Queen's International Institute on Social Policy (QIISP)

The Queen’s International Institute on Social Policy (QIISP), which was established in 1995, brings together senior policy-makers and leading researchers to review recent research findings and to discuss major directions in social policy. 

Features of QIISP that make distinctive contributions to the social policy community include:

  • A focus on research, knowledge transfer and informed debate.
  • Participation of senior policy-makers from all levels of government in Canada, as well as from the voluntary sector.
  • An international perspective, with speakers coming from international organizations, universities and research organizations from around the world.
  • Contributions from leading Canadian researchers from universities, think tanks and government agencies.

For 25 years, the QIISP probed the most pressing social policy issues facing Canada and other OECD countries. Its distinctive features – a focus on policy horizons, an international and comparative perspective, and the conjunction of research and policy – have made it Canada’s premiere annual social conference.  The 2020 Institute continued to build on this tradition and the policy ideas presented in recent years such as “Inclusive Prosperity: Recoupling Growth, Equity and Social Integration” (2019) and “The Future of Work” (2018). As always, the Queen’s Institute  engages senior policy-makers from all levels of government in Canada; Canadian and international researchers from universities, think tanks and international agencies; and community leaders and service providers.


Cover image. text reads building back better: forging a post-pandemic social contract that works for all. twenty fifth annual queen's international institute on social policy

Building Back Better”, the Queen’s 2020 International Institute on Social Policy, was presented as a series of virtual discussions that drew in experts from across Canada and the OECD.  The program included keynote speakers, panels, and arm-chair discussions with opportunities for interactivity with the audience. It was be organized in three clusters:

  • Analysis of economic and social impacts, trends and policy responses across the OECD; Historical precedents and future pathways.
  • Deep dives into public policy domains most ripe for debate and reinvention.
  • Assessment of public attitudes and political trends that will condition societal responses.


By late summer 2020, although the pandemic will not be extinguished, attention will be shifting from response to recovery and renewal. To this end, the 2020 Queens’ International Institute on Social Policy will host a series of evidence-based online discussions starting in August 2020 on how Canada and other OECD countries can “build back better” and rethink critical building blocks of social policy. It will draw together leading researchers and thinkers from Canada and across the OECD to take stock of early lessons, harvest ideas from the many policy research efforts springing up in Canada and elsewhere in response to the crisis, and advance innovative policy ideas for how Western economies can lay the foundations for a sustainable and inclusive recovery and future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought death, suffering and dislocation on a scale not seen in Western societies since WW2. It has exposed stark inequalities, the precarious nature of work and social security for many, and the consequences of allowing economic growth to become decoupled from broad-based social benefit. In the words of the Financial Times, the pandemic has “laid bare the frailty of the social contract. Radical reforms are required to forge a society that will work for all”.

Earlier shocks to Western economies of this magnitude spawned fundamental rethinking of the social order and waves of policy innovation.  One only needs to think of the response to historical pandemics or the many wartime initiatives such as Roosevelt’s New Deal, the UK’s Beveridge Report or the Marsh Report in Canada. The current crisis will create the opportunity, if not the imperative, for an equally ambitious reimagining and rebuilding of the social and economic order.

Now, in spring 2020, policy makers in Canada and other OECD countries must focus relentlessly on the urgent and unprecedented task of keeping millions of citizens safe and of safeguarding as many livelihoods and businesses as possible. Imminently, however, the focus will shift to recovery and renewal. Soon the question will be “what have we learned” and “how do we build back better”?

  • Which countries, and which population groups, have best weathered the pandemic, in terms of health and economic impacts? Why, and what can we learn?
  • How do we better protect citizens and society as a whole from extreme shocks and setbacks?
    • How do we build greater social and economic resilience? How do we ensure no one is left behind?
  • How do we remedy clear inadequacies in the current social safety net while anticipating new and emerging challenges, whether they are technological change, new post-pandemic ways of working and producing, or events yet unforeseen?
    • Do the emergency response measures invoked by Canada and other countries point the way to systemic reform?
  • What lasting changes are likely to emerge from the pandemic’s impact on peoples’ lives and livelihoods?
    • Will there be significant shifts in what citizens’ value and what they expect from government, employers, and fellow citizens?

Presentations, Videos and Articles


Videos: Videos of the presentations are available on our YouTube channel

Articles: A series of articles based on this conference was published by PolicyOptions in a special feature called "Tackling Inequality as Part of Canada’s Post-Pandemic Recovery"

2019: Inclusive Prosperity: Recoupling Growth, Equity and Social Inclusion



For decades, the trend line of economic progress, as measured by aggregate indicators such as GDP growth, has been positive across OECD countries. Most economies have recovered from the global financial crisis of 2008. When you look beyond the aggregates, however, a different picture emerges; the benefits of economic prosperity have not been equally distributed:  income levels and growth have become increasingly unequal; some sectors, occupations and regions have thrived while others have not; labour’s share of income has declined; and wealth has become highly concentrated at the top of the distribution.

Presentations, Videos and Articles


Videos:Videos of the presentations are available on our YouTube channel

A series of articles based on this conference has been launched by PolicyOptions in a special feature called "Ensuring Inclusive Prosperity When All Boats Aren’t Being Lifted".  

2018: The Future of Work: What do we do?



Are Canadians ready for the work of the future? Is Canadian social policy? New technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and nanotechnology are rapidly altering the skills composition of jobs, prospects for different occupations and the very nature of work itself.  The contours of the future of work are beginning to emerge.  The federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth estimates that by 2030 technological change will displace nearly a quarter of the tasks currently performed by Canadian workers, and that over 10% of workers will lose their jobs (Learning Nation, December 2017).  

Presentations, Videos and Articles


Videos of the presentations are available on our YouTube channel

A series of articles based on this conference has been launched by PolicyOptions in a special feature called "Preparing citizens for the future of work".  

2017: Inclusive Economy, Inclusive Society



In recent years, Canada and other OECD countries have experienced multiple disruptions - shifting patterns of global commerce, demographic change, the digital revolution and new security risks.   Many Western countries have also experienced rising income inequality and social polarization, as economic growth has increasingly become decoupled from social outcomes. The consequences are being felt across many OECD countries – social fracturing, political upheaval and a crisis of policy and institutional legitimacy.

Yet more disruption is on the horizon. Canada and other OECD countries are in the early stages of a new technological revolution driven by the application of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, nanotechnology and other innovations. This next technological revolution, like its predecessors, has the potential to increase prosperity and quality of life. On the other hand, it could compound the numbers of people feeling economically excluded and trapped in precarious employment. Economic polarization can also trigger cultural polarization, driving deeper wedges between majorities and minorities. Recent political events in other countries suggest this can be an explosive combination. 

So far, Canada has avoided the powerful backlash reshaping politics and policy in many of its peer countries. But the factors that have contributed to upheaval elsewhere exist in Canada as well. It would be dangerous to reassure ourselves that Canada is somehow an exceptional place.

Looking ahead, preserving a confident, inclusive and prosperous Canada will require rethinking twentieth century policy orthodoxy that divorced growth from inclusion and took social cohesion and openness for granted. Inclusive growth is the new imperative, and to achieve inclusive growth, social and economic policies can no longer be conceived and developed in isolation.

QIISP 2017 will drill down into current discontents and future policy responses. It will explore the role of public policy in strengthening an open and inclusive economy and society. It will ask what role economic and social policy can play in advancing shared prosperity and ensuring the benefits of economic growth are widely shared. It will question whether current public policy constructs are adequate in the face of increasing inequality and escalating technological change.  And it will probe the nexus between economic insecurity and cultural backlash. 

The Queen’s Summer Institute will begin by exploring the contemporary socio-economic landscape in Canada and other OECD countries  - the disruptors and the divides that are reshaping the policy and political context. The conference will pay special attention to the impact of the next wave of technological change – on jobs, skills and the nature of work itself.

The main focus of the 2017 Institute will be on the policy implications of these economic and social changes. QIISP will look first at the skills and competences that Canadians will need for the work and workplaces of the future and how these skills will be acquired and refreshed over peoples’ lives. 

Second, the Institute will look at the differential impacts of these changes on different occupations, educational levels, and regions. It will probe how to bridge income gaps, support employment transitions and allow social benefits to be portable and equitable in this new world of work. 

Third, QIISP will look at the impacts of these disruptive changes for different groups of Canadians: for different generations, for men and women, and for people of different ethnic backgrounds.  For example, we know the changing world of work will require multiple transitions, ongoing learning and a new blending of work and living well into typical retirement years. Younger Canadians will be challenged to invest in their skills, secure income and juggle the demands of non-standard work with the demands of raising a family. Older Canadians are most at risk of losing their ‘standard’ jobs and experiencing a permanent decline in income.  The Queen’s Institute will also explore distinctive implications for women and for ethnic minorities.  

QIISP will also probe the cultural divides that have been exposed in many Western societies, and the intersection between economic insecurity and cultural insecurity. It will examine the role of social policies and programs in sustaining, or undermining, public support for immigration, diversity and inclusion. For example, is immigration policy being designed and managed in ways that reassure the public that the process is under control and being conducted in fair and effective ways? Is immigrant integration working and are newcomers able to contribute, and be seen to contribute, to the country economically and socially?   

The final session at QIISP 2017 will draw the threads together and reflect on the attitudes, values and political forces that will shape the future of Canadian public policy responses.  QIISP will look at what Canadians themselves think about the dramatic disruptions that are underway across the economy and society. Do they feel ready or apprehensive? Where do they look for solutions - government, the private sector, their communities, themselves?  What is the link between economic insecurities and cultural insecurities in shaping popular responses to change? How do Canadian attitudes compare to those in other OECD countries? Is Canada in danger of the backlash politics we see elsewhere? 


Keynote Address

  • Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University - "The Enemy Within" [PDF 894 KB]

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Session 7

QIISP Conference Organizers


Naomi Alboim [image]
Naomi Alboim
Distinguished Fellow


Naomi Alboim is a Distinguished Fellow at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University.

Ms. Alboim is an active public policy consultant and has advised governments and NGOs across Canada, in Europe, the Caribbean, Vietnam, Indonesia, Ghana, and Kenya.

Previously, Ms. Alboim worked at senior levels in the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments for twenty-five years, including eight years as Deputy Minister in three different portfolios. Her areas of responsibility included immigration, human rights, labour market training, workplace standards, culture, as well as women’s, seniors’, disability and aboriginal issues.

Naomi is a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals and is a member of the Order of Ontario.


Margaret Biggs [image]
Margaret Biggs
Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy


Margaret Biggs is the Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University where she specializes in social policy, global sustainable development and democratic governance. From 2008-2013 she was President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and responsible for leading Canada's global development and humanitarian assistance efforts worldwide. She served as Deputy Secretary in the Privy Council Office (Plans and Priorities) and as Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for policies and programs in the areas of social development, labour markets, skills and learning. Ms. Biggs is Chair of the Board of Governors for the International Development Research Centre and Chair of World University Services Canada. She co-led the Study Group on Education’s report Global Education for Canadians: Equipping Young Canadians to Succeed at Home and Abroad (November 2017).

Keith Banting [image]
Keith Banting
Professor Emeritus


Keith Banting is the Stauffer Dunning Fellow in the School of Policy Studies and professor emeritus in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University. His research focuses on the politics of social policy, and his recent publications explore two dimensions of the social role of the state: the politics of inequality; and the relationship between multiculturalism and social solidarity. In the first area, he has published Inequality and the Fading of Redistributive Politics (UBC Press 2013), edited with John Myles. In the field of multiculturalism, he is co-editor with Will Kymlicka of Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies (Oxford University Press 2007), and The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies (Oxford University Press, 2017). Dr. Banting is a member a member of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.


Rachel Laforest [image]
Rachel Laforest
Associate Professor


Rachel Laforest is Associate Professor in the School of Policy Studies, Queen's University in Canada. Her areas of expertise are the study of governance and inter-sectoral collaboration. Her current research interests focus on poverty reduction strategies, mental health and addictions, and education policy. She is also interested in intergovern-mental relations and Canadian politics. She is the author of Voluntary Sector Organizations and the State, UBC Press, which won the ANSER-ARES best book award in 2014. She is also the editor of Government-Nonprofit Relations in Times of Recession, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013 and The New Federal Policy Agenda and the Voluntary Sector: On the Cutting Edge, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009. She is currently Visiting Professor in the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has held Visiting appointments at the Centre for Nonprofit Management, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin and the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy, University of Ulster.