Joanne Caddy On Future Skills, Inclusive Education Systems & Keys To Effective Public Engagement


Joanne Caddy has been one of the Team Leaders of the OECD’s Centre For Skills since the project’s inception in 2013 and has led the design and delivery of National Skills Strategy country projects in 10 countries globally, including Norway, Austria, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Peru, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovenia and Italy.

With over 20 years of experience in comparative policy analysis and the practice of public engagement worldwide, Joanne has a proven capacity to combine data, public engagement and participative web solutions to advance public policy goals. Joanne is always ready to explore and road-test innovative ways for people to leverage knowledge and networks to develop their own tailored solutions through collaboration.

Based on the 2012 OECD Skills Strategy, Joanne developed a set of tools for countries to assess their own performance and led the design of interactive stakeholder workshops.

To maximise the impact of the work and advance countries’ skills agendas, Joanne led preparations for high-level launch events for the final reports. These events often involved either the Prime Minister, Ministers or state secretaries and stakeholders who had participated in the workshop.


Joanne discusses key insights from the OECD Skills Strategy, revealing ways to build more inclusive, healthy democracies. Joanne also unpacks learnings about co-production & design thinking in getting to the root of problems & the importance of building trust for meaningful processes.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - Joanne could you please share a bit about your background in public engagement, policy making and public governance? [2:49]

[Joanne Caddy] - I think the big insight for me from my doctoral on central European transitions to democracy in 1995 is that formal democracy and installation of the formal trapping of democracy such as elections and parliaments are only part of the solution and my work focused on what I like to call everyday democracy.

How can people have a much bigger say in the issues that rule their lives?

From my early doctoral work I've really been passionate and interested in how people can have a meaningful say in governing their lives and being part of the political process and the policy process.

So when I joined the OECD, I had a great opportunity to work with a bunch of countries in a steering group on government, citizen relations. And that was a great privilege to hold the pen for countries who were at the time in the early 2000's actually grappling with what it meant to have participative democracy in policy making. So we came out with quite a significant report in 2001, called Citizens as Partners. And you know today it all looks really banal so we always talk about co-production and we're really, really familiar I think in many circles of our lives of these issues. But this was actually pretty groundbreaking to have an OECD report, which kind of distils the thinking at the time.

So it was a really important experience for me personally and professionally and a great privilege and honour to hold the pen for the countries in trying to distil issues such as access to information, consultation and what we were calling active participation or public engagement so that people can have a say much further upstream. Since 2012, I've been putting that theory into practice with the skills strategy projects. So that's really my background in a nutshell, a very deep sort of theoretical understanding of the importance of public voice and public action as a public space and now trying to apply that in practice as well.

Can you please tell us more about what lies at the core of this OECD skills strategy then? [4:57]

The skills strategy that the OECD published in 2012 is very simply a framework or a paradigm, which is offered up to countries to have a look at their national skill systems as a single entity or ecosystem. So what we try and formalise in a framework is the idea that countries should not be looking just at developing skills, which would run the gamut from early childhood all the way through higher education and adult learning. Developing skills is important and countries put a great deal of their GDP into skills development and that is absolutely crucial.

However, the skills strategy framework says basically if you have done that work, but you have not activated people's skills. So the second pillar is activating skills so the people are able to offer their skills in the labour market but also in their communities. That pillar looks more at removing barriers for people to be able to work. For example, barriers to entry for women, who have a great number of domestic responsibilities in all countries today and trying to manage to make sure that their skills are offered and are participating in the workforce.

The third pillar though is really important and the using skills pillar is really the black box of the enterprise of the firm. Because we don't know enough about what happens about skills matching on the job and we know that the impact on productivity can be very significant.

A poorly matched worker with a job description will lead to much lower productivity, but more importantly for the person, also much lower job satisfaction. Either you're over stretched or under challenged at work and this is going to have a great impact on your motivation.

So in general we're looking at the nation state, the countries as a unit of analysis and we're trying to see the flow of skills, not just the stock of skills but how they're being developed, activated and used.

And finally, we realise in our work how very important the skills system governance is. So how are all the pieces of the government machinery working together? Are they well oiled? Are they well aligned? Is money, expertise, and political leadership all going the same direction? Or do public policies pull against each other? So that's in a nutshell the OECD strategy framework.


It sounds like a really challenging project to put all this together Joanne, so how have you seen skills requirement change over the past 20 years or so and what will be the most demanded skills for people to have into the future? [7:20]

Well that's a really important question and there's been a lot published in the recent five or so years and you will have seen much of this. Much of it starts with shocking headlines such as ‘robots will steal all of our jobs.’ And it's certainly a question of debate. The OECD earlier this year had a very big policy forum on the future of work and it's not just the OECD, the ILO, there's lots of different organisations that are very seriously studying the issue. Your question is a good one, which is how are the skills requirements changing? So leaving aside what we all know that the world of work is changing.

Technology has completely disrupted our way of conceptualising work and value. Those have huge ramifications in many, many areas.

I would focus just on the importance of skills. It's almost as if you could either say it's time to give up and it's not important any longer and human embodied skills are not important but actually it's more important than ever before.

And there are three families or bundles of skills, when we talk about core skills. The first one is about cognitive skills. So information processing skills such as literacy and numeracy and problem solving. The basics; reading, writing and arithmetic and problem solving are absolutely essential, they haven't gone away and they're more important than ever.

We cannot give up in our quest for the highest quality, the most inclusive education systems for those issues.

The second piece in the bundle is technical and professional skills. And those could be of various types. In the English language when we say skills, we often think about tradesmen, we think about skills as being the plumbers and electricians. And we're using skills at the OECD in a much broader way. But those issues of technical and professional skills are very important. That's the second piece you want to have in your bundle.

The third part is very hard to research, very hard to quantify, but we all know is very important, which is the social emotional skills. Those are the skills of empathy, understanding, teamwork, communication.

Many of the things that employers say they don't have. And when they have young graduates arrive in their workplaces, they kind of tick the boxes on the first two; the cognitive skills are pretty good. People can read and write much better today than 20 years ago and that's a good thing. And their technical skills are probably okay. But what they really talk about a lot, (employers all over the world), is that the ability to work in a team, the ability to conceptualise your role in a wider context is what often is missing.

So those core skills of cognitive, technical, professional skills and social emotional skills; that's what we're all going to need more of. More and better quality.

So those are the skills for the future and it's important that we have a public debate about this. Because we're going to all have to take much more personal responsibility in taking care of those three.

How can we maximise the skills potential of countries to tackle social inequality? [10:31]

Well that's a really important question because many people frame the skills issue purely in an economic productivity point of view, better skills, better productivity and better innovation. And that is important but what's really interesting is the OECD has run a very important and very big survey called the Survey of Adult Skills, PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies). And this programme has tested people, so it's a cohort, it's a household survey in over 40 countries to really see what is the skills profile of 16 to 64 year olds, so really the active population. The first part of the test is an actual test, it's reading and numeracy and problem solving. The second part of the test is a background questionnaire. So we've got enormously important information about what people report about their current job or their latest level of education was etcetera.

But more important insight, which gets to your question about social inclusion is that...

it's really now clear from the PIAAC data that high levels of skills are correlated with high levels of interpersonal trust, high levels of self reported health; so better health outcomes and also a greater propensity to volunteer.

Why is this important? Because those are qualities we need in our societies, in our democracies. So it's not just an economic productivity agenda. The skills agenda is not just about making another buck or raising the profits for your boss. It's about making sure we have resilient communities that are able to take care of one another and have that social inclusion. So it's an aptly important social agenda as well as economic.

Which countries then are leading the charge when it comes to these strong and relevant skill sets? And what can we learn from them Joanne? [12:28]

Well I think that's a really interesting question and that's actually the whole modus operandi and the reason why the OECD exists. We're not a regulatory body, we do not fund development projects and we really are a place where the 35 member countries can gather and talk together about the cutting issues of the day. So one thing that is very privileged about being at the OECD, is you get this vantage point of being at the cross roads of many, many countries’ experiences.

And so the first thing though is to say there's no one size fits all and there's no one country everyone should be slavishly following. I think that would be reductive and not very helpful. We're not in the business of pointing to just one example. But what we can say particularly about adult skills is there are some countries that have a very long tradition of investing in informal learning and non-formal learning and valuing it and the Nordic countries of Northern Europe are definitely leading the charge. They have for 100 years. So there's no surprise if you've been investing in an area of skills development for adults that they would be ahead of the game.

I think Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland have a lot to tell the world about how to ensure learning for adults is capillary.

It's not just a one time at one point provision.

But learning is like breathing. As you will be breathing after the age of 25, you will also be learning.

And I think this is an important insight. Norway is an interesting example. We've done a lot of work with Norway and not only do they have the governmental apparatus, (they have Skills Norway, an agency, which is devoted to adult learning), but they have a very important public dialogue, social dialogue with employers in trade unions about adult learning and learning all the way through your working life.

One thing that comes up very clearly and this is more policy analysis rather than data driven, but is important nonetheless. And that is about workplace learning. Let’s focus on the low skilled adult who is in employment. This doesn't mean the person is low skilled and doesn't have a job. Or is not valuable to their family and community, let's be clear. When we say low skilled, it's a dispassionate sticker, it's not a condemnation to a life of misery at all. But we do need to talk about low skilled adults because when Norway received it's PIAAC results in 2013, it discovered that it has 400,000 adults in it's population who were functionally illiterate. They could read the words but they were not able to understand all the meanings behind them. And that's a big shock for a very, rich, affluent and inclusive society.

So what I mean to say there is that Norway is an example of a country that has taken very seriously the issue of tackling low skilled adults.

They have understood that they need to do workplace learning because people who have had a very bad experience in their initial education, are unlikely to want to go back to a classroom right?

They're not really going to flock to an open classroom door after the hours of 6 o'clock in the evening. But they will do very well with literacy programmes, numeracy programmes that are embedded in their daily work life. And those are the interesting experiments I think the Nordics can tell us all a lot about.


Earlier Joanne, you were speaking about these collaborative approaches to governance. So how might countries best engage their citizens with a collaborative approach to ensure that they are developing the appropriate policy that delivers public value? [16:01]

From my standpoint (and this is really just sort of my personal reflections here): 

it is very important for governments to reflect on the purpose of their public engagement.

And the first question is, is it necessary? Is it necessary for the type of issue I'm tackling; will it add value?

And that's extremely important because public engagement should be used as a very, very potent, but very, very dangerous weapon that can backfire. And I mean this in a very specific way.

Do not engage if you are not going to take into account the results. It really is a recipe for disaster that will reduce trust rather than increase trust.

So the first issue for any government is to really clarify what the objectives are. What am I trying to do with this policy development programme that I have? Is it more about programme design? In which case perhaps just simply consultation will be enough? I have options A, B, and C. I've already done all my homework, I have my data and now I'm just going to test it with the target population. So consultation is fine if you've already pretty much figured out what you want to do.

What my experience with many countries is when a country or a government is grappling with the definition of the problem. And that can happen because there is a long standing issue, a stubborn issue that won't go away in a community.

Whether it's underage drinking or some public health issue, you really have to understand what's at the roots of the problem.

Because you may have already thrown a lot of public money at it. A lot of good will, many, many associations and volunteers will have spent time tackling it. And that's where public engagements upstream can be extremely important. But it does require everyone around the table to suspend judgement for a moment and that's both in the government side but also on the participants side.

Quite frankly, if we're going to open a table to redefine a problem, then there has to be a very high level of trust.

Nobody around the table can start the negotiation dynamics. Because a negotiation is a completely different type of interpersonal dynamic and it has it's place in the world. But it doesn't have any place around the table for defining what is the policy issue, what is the policy problem we're all trying to fix? And once that has been established as a rule of the game then a great deal of expertise can come from the public and experiential knowledge in order to define a problem and also define some solutions.

Co-production is an easy beautiful word to say but it is really hard to design properly. And it's very hard to design the final stage, which is shared responsibility for outcomes. That for me is the final frontier.

We can all go to several design workshops with members of the public and design things but if we don't also go home with some piece of homework, appropriate to our institutional setting or our level then there's not really a lot of skill to be gained.

So I think that'll be the next interesting development to have a look at how do we have shared accountability for results from these type of processes?

You have spoken a little bit about these collaborative approaches and co-design. What role do you believe then design thinking plays in policy making? [19:35]

I think design thinking can help enormously as a forma mentis, as a way of approaching an issue and probably should be much more widespread as one of the many tools in the pocket of policy makers. Because this issue of trying to seriously understand the issue is often underestimated.

We see that in our work with the ten countries we've worked with on the skills strategy framework applied to the national context, which has led to ten diagnostic reports in these various countries. It is the diagnostic phase that we design itself as a design process with the national project team. The national project team in capital is our counterpart. It's representatives from at least three ministries, anything up to five possibly even nine. So that's a lot of inter-ministerial coordination around the table, a lot of fire power if you will. People that deeply understand the issues from their respective sectorial points of view.

And so already getting that conversation started is both difficult and highly rewarding. I think one of the takeaways we've had from working with the ten very, very different countries, (these are countries with very different economic and social and political backgrounds), is that the value of working collaboratively across ministerial silos, or you could imagine at the local government levels, (same thing), is actually hugely valuable because their insights play off one another.

But the really important ingredient is to put that inter-ministerial team in direct contact with the stakeholders that own piece of the solution of the problem.

So we have never less than three workshops in any country, 80 to 100 people around small tables. They're working in groups in their own language, so that's very important. We recently had one in Portugal in spring and there was about 90 people, 10 tables and they were from trade unions, education providers, associations, businesses, small businesses as well. Together they redefined the problem of Portugal's skills challenges and what needed to be done.

So you need people to form a collective understanding, it doesn't mean group think; they all left that table with their own specific angles. But they had together shared understanding to be able to define what needed to happen and then explore options. We've gone beyond a diagnostic phase in Portugal and we're now in the action phase. We're building on the shared understandings of the work done in 2014-15 to now say, 'what do we do? And what will you do? What will your employers do? What will your trade unions do? And what will the ministries do?' So very, very challenging work as you can imagine.

So what do you believe are some of the key ingredients necessary to foster a culture of collaboration and innovation across these multidisciplinary teams? [22:40]

That's a really good question and I remember one Dutch delegate offered us this fantastic Dutch saying which goes something like: 

‘trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.’ I think that's a really important point that trust is something that is built through iterative positive encounters.

If we can create iterative processes where the same or similar actors or a core of the same actors repeatedly have to meet and produce something for the next step of the process, then we can jump start some of those positive senses and the group actually is functional and can produce something. And it can be as small a thing as getting the inter-ministerial team to agree on the agenda of the first stakeholder workshop. It doesn't have to be rocket science and indeed shouldn't be because the stakes have to be low. They have to manageable. But what you can see when we worked with these teams over the course of 12 to 14 months is that each time there's more appetite for sharing.


There are more insights that come from that type of sharing in a higher trust environment and it has been a very fascinating experience, a great privilege for me personally to be in the room to see these processes. So I think the one issue about trust is do not expect to have trust on one afternoon on a Thursday and then never come back to see people for another five years until there's another emergency.

Trust for collaboration has got to be built into a process. It’s a pre-condition and outcome but you've got to start somewhere.

It's a chicken and egg problem right? But it's a very important design issue. So reflecting on how multi-disciplinary groups and groups that engage both absolute experts and people who have experiential knowledge of those issues (but are not technical experts on youth employments but are an unemployed youth)… having those conversations be meaningful for both interlocutors is a very big challenge. Because everyone speaks their own language, their own particular perspective.

That's for me the most interesting and fascinating design challenge is how to construct meaningful processes and conversations that are not just talk fests.

Nobody's got time for that, everyone's busy. Even the unemployed youth have got better stuff to do than to come and be bored in a design workshop. So everyone has to find something at the end of that day. And they have to also see their contributions to the bigger picture. So that's not really any massive insights, but for me those are really important values that have to be embodied in this type of work.

If you're going to do it, do it iteratively, build trust, show that there are outcomes, test ideas with people and insist on diversity. Because people love to exclude others that are less comfortable or have other more difficult issues.

To finish off, could you please share a few books that would inspire our listeners? [26:10]

[Joanne discusses the books listed below in detail.]


Initiatives, resources and people mentioned on the podcast

Recommended books


You can contact Joanne on LinkedIn or Twitter. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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