Canada Beyond 150: Policy for a diverse and inclusive future
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)
Canada Beyond 150 was an experiment in leadership development for a diverse cohort of new public servants, with the goal of encouraging a culture shift to a more open and innovative public service. Working in groups part-time over a year, participants learned foresight, design thinking and external engagement methods and applied them to complex policy issues, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. It demonstrated the power of experiential learning, especially from engagement with stakeholders.
The Opportunity and the Innovation
Canada’s 150th anniversary was in 2017, and presented an opportunity for the public service to look forward — to boldly take stock of the challenges facing us today and envision Canada as the even greater society that it can become. It was also a time to expand the policy development toolkit, grow the public service’s knowledge base and analytical insight, and foster a culture of innovation capable of delivering a visionary future. Canada Beyond 150 was an innovation championed by the Privy Council Office in partnership with Policy Horizons Canada to achieve these goals.
Design and Objectives
The innovation had many elements. First, it was designed on the principle that diversity and inclusion could enable better and more innovative methods, generate stronger analyses, and yield better outcomes and greater prosperity. Second, it used innovative screening techniques to recruit a diverse and inclusive cohort of more than 80 new public servants from across Canada. It selected an engaged and ambitious participant pool and honed their abilities to become change agents within the public service.
Finally, Canada Beyond 150 was an immersive professional development curriculum that emphasized open policy development and innovative methods. Participants learned methods and techniques in foresight analysis under the tutelage of Policy Horizons Canada, a knowledge organization within the Government of Canada focused on medium-term policy development. They experimented with design thinking and other tools, and engaged and co-developed policy analysis and proposals with partners both within and outside the federal public service. Most of the project’s work was conducted virtually and accessed by participants across the country, with training workshops in innovative methods and tools posted publicly for all to use. As a result, participants engaged a wide and diverse spectrum of partners in the development of longer-term analyses and innovative ideas to influence and inform future policy-making. They strove to work in the open and, in adopting new methods and tools, to up the game on transparency and accessibility to the public and partners.
The project delivered a suite of analyses and policy proposals in five timely and important thematic areas: reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; open and transparent government; socio-economic inclusion; the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals; and feminist government. The work will benefit Canada’s policy agenda in the short, medium, and long terms. It has had a particularly beneficial impact on Canada’s approach to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and open and transparent government.
The innovation had a number of benefits beyond these tangible deliverables. It tested and modelled digital-enabled ways to engage citizens, businesses, and other institutions in the policy and program development processes. It developed analyses that look beyond the horizon of short-term priorities and products to think big about how macro-level challenges and trends could have cascading impacts on the Canadian policy landscape. It designed diverse and inclusive solutions that have been disseminated across the Government of Canada’s policy, programs and service portfolios, and which will have positive ripple effects for years to come. And it has trained a new cohort of public service leaders, positioning them to channel their drive and ambition to make a positive difference in concrete areas of policy development.
Building to Scale
The Canada Beyond 150 experience is now an open-source, shared resource for all corners of the Canadian public policy community. The participants themselves have become new leaders and change-makers in policy development, and the resources of the curriculum have been disseminated across the public service and are available for use.
More formally, the Canada School of the Public Service has committed to explore the use of immersive policy development exercises like Canada Beyond 150 to develop a broader suite of training tools and approaches for the public service. The federal public service is launching its Medium Term Policy planning cycle, and the learnings and methods from Canada Beyond 150 will directly inform the trajectory of its analysis. Finally, Policy Horizons Canada is exploring ways to take up the Canada Beyond 150 toolkit and learning model in its future foresight studies and learning modules.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Methods and Tools
Canada Beyond 150 deployed a uniquely designed, easy to use platform to screen applicants in a name-blind fashion. It created statistical tools to observe bias and weight application assessments accordingly, which helped to recruit a truly diverse and inclusive field of candidates.
It also used a unique suite of methods. It blended the future-focused approach of foresight studies with the user-centred sensibility of design thinking, and prioritized close engagement with partners and stakeholders throughout. This tri-partite lens surfaced unique analyses, diverse perspectives, and truly creative proposals for policy interventions.
Finally, it used digital platforms to support the work across regions and sectors – work that brought an innovative approach to areas of public policy that had hitherto been unexplored or underdeveloped. These tools allowed for a greater degree of transparency, participation, and accessibility in the policy development process.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The learnings from Canada Beyond 150 are currently being disseminated throughout Canada’s federal public service.
At the level of content and analysis, the project reports and findings are being used to inform the Government of Canada-wide Medium Term Planning cycle.
At the level of tools and approach, the innovative model deployed by Canada Beyond 150 is being examined for broader use and applicability in public service training and professional development by the Canada School of the Public Service.
Finally, the participant cohort continues to lead on the issues identified under the project. For example, the team on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples continues to meet regularly to discuss issues in this space, and to brief on its policy proposals and approaches to the senior management cadre within the federal civil service.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Canada Beyond 150 participants' learning, foresight analyses and policy proposals were enriched by ongoing dialogue with diverse partners from all sectors. Indigenous collaborators worked particularly closely with both the team designing the program and the participants working to better understand reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Many of the key collaborators elected to be recognized on this list: http://canadabeyond150.ca/collaborators-en.html
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Each participant group engaged with stakeholders and beneficiaries on their respective policy analyses and proposals. This included citizens; private firms and companies; other government offices and jurisdictions; and civil society organizations in a wide range of sectors and domains. For a full list of Users, Stakeholders, Partners, and Beneficiaries please see here: http://canadabeyond150.ca/collaborators-en.html
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Canada Beyond 150 has issued reports for each of the eight thematic areas and a ‘project magazine’ summarizing the methods, tools, analyses, and learnings. A post-project survey showed that these products and the participants' learnings have been shared with the participants' home departments (100%), and with civil society partners and stakeholders (33%). The same survey also found evidence that the program was promoting a shift to a more innovative public service. After the program, participants reported being comfortable: communicating openly with Canadians about their work (65%); with collaborative horizontal projects (95%); and trying new approaches to their work and experimenting with new methods (78%). In addition, it is expected that the analyses and proposals developed through Canada Beyond 150 will inform the Government of Canada’s policy suite and toolkit over the course of the medium-term policy planning cycle. An evaluation of the program's impact is underway.
Challenges and Failures
The project encountered challenges in delivering on the curriculum timeline, which was strictly confined to a 10-month period from June 2017-March 2018. . The ambitious planning of the project design team often conflicted with the pedagogical needs of the participants themselves. Learning new tools and methods; testing them out and adjusting accordingly; listening and engaging meaningfully with partners – all of these take time. And the reality of the amount of time it takes to execute these tasks well forced the design team to re-calibrate and adjust the curriculum accordingly. The lesson was to be agile instead of rigid – to adapt to circumstances as they materialized.
Conditions for Success
Leadership and guidance from the senior levels of the public service, including the Clerk of the Privy Council (Canada’s most senior public servant), was essential for the success of Canada Beyond 150. This provided the oxygen to allow the project to breathe and license for it to flourish. Access to experts in the policy development cycle and the unique suite of tools and approaches deployed in the project were also key conditions for success. These needed to be paired with a degree of support with financial resources, particularly to support the face-to-face meetings of participants from across the country. These were vital to advance the analysis and development of products like the final reports. Similarly, the success of the project is a reflection of the ambition and competence of its participant base, which was motivated and valued success and making a difference.
The Canada Beyond 150 policy toolkit has been replicated across a number of policy portfolios within the Government of Canada. Strategic policy shops are engaging in weak signal scanning and analysis and foresight analysis. Broad government movements like OneTeamGov and the Policy Community Partnership Office are deploying the user-centred focus of design thinking and techniques for co-creation and meaningful engagement at a broader scale across the federal civil service. These efforts focus on federal public service learnings, to be sure, but also implicate partners and stakeholders in other sectors and jurisdictions.
The immersive professional development model of Canada Beyond 150 is also being explored for use at larger scale and in other fora across the Government of Canada, with a particular focus at the Canada School of the Public Service.
Canada Beyond 150 was designed to encourage a shift to a more inclusive and innovative public service. The project design team identified a number of lessons to carry forward its spirit of experimentation and commitment to listening to diverse perspectives. These encourage public servants to:
Create environments that enable experimentation and experiential learning
A crucial part of experimentation is accepting that not all steps will go smoothly. Low-risk environments that facilitate experiential learning can have a transformative long-term effect, and help to strengthen
and expand the policy toolkit.
Support engagement wherever possible
The Canada Beyond 150 experience shows the remarkable power of engagement to help advance policy analysis and refine the design of policy proposals. This could apply equally to service and program design.
Engage in reconciliation, expect that it will be difficult, and don’t give up
The participants who chose to work on reconciliation experienced setbacks and discomfort. Reconciliation calls on public servants to examine their work within painful and continuing patterns of colonial organization
and resistance, and support efforts towards renewed relationships and better outcomes for Indigenous Peoples. The lesson from this program is to seek help, including from Indigenous Elders; seek out and prioritize Indigenous voices and perspectives; listen, reflect, and adjust; and keep trying for individual and institutional improvements that will advance reconciliation.
Recognize that embracing diversity and choosing inclusion within the public service can be valuable not only for fairness, but also for effectiveness
The Canada Beyond 150 model for diversity helped participants and the policy development process be better attuned to Canadians’ realities, which contributed to more responsive policy making.