Capability Based Planning

When we look at the Public Service writ large, it sometimes appears as though we lack an overall vision. I’ve talked in the last few weeks about Values and Ethics — and certainly these provide a good base of our fundamental values — but we seem to lack a clear and concise vision for the Public Service and what we ought to look like in the future.

While the title of this blog is “Public Service of the Future”, I spend most of my posts talking about the here and now. I try to look at what we are experiencing in today’s climate, with very little thought given towards the future of the Public Service. There are definitely challenges in today’s climate that require analysis, but how we address those challenges doesn’t matter too much unless they encourage us to head towards a particular vision.

The report I quoted in last week’s post had something neat in one of its Annexes. It had different visions/images of the Public Service:

1. The Regulating PS, seen as looking after the neutral and impartial implementation of government regulations

2. The Paternalistic PS, seen as safeguarding traditional rights and values, both moral and professional.

3. The Negotiating PS, seen as mediating, negotiating and reconciling among competing interest groups.

4. The Competitive PS, seen as a competitive business. It acts to promote productivity, foster prosperity and ensure financial integrity.

5. The Service-oriented PS, seen as a service station or supermarket, offering products and services that citizens demand.

6. The Developmental PS, seen as developing, implementing and supporting frameworks for maximum self-governing and self-reliance.

7. The Compassionate PS, seen as evolving and refining mechanisms for collecting and redistributing wealth and other resources to ensure a uniform standard of living.

8. The Minimalist PS, seen as maintaining the bare minimum of legal frameworks to keep society functioning.

9. The Future-oriented PS, a facilitator, an assistant, a facilitator that helps citizens and society move toward a desirable future.

10. The PS as Control, an instrument of controlling all resources, energy and funds, and of using or confiscating them for the benefit of the government when commanded.

Of course, the ideal Public Service (in my mind) is adaptable, and likely draws from each of these images at various points in time, depending on a whole range of factors.

The Canadian Forces currently engages in an activity called Capability Based Planning (CBP), which aims to predict what is required to meet the future challenges that the CF will face. This is a tough exercise, that requires a lot of deep analysis as to the current capabilities, deficiencies, and an honest discussion of what may be needed as the world continues to evolve.

I’d be fascinated to see a similar process take place with the Public Service of Canada. While we talk about departmental development/vision, we often neglect the view of the whole of the Public Service. What challenges will be faced by government institutions over the next 10 years? What sort of Public Servants will be required to address these challenges? How can we start developing people now to meet those future challenges?

Too often we get stuck in the here and now. What is needed is some serious leadership and forward thinking on the deeper institution of the Public Service. Within CBP, there are three key phases:

  1. Capability Analysis — Determine required capabilities to meet government policy (or, in this case, challenges). These capabilities are then prioritized, based on frequency and impact.
  2. Capability Assessment — Looking at the overall institution, priorities are recommended to senior management. Recommendations include investments (where we need resources), divestments (where we can remove resources from), and sustainment.
  3. Capability Integration — Actually looking at the viability of the plan and figuring out how to get there (resourcing, etc).
Step 2 is the challenging step (although one that I imagine many departments are undergoing now, with the Strategic and Operating Review). Again, while I applaud that departments are having these conversations within their own borders, it is essential that we start thinking broader. We already know that the policy challenges we face now, and will continue to face in the future, require a multi-disciplinary approach. If we neglect thinking about what sort of Public Service we need to face those challenges, we fail in our duties as Public Servants.
A tough challenge, and one that requires some serious discussions at a variety of levels in government. I wonder, though, if a Capability Based Planning exercise were to take place, what type of Public Service (out of the 10 images made above) would come out on top as the vision we should shoot for.

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