As we look through the history of renewal initiatives, we can see that it has ebbed and flowed between being heavily centralized and more decentralized. At times, there has been direction from central agencies on how to proceed with specific initiatives, while at other times it has been left fairly broad.
This year, we’re going broad again. PCO will not release a PS Renewal Action Plan, as it has in the past, but rather has included specific items for Deputy Heads to report on with regard to renewal activities. This is included in the Clerk’s latest report to the Prime Minister.
Out of last year’s report, there were two outcomes that we can see regarding renewal initiatives:
In the report, the Clerk states that:
To meet these many challenges, the Public Service must get better at dealing with complexity. This will require new approaches to creative and collaborative problem solving. It will mean working with other levels of government, the private sector, civil society and citizens themselves.
Yet, when we look at our renewal activities, it would appear that we don’t take such an approach. Reporting is done via Deputy Heads to PCO, with many of the goals looking towards HR and pay systems. But renewal is much broader than that. It involves not only looking at our IT, HR, and pay systems, but rather thinking of better and more innovative ways to approach policy and more interesting ways to engage with citizens. The Clerk recognizes that the challenges we face in the future are going to be multi-dimensional, so isn’t it about time we take a multi-dimensional approach to renewal?
Interestingly, we don’t take a multi-dimensional approach to renewal. We often wax and wane between centralize and decentralized, not exploring too much the spaces in between. The reality is far more complex. We operate within a complex adaptive system that is ever changing, and fantastic ideas are cropping up all over the place. Many of these great ideas may never be seen by the various Deputy Heads or senior managers.
So how do we go about identifying people who want to get involved? What role can PCO play? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Shadow Model, pioneered by NRCan. While I think it’s proper that a group of officials drafts reports/priorities (like the old PS Renewal Action Plans), I think there is a place to involve the entire public service. After all, if line bureaucrats are the ones who will be living renewal, it would make sense to involve those who would like to be involved as much as possible.
The Clerk experimented with this when he asked for assistance in drafting the document on Workplace Renewal. I wonder if we can extend this further. I would like to see a PS Renewal Action Plan that has been drafted through using a GoC Shadow Team for Renewal. Run out of PCO, it could involve self-identified public servants who want to contribute (at varying levels). This requires sharing a draft document early, and allowing frank discussion amongst officials as to what sort of renewal challenges are being faced.
Ideally, this would bring renewal out of simply being an HR exercise, and focus on the bigger renewal issues. For example:
- How do our Values and Ethics mesh with the current operational environment? Do they still speak to the core of what it is to be a public servant?
- What sort of policy challenges are going to be faced that will require multi-departmental responses? How can we facilitate interdepartmental workings? (Hat tip to Policy Horizons for their great work)
- How do we conceptualize professional development? What sort of activities can be undertaken to increase opportunities for professional development, while keeping an eye on costs? (See #goc3’s excellent work)
There are pockets of excellence all around the Public Service – they just seem disconnected at times from centralized renewal activities. Ideally, there would be a way to link them together so that we can all be involved in an ongoing discussion with central agencies about how renewal is being pursued across the whole government.