Part I – What is canada@150?

Message from the Assistant Deputy Minister Co-Champions

From June 2008 to June 2009, 150 early-career public servants took part in a unique and unprecedented experiment. They were given the opportunity to work together to identify and analyze the key policy challenges that Canada will face in 2017, on its 150th birthday, and the implications of those challenges for the federal Public Service.

The project – canada@150 – was an exceptional development opportunity. Launched by the Honourable Kevin G. Lynch, then Clerk of the Privy Council, as part of the Public Service Renewal Action Plan, canada@150 was a laboratory for experimenting with new ways of working in the Public Service and has become a source of ideas on policy and public service renewal.

As Co-Champions of canada@150, we are proud to present the fruit of this project in this volume, collecting the findings of participants, their vision of the future of the Public Service of Canada, and our own report of how this unique initiative was developed and run.

The canada@150 Innovation Experience 

canada@150 was designed to be open and collaborative. Its initial structure was developed and strengthened by the partnership that ultimately emerged between organizers and participants: participants were encouraged to self-organize and manage their own group work, but they also helped shape the flow of the project itself. We, as Co-Champions of the project, headed a Secretariat that sought to manage canada@150, not by imposing a rigid project framework, but by directing a more flexible project structure that engaged participants in a rich dialogue. The Secretariat regularly surveyed the participants’ experience, both formally and informally, and incorporated feedback and new ideas, adapting project plans as conditions changed and as lessons were learned about what was working and what wasn’t. The project design is described in more detail in the Project Overview chapter.

The medium was at least part of the message with canada@150. Participants did much of their work online, using a rich suite of Web 2.0 tools that allowed them to connect across the country, bridging time zones and varied schedules to collaborate fluidly on shared documents. They met face to face at four conferences and connected regularly through teleconferences and small group meetings that complemented their web-based interactions.

A Learning Opportunity

Conceived of, and launched as, a develop ment initiative, canada@150 provided a continuous learning experience for participants. Following a typical policy development process, participants practiced environmental scanning, identified change drivers and their interactions, and analyzed policy challenges and possible options for addressing them. They learned valuable foresight and scenario-planning tools and skills as they focused their analysis in a future time-frame, and they engaged with public service renewal in the final phase of the project when they turned their attention to what the Public Service needs to do to be prepared for the policy challenges identified.

Of course, participants also learned about the policy issues themselves. They tapped into new sources of knowledge and harnessed the analytical tools described above to uncover new insights. Moreover, in many cases participants actually spent at least part of the project working on an unfamiliar policy challenge – one that was not part of their day job or their previous professional and academic experiences. Participants also developed valuable networks, establishing new relationships with peers and colleagues, senior managers, and outside experts in a variety of sectors.

At the final conference in June 2009, participants reflected on the lessons they learned over the course of the project – about policy development and foresight methodologies, Web 2.0 tools, collaboration and horizontal work, and other topics. A summary of their discussions can be found in the chapter entitled Participant Lessons Learned.

Lessons from canada@150 for the Broader Public Service

The participants were not the only ones who learned from canada@150. We, together with the other Secretariat members, learned steadily throughout the year and used what we observed to adapt the project whenever possible. Our own learning was consistent with one of the objectives of the project, which was to offer up lessons for the broader Public Service.

On the Web 2.0 front, canada@150 (together with other pilots like NRCan’s wiki and the Treasury Board- supported GCpedia and GCconnex) constitutes part of a blueprint for the application of Web 2.0 and social media technologies in a government work environment. canada@150 in particular offers the advantage of having integrated a comparatively full suite of these technologies, including wikis, blogs, discussion boards, profiles, messaging, meta-tagging, and more. Most importantly, canada@150 tested these tools in the policy development process, yielding valuable insights for future implementations. We discovered the importance of coupling the Web 2.0 experience with more traditional modes of communication; managing information over load issues; and providing significant support to participants not only on technical matters but also so as to encourage participants to overcome work culture norms that often had deep roots (e.g. an initial reluctance to freely edit each other’s work in this new wiki environ ment). Wikinomics co-author Anthony D. Williams held a session with canada@150 organizers and participants on the Web 2.0 component of the project, and his report, which includes observations on other public sector Web 2.0 experiences as well, is available on the project website.

Beyond Web 2.0, we regularly fine-tuned our approaches to project design (e.g. the balance between too much and too little project structure in terms of expectations, deadlines, and deliverables); sharing information with participants and receiving their input and feedback; and structuring learning activities and materials. We also grappled with a host of challenges which were familiar from our regular work, including how to achieve a func tionally bilingual work environment; how to organize horizontally; how to deal with diverse group dynamics; and how to create a safe space for debate while respecting certain imperatives of our roles as public servants. The Secretariat’s reflections on lessons from the canada@150 experience can be found in the Project Overview chapter.

Canada in 2017: An Overview of the Participant Papers 

The policy challenge groups formed by canada@150 participants studied a diverse array of issues – from geo politics to marginalized segments of society – but patterns and common threads emerged from their analyses.

On the whole, the future painted by these groups is not one that is radically different from the present. This is not surprising since the future in question was a mere eight years away by the end of the project: public servants won’t be jetpacking to work by 2017!

A Changing Global Context

Yet participants describe significant changes ahead. Globalization is here to stay (notwithstanding the protectionist spectre of the current global financial crisis), but fundamental geopolitical changes are underway as countries and multilateral institutions jockey for economic and political influence. Crucially, participants see the United States declining in relative power, leaving it as a still critical but not as the singularly dominant focus of Canadian foreign policy. In this newly multipolar world, Canada will need to carve out a new niche for itself if it is to continue “punching above its weight”, consolidating its traditional strengths but also remaining flexible as it balances a larger set of key relationships. In the paper on the changing geopolitical landscape, for example, Mexico is portrayed as a partner that could provide leverage with other emerging powers like Brazil, China, and India. At the same time, non-state actors will also continue to grow in influence and to pose threats to Canada, as the broader decline in interstate conflict coincides with increased violence associated with non-state terrorism.

Many other drivers will contribute to re-shaping the world. Continuing advances in science and technology will generate both new solutions and new challenges. Information and communication technology developments, in particular, will continue to contribute to citizen expectations of greater transparency and engagement from their governments in the context of what the public service renewal paper describes as “declining deference”. Major demographic shifts will affect labour markets, social program sustainability, and socio-economic well-being. A broad range of anthropogenic pressures, including climate change, will stress and alter the planet’s ecosystems, with cascading impacts on human health and prosperity.

In this complex world, as more and more policy challenges cross geographic, political, disciplinary boundaries, individuals and organizations in all sectors are expected to increasingly measure progress by more than economic yardsticks. Social and environmental considerations will continue to gain prominence and form the basis for new indicators of success and well-being. Equally importantly, the nature of policy challenges and the solutions they demand will dramatically increase the number of players involved in both the deliberation and implementation of policy.

All Hands on Deck: Harnessing the Potential of Canada’s People and Places

Many of these global changes manifest themselves in particular ways in Canada. For example, Canada’s North is particularly vulnerable to the challenges of climate change, notwithstanding the economic opportunities that may emerge as northern shipping routes and resource exploration become more accessible. In addition, some of Canada’s most valuable and in-demand natural resources are extremely energy-intensive to extract, adding to Canada’s challenge in terms of reducing greenhouse gases. In a world which is becoming less predictable and is seeing a diversification of threats to global security, Canada’s openness, democracy, and multiculturalism make it particularly attractive for terrorist groups seeking a haven in which to operate, a challenge treated at length in the participant paper framing national security and human rights as mutually reinforcing interests. Participants envisage changing demographics testing Canada’s social cohesion, social programs and services, as well as our physical infrastructure by 2017. The impacts of the continued ageing of our citizenry, a rising young Aboriginal population, continuing immigration and growing diversity, and urbanization (with the possibilities of attendant urban sprawl) are all addressed in the papers.

How can Canada respond to such challenges? Running throughout the participants’ papers is the message that in order to meet the challenges of 2017 and prosper in the world described above, Canada will need to take full advantage of everything at its disposal. Whether calling for tapping the potential of the North or vulnerable regions, engaging margi nalized segments of the population, or closing the gap between earlier and recent immigration groups, canada@150 participants collectively make a compelling argument that this country can leave no stone unturned in its search for ideas, talent, skills, and energy in an increasingly competitive global economy. The paper on competing in a multipolar world, for example, suggests projecting Canada’s diversity as a competitive advantage by engaging diasporas, newcomers to Canada, and foreign students to forge stronger connections to the rest of the world. Education – both formal and informal – is stressed in several papers as a critical foundation for socio-economic empowerment. Specific proposals include strengthening training programs for groups experiencing below-average economic outcomes (in the paper on social cohesion); a national learning strategy focused on adult learning and the skills, like science literacy, required in a knowledge-intensive society (in the paper on the knowledge-based economy); and new education governance models such as provincially-funded and accredited but Aboriginal-controlled educational institutions (in the paper on unlocking the potential of margi nalized youth).

The Nature of Policy-making in 2017

What is perhaps most striking about the future that participants see is how policy should be done in 2017 in order to realize Canada’s full, “all hands on deck” potential. Approaches to policy-making which are still emergent or at the very least uncostomary today – from horizontality to stakeholder engagement – appear consistently and pervasively in the options they have devised. In our view, this should not be mistaken simply for idealism or inexperience. Instead, it appears to reflect a strongly-held belief among participants, informed in part by canada@150 learning and experiences, that our ways of doing business must change systematically in order to cope with the pressures of a changing world.

The papers embrace complexity, eschewing the treatment of policy challenges in isolation in favour of integrative and systems approaches to analysis. As noted by the sustainable ECOnomy group, systems thinking enables analysis of the feedbacks, cascading effects, and trade-offs that characterize complex, long-term, and cross-cutting policy challenges. The papers also consistently argue for proactive as opposed to reactive policies, as in the case of the group focused on more forward-looking approaches to health. Their paper advocates for a health promotion agenda that puts a greater emphasis on healthy living and the prevention, as opposed to treatment, of disease. Complex and long-term policy challenges also demand flexible and longer-term planning and funding horizons that acknowledge on-the-ground operational realities and provide greater predictability to funding recipients and partners. Funding arrangements also need to recognize the time-scales involved in policy measures. For example, the paper on Canada’s large cities notes that most infrastructure lasts decades, so infrastructure investment decisions – which themselves are lengthy to implement – must be calibrated accordingly.

Collaboration and engagement are seen as critical, with every group making some form of recommendation related to intergovernmental deliberations, multi-stakeholder consultations, citizen engagement, and partnerships or networks with other sectors. There is significant support for regional and community-level engagement in the development of “place-based” policies, based in part on the idea that decisions should increasingly be made by those who will be most affected by them (the paper on cities for instance makes an interesting case for involving municipalities in immigration decisions). At the same time, calls for local empowerment are counterbalanced by a multitude of proposals for national visions, frameworks, strategies, and governance bodies – though responsibility for these is not placed solely with federal government. Participants see such articulations of our national aspirations as key tools to bring direction, consistency, knowledge-sharing, and sometimes baseline to otherwise disparate activities. Implicitly underlying this balance between national and sub-national efforts are evolving notions of place and identity in Canada, with the papers addressing the many different layers of individual and collective belonging and responsibility that shape our society and the relationships within it.

The papers also reflect a strong belief by participants in the power of information, reflecting the adage that “what gets measured, gets managed.” From greenhouse gas emissions to Northern social well-being to the security-human rights interface, participant groups consistently argue for better research, clear indicators, and robust measurement and information management systems. The social cohesion paper, for example, calls for a framework of indicators that would enable government to establish baselines and monitor trends in social cohesion.

Finally, many papers argue that a mix of policy tools are important in dealing with the challenges of the future. For example, the use of market-based mechanisms features prominently as an approach for dealing with negative externalities so that the cost of some activities – such as urban sprawl – are revealed and factored into decisions. The paper on Canada’s large cities, for instance, proposes innovative instruments like a revenue-neutral feebate on GST for new residential construction and a sliding commercial land transfer tax based on the building density of the zone. The group focused on urban passenger transportation raises the notion of kilometrage charges as a means of reducing the environmental impacts of motor vehicle traffic in cities.

Greening Canada and the new Economy: Adopting a new Approach to Policy

These high-level approaches – tapping into all that Canada has to offer, and doing so through an integrative, collaborative, place-based, information-rich, and multi-instrument approach to policy development – come together in the form of concrete policy options in a number of different areas. In particular, two broad and connected policy themes dominate many of the papers and provide key insights into how participants see the policy world of 2017.

First, environmental sustainability figures prominently in the work of canada@150 participants. Four of the thirteen policy challenge groups deal directly with the environment in some form, while many others incorporate strong environmental dimensions to their analysis. The papers consistently argue that technology is a necessary but not sufficient answer to Canada’s and the world’s environmental challenges, stressing the need for changes in individual and organizational behaviours and choices. Getting there, they argue, involves better understanding the cost of unsustainable choices and then internalizing those costs by pricing pollution and implementing the “polluter pays” principle through market instruments and incentives. The understanding and level of infor mation that would underpin such action requires a more systematic and integrated approach to policy. The paper on greening Canada’s transportation systems, for example, calls for a full life-cycle cost analysis, encompassing the construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation infrastructure and technology across both com mercial and non-commercial uses.

At a much deeper level than just cost analysis, however, participants see environmental sustainability and economic well-being as fundamentally intertwined and mutually reinforcing. The economy of 2017 that participants describe – the second major policy theme – is not the same as the economy of today. Indeed, an underlying theme of the participants’ papers is that economic recovery does not simply mean returning to a previous state. As one group notes, Canada has the potential to become a “Northern Tiger”, but there are many obstacles to overcome, from remaining trade barriers to human capital issues. Not only must the economy be “greener”, but persistent Canadian innovation gaps in areas such as commercialization, venture capital, and research and development investments must also be addressed in order to equip the country to create the jobs and industries of the future. Participants’ policy prescriptions range from communications (e.g. promoting Canadian competitive advantages to encourage foreign direct investment) to institutions (e.g. creating an Office of Commercialization). Likewise, regulatory systems must be modernized and made more nimble. The group focused on competing in a multipolar world suggests getting out ahead of global competitors by leveraging Canada’s science and technology expertise to become a leader in setting international standards and regulatory frameworks for new industries. Several groups present sub-national policy options for driving innovation and sustainable economic development by strengthening and mobilizing local and regional capacity. The group advocating a model of sustainable regional development, for example, sees enormous potential in traditionally vulnerable regions (e.g. remote and single-industry areas), with proposals ranging from providing funding and tax incentives to encourage secondary and tertiary resource processing to enriching community life in order to enable the attraction and retention of talent.

The Public Service in 2017

The Public Service will have to function differently in 2017 in order to continue serving Canada as well as it has in the past. The participant group which focused exclusively on public service renewal for the final phase of the project outlines a vision for the Public Service of 2017 – which they, tongue in cheek, have coined as “PS 2.017”. For these participants, the Public Service must be an “adaptive organization that places the right people in the right jobs at the right time, nurtures a high-trust and learning work environment, fosters a culture of collaboration, is technologically savvy, confidently champions alternative and innovative policy development, and values engagement with citizens and stakeholders.”

Participants argue that internal silos and barriers need to come down for the Public Service to be able to work coherently with partners in other sectors. Engaging with stakeholders and developing place-based policy requires public servants to get out of Ottawa, both literally and metaphorically. The participant papers propose more employee movement between the Public Service and other sectors, a stronger presence in regions and communities affected by federal policy, and co-locating physical workplaces with key partners. New working structures range from horizontal policy clusters (internal to the Public Service as well as with external organizations), as suggested in several papers, to innovative multi-level governance arrangements. Engaging the broader public is in many cases stressed as just as important a function for the Public Service as dealing with specific sectors and organizations. The group that focused on public service renewal advocates experimenting with new types of engagement (e.g. citizen assemblies, open spaces, and deliberative polling); transitioning from reactive to proactive information disclosure systems; using technology to enable transparency in different channels; and communicating clearly about the expected outcomes of consultation processes.

Overall, the Public Service of 2017 is described as more diverse and representative, along cultural, professional, and other dimensions. The public service renewal paper identifies both traditional tools for achieving this (e.g. employment equity programs for recruiting) as well as more transfor mative ones, such as ending the preference given to Canadian citizens in recruitment processes in order to facilitate diversity and address future labour market shortages.

Developing solutions to the complex policy challenges of 2017 will require new ideas, turning innovation into a key factor for Public Service success. Options proposed in the public service renewal paper include facilitating dedicated “neutral play spaces” to foster collaboration and creativity and adopting the “Google 80/20” policy to allow employees to spend 20 percent of their time on corporate contributions outside their formal job description. A number of the policy papers, meanwhile, argue for more experimentation in the form of pilot projects used to evaluate the effectiveness of new policy approaches. Innovation will have to extend beyond the Public Service’s policy and program development to its approach to managing talent.

Many of the papers also see the Public Service leading by example. The paper on urban passenger transportation, for example, contains a series of measures the Public Service could use to encourage its own employees to use public transit, car pool, hold more tele-meetings, and take alternative modes of transport between meetings (e.g. cycling). Likewise, the paper on proactive approaches to health includes an option for a Federal Workplace Wellness Initiative focused on physical activity, healthy eating, and stress management for federal employees and with challenges to other organizations to adopt similar efforts. The knowledge-based economy paper sees the Public Service’s significant procurement power wielded to drive innovation in areas like green technology.

These comments scratch only the very surface of the participants’ work. At the beginning of the second section of this report, you will find a short abstract of each group’s policy paper – highlighting a selection of their analytic observations, policy options, and remarks on the future of the Public Service. We encourage you to read the full papers of any groups that are of interest in order to get a better sense of some of the intriguing ideas that emerged from this year-long exercise.

The Broader canada@150 Community

canada@150 could not have happened without the commitment of a broad range of supporters that extended far beyond the organizing team. The Deputy Ministers on our Steering Committee offered guidance and support, and actively engaged participants from their departments. A number of Assistant Deputy Ministers served as mentors to participant groups for many months, providing tailored advice and feedback. Policy analysts volunteered their time to act as “online enablers”, serving as conduits for critical information to and from the project Secretariat and providing a wide range of support functions ranging from technology tips to a challenge function on content. Participants’ managers gave their employees the time to participate in the project and in some cases provided extraordinary support, encouraging participants to make linkages back to their day jobs and work units. Fellow public servants at all levels agreed to be interviewed and consulted, and outside experts shared their perspectives at conferences and in smaller sessions with participant groups.

And finally, the Clerk of the Privy Council and senior management in the Public Service laid the groundwork for innovation by affording us the most precious of commodities: the freedom to experiment.

On behalf of the canada@150 Secretariat and participants, we extend a heartfelt thank you to all those who gave so generously of their time to contribute to and support this innovative project.

In the end, the word “participant” does not do justice to the energy, conviction, and ideas that many of these early-career public servants brought to canada@150. In a learning session at the final conference in June 2009, we connected the participants with fellow entrepreneurs from across the Public Service. We hoped to inspire them to mobilize good ideas and to equip them with some final tools to help them do so.

Participants have answered the call. To date, they have made over 40 presentations since June 2009, engaging their colleagues and organizations and sharing the knowledge and experience they gained from the project in an effort to effect concrete change.

In the end, this will perhaps be the greatest legacy of canada@150: 150 new champions for innovative ways of working; 150 idea generators; 150 policy and renewal entrepreneurs extending the value of a year-long experiment far beyond the laboratory walls.

We encourage you to explore their ideas – and our collective lessons learned – more fully in this canada@150 Final Report.

This picture shows Thomas Townsend, Assistant Deputy Minister champion of canada@150.

Thomas Townsend

La photo montre Thomas Townsend, sous-ministre adjoint champion du projet canada@150.

Jean-François Tremblay