Policy Horizons — Horizontal Policy?

As recognized throughout several reports, the future of policy work is horizontal. You simply can’t address, for example, an infrastructure issue without looking at multiple perspectives (be it Transport, Industry, Infrastructure, etc). The future of policy work will have multiple departments working together to achieve policy solutions that are holistic and address multiple perspectives of the issue.

Yet we’re still bound in our little departments. At present, we seem to address this horizontality issue by:

  • Establishing an interdepartmental task force (working level, DG-level, and ADM-level in many cases) and assigning a lead department; or,
  • Establishing the capacity internally

How effective are either of these solutions? In the first case, the lead department still retains control and accountability for the project (and may or may not take feedback from other departments), where as the latter is simply a stop-gap measure that discourages departments from working together unless their mandates explicitly conflict.

So what’s to be done, then?

The vision of Policy Horizons is as follows:

To promote a high and sustainable quality of life within a globally competitive Canada, through the co-creation and advancement of knowledge that informs and structures policy choices for the Government of Canada by way of an integrated and longer-term perspective.

It’s a place for members not only of the federal government, but also partners from outside the federal family, to come together to co-create solutions. A broad mandate, to be sure, but maybe one that can become a place for addressing these complex policy problems outside of the hierarchical structure required by typical departments.

On the Policy-Program Continuum, I see Policy Horizons playing a crucial role in the policy development (up to and including MC presentation), with the Program experts from whatever the final “home” department will be being involved as well. Essentially, whenever a policy objective is identified (and it’s recognized that the solution will need to be multi-departmental), the various departments will identify one person from their department to serve on the task team. The person would be seconded to Policy Horizons for the duration of the project (from policy objective identification through to program design). The policy initiative would be presented to the appropriate DM committee (allowing not just for “stakeholder” departments, but other perspectives) before eventually heading down the road to Cabinet.

Additionally, the permanent members of Policy Horizons could provide advice on creative thinking and the involvement of the private/academic sector in the policy and program design.

This idea takes away some of the turf-wars from departments, as the members of the team, while “representing” certain perspectives, are actually under the purview of Policy Horizons for the duration of the project. This frees the people up to just work on the specific policy initiative. If our goal is to provide good and creative advice with multiple perspectives, it’s important to have this “safe space” — especially with priority initiatives.

Each team would be composed of the relevant background/skill sets for the particular initiative (policy, programs, communications, etc). They would have a budget assigned specifically to them for the initiative. By report to a DM committee on the matter, directly, it removes several levels of hierarchy.

Could this be used for every single policy initiative? Not without substantial change to how we conceive of the machinery of government. Could it work for large, priority files? Absolutely. The interesting part would see if we could actually put these teams together and set them up for success.

I’m sure there’s a million reasons why this couldn’t happen — but I just wanted to put this out there!


3 thoughts on “Policy Horizons — Horizontal Policy?

  1. Hey thanks so much for this. I was thinking about this just yesterday, wondering about ways in which this could make it happen.

    i was reading the Canada2020 report which goes through a number of key policy challenges, and was thinking about how horizontal they are. There really is a need for a more integrated perspective.

    My only comment would be that when I worked in central agencies, was how hated PRI was. I’m not sure there is much more support now within certain areas of “the system” for this kind of model, particularly at more senior levels.

    My impression, is probably that those at the bottom would be interested in experimenting with this approach, while those at the very top would likely appreciate having a more integrated perspective, but it’s the middle level of senior management that may be tougher to bring on board.

    As you noted, it has the potential to remove those levels of the bureaucracy to a certain extent.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • I entirely agree — and think that this model would actually cut out that middle layer (for priority projects — Analysts –> DM Ctte). I wonder where the support is at right now for the PRI, especially now that it’s no longer located in PCO (as my understanding is that it once was).

      Thanks for commenting, Justin!

  2. The two‐day workshop, held in Febraury 2010, explored visions of how the federal government’s place‐based knowledge role can work towards federal strategic goals for sustainable development, in areas that include natural systems, communities, and overall well‐being. More than 90 participants, mostly federal public servants working on place‐based initiatives from a range of federal departments, participated in the event.

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