Public Service 2.017: The canada@150 vision

This paper on the future of the Public Service was created by a group of canada@150 participants in light of the insights emerging from the foresight process, the work of other groups, and the group’s own research and experience.

Note: Interspersed throughout this paper are “vignettes” – comics, newspaper ads, posters, to name but a few – created by various sets of participants that vividly capture their view of life in the Public Service of 2017. Vignettes appear on pages 163, 167, 171, 174, 178, 182 and 185.

Public Service 2.017: The canada@150 Vision 

In June 2008, in an era of federal public service renewal, 150 early-career public service employees were invited to explore, debate, and identify how the Public Service of Canada might prepare itself to address the complex challenges Canada is likely to face as it celebrates 150 years of Confederation in 2017. Engaged in ongoing virtual and in-person collaboration, the canada@150 group examined key change drivers, considered possible futures, and researched horizontal policy challenges to develop options and recom mendations on how to more effectively serve Canadians in 2017.

To meet the challenges of 2017 and beyond, there is consensus that the current methods, functions, and roles of public service must be reviewed. The world is becoming more complex and globalized; Canada’s population is older on average; social interaction technologies are ubiquitous; and the public bias in Canada is toward increased engagement in governance, with the quality of life and the natural environment high on their policy agenda. How will the Public Service adapt to ensure it has the capacity to address expected policy challenges?

This paper considers the impact of such change on the roles of Canada’s public service as direct and indirect service provider; as administrator of the social safety net; as regulator and stimulator of national competitiveness; as researcher and supporter of science and innovation; as guardian of a diverse, tolerant and secure society; as trusted policy advisor and respected global actor; and as confident policy leader and innovator.

Given these roles, the vision for the Public Service of 2017 (PS 2.017) is one of an organization, committed to excellence, that:

  • attracts and effectively develops and manages a high-capacity, representative talent pool;
  • leverages its capacity and structure for engagement and holistic, collaborative policy development; and
  • emphasizes enabling principles of individual and organizational trust, learning, integrity, and performance.

Our recommendations for renewal directly address questions on how the Public Service might manage its talent, how it might carry out its work, the policy instruments it could use, and with whom it might work and interact and how. Each question examines the context and key considerations, identifies apparent needs, and discusses how implementation of the recommendations could change our Public Service. Recommendations range from creating a formal approach to career management to fostering increased trust in the Public Service, to employing innovative technologies to develop and implement public policy.

Because we each live, work and engage in a rapidly evolving global society, we recognize that the current environment is creating new demands for public policy and administration that are more accessible and responsive to change. The PS 2.017 vision for renewal offers tangible options for nurturing a public service that – built on tenets of trust, collaboration, and flexibility – can explore, engage, advise, and show leadership as our world changes. Indeed, our vision gives added expression to the words of the Honourable Kevin G. Lynch, former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet: “Renewal is about striving to ensure that what we do and how we do it is effective and relevant within the context of an ever-changing external environment.”

1. Introduction

Starting in June 2008, 150 early-career federal public servants identified, explored, and debated a suite of complex challenges that Canada may face as it celebrates its 150th anniversary and the implications that these challenges may have for the Public Service. This paper seeks to both capture our collective vision for the Public Service of 2017 and to present ideas that can be explored to help us prepare for future challenges.

We are a diverse cross-section of the Public Service: representing over 30 government departments, ten provinces, two territories, and three continents. We span three generations, were drawn from various academic and professional backgrounds, and have worked for private and third sector organizations. This diversity provides a wealth of perspective, freshness, and energy.

We have identified key change drivers, examined horizontal policy challenges, and proposed options for preparing for the world of 2017. We also considered how our findings would affect the roles and functions of the Public Service as we now know it and how the Public Service may need to adapt in order to keep pace in a constantly changing world. We have met with more experienced public servants and subject-matter experts through meetings, conferences and interviews, but we have undertaken the majority of our work in a collaborative Web 2.0 environment.

We recognize that we have far less experience than many other public servants, experience that often surpasses the wisdom gleaned from research alone. This reality is compounded by the fact that in most cases participants were not subject-matter experts in the policy areas they chose to explore, and that canada@150 was not our full-time job. Caveats aside, our journey has been rewarding and has made us excited for the future of the Public Service. We hope you will share in our excitement and join us on the journey forward, as we make our vision of the Public Service of 2017 a reality.

2. Where are we now? The Roles of the Public Service

Before exploring our vision for what the Public Service will need to do in 2017, we must first define the roles of the Public Service today.

The magnitude of the role of the federal public service becomes more clear when one looks at its size – over a quarter million employees in all parts of this country and throughout the world. The Public Service supports Ministers and serves Canadians through roles such as:

  • direct and indirect service provider;
  • contributor to the social safety net;
  • regulator;
  • generator of credible evidence in support of the public interest;
  • policy advisor, researcher, and communicator;
  • steward of Canada’s democratic system and values;
  • negotiator representing Canadians; and
  • manager of federal programs and enabler of non-government organizations.

The Public Service has a strong history of successfully delivering on these roles to make Canada what it is today. Continuous improvement of the Public Service will ensure that it continues to build on these achievements. As new public servants, we have examined and experienced these various roles and have identified some issues that, if not addressed, could result in an orga nization that has difficulty living up to citizens’ expectations and fulfilling its mandate in 2017, including:

  • hierarchical structures that limit quick action and clear communication;
  • a risk-averse culture that does not provide incentives for creativity or innovation;
  • an intense focus on accountability that reinforces the emphasis on hierarchy and promotes a risk-averse culture, places a focus on short- term results over long-term improvement, and bases relationships on contractual responsibilities rather than trust;
  • poor relationships with stakeholders, citizens, other departments, and other orders of government that prevent partnerships and meaningful deliberations from taking shape;
  • territorial in-fighting (both inter- and intra- departmentally) over who should take the “lead” on addressing an issue, creating an even more complex and hostile landscape;
  • long-standing and unquestioned jurisdictional boundaries that discourage cooperation on shared problems; and
  • regional animosity and declining trust in government that makes working together on how to frame and address our shared problems even more difficult.

As participants of canada@150, we are optimistic that many of these ailments can be overcome.

This is a picture of a fictional newspaper name, “La Presse Mondiale”.

3. What is Changing?

In this section, we discuss trends and change drivers, and then describe the expected future of how these change drivers may affect the role of government in 2017.

3.1 Trends and Change Drivers

In 2017 demographics won’t be a consideration, they will be the consideration.

“2015 will be the first time in the history of the Canadian population that elderly people outnumber children.”

Statistics Canada. 2005. Population projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories 2005-2031. Ottawa: Industry Canada.

Canada’s population will be older, larger, and more diverse. An aging population can be expected to have significant impacts on the provision of public services, such as health care, as well as implications for the labour market. A corollary effect related to the aging population is the introduction of a new generation of workers. This generation, which has been described as a disturbing force, tends to expect more flexibility in terms of work hours, the location of work, and the use of technological tools. In 2017, Canada’s population will be approximately 35 million, putting increased pressure on the environment, through greater production and consumption.1 Diversity will have implications for a whole range of public policy issues, from social cohesion and the provision of services to environmental degradation and health care.

We will continue to feel the pull of globalization.

“It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”

Kofi Annan. 2000. “Opening Address,” Fifty-third annual DPI/NGO Conference, New York, August 28.

The current recession notwithstanding, globalization is changing patterns of trade and investment, with emerging economies such as China and India expected to play an increasing role towards 2017. As their economic clout grows, their contribution to international discussions on issues ranging from security and human rights to environmental protection and sustainability can be expected to grow as well. The impact on Canada is that its relative importance on the world scale will be diminished, requiring new ways to achieve foreign policy objectives.

New technologies have changed the ways in which we learn, work and live.

“The next generation of public servants will be the best educated, most networked and technologically savvy ever. They will arrive with high expectations and no organization baggage. Used properly, they could be profound change agents driving government renewal, including transformed processes and enabling systems... It is time to dream big.”

Allen Sutherland. 2008. “The Federal Policy Community: A Practitioner’s Perspective of the Road to 2017.” Unpublished discussion paper.

Twitter, Skype, YouTube, Blackberries, and iPhones are changing technology from something you use at work to something that defines and describes your life. Although difficult to imagine, continuing advances may render the most cutting-edge technologies of today obsolete by 2017; this, of course, will have broad implications for all sectors, including the interface between citizens and governments.

It is now commonly accepted that human activity is altering the planet’s ecosystems.

“The economy has become parasitic on nature. The problem for the parasite, of course, is that it can’t become so successful that it kills off its host. Then it perishes too...”

Dr. William Rees, University of British Columbia. 2008. Quoted in “The Business of Saving the Earth: Ecological economists are assigning a price to watersheds and other biological factories,” The Walrus. November. 5(8).

Current patterns of production and consumption and their replication in emerging economies are expected to place significant strain on the world’s ecosystems, many of which are already vulnerable or verging on collapse. Shifting towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption will be the major environmental challenge faced by governments in the 21st century. In addition, climate change is resulting in global shifts in precipitation, the occurrence of disease, and more frequent extreme weather events. Current national and international uncertainty with respect to the extent of human impacts on the environment, and how they might be mitigated, makes for an uncertain 2017.

The public wants in.

“In terms, first, of the increasing power and influence of citizens, the days when governments had a virtual monopoly over information and, therefore, power, are long gone. We can access, transform and transmit all manner of information flows in ways that governments of whatever stripe cannot prevent. Moreover, whereas ‘transmitters’ traditionally have determined the nature of information flows, it is increasingly the ‘receptors’ who are calling the shots now.”

Thomas J. Courchene. 2005. “E-the-people: Reflections on Citizen Power in the Information Era,” Policy Options 26(3). March/April: 43-50.

It is clear that the Canadian public is less deferential towards government decision-makers and is increasingly demanding more open and participatory approaches to government decision-making. Where such opportunities are not provided, citizens are protesting and seeking alternative channels, facilitated in part by technological advances. This trend shows no signs of abatement towards 2017. All things being equal, declining deference is not necessarily undesirable and may be indicative of a gradual renegotiation of the “social contract”. However, coupled with declining trust and an absence of appropriate response strategies, the result could be federal irrelevance and increasing tensions between local initiatives and federal policy.2

Even when the world was flat, people were working on complex problems; but in a round world, complexity takes on new dimensions.

“In an increasingly globalized world, policy challenges transcend geopolitical, socioeconomic, cultural and generational boundaries....Issues such as pandemics, aging populations, climate change, rising citizen expectations and public safety are both global and local in nature. These types of complex challenges will increasingly test government interactions in the years to come.”

MacMillan, P., A. Medd and P. Huges. 2008. Change your world or the world will change you: The future of collaborative government and Web 2.0. Deloitte.

Issues are growing increasingly complex for two main reasons: our understanding of the subject matter is becoming more nuanced, with multiple causes and effects associated with issues, and the number of stakeholders affected by issues is giving rise to complex relationships. In essence, the more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know, and the more people want to get involved in trying to figure out what we should do about it.

3.2 The Expected Future: How Change Drivers may Affect the Role of Government

Earlier we identified the roles and responsibilities of the federal government. We now describe how these roles and responsibilities will evolve in light of the changes that will occur between now and 2017.

Direct and Indirect Service Provider: Changing Clients, Channels, and Expectations

Citizen expectations for first-class services from their governments will increase. As new service-enhancing technologies are adopted by the private sector (e.g. an increased ability to conduct business online or through mobile devices), government could find itself under pressure to maintain parity with private firms with respect to service quality and convenience. As the baby boomers age to become seniors, calls for more personalized and tailored services for this demographic are likely to intensify. The ability of individuals to quickly communicate to mass audiences through Web 2.0 and 3.0 media, coupled with less deference towards authority in general, will require government to consistently deliver high-quality services that are individually tailored and are provided on demand.

Moreover, the types of services actually provided by government are likely to shift. Budget constraints, driven by a potentially smaller labour force (and hence a smaller tax base), debt from increased public expenditures during the current recession, and competing priorities such as health care transfers to the provinces, will put pressure on the federal government to cut some service areas or scale back others. Service delivery, whether direct or indirect, is an area of government and public service activity that is likely to face significant challenges looking ahead to 2017, perhaps even on a scale similar to that experienced during the mid-1990s when budget cutbacks forced a paradigm shift in the theory and practice of public service delivery.

Contributor to the Social Safety Net: Limited Resources, but Expanded Possibilities for Role, Relevance, and Renewal

As citizens demand more services and programs, the federal government will be forced to look at how it optimizes the revenue it receives. Budgetary pressures at the provincial level, particularly the rise of health care costs (which grow at an average of six percent annually, well above the rate of inflation) are likely to continue to lead the federal government to increase the size of its transfers to other orders of government in 2017. However, health care funding may only be the tip of the iceberg on this issue, as the current recession may lead not only to potential reforms to the Employment Insurance system, but also an increased federal role in helping the Canadian economy make the transition to a largely post-industrial and knowledge-based society. The social safety-net may come to be defined not only as the provision of basic income assistance, health care, and primary education, but increasingly as a right to life-long education and training, expanded access to experimental and novel treatments, affordable housing, and direct support for community-based initiatives. While many of these areas fall partially or wholly in provincial or municipal responsibility, citizens are likely to insist on quick action, coordination, and an easy-to-navigate system regardless of jurisdictional boundaries, while demanding equal access to equal services from coast to coast to coast. The federal role of “contributor” may thus be expanded to “enabler” or even “active provider”, depending on relative regional capacity, dynamics, and politics.

Regulator: Moving from Balancing to Achieving Protection, Competitiveness, and Confidence in a Global Context

In 2017, regulation will need to become more responsive and internationally coordinated in response to globalization and the quickening pace of technological development. But at the same time, regulation will need to be more stringent and effective at achieving public policy objectives to safeguard health, safety, security, and the environment. The introduction of entirely new industries and services will require a predictable and adaptive regulatory environment to maintain Canadian competitiveness and uphold public confidence. Regulation will become even more cross-provincial and international, as complex problems such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, ensuring the stability of global financial institutions, and protecting North America from international terrorism or disease pandemics will not be able to be effectively addressed by any one department, agency, or government working alone. Regulators, who traditionally come from technical and scientific backgrounds, will also need to become more adept communicators, as a less deferential public is likely to become more interested in contributing and participating in policy debates around the appropriate level and type of regulation needed to respond to various risks. This is already apparent from the high degree of current public interest in regulatory issues ranging from food and product safety, the use of chemicals, natural health products, assisted human reproduction technologies, and environmental regulatory approvals for major resource or energy projects.

Generator of Credible Evidence in Support of the Public Interest: Contributing to the Resolution of Complex Policy Challenges

In 2017, the increased complexity of issues facing government and rapid technological change will require an increasing role for credible non-partisan evidence. For example, the science and technology (S&T) community will need to continue to generate credible, non-partisan evidence in support of program, regulatory, policy, and service development. In a time of declining deference, federal communities of expertise will be crucial in providing credibility and recognized expertise, which in turn supports greater legitimacy of government decision-making. Given the different orientations of research conducted at universities (i.e. inquiry-driven) versus government in-house (i.e. mandate-driven), during an era focused on increasing collaboration there will likely be continued confusion over who does what research. Recognizing that ongoing fiscal pressures will require prioritization of in-house activities, care must be taken to ensure that there are sufficient resources to support research on matters of the public good such as consumer protection (e.g. food and product safety), environmental protection, and national security.

Steward of Canada’s Democratic System and Values: Duty with Honour in a Diverse Canada, and an Uncertain World

The role of security and justice institutions may remain similar in 2017 compared to today, but the nature of their operating environment will change. A less deferential and increasingly diverse public will insist that institutions such as the RCMP, Courts, and national security agencies become more representative of society, accountable to the public, and aware of human rights as they fulfill their duties. In terms of the Canadian Forces, ongoing global threats such as failed states as well as potential new challenges (e.g. requirements to rapidly deploy to domestic and international crises) may necessitate an elevated operational tempo.

Civic institutions will continue to struggle with how to engage a generation that has expressed less interest in participating in the formal democratic process, but has instead focused on more informal mechanisms of participation in civic life. In an era where technology allows for greater opportunities to communicate, but audiences are increasingly fragmented, new outreach strategies will need to be developed to connect society to the democratic process.

This cartoon shows a Minister and Deputy Minister in 2017. They are using an iWall screen for a briefing. In the panel, the caption reads, “Working in the Public Service will require effective collaboration and management of knowledge that makes use of innovative technologies”. The Minister says, “What’s up with the economy?” The Deputy Minister says, “Let’s bring up the long-term trends...” The Ministers asks, “Is this up to date?” The Deputy Minister says, “Let’s call the experts across government.” The Minister says, “What’s going on in the rest of the world?” The screen shows experts in different countries. The Deputy Minister thinks to herself, “So glad I was in canada@150, because briefings are finally collaborative, use great Canadian-based tech and allows me to access the right knowledge, data, and people. Any place, any time...” The Minister says, “That was the best 5 minute briefing I’ve ever had.” The Deputy Minister says, “Yes Minister.” The iWall shows a message that says, “Safe Mode in 0:03s”.
Policy Advisor, Researcher, and Communicator: Providing Policy-on-Demand while Passing the Torch

In 2017, technology will make it easier and less costly for anyone to contribute to the design and implementation of public policy, further expanding the existing tent of policy players. The policy community in the Public Service, like regulators, will also need to become more flexible to provide accurate and comprehensive advice to decision-makers on a real-time basis. The increasingly global and complex nature of policy problems may also put pressure on traditional public service organizational models by demanding collaborative and speedy policy responses that can also be communicated across existing and new media platforms. Moreover, by 2017, the generational shift in the Public Service will leave behind a much younger cohort that is perhaps less loyal to the organization, making institutional memory more difficult to develop and retain. However, technology could enable enhanced collaboration across a wider geographic reach as well as more effective capturing of institutional memory.

Negotiator Representing Canadians: A Multi-Level Interface for a Multi-polar World

In 2017, the federal government will continue to collaborate and negotiate domestically and globally with other orders of government and institutions; however, as the size, complexity, and number of Canada’s urban areas and self-governing Aboriginal groups increases, there will be an expanded need to interface directly with municipal and Aboriginal governments. Internationally, Canada will need to balance working more cooperatively with the United States on continental issues with the maintaining its influence in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the G-8 and G-20, and the World Trade Organization, in the context of new rising powers. A challenge will be not only to enable current commu nities of public servants working in these areas to play their current role in a resource-constrained future, but also to link and involve them with the players in policy and program areas where their specialized expertise is brought to bear on medium- and long-term challenges, as opposed to mostly tactical issue management.

Manager of Federal Programs and Enabler of Non-Government Organizations: Overcoming Risk-Aversion to Make Change Happen

The business-lines of government may be one of the most difficult areas about which to make predictions because of its breadth and the relative scale of uncertainty that currently exists around its future role. If the 2009 trend of an expanded role of government continues through new or enhanced fiscal policy projects outward to 2017 (e.g. additional infrastructure spending, higher transfers to individuals such as increased pension payments or retraining initiatives, etc.), this would make the federal government a much more visible player in the lives of Canadians, reversing a trend of the 1990’s where the federal government withdrew from several program areas and relied on the private and third sectors to fill in the gaps. On the other hand, the increased fiscal burden of current stimulus measures as well as the medium-term imperative to balance the budget may constrain the growth of the federal government, or even cause it to contract.

Whether the size of the federal government grows or retrenches, public servants will need to become more skilled at communicating the benefits of calculated risk-taking to Canadians and decision-makers. Risk-taking is essential to ensuring that new programs and initiatives are sufficiently innovative to meet their objectives, or alternatively that a lower overall number of government dollars are creatively used to achieve better results within a smaller fiscal footprint. To enable public servants to implement these types of initiatives and overcome risk-aversion, accountability structures will need to be designed with an aim of encouraging learning and improvement, as opposed to succumbing to the tendency to punish for inevitable, honest mistakes. In either scenario, the greatest risk to effective government programming is that initiatives will be too cautious in their scope and execution, and fail to meet the ambitious results that Canadians and decision-makers expect.

4. PS 2.017: The canada@150 Vision

Following the analysis of where we are today and what is changing, the obvious question is: Now what? Given our thoughts and projections, what is our hope for the Public Service of the future?

What comes next is our vision. This is not a vision of what we think the future Public Service will be, but rather what we would like the Public Service to be. This vision is about how we feel the Public Service should evolve to effectively address both the challenges we are facing today as well as those we foresee, while also building an organization that is the best place to work in Canada. In some cases, our vision is supported by current renewal work or research. In others, it is based on our collective experience as early-career public servants.

No vision of the future is perfect, but it is a tool to guide us on our journey towards a public service in 2017 that will serve and be relevant to Canadians, meet and exceed their expectations, and earn and keep their trust. To do this, we asked ourselves five questions:

  • What kinds of people and skills will we need?
  • How will we manage our talent?
  • How will we work?
  • What kinds of instruments will we use?
  • Who else will we work with and in what ways?

Our answers to these questions, taken together, represent our vision: PS 2.017.

PS 2.017 is 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.

We discuss each of these elements below and propose specific ideas that would begin the transformation of PS 2.017 from a vision to a reality, as Canada approaches its 150th anniversary. We have organized our ideas into three groups: those general principles that we must acknowledge to achieve our vision; some concrete actions that we should undertake to achieve measurable progress towards these general principles; and, lastly, bolder or perhaps more challenging ideas that would change our world as public servants. We invite you to use our vision and these ideas as a starting point in your own conversations around the policy challenges facing Canada in 2017, and the type of public service we need to create to overcome these challenges.3

4.1. What Kinds of People and Skills will we Need?

The greatest strength of the Public Service is its quarter million employees, many of whom are deeply passionate about their work and dedicated to serving their country, their departments, and their communities.

Our ability to continue this contribution, however, depends on our ability to re-engineer our organization. In his 2009 Report to the Prime Minister, the Clerk of the Privy Council noted that “...if the public service were to continue to play its essential role in the country, we would need to place a significant, long-term focus on renewal – not only in attracting new recruits to replace people retiring, but also in developing and renewing the capacities of those continuing their careers, and in looking for new skills and new ways of doing things to meet the future challenges.”

PS 2.017 focuses on empowering and enabling employees to innovate, collaborate, and succeed, whether across the hall, across government, or across the world. While a great deal of work has already been done on realigning the human resources (HR) system, much more needs to be done so that it is a proactive tool for organizational change and effectiveness. The heart of HR should not be about process, paper, or procedures, but rather about people.

4.1.1. The Public Service of 2017 should Reflect the Diversity of the Country

“In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.”

Bill Clinton. Speech to Parliament of Canada, February 23, 1995.

It is imperative that the Public Service reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the country. Our diversity will enable access to, and the tailoring of, governmental services for an increasingly diverse citizenry. Diversity goes beyond principles of employment equity or equal access. It means valuing our geographic diversity and non-governmental experiences, whether private sector, third sector, or academic. Our experience as participants in canada@150 has led us to conclude that such diversity fuels the creativity, collaboration, skills, and mind-sets that we will need for 2017.

We must:

  • Ensure that recruitment and hiring practices eliminate discrimination against experience in the private, academic or third sector.
  • Recognize ethnic and religious diversity by embracing role models and eliminating procedures that discourage the full participation of everyone in the Public Service.

We should:

  • Refrain from using the internet as the sole medium for external recruitment. Many Canadians continue to have limited access to the internet.
  • Ensure that managers are aware of and promote the use of all the recruitment tools at their disposal, including Employment Equity programs.
  • Cease giving preference to Canadian citizens in recruitment processes. This would broaden the pool of eligible, high-quality candidates, facilitate diversity, and also address the expected shortages of available talent.
  • Enable under-represented ethnic groups of public servants to reach out as role models and foster interest and excitement about potential opportunities in the Public Service.
  • Allow employees to opt-out of Christian holidays, replaced with significant days of their faith in lieu.

This would change our world:

  • As has been done for external competitions, remove whenever possible geographic and departmental barriers for competitions inside the Public Service. Cross-pollination within the Public Service appears to be not only desirable but necessary.
4.1.2 The Public Service of 2017 Should View Employees as Corporate-Wide Assets and Hire Candidates into the Public Service – not a Department or a Position

“Effective recruitment means more than just getting good people on our roster. It’s really about getting the right people in the right jobs at the right time to meet the business needs of public sector organizations.”

The Honourable Kevin G. Lynch, former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. 2009. Sixteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister. Ottawa: Privy Council Office.

As relatively new public servants, we are often mystified by current hiring practices. It seems to take forever to hire someone, yet we have a surplus of talent within and wanting to get into the Public Service. We are in a world of constant change, and our hiring process seems to be standing still. Public servants will value a quick, responsive, and flexible system.

The competitive advantage of the Public Service in theory at least is that it offers an individual the chance to pursue multiple opportunities across the country and around the world, all within one organization. Secondment and deployment opportunities notwithstanding, however, our experience in canada@150 suggests that the present appointment processes and classification levels do limit candidates’ mobility and their ability to utilize their skills across the Public Service. We have watched engineers, biologists, and mathematicians craft innovative policies alongside “policy wonks” and lawyers, and cannot help but wonder whether current classification levels and position numbers do in fact restrict the organization’s ability to draw on the full range of a public servant’s skills and talents. The Public Service of 2017 will need to view its employees as a corporate-wide asset.

We must:

  • Move away from a reactive and transactional approach to hiring staff (e.g. one position for one person with specifically defined responsibilities) to a more strategic approach (one position for multiple possibilities and responsibilities).
  • Engage in honest recruiting, ensuring that candidates are not over-sold on what they will be doing; providing a realistic job preview ensures that the candidate is making an informed decision.
  • Enhance the ability for employees to have flexible career-paths between departments and outside the Public Service as part of an equally respected and rewarding career of service to Canadians.

We should:

  • Create cross-cutting selection boards for pools that include multiple departments, as well as more active participation from a breadth of functional groups and classification levels.
  • Make greater use of internal and external pools to identify employees that would be assets to the Public Service.
  • Use different tools for assessing potential employees (e.g. 360 degree performance appraisals), provide more flexible open-ended interview questions, and conduct the interview in a manner appropriate to the type of work (e.g. if the position is in a call centre, use a phone interview.)
  • Maintain candidates’ status in qualified pools even if they are offered employment as a result of that pool, so managers and employees have more choices.
  • Provide one gc.ca email address that stays with an employee throughout their public service career to lower transaction costs of increased mobility across departments.
  • Recruit with a view to forming teams instead of filling positions.

This would change our world:

  • Create multi-disciplinary task forces, or professional clusters, that work at the strategic level across departmental, functional groups, and classification levels.
  • Provide employees with greater ability to move both within and outside the Public Service. Offering such flexibility will enable the Public Service to compete with the private and third sectors for talent and provide greater opportunity to retain talent in the long term.

This picture shows a series of outstretched hands forming a circle. In the centre of the circle is the text, “Collaboration is everything.”

 

4.1.3 La fonction publique de 2017 sera engagée dans une politique et des programmes de bilinguisme qui mettront l’accent sur la communication, et non la compétition

In the spirit of the following recommendation, this section of the report is purposely in French. The French report has this section in English.

“Le bilinguisme est une de nos caractéristiques distinctives. (...) Le défi consiste à en faire une réalité, à le rendre inclusif, non exclusif. Le défi consiste à convaincre tout le monde de ses bienfaits.”

Beverly Nann. 2005. “My view...” in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services. Beverly Nann. 2005.

La Constitution canadienne et la Loi sur les langues officielles font du français et de l’anglais les deux langues officielles du Canada. Présentement, la mise en oeuvre de la politique de bilinguisme de l’appareil fédéral fait l’objet de critiques. La politique de bilinguisme aggra verait les difficultés de recrutement et de motivation auprès des employés, particulièrement ceux qui désirent grimper les échelons. L’apprentissage de la deuxième langue officielle pourrait être perçu comme un obstacle. De plus, les nouveaux arrivants au Canada ont contri bués et continueront d’accentuer le visage multilingue du Canada, étant donné leur augmentation nécessaire à la croissance démographique. Pour eux, l’apprentissage des deux langues officielles de cette terre d’accueil est primordial pour une intégration au sein de la société canadienne, sans pour autant écarter la richesse de leur culture. Il est donc impératif que la fonction publique valorise la dualité linguistique en vivant pleinement son approche et en adoptant des pratiques appropriées et efficaces sur le terrain.

Notre vision à cet égard se résume à une compréhension des deux langues officielles de la part de tous les fonctionnaires, afin que chacun puisse s’exprimer et travailler dans la langue de son choix. Notre vision comprend également des gestionnaires d’équipes dans les régions désignées bilingues qui donnent l’exemple non seulement en encourageant un environnement de travail bilingue, mais également en travaillant eux même dans les deux langues officielles et en créant des opportunités pour ses employés de pratiquer leur seconde langue officielle régulièrement.

Nous devons:

  • Réviser le modèle de formation des langues secondes en favorisant la formation de base pour tous les fonctionnaires fédéraux, afin qu’ils aient une compréhension orale et écrite des deux langues officielles. Ainsi, les individus pourraient commu niquer davantage dans la langue de leur choix.
  • Encourager sérieusement, par le biais des gestionnaires, les fonctionnaires à travailler dans la langue officielle de leur choix ou à pratiquer leur langue seconde, afin que le bilinguisme devienne davantage vivant et que l’apprentissage de la langue seconde soit facilité.
  • Exiger des gestionnaires un niveau de bilinguisme passif (compréhension orale et écrite). Pour les gestionnaires en région désignée bilingue par la Loi sur les langues officielles, il est indispensable d’exiger un niveau de bilinguisme actif (capacité de parler et écrire dans leur langue seconde) et de s’assurer, par preuve de rendement à l’appui, que le travail et les communications sont réalisées dans les deux langues officielles.
  • Faire preuve de flexibilité : les gestionnaires exceptionnels sont rares; ils devraient être promus et appuyés dans l’apprentissage de leur langue seconde.

Nous devrions:

  • Être stratégique dans la formation en langue seconde en offrant des opportunités aux nouveaux employés (la prochaine génération).
  • Diversifier et améliorer la façon d’enseigner les langues secondes. La technologie Web 2.0 permettrait la formation en ligne aux fonctionnaires de même niveau, peu importe leur région géographique. Aussi, la mise en commun des ressources dédiées à la formation en langue seconde des différents ministères en faciliterait l’accessibilité tout en réduisant les coûts.
  • Inciter les gestionnaires à parler et à travailler dans les deux langues officielles, particulièrement dans les régions désignées bilingues, et récom penser ces initiatives en les désignant comme de “bonnes pratiques”.
  • Insister ou exiger le maintien du niveau de langue seconde obtenu, afin d’inciter l’individu à vivre pleinement le bilinguisme et démontrer un respect pour l’investissement consenti.

Notre monde changerait pour le mieux... si la nouvelle vision de la fonction publique intégrait les cultures francophone et anglophone dans les institutions fédérales:

  • Offrir et encourager la formation en langue seconde à tous les nouveaux employés indéterminés afin que tous comprennent les deux langues officielles, si possible, en début de carrière.
  • Offrir et encourager des stages d’immersion dans des régions unilingues, particulièrement en début de carrière, ce qui combinerait ’apprentissage de la langue seconde tout en progressant dans sa carrière.

4.2 How will we Manage our Talent?

Managing talent is about ensuring that Canadians have the best Public Service possible serving them today and in 2017 through meeting the unique needs of each employee. All public servants place value on the opportunity to contribute meaningfully. In 2017, employees will desire a public service that values their contributions, whether they spent 5 years or 35 years in the organization. Employees want a culture of organizational excellence where great performers are rewarded, poor performers receive remediation, and managers have the tools and support needed to achieve both of these objectives.

4.2.1 The Public Service of 2017 should be a Trusting Organization

“As we move rapidly into an even more transparent interdependent global reality, trust is more career critical than it has ever been....Low trust is the greatest cost in life and in organizations...”

Stephen Covey. 2006. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything. New York: Free Press.

Trust is an overarching theme of this report and the entire canada@150 experience. In the HR context, meaningful trust must flow from management to employees before it can occur among employees. Many canada@150 participants observed that management creates a broad spectrum of work environments, ranging from those where an employee wants work until retirement versus those where employees start looking for a new position within weeks of arriving.

We must:

  • Invest the time and resources to teach an employee about their organization and their role.
  • Trust employees to do their job and be creative about solutions.
  • Allow employees the freedom to think outside the box, to question, and to challenge without being seen as naive or combative but rather as innovative and curious.

We should:

  • Conduct exit interviews with every employee retiring from or leaving the Public Service and follow-up on valid recommendations.
  • Allow people to manage levels above them on project teams, within reason.
  • Use tools, like the Situational Leadership Assessment, to work with new managers to help them identify areas for improvement early on in their career so that they do not develop bad habits that last a lifetime.

This would change our world:

  • Have mandatory training for supervisors and managers that includes the concepts of trust, delegation, leadership, and communication style. Foster the development of these soft management skills across the Public Service, not just those in “management” classifications.
  • Employ full-time coaches (not volunteer mentors) who would work with 50 to 100 new supervisors or managers for a period of one year to develop the skills needed to successfully manage people and projects.
  • Create targets for alternative work arrangements (e.g. compressed work weeks, flex time, telework, etc.) to demonstrate that these practices are viable and provide results.

This is a bar graph of a fictional Public Service Report Card in 2017. The following countries are shown according to a United Nations ranking: Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Iraq, Jamaica, Lilliput, Mexico, Micronesia, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Utopia. Canada has the highest ranking.

 

4.2.2 The Public Service of 2017 should be a Learning Organization

“A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.”

Chinese Proverb

In an age of change and complexity, knowledge is power. To effectively play the roles that will be expected of public servants, we must constantly renew our skills and adapt to new ways. For this to happen, learning must become a natural part of our work life. In 2017, we envision learning as a culture, not a compliance and reporting issue.

We must:

  • See learning as something that happens everyday, not just for a current job but for whole careers.
  • Use learning as a motivator for the employee and as a strategic resource for the employer. Continuous learning needs to be the expectation.
  • Tap into the talent of all employees regardless of whether it fits within their job description.
  • Make sure learning is natural to an organization, is conducted in house, and is easily applied to the real work environment.

We should:

  • Create annual training plans designed by Career Managers (see Section 4.2.3 for an explanation of Career Managers) or a dedicated Learning Professional based on the needs of each classifi cation within an organization.
  • Make managers and employees accountable for what they get out of their learning activities, not just whether they completed them.
  • Include an annual series of self-directed learning days to allow employees to attend workshops, education upgrading, networking, distance edu cation, and language training.
  • Increase our use of developmental programs, expanding it beyond management and policy into areas like program management and procurement.
  • Develop courses that allow Administrative Assistants to become Executive Assistants.
  • Have employees train each other.

This would change our world:

  • Have the Clerk of the Privy Council set a theme for training and development each year, in keeping with the priorities of the day. As an example 2010 would be a good year to promote diversity and cross-cultural awareness with the Olympics taking place. This wouldn’t limit training opportunities but rather create a shared knowledge by public servants each year.
  • Allow for private and third sector assignments, secondments, or acting opportunities as a way to bring new ideas into the Public Service.
  • Honour other forms of learning, including college diplomas, not just university degrees in recruiting.
4.2.3 The Public Service of 2017 should be an Employer of Choice

In 2017, labour shortages will be increasingly common, creating a highly competitive labour market for employers. To become an employer of choice that retains the talent necessary to achieve its objectives, the Public Service of 2017 will need to offer flexible, innovative, and motivating work environments. Many public servants feel they contribute meaningfully everyday, but others feel as though they are cogs in a wheel. Every employee has a special talent or skill set; however, their employers may fail to fully tap these advantages, especially when they are not identified in the employee’s job description, resulting in lost opportunities for both the individual and the organization.

We must:

  • Provide opportunities to work on files, projects, or programs that have an impact on the lives of ordinary Canadians.
  • Support active and healthy lifestyles of employees.
  • Provide creative and social space so that employees can actively engage in conversations outside of a boardroom.

We should:

  • Build new facilities with an eye to on-site daycare, fitness centres, spaces for religious practice, bike racks, change rooms, shower facilities, and green spaces. Facilities should also include healthy eating options and dedicated space for eating away from one’s primary work station.
  • Design buildings to suit the type of work rather than follow a universal footprint.
  • Develop a Well-Being Index for the Public Service that could be incorporated within the existing Public Service Employee Survey.

This would change our world:

  • Create HR Career Managers, who are responsible for developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a portfolio of employees to ensure that overall organizational needs are being met. Career Managers would have the aggregate data of when and where positions become available and they would help steer members of their portfolio into opportunities.
  • Hire people to positions on fixed three- to five-year terms where both sides can recognize changes in classification level within that position.
  • Allow for 80 percent of an employee’s time to be spent on core business related to their job description and the other 20 percent to be available for other work outside of the formal job description that is of value to the Public Service and to Canadians.
4.2.4 The Public Service of 2017 Should Deal with Poor Employee Performance

There are almost as many factors that lead to employee performance problems as there are employees. To be effective in a world of 2017 characterized by globalization and high citizen-expectations of government, the Public Service must address poor performance.

A key driver for poor performance is conflict. We envision an organization where all employees will have an understanding of basic tools for assertive communication and harassment education and training, so that there is a shared responsibility for all parties to address concerns before they become complaints.

We must:

  • View performance deficiencies first as a systemic problem, not just an employee problem.
  • Ensure managers explain the job and performance expectations to candidates before they accept a position.
  • Provide a consistent Employee Assistance Program that always uses external providers to ensure anonymity and maximize comfort with the system.
  • Provide consistent mandatory training on what constitutes harassment in the Public Service.

We should:

  • Allow employees who are totally dissatisfied at work to voluntarily come forward without risk of reprisal and find deployment opportunities.
  • Use coaches to work with the employee on behavioural issue outside of the chain of command and thus in a more neutral environment.
  • Use an intervention approach by having those affected by a performance issue address the individual, instead of the too common approach of complaining to a supervisor.
  • Encourage the use of probationary periods to actively evaluate employee performance, and invoke disciplinary procedures, including written documentation on an employee’s personnel file when appropriate.

This would change our world:

  • Terminate employees when there is just cause, as the cost to an organization of not terminating a poor employee is often much higher in terms of sick leave by other staff, stress, poisonous environments, and low morale.
  • Have a “three strikes and you’re out” policy to demonstrate commitment to eliminating aggressive behaviour in the workplace.

4.3 How will we Work?

Effectively addressing the challenges facing Canada in 2017 will require a Public Service that works horizontally, both effortlessly and seamlessly. Collaboration ensures a holistic approach and recognizes that complex issues are inherently horizontal. The complex problems of 2017 should benefit from multiple perspectives. Through our experience with canada@150, we have realized that many branches and sectors in the federal government are working on the same issues: this is inefficient and can lead to contradictory approaches and territorialism around who “owns” an issue. Whether in relation to sustainable development, being economically competitive in a multi-polar world, or ensuring social cohesion in an increasingly diverse Canada, we have recognized that the Public Service of 2017 should collaborate more within departments and between departments, across regions, and with stakeholders.

To facilitate this collaboration, one important tool that is already emerging is Web 2.0 platforms and social media. It is our opinion that e-government (sometimes called Government 2.0) does indeed have the potential to foster better policy outcomes, higher quality services, and greater engagement with citizens. But this is not necessarily the case. In order to maximize the potential of e-government, the Public Service of 2017 will have to become more technologically savvy.

4.3.1 The Public Service of 2017 Should be Collaborative

Creating a culture of collaboration will require addressing how the Public Service functions. It will require public servants to be comfortable with or at least accepting of the level of risk, uncertainty, and compromise that collaboration entails. Public servants will need to work better with each other and stop thinking in divisional or departmental silos. Public servants who work beyond the boundaries of their department will also need to be supported and rewarded to encourage others to do the same.

We must:

  • Institutionalize and develop expertise in collabo rative processes. Clarify the different ways in which collaboration can occur and the criteria to consider when planning how to collaborate.
  • Leverage existing capacity across sectors by partnering more often.
  • Explore the barriers to collaboration, both inside and outside of the Public Service, that prevent or limit the ability of public servants in each functional community from reaching out to partners.
  • Facilitate a dedicated “neutral play space” for deliberation to foster collaboration, innovation, and creativity.

We should:

  • Create and encourage networks of knowledge brokers that cross departmental boundaries based on expertise (e.g. communities of practice) or functional role (e.g. Official Language champions or Human Resources officers).
  • Increase the use of tools and forums to encourage policy debate across functional communities and experience levels.
  • Work increasingly in clusters and centres of expertise – whether they be virtual or actual – to benefit from advice on processes and resources. Project-based teams with representatives from different functional communities could leverage broader viewpoints and ground discussion in operational context.
  • Insist that senior staff make a habit of bringing junior staff with them to meetings. This would help junior staff develop more effective briefing materials by understanding first-hand the dynamics of a given file but also give them insight on what the next steps may be and permit more effective work.

This would change our world:

  • Create one central government library (real and virtual) for books, reference materials, and journal subscriptions that all public servants can access to ensure better availability, use, and uptake of information in policy development.
  • In order to unlock potential and opportunities for innovation, we must shift the culture and procedures of the Public Service towards systematic sharing of information, whenever possible.
4.3.2 The Public Service of 2017 Should Embrace Regional Differences

Although 60 percent of the Public Service work outside the National Capital, it often feels like 100 percent of the opportunities and anything of value are in the National Capital Region. By and large, Ottawa tends to do a poor job of disseminating policy discussions to regions, as well as not fully considering advice that comes from the regions. Understanding the nature of the complex challenges facing us in 2017, an era of shifting geopolitics and increasingly autonomous regions, will require a stronger and better coordinated regional presence across the federal government. Moreover, embracing a place-based approach at the federal level means recognizing that local governments and other local actors are often the best suited for developing and implementing local solutions. At the same time, it also recognizes the federal enabling role as a party with considerable expertise and resources.

We must:

  • Learn how to harness the collective knowledge of our regional colleagues and better incorporate them into the policy and decision-making processes.
  • Make conscious and deliberate decisions about delegating responsibilities to other orders of government and not view this as a default option.
  • Develop place-based policy, not only deliver service locally.
  • Interpret the principle of equal access to equal services through a regional lens, in order to meet varying needs and community requirements.

We should:

  • Conduct meetings in the region concerned with the issue being discussed.
  • Utilize available technologies, including video- conferencing, and other best practices from departments that have effective regional offices.
  • Allow regional offices to build both the internal capacity as well as the external relationships required to maximize the federal government’s enabling roles.
  • Increase opportunities for face-to-face networking to enhance trust between regional employees and those in the National Capital Region.
  • Have proportional representation of senior management and corporate services dispersed into district offices.

This would change our world:

  • Employ a human resources generalist in regions so that HR is done in place, not in major centres divorced from the regional reality.
  • Have policy analysts, communication specialists, and senior managers proactively spend time in the regions they serve to better understand local contexts and complex operational realities.
  • Establish a comprehensive service centre (e.g. Post Office 2.017) in all small communities that would deliver regionally-appropriate information and services for all orders of government. These offices would operate with shared employees, capital, and technology. If possible, elected representatives could co-locate their offices in these facilities to ensure responsiveness of services and on-site opportunities for citizens to provide feedback and ideas.

The cartoon imagines a day in the life of Joe, a public servant, in 2017. The captions read, “8:00 am, Joe carpools in his electric car.” “9:30 am, Video call.” “12:00 pm, workplace wellness centre.” “3:00 pm, catching up on ‘paper work’ “. “5:00 pm, GoC daycare centre.” The final caption reads, “Great work-life balance.”

 

4.3.3 The Public Service of 2017 Should be Technologically Savvy

“This paper was developed leveraging Web 2.0...”

MacMillan, P., A. Medd and P. Huges. 2008. Change your world or the world will change you: The future of collaborative government and Web 2.0. Deloitte.

Bearing in mind that the Public Service is presently made up of a diverse cross-section of Canadians and that technologies that have been rolled out are often incompatible, it is neither surprising nor unreasonable that the uptake of information and communication technology (ICT) is inconsistent. Thinking ahead to 2017, however, it seems clear that the challenges of the future will require an “all hands on deck” shift towards e-government: the use of ICT to provide and improve government services, transactions and interactions with citizens, businesses, and other orders of government, as Canadians increasingly demand it.

While technology is neither a panacea for good and effective government, nor a substitute for the important personal relationships and connections that must be built and fostered off-line, our research and experience suggests that the use of such enabling technologies will not only be useful but a necessary component of the Public Service in 2017.

We must:

  • Continue to experiment with new technology and create solutions to deliver e-government.
  • Identify legislative and other barriers that limit the full deployment of technology in the public interest.4 Examples include budgetary restraints and provisions of the Privacy Act.

We should:

  • Make new technological tools available to all employees, not just executives or elite groups, who would benefit from their use.
  • Pilot new and innovative technology applications in theme-based areas to demonstrate quick wins, changing the culture of apprehension around information technology.
  • Ensure that adoption of new technology not only focuses on the “hardware” of how it works, but also the “software” of how people can use it most effectively.
  • Create a mobile application that links directly to government services through a canada.gc.ca portal. Expand the limited capability that already exists, such as on-demand border wait-times.

This would change our world:

  • Deploy consistent and interconnected technology platforms across the federal government to facilitate improved collaboration and eliminate barriers due to outdated or incompatible technology.
  • Use technology as an aid to improving corporate memory instead of a factor that degrades it. For example, replace forgotten shared drive paths and a single individual’s email inbox with corporate-wide wiki platforms.

4.4 What Kind of Instruments will Government Use?

In 2017, in response to complex problems and resource constraints, the federal government will increasingly need to rely on new instruments of policy development as a means of achieving policy objectives. Countries will be looking beyond traditional “regulation” and will seek new or modified instruments, such as adjustment programs, capacity building, education, decentralization, market mechanisms, partnerships, and networks. In order to appropriately select the optimal suite of policy instruments, the Public Service will need to learn new techniques for developing policy responses. Foresight tools such as causal layered analysis, understanding of historical precedents, current realities, and future scenarios can provide the necessary mechanism to ensure that we have the knowledge we need, when we need it, and some insight on how to best use it.

Taking advantage of alternative policy instruments and alternative policy development will require a new approach to managing public resources. Budgeting processes that are currently locked into forced annual periods stifle innovation and prejudice resource allocation to align with short- term electoral cycles at the expense of long-term goals. The Public Service of 2017 should embrace fully-integrated long-term financial planning process where a proportion of budgets are dedicated to multi-year projects.

4.4.1 The Public Service of 2017 Should Champion Alternative Policy Instrument Development

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

E.O. Wilson. 1998. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Our institutions were developed based on historical relationships and ways of perceiving the world. To address increased uncertainty and citizen expectations in 2017, we need foresight mechanisms to move us beyond old ways of perceiving the world and into the new dynamic and ever-changing reality. Globalization will drive a new set of complex and trans-boundary issues, discouraging simplistic policy solutions mired in jurisdictional concerns and replacing them with novel approaches grounded in credible evidence.

We must:

  • Shift our focus from what is urgent to what is important.
  • Plan for the medium-term (three to seven years) and the long-term (seven or more years), not only the short-term (less than 3 years).
  • Address complex issues with policy suites, including traditional regulation, education, voluntary standards, and market-based instruments.
  • Engage in truly integrated planning by considering the fiscal, human, and physical capital necessary to deliver on our on plans while taking into account the implications for our partners.
  • Recognize, claim, and articulate the role of long-term custodian of the public good as one of the Public Service’s key functions.

We should:

  • Look to other countries that have more experience with alternative policy instruments to enhance our understanding of what works (e.g. “State of Knowledge” assessments).
  • Provide training opportunities for all public servants on using foresight and planning in day-to-day work.
  • Build on the Treasury Board Secretariat’s guidelines and the Management Accountability Framework assessment process by placing increased emphasis on longer-term reporting and performance measurement.

This would change our world:

  • Foster governance models that take into account not only the appropriate spatial scales, but also temporal ones (e.g. to address environ mental issues).
  • Shift our focus from creating visible artifacts (i.e. reports) to changing attitudes that embrace foresight and long-term planning.
  • Increase the flexibility of the fiscal cycle, planning, budgeting, and reporting processes.

4.5 Who Else will we Work with, and in what Ways?

“To be complex does not mean to be fragmented. This is the paradox and the genius of our Canadian civilization.”

Adrienne Clarkson. 1999. Installation Speech as Governor General of Canada, Ottawa, October 7.

To effectively address globalization and the decline of deference, the Public Service of 2017 must work with all other parts of society, including other departments, other governments, stakeholder groups, and citizens. As policy issues become more complex and multi-jurisdictional, it is no longer possible to assume that the federal government – or any single player – alone can effectively address a major policy challenge. Moreover, greater demands will be placed on government to include outside voices in policy-making. Tapping into the dispersed sources of expertise, knowledge, and capacity outside of the Public Service will become ever more important to be able to successfully address challenges in a timely, sustainable, and legitimate way.

4.5.1 The Public Service of 2017 Should Move Beyond Consultation to Truly Engage with Citizens and Stakeholders

“To be wise, go out and meet people.”

African proverb

Although consultation is already an important part of how government works, it is most often undertaken by public servants who are trained as subject-experts rather than engagement specialists. This leads to a patchwork of consultative processes that are too often late, poorly planned, and unappreciated by all parties. Moreover, current consultative techniques tend to be less inclusive than the continuous engagement we envision to drive democracy as an ongoing process and not a periodic exercise. Engagement can mean many things depending on the circumstances: communicating, consulting, cooperating, negotiating, partnering, and sharing. At its heart, engagement means talking and listening to people, building relationships based on trust, and working together towards a common objective.

Although a crucial factor towards addressing the complex challenges ahead, engagement is not simply about better outcomes. Engagement is also viewed as fundamental to rebuilding public trust and strengthening Canada’s democratic institutions, as both knowledge and legitimacy are distributed widely. For engagement to be of value it must be bounded by key principles, such as integrity, ethics, respect, good faith, and a willingness to resolve the problem.

We must:

  • Build capacity within marginalized groups, to ensure that they can participate meaningfully in engagement processes.
  • Experiment with new and innovative means of engagement, such as citizens’ assemblies, citizens’ juries, open spaces, and deliberative polling, to name only a few alternatives.
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue across all stages policy development and implementation.

We should:

  • Establish centres of expertise in engagement in each department, such as those already established at Health Canada and Environment Canada. These offices would identify key stakeholders and ensure continuity of the relationships.
  • Learn and build from existing successes in multi-stakeholder engagement, such as the Clean Air Strategic Alliance and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
  • Effectively manage the “Consulting With Canadians” website www.consultingcanadians.gc.ca so that a single, up-to-date, Web 2.0-enabled portal can be accessed, reviewed, and commented on by the public.
  • Create community outreach or liaison positions in regional offices across the country who are charged with managing the relationships with specific communities and stakeholder groups for the federal government writ large.
  • Modify the means of managing grants and contri butions to facilitate the ability to provide capacity assistance to external groups in a timely and flexible way.
  • Establish and empower multi-stakeholder teams that bring together complementary skills from different sectors of society to address particular issues.

This would change our world:

  • Establish foundations dedicated to looking at particularly complex issues from multiple perspectives. Such arms-length organizations could build networks, bring people together, share information, and propose joint actions with government assistance but without government interference.5
  • Set aside the time and money required for relationship-building for the sake of relationship-building particularly for communities with whom the federal government holds a special relationship or have traditionally been left out of the policy-making process.
  • Make the norm, not the exception, the creation of ongoing opportunities for meaningful dialogue and collaborative decision-making by citizens and stakeholders. This could include both one-off processes, such as citizens’ assemblies and royal commissions that look at specific issues in need of immediate decisions, as well as ongoing processes that allow for continuous interaction, such as online forums, annual budget dialogues, or publishing white papers for national debate.

This picture shows a man at a desk surrounded by files. He says, in three separate word balloons, “I’m not responsible for that,” “That’s my file!” and “8 to 4, not a minute more.”
4.5.2 The Public Service of 2017 should Work more Collaboratively with Other Orders of Government

Complex issues cross jurisdictions, and when the Constitution was written it did not anticipate the complex challenges of 2017, such as environmental degradation. Governments must join up to tackle complex issues in a holistic manner, rather than pursue narrow and project-specific intergovernmental alliances. The country will face major challenges if orders of government feel that the federal government is not willing to work with them on these broader issues. In addition, the increasing relevance of other orders of government such as municipalities and Aboriginal governments present both new challenges and opportunities for collaboration and service delivery.

We must:

  • Better integrate our processes, activities, and information with all orders of government, including provincial, territorial, municipal and Aboriginal governments.
  • Accompany delegations of responsibility with the requisite financial and capacity-building support to the receiving order of government.
  • Coordinate intergovernmental action at the ecosystem level, taking into consideration the natural world within which our communities exist and interact.

We should:

  • Hold conferences on an annual basis that bring together counterparts from all orders of government to build networks and relationships at the working level. Conference subjects would change annually to ensure that different parts of government would have an opportunity to participate.
  • Experiment more with joint delivery mechanisms of policy and programs.
  • Restore the practice of regular formal meetings between leaders of all levels of government to build consensus and take flexible action on complex policy challenges.

This would change our world:

  • Within the bounds of the Constitution, recon ceptualise jurisdictional lines and propose more radical solutions like joint-jurisdictional control and joined-up government. The current division of responsibilities is leading to sub-optimal outcomes, particularly in areas that no single government can control, such as the environment.
  • Develop place-based policy based on logical or ecological boundaries.
  • Different orders of government should jointly hire individuals specifically tasked to link best practices, opportunities for greater collaboration, and local service providers with appropriate funding sources.
4.5.3 The Public Service of 2017 should Respect a Model of Accountability Based on Trust

“Today, if anything keeps the world turning, it is trust. Without trust, there’s no benefit of the doubt given, everyone becomes a hapless fact-checker, and nothing gets done, no governmental decisions made, and little gets bought or sold in the marketplace.”

Edelman Corporation. 2006. Annual Trust Barometer.

The key to ensuring effective engagement is to establish relationships between the Public Service, elected officials, and Canadians based on mutual respect and trust. The accountability relationship between elected officials and the Public Service is based on what Donald Savoie describes as a “bargain”:

“...public servants exchanged overt partisanship and some political rights in return for permanent careers, anonymity, and merit selection. Politicians gave up the ability to appoint or dismiss public servants and to change their working conditions at will in exchange for civil servants’ guaranteeing non-partisan obedience and professional competence.”

(Savoie, D.J. 2003. Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.)

However, the traditional bargain is already changing. Increasingly public servants are now held directly and visibly accountable for certain specified activities (e.g. the Federal Accountability Act has brought into Canada something like the British concept of deputy ministers as “accounting officers” responsible for such things as the regularity, efficiency and effectiveness of the Public Service). There is a risk that this same trend could also discourage the more meaningful public engagement that we envision for 2017. A risk-averse culture that places a focus on short-term results, promotes an extremely low tolerance for making mistakes, and bases relationships on contractual responsibilities, makes it excessively difficult for public servants to develop the trusting relationships needed for meaningful public engagement or to accept the inherent risks in doing so. A new form of accountability built on ownership of process and outcomes, trust in partners, and a shared stake in the system that emerges is required to enable politicians and the Public Service to collaborate effectively in 2017.

We must:

  • Establish general principles that the Public Service be permitted and encouraged to consult with the public before decisions are taken, that input be considered, and that a diverse range of stakeholders be involved.
  • Ensure that more direct accountability for public servants does not inadvertently place strain on the relationship between politicians and the Public Service.
  • Continually reaffirm the non-partisan and loyal nature of the Public Service and stress these principles in the orientation of new employees and the professional development of existing employees.

We should:

  • Improve training of new Members of Parliament and all public servants, to ensure a baseline understanding of the machinery of government, why we uphold these practices, and the respective roles of politicians and the Public Service.
  • In instances where the government has made a clear decision on a policy issue, allow the Public Service to clearly convey to citizens and stakeholders what the expected outcomes of a consultation process are, so as to avoid positioning the Public Service as caught in the middle of citizens with high expectations of participation and elected officials with a clear mandate to implement.

This would change our world:

  • Explore how parliamentarians and the Public Service can work together, in a non-partisan way, to engage citizens in the policy development process. Creating a Parliamentary Office of Citizen Engagement within the Library of Parliament for all parliamentarians could assist in developing engagement techniques to complement the work of parliamentary committees.

  • Caucus Research Bureaus could also provide ongoing engagement opportunities for partisan supporters to feed into the policy development and planning for potential governments-in-waiting.6
4.5.4 The Public Service of 2017 Should be more Transparent

“The emergence of the internet has heightened expectation for more government transparency as an informationally empowered citizenry alters its views on authority and power, shunning deference and attaching far less importance to traditional representational roles and structures... information is the lifeblood of accountability.”

Jeffrey Roy. 2008. “Beyond Westminster governance: Bringing politics and public service into the networked era,” Canadian Public Administration. December. 51(4).

Transparency fosters both accountability and legitimacy, and could mitigate against the risk of the independence of the Public Service being questioned by citizens and stakeholders in an era of declining deference. Moreover, the Public Service will likely have no choice but to become more transparent in its dealings with the public, owing to the explosion of information communication technologies and, by 2017, the subsequent democratization of information and the empowerment of citizens. Coupled with increased collaboration both inside and outside of government, privacy structures and information-sharing restrictions will need to be reassessed, reworked, and adapted to fit new models of collaborative governance structures.

Even in this era, some information, such as actual policy advice to Ministers, may need to remain confidential to uphold the trust between elected officials and non-partisan public servants, as the former would simply stop requesting advice from the Public Service if it was known that advice would be made public. Further, if all advice was immediately made available, public servants may opt to self- censor, undermining their role of giving honest and frank policy advice to decision-makers. However, increasing the disclosure of advice could also clarify the decision-making process and the role of public servants within it. Striking an appropriate balance will involve trade-offs, both within the public sector and externally, where increased disclosure would require a public environment more open to using transparent information for broader purposes than highlighting mistakes and disagreements.7

This is a picture of two babies in front of a laptop. The babies are saying, in three separate word balloons, “What do you think?”, “On peut le faire!” and “Yes we can!”

 

We must:

  • Enshrine strong norms of transparency within the Public Service at all stages of an employee’s career.
  • Achieve a cultural shift towards greater transparency both within the Public Service and between the Public Service and Canadians.
  • Shift the conversation around transparency from one exclusively linked to accountability to one of providing a key service to Canadians.

We should:

  • Promptly disclose and make available as much information as possible to Canadians, particularly factual information produced by public servants (e.g. scientific studies, summaries of consultations, public data) and information concerning the administration of government programs (e.g. how public money is spent, internal evaluations of programs).
  • Transition away from reactive disclosure systems (i.e. Access to Information Act) to proactive systems.
  • Use modern technology, and the technology of the future, to enable transparency in ways previously unimagined and deliver government information through channels that citizens demand (e.g. provide options to receive documents in different digital formats as well as hard copy).

This would change our world:

  • Experiment with making the Public Service’s advice process more transparent by reducing the 20-year waiting period on the release of most policy advice.
  • Recognize individuals and agencies that demonstrate excellence in transparency, and actively discourage or prohibit business practices counter to transparency (e.g. deliberately not writing down minutes of a meeting so that no record is produced, or self-censoring advice for fear that it could one day appear in the media).

5. Next Steps

“If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead there.”

Alice in Wonderland.

Throughout this report, we have sought to draw out what, in our view, should be the fundamental themes of public service renewal towards 2017. We have come to these themes after spending a year thinking about and examining the challenges Canada may face in the future. It is clear to us that Canada will need a Public Service built on trust, collaboration, and flexibility. Certainly, these qualities can be used to describe the nature of our own work and interactions throughout this past year. Looking forward, it is with a deep sense of gratitude that we step out of our roles as participants in this innovative renewal initiative and into our new ones as agents for change within the broader Public Service community. In this respect, each of us, and the skills we have acquired, represents an addendum to this report.

Another fundamental theme of our report, and indeed of the entire canada@150 experience, is preparedness: the need to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges – and those of 2017 – today. In a sense, this can be considered our final recommendation, and the one of which we are perhaps the most certain. In keeping with the spirit of the journey we have undertaken, we conclude by extending an invitation to our fellow public servants, as well as our elected representatives and all Canadians, to join us in continuing this important discussion and to share their vision for what is, after all, their Public Service.

A bold and confident Canada at 150 is waiting for us.

Notes

  1. Statistics Canada. 2005. Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories 2005-2031. Catalogue no. 91-520-XIE. Ottawa: Industry Canada. Retrieved June 1, 2009
  2. Zussman, D. 2008. “Governance: The New Balance between Politicians and Public Servants in Canada”. Optimum Online. 38(4). Retrieved June 1, 2009
  3. For more information on the title Public Service 2.017, visit http://www.gcpedia.gc.ca/wiki/Public_Service_2.017 retrieved September 24, 2009
  4. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2003. Checklist for e-Government Leaders. Policy Brief. Retrieved June 1, 2009
  5. Gravelle, M., K. M. Gravelle, K. Baird and I. Green. 2008. Collaborative Governance and Changing Federal Roles. A Public Policy Forum and the Policy Research Initiative Joint Roundtable Outcomes Report. Retrieved June 1, 2009
  6. Axworthy, T. 2008. Everything Old is New Again: Observations on Parliamentary Reform. Centre for the Study of Democracy. Kingston: Queen’s University. Retrieved June 1, 2009
  7. O’Neal, B., A. Smith, J. Stilborn. 2006. The Gomery Commission Report, Phase 2 – an overview. Library of Parliament. Retrieved June 1, 2009

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