The question Blueprint 2020 should have asked but didn't

Friday, March 28, 2014
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

On Wednesday Kent put forward the notion that the perceived lull in Blueprint 2020 might be hitting the trough of disillusionment (See: Blueprint 2020, Renewal, and the Trough of Disillusionment) and while I hope he's right and that there is a slope of enlightenment around the corner, I'm not so sure. I was in the same place as Kent on Friday, but a part of a very different conversation.

The issue with Blueprint is that put forward a pre-conceived vision and invited people to comment. In so doing it actually built on the assumptions of the day rather than challenge the validity of those assumptions now and in the future.

A perfect example of this was when someone from the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) asked something like (and I'm paraphrasing) "How can the school best serve the needs of the Government of Canada in 2020" to which I replied (again paraphrasing) "Does the CSPS even need to exist in 2020?".

I'm not trying to throw the school under the bus here. There are at least two sides to the argument and it merits full discussion — that's not the point. The point is we need to get meta, not perfunctory. We can't carry flawed assumptions forward, no one builds on quicksand.

The most common criticism I have heard to date of Blueprint – from civil servants from all levels mind you – is that it is a process more concerned with getting us to where we should have already been by now rather than where we ought to be in 2020.  If the criticism is merited (and I think it is) it leads us to question why we would expect anyone to put forward anything more courageous than that which is already common sense (and commonplace) in other organizations. Flexible work arrangements, workplace WiFi, better bandwidth and open access to the Internet are yesterday's concerns not tomorrow's innovations. Who is doing the hard work of trying to figure out what actually happens when Westminster meets digital? Do we need to change the machinery? Do we need new policy levers? Should we be more aggressively pursuing alternate service delivery models (e.g. social impact bonds)?

It's precisely the same problem I put forward in On Dragon's Dens, Hackathons and Innovation Labs. To be clear, I'm not arguing that these things can't be valuable but rather that they risk doing more harm than good if there isn't a clear way to turn their outputs into throughputs.

In fairness, I'm not on the inside right now. I'm disconnected, and as a result I have no idea what, if anything, is currently happening with Blueprint. I'm working from what I've seen prior to leaving, and what I've heard since. Blueprint is obviously something I'm still thinking a lot about, when I read the Open public service in a global marketplace report earlier this week something clicked. I want to share something that Damien Venkatasamy said in the report because I think it's precisely the question Blueprint should have asked but didn't:
“... something does have to change in terms of the way that public services are delivered in the future, and I guess there is no one answer to that, and it depends on what the function is. But I think there is a very difficult question that every government department, every government agency and every local authority probably needs to ask which is: ‘what is our core function?’ By that I mean what are the functions that only we, the Civil Service, can fulfil, either because of a legal requirement or because, frankly, there is so much knowledge embedded in that function that it would be ludicrous for anyone else to even attempt to do it.”