Tag Archives: Public Policy Forum

CIC: New Thinking on Canadian Foreign Policy?

Really pleased to hear that the Canadian International Council (CIC) has launched “The GPS Project: A Global Positioning Strategy for Canada.” After several years of fits and starts I’ll confess I haven’t seen the CIC strike off in a new  and interesting direction – something that has worried me. This new initiative however, has real potential.

First off the project has good timing and a firm deadline around which to make suggestions. As the press release notes:

The project will generate and disseminate fresh perspectives and ideas both in the short term, as Canada prepares to host the 2010 G8 Summit next summer in Huntsville, Ontario and, more fundamentally, for the years beyond. The “Muskoka” summit will also have to co-ordinate its work with that of the new G20 summit institution that came to fruition in November 2008 as a result of the global economic crisis.

But more important is who is involved. Projects like this are never guaranteed to succeed, but at least the CIC is being forward looking with this initiative. Gone are the same old voices we frequently hear debating Canada’s foreign policy. A number of the names are on the young end of the spectrum and many are impressive:

I’ve never met but have heard great things about Andre Beaulieu and Gerald Butts (very pleased there is a strong environmentalist voice within the group). Roland Paris is a great choice out of the academic world: young, smart and not lost in the ivory tower. Jonathan Hausman, George Roter and Mercedes Stephenson are both friends and great choices – young, thoughtful and active in the international arena. I’ve also had some long chats with Yuen Pau Woo – the President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada here in Vancouver – he is very smart, thoughtful and an essential addition to the group. For a country that frequently talks about Asia, but does very little about it, his perspective is essential.

Indeed, the diversity of perspectives and overall youth of this group is its strength. As the CIC noted, they wanted a group “largely from the generation that came to age in the post-Cold War era of global horizons and digital connectedness.” I think they have done well in choosing it.

I’m looking forward to hearing about the process and reading their outputs. Let’s hope they generate some good discussion and debate about Canada’ foreign policy.

With The GPS Project, two heads are better than one and more better yet. The CIC has assembled a panel of 13 emerging leaders to assist with this project. All in the ascendancy of their careers, the panelists are drawn from diverse career paths and largely from the generation that came to age in the post-Cold War era of global horizons and digital connectedness. The promising, upcoming leaders committed to working together on The GPS Project are:

Public Service Renewal – If you're explaining, you're losing

Today and tomorrow the Deputy Ministers (DMs) of the Federal Public Service will gather to discuss the current state of affairs in Ottawa. In light of this event, I thought I would riff off my APEX speech and write the following post on public service sector renewal.

Towards the end of his famous lecture on Free Culture Lawrence Lessig quotes JC Watts, an African-American Republican Congressmen who once famously said that, in Washington: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

JC Watts could have easily been talking about Ottawa, and the problem of public service sector renewal. On this subject there has been a tremendous amount of explaining, exploring and diagnosing. And it has been going on for a long, long time. So much talk, and for so long, that I sometimes wonder if we’ve come to believe we can literally talk ourselves out of the problem. Sadly this is not the case. Our talking has not solved the problem. In fact, all it has done is repeatedly lift, and then burst, expectations.

At its core, I believe public service sector renewal isn’t that complicated. It’s about creating a better, more responsive and effective culture, a goal that, at its root, is a management problem. However, we can talk this problem until we are collectively blue in the face (and, yes, I’m aware of my own guilty contribution to this discussion) without getting anywhere. So let us instead ask a more basic question. Why has public service sector renewal not already happened? Is it structurally impossible? Or, are those at the apex unwilling or unable to prioritize it? In short, why, after all these years, are will still explaining and not doing?

The truth is that both structural and incentive factors are at work, feeding off one another and making change almost impossible.

At one end the problem lay the very role of the DM and the culture of the public service. As the Public Policy Forum’s recent report “Leadership in the Public Service of Canada” describes, DMs’ essentially have three roles: provide operational and policy advice to their Minister in support of their agenda; oversee program delivery and the management of their department; and help facilitate inter-departmental co-ordination. The problem however, is that for whatever reason Ottawa’s culture is firmly grounded in the notion that policy is the main game in town. Those who want to move ahead, who wish to rise to the rank of ADM or DM all know: do policy. Ask almost anyone, the public service rewards policy experience over operational experience virtually every time.

Which brings us to the other end of the of the problem – a lack of will to prioritize or address the problem. The public service’s culture has created a DM cadre who are more incented to, interested in, and focused on, providing ministers with policy advice than with addressing the operational and management issues of their ministries. This is not a critique of DMs – simply an observation that they are creatures of the culture that reared them. However, given these influences, why are we surprised to see that those leading the public service have so far proven unable to pull the leavers of management to shift the culture of these complex organizations? Is it any wonder that our efforts to date have been to think, intellectualize, or explain our way out of the problems renewal seeks to address? Or maybe it is the logical outcome for a group, who by their own admission (according to Public Policy Forum Leaders Survey), are strong on analytics, weak on management/decision making, and whose time is split between three highly demanding tasks.

The fact is most DMs manage incredibly large organizations that require full time dedicated managers. The notion that a DM should be advising a minister on a day to day or even weekly basis may have been rational back when ministries were composed of 200 people and the relevant information could conceivably flow through one person, but in today’s world it is preposterous. Many Ministries contain thousands of employees tackling an enormous array of subjects. In addition, thanks to modern technology, that information flows at an exponentially faster rate. It is foolish for a DM, or even a Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM), to believe they can advise a Minister on any of the relevant material. Somewhere in the organization, much further down the chain, is a policy wonk who can, and should, explain the issue just as well.

At the same time, the executive cadre of the public service, and public servants more generally, are desperate for better management. And yet, their model, the person from whom they are taking their queue from, is the DM. When a DM opts to sacrifice spending time on mentoring, professionally developing junior staffers, improving operations, and generally solving management problems, and instead focuses on a policy issue, they send a powerful message to everyone in the ministry: policy matters and management doesn’t. It’s a perverse message, and one that is killing the public service. Indeed, can you think of any other large organization in the world where the most senior executives are involved in producing the final product (in our case, a policy document)? Does the head of IBM design or even brainstorm new services? Does the the head of Blackberry think up new products? No, the heads of these organizations manage. Their job is to foster and create organizations that enable those beneath them to do their work – the real work – more effectively.

And this is what – at its core – public service sector renewal should be about, enabling public servants to do “the real work” of making policy and rolling out programs more effectively. However, until Deputy Ministers can fix their own role and acquire the tools to accomplish this end, we’ll be forever stuck explaining, and not doing, public service sector renewal.

More on the Public Policy Forum Dinner

Eric Reguly of the G&M won this year’s journalism award and gave a great speech on the failure of Canada’s business leaders to compete for global capital. He asserted that, after the British threw capital at us in the 19th century, and the American’s threw capital at us in the 20th, Canadians have become complacent. Having not been compelled to compete for capital in the previous two centuries, 21st Canadian business leaders now retreat and sell their businesses when confronted with the need for more capital. Worse still, some simply transform themselves into declining income trusts, abandoning even the pretense of a future as well as the needed hard work necessary to attract capital. His speech was angry, impassioned, and offered an interesting analysis.

The only counter argument I can think of is the notion that Canada is a grower of small and medium sized businesses. And that it is okay that we sell off our larger companies because we are constantly new ones to replace them. I’m not confident this is the case, and it would only make sense if the funds from sold businesses are used to help grow new ones. Sadly, the state of venture capital in this country seems to indicate otherwise…

Interestingly, journalists seem to always kill at PPF testimonial dinner. Last year Chantal Hebert gave a good speech which you can download a PDF version of here.

[tags]public policy forum, journalism[/tags]

Congratulations to Engineers Without Borders

Since they are too humble to say it (it’s not even on their webpage!) fellow Canada25 alum Parker Mitchell and fellow ActionCanada alum George Roter won the Public Policy Forum’s prestigious Young Leaders Award for founding and then growing Engineers Without Borders (EWB) into the successful organization it is today.

I’d encourage anyone not familiar with EWB to check out their webpage. They are an amazing organization that exemplifies how ordinary Canadians are empowering themselves to take action and help make the world a better place. When we talked about empowered Canadians in From Middle to Model Power, these engineers are a perfect case study.

If you are already familiar with EWB I strongly encourage you to donate money to them by clicking here.

Finally, I’m embarrassed to admit that back in the dwindling days of the Martin administration, just after the International Policy Statement was released (anyone remember that?) Parker bet me an expensive bottle of whiskey (single malt – but brand yet to be determined) that Canada would begin contributing 0.7% of its GDP in overseas development assistance by 2012. It’s a bet that I took, not because I wanted to be right, but because I knew it was a good bet. However, to ensure good karma… Parker, if I win, I’ll donate double of whatever the bottles costs to EWB. And of course, we’ll drink it all together. In one sitting.

[tags]EWB, engineers without borders, public policy forum, NGO[/tags]