• Geoff Mulgan

Steering through capability (& the advantages of not crashing or stalling)


Can a society be steered? Should governments even try to do that? Or should they just preside? In this new paper published by Demos Helsinki I summarise some ideas on why governments should steer – whether in relation to big challenges like climate change or social ones like ageing – and how they can do this well. If there is to be any meaning to the widespread rhetoric of building back or ‘bouncing back stronger’ from the coronavirus crisis there will be no avoiding a role for government in conscious steering.

My focus is on the idea of ‘steering through capability’: how governments can steer their societies by growing the capabilities of citizens, businesses and other tiers of government, rather than just through coercion or incentive.

To do this, the paper describes how governments can combine direction with experimentation, linking multiple partners through what I call ‘constellations’; I show how these can be supported by ‘intelligence assemblies’ that orchestrate rapid learning and mobilisation of data, and the curation of knowledge commons; and I emphasise methods of steering that grow capability rather than only using downwards control and upwards accountability.