Ngaire Woods, Dean at Oxford, reflects on consensus: “It is crucial that we teach our students how to converse and engage in discussions”

More than 400 people, including leaders, academics, and representatives from the public and private sectors, gathered at CorpArtes to attend the “Global Paths: Seeking Common Ground” conference, which featured a keynote speech by the Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The polarization of society, the stability of democracies today, and the role of academia in promoting dialogue and the search for joint solutions were some of the topics addressed during the panel, which was formed by Paula Daza, Verónica Figueroa Huencho, Oscar Landerretche, and Sebastián Soto.

The “Global Paths: Seeking Common Ground” conference, organized by the Luksic Foundation through Luksic Scholars, offered a space to delve into the significance of reaching consensus in an increasingly divided world and the role of academia in facilitating joint solution-seeking. The event, which offered both in-person and via streaming, gathered over 400 people, including leaders, academics, and professionals from across the country and abroad.

Is consensus necessary? Can agreements be reached without parties giving up their convictions? And, how do we avoid stagnation in a polarized democracy? These were some of the questions addressed during the conference. 

“We want to understand what is happening in the world and provide tools to contribute to the exchange of ideas and the development of people,” said Isabella Luksic at the beginning of the conference. The CEO of the Luksic Foundation also explained that the purpose of the organization is focused on contributing to the development of Chile through educational initiatives, and that this particular event arises from the conviction that academia plays a significant role in promoting the development of countries and that international experiences can create valuable knowledge exchange.

The keynote address was delivered by Ngaire Woods, the founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. “Polarization is taking place around the world, societies are fracturing and not sharing, and that should concern us,” said the expert in her talk. Regarding the role of universities and education in this challenge, the Dean pointed out that “it is essential that we teach our students how to converse and engage in discussions. That at the end of the day, we can agree to disagree.” 

Following Dean Woods’ speech, a panel discussion took place between Oscar Landerretche, economist and academic at the Universidad de Chile, Paula Daza, former Undersecretary of Public Health, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy and Health Innovation at UDD (CIPS-UDD), Verónica Figueroa, academic at the Institute of Public Affairs at the Universidad de Chile, and Sebastián Soto, Associate Professor at the Department of Public Law, Pontificia Universidad de Católica, and Vice-President of the Expert Commission.

Both Verónica Figueroa and Sebastián Soto belong to the Luksic Scholars Community, which is made up of of more than 1,800 people who have participated in an academic program promoted by the Foundation in collaboration with universities worldwide.

Ways to Reach Agreements

One of the topics discussed was the possibility of reaching consensus in a polarized society and the crisis of democratic institutions. In this regard, economist Oscar Landerretche noted: “I think that for the problems we are facing in our society, setting the requirement of achieving consensus is too high of a bar. I prefer the word ‘agreements or contracts’.”

During the conference, recent events that have happened in Chile were addressed, such as the social outbreak in October of 2019 and the recent plebiscite process for a new constitution. Paula Daza, former Undersecretary of Public Health, commented: “We have common objectives, we are concerned about contributing to our country and providing solutions to Chile. This allows us to reach consensus. The pandemic taught us a lot in this aspect. I believe that consensus is possible.”

Verónica Figueroa emphasized that as a country “we are coming out of processes that allowed us to discuss, reflect, and dream about the country we want. It is important that university spaces be spaces for reflection. I think that today we have significant challenges that we can focus on the dreams of the institutions we want for the country.”

As for Sebastián Soto, he commented that “in the future, democracies have as a great challenge on governability. Consensus is fundamental since one builds transactions and contracts on consensus. But we have to have a common ground. It will not be unanimity, but rather fundamental values that must be shared over time.”

Alongside the “Global Paths: Seeking Common Ground” conference, two programs aimed at academics, researchers, and professionals in the field of public service will be held. The programs are “Case Method for Public Policy Workshop,” developed by the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, and “Negotiating Across Differences: Concepts, Strategies, and Tools,” implemented by Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University.