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Vertical Accountability in a Horizontal World

Friday, June 24, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I spend a lot of my time in the policy innovation and experimentation ecosystem by virtue of my work (See: Sharing my work ... My actual work). It’s a complex environment; there are a number of players and a lot of moving pieces. While I'm confident that the work is lining up and that we are all rowing in the same direction I can't shake the feeling that cracking the horizontal governance nut is the key to ensuring that we all collectively arrive at our shared destination.

Alignment on philosophy and scope at the top is important, as is agreement on operations and trajectory at the working level but those things are malleable, rooted in personal relationships and small ‘p’ politics. My fear – I suppose – is that while the spaces in-between our vertical accountabilities (silos) are filled with good will they are also incredibly ill-defined; in short it’s where collaboration falls down.

When something falls into them, who is responsible, who stretches to cover the ground, what happens if the gaps are perceived as larger on one side of the divide than the other – and most importantly – if push comes to shove who’s actually accountable for what?

Vertical accountabilities are increasingly rubbing up against the realities of a horizontal world; we ought to be thinking more carefully about how we reconcile the two because the friction between them has permeated almost every aspect of our business.

A quick stock-take on public service renewal

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Last week I almost wrote a post just to announce a hiatus for the summer. I’m getting into the home stretch of an MSc dissertation. A break would be a little about freeing up time, but at least as much about A) simplification of my weekly to-do list and B) trying to keep some semblance of a quality standard in my writing. I think I’ll stop short of a full hiatus, and just apologize for sparse posts for the next few months. Which probably feels to me like a much bigger deal than it is, but I like the weekly rhythm.

I’d like to keep it up because I do feel like writing these days. There’s a ton going on around the public service that is inspiring me lately and bouncing around my head. In 2012 I wrote about possibilities for tectonic change in the public service, and I’m starting to feel like some of those ideas are becoming real. Not for any one reason - it’s many things lining up and coming together.

When looking for something like “culture change,” it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between what’s actually different and what you, yourself, are seeing differently. It’s inevitable that the longer you've been around, the more you’ll see of everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And with that massive bias in mind, I’m still more optimistic about the future - this whole 
“public service renewal” thing we keep banging on about - than I have been for a long while. I’m thinking of things like digital service redesign (maybe with some friendly competition from Ontario’s soon-to-be-minted Chief Digital Officer), citizen engagement on policy making, and more opportunities to work with the private sector and civil society - including more opportunities for civil society to hold government accountable to outcomes.

Part of the interest here is the potential to get out of our comfort zones a little bit and experiment with different ways of doing government. But there’s a value proposition much deeper than “experiment and we’ll see if it works” here. One of the threads that connects digital service, citizen engagement, and government releasing more information is that whole accountability piece: people and organizations having more information, and more avenues, to put pressure on government. Which will have its bad sides as well, but if nothing else will nudge government towards more honesty and authenticity.

I’ve felt the conversations - and communications products - changing over the last few years. It’s harder to respond with talking points to people who can talk back.

And, it’s harder to respond with talking points to people who you really understand and empathize with, which is one of other connecting threads. I’ve made this point before, but here it is a tad more bluntly: whether or not a given public servant truly understands their stakeholder communities may be the single biggest factor influencing their perspective on their work.

Jared Spool’s research on usability and design keeps coming back to this magic number: 2 hours every 6 weeks interacting with the end users of a thing. For everyone who influences the design (that includes senior executives) I’d argue that this principle would apply to a surprising range of things: products and websites, but also policies, service interactions, and communications.

The good news is that we’re all increasingly becoming front-line public servants.

Which means that not only are things poised to get better, but poised to get systematically better, which is the real kicker.






  
 


Scheming Virtuously for National Public Service Week

Thursday, June 16, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Yesterday I was at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission delivering my Scheming Virtuously presentation as a part of National Public Service Week. It's something I've continued to for some time now and always enjoy spending time talking to civil servants about the human side of our organizations.

If you haven't seen the handbook it's available freely here; if you haven't seen the presentation and would like to drop me a line and we can work something out.

I hope you all had a great National Public Service Week.

Cheers

Sharing my work ... my actual work

Friday, June 10, 2016

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I've been blogging here for the better part of the last 8 years, sharing my thoughts here at cpsrenewal about the confluence of people, public policy and technology. During that time I've held a number of different positions across the federal family and my rule of thumb has generally been -- perhaps with the exception of when I went on interchange -- don't write about work, like my actual work. Sure, allude to it, test ideas here that I may be testing elsewhere (e.g. See: On Possible Taxonomies for New Policy Instruments and Approaches) but never, link directly to my work.

That distance -- call it plausible deniability -- has always been important. However, I get the sense that is is slowly becoming less important. There's more public servants online, many of whom are identifying whom they work for and/or linking back to specific departmental websites in their online profiles. It's easy -- even tempting -- to pin this on the change in government but the trend surely precedes it (See: Trust is the only thing that scales). 

The deluge of public servants openly declaring such online (See: #LeadersGC for example) is a clear signal that times are changing; however, these changes likely here to stay but the future (as they say) is unevenly distributed and what's 'safe' in one place might be 'unsafe' in another. But perhaps that's besides the point I want to get across in this post. I simply wanted to share my work with you and ask you if you are interested in being a part of it going forward. 

Long story short, I'm part of a small policy innovation team working on the challenge of instrument choice where my core responsibilities including the design and delivery of an online portal on new policy instruments and approaches (on GCPedia) that harvests the collective knowledge of different parts of our vast organization and tries to bring them into alignment with one another in a way that can support the broader policy innovation and experimentation agenda. The Portal (which boasts a fun Star Wars theme) was recently featured in the Clerk`s 23rd Report to the Prime Minister (scroll down to the "Reinforcing the Policy Community" subheading) but the portal is really just one of the jumping off points for our team's work, which focuses on building capacity (and community!) for policy innovation and experimentation in the Government of Canada.

So I suppose what I'm asking you is this:
  • Check out the New Policy Instruments and Approaches Portal;
  • Send us any feedback you might have;
  • Let us know if this is a project you want to get behind; and/or
  • Share this project with others you think might be interested.
Thanks -- as always -- for taking the time.

Cheers

On Possible Taxonomies of New Policy Instruments and Approaches

Friday, June 3, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I've spent some time time looking into policy instrument taxonomies (wonky I know) trying to figure out how to best classify different instruments and approaches. My preliminary research (which I cribbed from colleague Jason Pearman) seems to suggest that instruments can be either substantive or procedural in nature and fall into four broad categories (i.e. nodality, authority, treasure, and organizational capacity).

First, Some Definitions
  • Substantive policy instruments alter some aspect of the production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society
  • Procedural policy instruments alter the political or policy behavior in the process of the articulation of implementation goals and means
  • Nodality refers to the property of being at the centre of social and/or information networks
  • Authority refers to the legitimate legal or official power to command or prohibit
  • Treasure refers to the possession of money or fungible chattels which may be exchanged
  • Organizational capacity refers to the possession of a stock of people, skills, land, buildings and/or technologies


Second, Some Cross Referencing



Nodality Authority Treasure Organization
Substantive Being at the centre of a social and/or information network that alters some aspect of the production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society The legitimate legal or official power to command or prohibit that alters some aspect of the production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society The possession of money or fungible chattels which may be exchanged that alters some aspect of the production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society The possession of a stock of people, skills, land, buildings and/or technologies that alters some aspect of the production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society
Procedural Being at the centre of a social and/or information network that alters the political or policy behaviour in the process of the articulation of implementation goals and means The legitimate legal or official power to command or prohibit that alters the political or policy behaviour in the process of the articulation of implementation goals and means The possession of money or fungible chattels which may be exchanged that alters the political or policy behaviour in the process of the articulation of implementation goals and means The possession of a stock of people, skills, land, buildings and/or technologies that alters the political or policy behaviour in the process of the articulation of implementation goals and means


Third, Some Observations

Regulatory and law making agencies tend to default to the authority vertical, granting agencies tend toward the treasure vertical, and departments with neither authority nor treasure tend to gravitate towards the organization/nodality verticals. This shouldn't come as a surprise and is otherwise known as the Law of the instrument (or the when you only have a hammer problem). Moreover most of what government departments and agencies -- either by way of mandate or culture -- tend to focus on the substantive horizontal, cutting into societal problems by somehow altering some aspect of production, distribution and delivery of goods and services in society. Again no surprise here, policies to close market gaps, improve market performance, and prevent market failure are commonplace.

However, what's missing perhaps is a more focused attention on the procedural side of the horizontal divide which speaks more directly to the mechanics of governance writ large, this is where question like who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered are answered. That said I think that there is substantial and growing appetite for more discussion about those higher order questions (See: Ask Higher Order Questions).

For example, Open Policy Making and Crowdsourcing are two approaches that seem to sit more naturally on the procedural side of the divide; both of which have garnered and will continue to garner more interest since the change in government. However increased interest in these approaches must at some point be met with increased capacity to wield them. In other words, ambition and appetite must at some point be reconciled with resources and capabilities. This is likely what the Clerk was driving at when he called the Public Service "a bit of a fixer upper" in a (now not so) recent interview.

One of the things that I think we are learning as we walk further down the policy innovation road is that the practice of policy instrument choice needs to be more robust -- that the solutions we seek aren't anchored in the thinking that let them loose but rather somewhere just beyond the reach of it -- and as a result we need to systematically dismantle the cultural tendency to reach for the tool that's most familiar rather than the one that might be best suited for the job (i.e. break the law of the instrument).

Yes this type of cultural shift requires us to start to better define problems and articulate preferred outcomes but it also requires us to pause and discuss precisely where we want to cut into those problems as we have defined them. In other words we need to decide -- based on the evidence -- whether or not substantive or procedural instruments are most likely to lead (more likely 'to contribute') to the preferred societal outcome (i.e. the public good) because that decision ultimately informs what instruments to choose.

I recently asked researcher and former colleague -- Todd Julie -- to rapidly categorize a set of new policy instruments and approaches within the cross tabulation above; here's his break down:



Nodality Authority Treasure Organization
Substantive - Innovation Hubs/labs
- Smart Regulation
- Open data
- Foresight
- Smart regulation
- Open data
- Pay for performance
- Crowdsourcing
- Social Innovation
- Pay for performance
- Big data
- Gamification
- Smart Regulation
- Prize Challenges
- Open data
- Big data
- Design Thinking
- Behavioural Insights
- Gamification
- Social Innovation
Procedural - Social Innovation
- Hackathon
- Crowdsourcing
- Smart Regulation
- Open data
- Smart Regulation
- Open Policy making
- Citizen science
- Open data
- Crowdsourcing
- Prize challenges
- Gamification
- Smart Regulation
- Open Data
- Gamification
- Social Innovation


While this is but one view of many it falls roughly in line with my own thinking (that said, I'm open to feedback). As you can see these new instruments and approaches do not necessarily fall neatly into buckets but rather can be deployed differently within them and/or mixed and matched across depending on the problem set and outcome being sought. What the breakdown does however is make clear the idea that instrument choice within the context of policy innovation is complicated and requires a substantial amount of thought up front.

In other words, throwing new approaches at old problems and hoping for the best may produce different outcomes but if you want to get to the right outcomes you need to select the right tool and cut in at the right place. Again this is not an inherently new idea but it is one we need to bring more discipline to.