A New Take on the Visiting Fellows Program

@nickcharney raised an interesting question today on twitter — contemplating taking a year off as a (I assume) mid-level analyst to gain some perspective. Immediately the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) came to mind, and so I went to the website to see what programs would be available. Certainly, there is benefit to analysts taking time off to gain perspective. If the public service can harness that talent in a productive way, it would make sense to do so.

Interestingly enough, out of the 12 development programs (I’m excluding SPARK and the Financial Management Certificate) available to Public Servants through the CSPS, none are available for mid-level public servants. In fact, with the exception of the academic component of the Management Trainee Program (ileadership), the rest are restricted to members of the Executive Cadre. While I can’t see where the visiting fellows program restricts applications to EXs, it would stand to reason based on the criteria that it is geared towards this cadre. I can see the logic in this — as the leaders within the public service, it makes sense that they would need the capacity to continue to see the broader picture through the programs available through the CSPS.

Given that I already provided unsolicited feedback on expanding the SPARK program, I figure I’ll continue along the same lines with the idea that a similar idea could exist via the CSPS Visiting Fellows Program. When we have talented public servants that have the capacity to contribute to the public service as a whole (rather than to individual departments), it becomes good business sense to capitalize on this and direct their energies towards projects that suit their interests. By assigning them to a 6-12 month project (that still has deliverables), and providing basic resources (even if it is simply access to relevant people within the PS hierarchy), one would hope that we would see a contribution to the PS as a whole.

By housing this in the CSPS, you have the potential to allow them to work horizontally, and to break down the hierarchical nature that often has the potential to block innovative ideas from getting to the top of their particular chain. It gives a different platform from which to work.

There are three key issues that arise:

  • Funding — The CSPS website mentions that home departments are responsible for the salary/relocation expenses of the fellow, with the CSPS covering office space and expenses that the fellow occurs whilst serving in that capacity. While perhaps unrealistic, I think the burden of funding is in the wrong place. The funding could be run through the CSPS, but asking departments to release (presumably) high performing analysts without any compensation might be difficult. The funding I think should come from the centre, showing a commitment from the centre to the concept.
  • Applicants — Given the abundance of programs available to members of the Executive Cadre, who compose ~2.5% of the population of the Public Service, I think it would be reasonable to restrict the program to mid-level Analysts (EC-04 through EC-06/equiv). Applicants would have to have a demonstrated ability to carry out research (either through academic training, or equivalent experience) independently.
  • Application Process — The Public Service loves running competitions. There are many ways this could be done, although my preferred method would be to have each applicant submit a research proposal that would be vetted by the CSPS. The top 5 proposals get screened through, and presented to a group of senior management representing a cross section of departments, with the top x out of those being allowed to proceed. The proposals will need to have PS-wide appeal, reasonable timelines, expenses, etc. I would like to encourage joint-proposals from interdepartmental colleagues, but baby steps.

This idea would have a number of benefits:

  • Encouraging early engagement from Public Servants
  • Investing in the strength of the Public Service as a whole
  • Capitalizing on internal capacity/ideas
  • Providing a broader platform for those who want to contribute

Any thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “A New Take on the Visiting Fellows Program

    • I don’t disagree with the post you reference, but I think what I’m proposing isn’t a leadership program — it’s a fellowship program, where the participant is given a space to be able to take risks and given the resources to be able to pursue new ideas. By being able to present unique ideas to senior management, I think the ideas would be more likely to gain leverage than if they were presented through a regular department.

      The program itself doesn’t offer guaranteed promotion, pay incentives, etc. Rather, the reward would be in the work; self directed, innovative, with appropriate access in order to give a platform to new ideas. By aiming at mid-level analysts, the aim is at those who have been in the system for a bit, and have gained experience outside the university classroom.

  1. In a time when blogs, twitter & wikis were touted as means to harness the experience and insight of others to be shared, I wonder as well if another formalised knowledge-sharing program may be a redundant step to centralise otherwise decentralised nodes of influence (like Charney).

    I’d like to come back to the main premise, despite the formalised program idea you present here, to bring the spotlight on whether sharing of knowledge and applying the skills of public servants should be all public servant’s role. Tragedy of the commons perhaps, when it’s the role of all, none shall do perhaps?

    The program you suggest is one that is formalised within the RCMP, albeit in a different model that I think strengthens culture and pushes it, in a sustainable mentorship capacity. Essentially:
    – If you want to move up in the RCMP, you need to spend at least 4 months back at bootcamp – teaching recruits at their training facility.

    You may teach firearms, or be a drill sergeant, or maybe even a commander. Just as the recruits learn from doing, a teacher learns from teaching.

    I had the opportunity to meet with some of the trainers at RCMP HQ in Regina. It’s a learning process for them, and the force is only as strong as their weakest successful recruit.

    I wondered at length whether the model was one for the public service.
    That’s when I came back to Ottawa and started my (now-defunct) blog. But that’s another story.

    Good post, unnamed blogger.

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