'The Island needs a brilliantly bold ‘moonshot’ vision – but before that, we need to trust each other'

Dr Chris Edmond

By Dr Chris Edmond

Trust is defined as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”.

I was inspired to write about trust after seeing a post on social media by local businessman, and chair of the Association of Jersey Charities, Kevin Keen. He was writing following the recent presentation exploring the potential of a tunnel to France and Guernsey, and spoke about the lack of trust we have in our politicians as well as the lack of trust shown by government, in turn, to local organisations they partner with, own or control.

Kevin quite rightly identifies the lack of trust as a barrier to delivering ambitious change projects, particularly when combined with short-term thinking driven by electoral cycles.

I spent some time reflecting on the same topic recently. I have previously written about collaboration, and how essential it is to address the complex challenges of modern times, by bringing together the public sector, private sector, charities and citizens in genuine partnership, aligned to the same goals.

Author and economist Mariana Mazzucato describes such an approach as a “mission driven” economy, and she uses the example of the space race, when US space agency Nasa used the aim of putting a man on the Moon to drive innovation at a speed rarely seen before or since. Nasa encouraged private sector profit-making, innovation seeded by public-sector financing and everyone reaped the benefits. Technological innovations as diverse as freeze-dried foods and integrated computer circuits resulted, and America won the race to become the first nation to set foot on the Moon. Watching the difficulty that various countries and organisations have had recently simply landing a craft on the Moon puts into context just what an achievement the Apollo missions were over 50 years ago.

More recently Mazzucato, writing in her latest book, The Big Con, highlights the detrimental effect the use of management consultants by governments has on their own capabilities and efficiency. I couldn’t help but think of this when reading about the previous government’s nearly £60m spending on consultants and the £100m spent in the final year of the government before that.

The level of spending on consultants certainly belies a lack of trust in the resources we have available both internally in the government and within the Island as a whole. But if we don’t show trust in people, give them the skills, resources and belief that they can succeed, then how will we ever expect to achieve what so many of us believe this island is capable of?

There is no doubt we have an issue with trust, but solving it seems to be somewhat of a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Voters clearly have little faith in the political system. This is evidenced by our spectacularly low election turnout, and probably isn’t a surprise given failures to deliver innovation and reform over many years.

And that low level of trust means politicians have little trust in themselves, or each other, to make the bold decisions necessary to lay out a vision for the future that we can all believe in – where is our version of a Nasa-style “moonshot”? Recently I have been involved in conversations about Jersey being a digitally enabled “smart island” or an “island of longevity”, a producer of high-quality cannabis or hub for green technology. The reality is we can’t be all things to all men, so what is it we are going to be and how will we reach agreement on a “mission” we can all believe in?

It’s the same in terms of engagement with businesses – our government, in particular, tends to look to large off-island suppliers rather than taking a chance on local talent which, with a little support and investment, could grow to achieve great things.

In the other direction, our businesses struggle to trust government. With short-term planning, changes in policy and personnel, and a lack of a coherent vision being evident, the private sector lacks the necessary confidence to invest in the future.

And our charities face similar challenges, both with a lack of long-term funding and the failure to build long-term strategic partnerships that would allow everyone to contribute their best ideas and energy for the good of all Islanders.

So how do we break the cycle? Firstly, I think we have to start seeing some successes, and to see different ways of working. I sincerely hope the work of Impact Jersey – a scheme designed to support the Island’s future economy, environmental ambitions and community goals by accelerating and strengthening its technology ecosystem – with the Technology Accelerator Fund may just be the start we need.

In the longer term, though, we need a bold “moonshot” vision (perhaps becoming the healthiest island in the world with a digitally enabled, prevention-focused, integrated health system?). We then need to trust our citizens and our staff to build what’s needed to get us there.

We need to invest resources locally – in education, skills, and infrastructure – to allow it to happen. And we need to accept there will be failures along the way. That’s an inevitable part of bold risk-taking and innovation.

But, mostly, we need to trust each other. Every week I meet amazing people in Jersey, with incredible skills and talents and a passion for making the Island, and the world, a better place. With a bit more trust in each other, we can make that a reality. And you never know, one day we could even have a tunnel to France…

  • Dr Chris Edmond is the founder and medical director of WorkHealth (CI) Ltd, a dedicated Jersey-based occupational health provider. He is also a director at Jersey Sport and Jersey Recovery College, and adviser to the Jersey Community Foundation. He writes in a personal capacity.

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