop the gravy train.” How do we carry out mature public policy conversations in this environment?

Content and Communication

At The Conference Board of Canada, we are responding to these trends, first and foremost through content: we are making sure that we continue to generate ideas and analysis that are credible and relevant to existing and emerging issues. We are developing multi-year research centres with the time and capacity to address complex issues critical to sustainable prosperity for Canada, now and in the future. Let me give three examples.

First, the Centre for the North: This five-year, multimillion-dollar program of research and dialogue has a mandate to work with leaders from Aboriginal groups, governments, businesses, and communities to achieve a shared vision of sustainable prosperity in Canada’s North. We are testing the new networking model in this centre by using new tools and technologies to engage with communities.

By conducting high-quality research and analysis, and by presenting our results in a readily accessible manner, we intend to fill a growing and significant insight gap.

Second, the Centre for Food in Canada: This three-year initiative aims to develop the framework for a national food strategy for Canada—a strategy that embraces food safety, both in the sense of doing no harm and promoting good health; food security in a global world; and food sustainability so that we can produce the food we need without irreparably harming the environment.

Third, the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care: This soon-to-be-launched, five-year project is very ambitious, even by our standards. Health-care expenditures are consuming over 40 per cent of all provincial government expenditures—a number that is predicted to rise as the years tick by. The Conference Board will analyze, in depth, the fiscal sustainability of our publicly funded health-care system, and examine options for both governments and employers.

Closing the Insight Gap

By conducting high-quality research and analysis, and by presenting our results in a readily accessible manner, we intend to fill a growing and significant insight gap.

It has been 42 years since singer Paul Simon lamented that “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” That line from “The Boxer” certainly resonates as a description of today’s world of Internet media.

At The Conference Board of Canada, our mandate is to elevate the level of public debate and to give Canadians the information they need to make wiser choices about how to build more successful businesses, more vibrant communities, and better lives.

That’s our mission and we are proud of it.


Anne Golden Anne Golden
President and CEO
The Conference Board of Canada