Mark Goldberg

Is it time to focus on demand?

I get together every month or so with a long time colleague and friend and we try to solve many of the world’s problems over bagels, eggs and kippers. I’ll note in passing that this morning, we created a new dish this week – Kippers Benedict – that combines just the right amount of salt and fat to make a cardiologist’s head explode. [That is the kind of Canadian innovation we need to stimulate!]

Among this morning’s topics, we discussed how government programs tend to focus on the supply side: restricting access to the supply of foreign content, stimulating the supply of Canadian content, investing in the supply of broadband access facilities.

We observed that there are fewer government programs that examine the demand side. Demand is a lot harder. It generally means education and making investments that intend to change behaviours. Not only are such programs longer term in nature, they are also harder to measure.

For broadband access, it is easy to develop metrics to measure effectiveness of supply-side programs: How many new access lines were funded? What was the cost per access line?

On the demand side, we wondered if it is tougher to measure program efficiencies. Sure, you can examine broadband adoption rates, but how do we (or how should we) examine the effectiveness of spending on digital literacy? I’m not just talking about teaching people how to turn on a computer and connect to the internet. We need to do more than teach kids coding as part of our literacy development. How do we teach how the importance of accessing diverse news sources and viewpoints? In a world where a generation has thought of The Late Show as a trusted news source, are we doing enough to invest in teaching how to read and watch with a critical eye?

We tried to limit spam and telemarketing with restrictions on the supply of calls and emails, yet the effect has been to limit ‘real companies’ while the air duct cleaners and credit card offers continue to get through. How much more effective would it have been to focus on teaching people to learn how to ‘just hang up‘?

It isn’t a matter of having to choose between supply side or demand side stimulation. We need to work on the balance. There is some investment in helping on the demand side of some programs. Maybe we need to work on putting our thumb on the scale a little bit more.

Which programs and how much more demand-side investment is required? That may take a few more orders of Kippers Benedict. Hold the fries.

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