Are Public Servants Interchangeable?

Friday, August 22, 2014
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

On Tuesday I attended IPAC's Summer Policy Conference on the New Government Leader. I was a participant, a panellist and a sponsor; life's complicated and lines are blurred but that's neither here nor there. During the course of the day there were a number of threads that wound themselves through the conversations. The one that seemed to be of the most interest was that of interchange (and the suite of related issues such as talent management). Uncharacteristically, I bit my tongue as the conversations unfolded, and when I had the mic as a panellist I offered to share some thoughts on the matter. Since the focus of the panel was on collaboration, data analytics and networked policy development, no one took me up on my offer, though some people did approach me afterwards. Here are my thoughts:

On the whole, interchange is a great program; at least is has been for me thus far. It was an opportunity to try something new, lose some baggage and rediscover the art of the possible. The deal took a long time to get inked and there were some minor complications, but once there was agreement on terms, it was a fairly straightforward process.

What I found fascinating about the discussion was that despite the fact that everyone is so quick to admit that the public service has lost its monopoly on policy advice – which again, I take as a proxy for influence (See: Is Innovation is Service Delivery a Blind Spot in Canada) – they are so beholden to working within it. In other words, while everyone seemed interested in using the interchange program to gain outside experience, their interest is tempered by a palpable reticence to simply pursue the experience on their own accord; leaving the public service is off the table.

Now, don't mistake my observation. I knowingly make it from the privileged position of having already secured an interchange and I fully admit that I was reluctant to report to my new employer before the interchange ink was dry. There's something cultural here worth exploring, when even the heretics among us are reticent to walk away. In other words, does this cultural homogeneity consistency lend itself more readily to the question of whether or not public servants interchangeable, rather than the question of whether or not they ought to go on interchange?