Equipping Politicians and Governments to

Work well in the 21st Century


Written Feb 2015, Updated 1 Mar 2015.


The period from 1994 to the present has seen the sudden emergence of a world that is radically different to the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Dr Mark Triffett, a senior lecture Melbourne School of for Government, Melbourne University writes of this period using the term ‘Radical Modernity’:

Transition to Radical Modernity has brought with it an intensifying pattern of deep dysfunction for the liberal order, highlighted by a series of financial and economic crises and escalating volatility within liberal markets, as well the deteriorating functionality and legitimacy of liberal democracies.

Pervasive features of Radical Modernity (1994-2015) are:


1.    A fast changing world created by:


a.    A combination of globalization

b.    The rapid rollout of the Internet, and

c.    Associated virtual information and communication technologies (ICT).


2.    Radical Modernity has also brought forward a deeply de-linear environment which political and economic systems, in general, find increasingly difficult to decipher, order, and predict.


3.    Linear assumptions and organizing principles get it wrong with large implications. The result is increasing unpredictability, disorder and crisis permeating society.


Governments at all levels in Australia and elsewhere still organize themselves on 19th Century assumptions. These 19th Century assumptions were stretched by Modernity and are failing under Radical Modernity. Politicians and commentators locked in these 19th Century assumptions have two standard responses:


1.    What has happened is an outlier or anomaly

2.    We need better leaders

Neither of these two responses addresses nor will ever resolve the issues raised by Radical Modernity.


Examples of assumptions:



19th Century Assumptions



21st Century


a.    Highly linear organizing principles






b.    Dividing the world into bits (sectors) and setting up sectors in poorly linked silos within Departments




c.    Change occurs slowly




d.    Using a manipulative form of knowing focused on predicting and controlling














e.    Assuming peoples actions are rational and based on reason












f.     Combine all of the above Assumptions in a Service Delivery Modal
















a.    De-linear and non linear processes are pervasively present within Radical Modernity. We need processes that work well with de-linear and non-linear processes.


b.    Radical Modernity is a pervasively interlinked, interconnected, inter-dependent holistically integrated system of systems. We need processes that work well holistically.


c.    Changes can occur very fast. We need processes that can transform and react fast.


d.    Radical Modernity has inter-relating as an essential feature necessitating relational forms of knowing very different from manipulative forms of knowing (focused on predicting and controlling); many aspects in society are inherently unpredictable. We need people with the experience and capacity to use relational knowing and manipulative knowing and with capacities to go outside the square and relate well interculturally recognizing that people live in differing realities.


e.    Massive numbers of actions of consequence are made by computer algorithms (very fast trading). Much active happens in virtual reality. Much of human active is not based on rationality and reason. There are instances where rationality itself is ‘mad’ and reason is unreasonable (e.g. Panguna Mine in Bougainville and Bhopal). Much of politics, economics, institutionalized life and other aspects of Radical Modernity are beyond people’s capacity to use reason and comprehend.


f.     Large chunks of Life outside government combine the above Radical Modernity aspects. Community self-help and mutual-help ways that work have very different ways and modes to Service Delivery and are collapsed by service delivery. Legislators and regulators typical live in legal and regulatory realities divorced and remote from the realities of everyday life for people at large in radical modernity and yet presume to control what is outside their experience domain. Hence radical transforming is on the table.




In the 21st Century there is scope for government to evolve new assumptions better fitting to the realities of Radical Modernity.



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