The Web of Rules: Visualizing the Entire Treasury Board Policy Suite

Friday, July 25, 2014
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Here's the deal. This post is to the point and factual. It's short on commentary and long on crunchy bits to chew on. I've wanted to visualize the Treasury Board Policy Suite for a long time but I didn't know how. I've talked to a lot of people about the challenge, then I bumped into Sarah Chan who told me about Kumua relatively new piece of software; none of this would have been possible without her pointing me in the right direction. Thanks Sarah.

The Treasury Board Policy (TBS) Suite

If you aren't familiar with the TBS policy suite you can find it here; essentially it represents everything public servants need to comply with rule wise. It's often called the web of rules and after visualizing it, I can see why.

The web of rules constitutes:
Meaning that all total, the web of rules is made up of 273 distinct documents that (mostly) relate to one another and need to be considered in tandem. If you take the time to look at any individual framework, policy, directive, standard or guideline online you will see that there is a section on each of their webpages that show you what other frameworks, policies, directives, standards or guidelines you need to read in conjunction with them. Hence, the web of rules. The whole thing is incredibly complicated, but luckily TBS has a great graphical representation of the 'constantly evolving' policy suite (click to enlarge):

And, according to the TBS website, the above diagram:
"... presents the structure and the organization of the evolving Treasury Board (TB) policy suite. The policy instruments will be organized as a cascade of instruments within policy frameworks in key management areas: People; Compensation; Information and ; Technology; Financial Management; Assets and; Acquired Services; Service; and Governance and Expenditure Management:"
Only it doesn't ... at least not when you painstakingly (manually) verify the relationships between all 273 documents by hand using software that can calculate and visualize the actual relationships between them. When you do that, you get something that look more like this:

Now, given that I have never tried to embed a Kumu visualization before, if the above embed didn't work click here, or try opening it in a different window or just drop me a line. Note: there are 3 little dots between the description as the visualization that will expand the visualization while collapsing the description.

If you can see the visualization, here's a couple of things worth noting:
  • The Code of Values and Ethics is represented by the biggest dot; note that it's no where near the centre of the visualization despite it being at the centre of the TBS diagram
  • The noticeable / largest circular cluster is what I would term the Information, Technology and Communications cluster
  • The second noticeable oval cluster is financial cluster (i.e. how we spend money) 
  • There are a number of things that are in fact floating (i.e. not connected to anything else)
You can manipulate and navigate the visualization ...
  • You can zoom in and select any particular node by clicking and holding it; any unrelated nodes should disappear.
  • The nodes are colour coded and you can opt to look at only the relationships between frameworks, policies, directives, standards, or guidelines.
I'm still processing what it all means 

But I do have a couple of thoughts I'd ask you to chew on:
  1. What we say we are about (values and ethics) and what we are actually about (information, technology, communication and, separately, financial disbursements) seem to be very different
  2. If 'web of rules' is an apt metaphor then ought we not focus efforts on reducing the number of nodes in it so as to not get caught up in it so easily? Wait, we already tried that.
  3. Given that the above already reflects a concerted effort to reduce the web of rules, maybe we ought to consider a more aggressive approach, rather then trying to reduce the web, why not reset it completely and build something new from the ground up?

As always, if you'd like to talk about the web of rules or this visualization please feel free to drop me a line; otherwise I am eager to hear your comments.