Introduction to the 2018-2019 IIU Annual Report

Rodney Ghali, Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Impact and Innovation Unit, Privy Council Office

I am happy to present the 2018-2019 Impact and Innovation Unit Annual Report. We have had a busy and productive year and this blog (and report) will highlight some of the key elements of the Impact and Innovation Unit’s work.

The Impact and Innovation Unit is made up of highly skilled, dedicated public servants striving to deliver the best policies and programs, by taking a “mission-driven” approach to transforming government. Our central hypothesis is that by being relentless in our focus on outcomes-based methods and working horizontally across government and sectors, we can achieve better, measurable outcomes for Canadians. For those who work with and within government, you know that’s not always the way we work.

We understand that we’re stewards of public funds and the responsibility that carries. As such, it behooves us to modernize our policy and program approaches so that they are focused on achieving our collective outcomes, demonstrate value and meaningful impact. To this end, we’ve continued to take an active role in the global movement of governments that are working to mainstream methods like challenge prizes, behavioural insights, pay-for-performance and pay-for-success funding models. The promise of these methods is that it focuses efforts not on the process or outputs of a program, but rather on clearly defining the sought after outcome and ensuring there is a multisectoral approach to achieving it.

These approaches require new partnership models where government, not-for profit and private sectors need to work very differently together. We strongly believe that robust engagement, co-design, and co-development is the best path to get us there.

2018-2019 was our first full year of operations under Impact Canada, our main platform for undertaking this work. With the help of domestic and international partners, we spent a lot of time developing and refining methodologies to ensure the approaches we are taking are sound, evidence-based and rigorous by design. This type of work requires much more effort than traditional ways of working, but we feel confident that it is worth it.

Not surprisingly, government as a whole is not ready for this at scale, but we have seen important pockets of readiness. Change is hard and can be unsettling for some. Our collective perception of risk is not calibrated appropriately. We shouldn’t equate new with risky. Rather, we need to constantly question status quo, understand the risks of maintaining it, and recognize when we need to responsibly test something new to achieve the desired policy objective. Ultimately, we need to adopt a more iterative approach to policy/program design and delivery.

We continue to work hard to move from concept to implementation, and to show what is possible and gain wider acceptance of these methods.

We’re still in early days and don’t have enough concrete outcomes, but there have been important process improvements. We’ve also received positive feedback from our external stakeholders regarding this new “look and feel” of government. Moreover, we have indications that the methods we use are attracting non-traditional players, on the premise that new players can lead us to better solutions not previously contemplated.

These methods are not silver bullets and are not the answer to every public policy challenge. We have been deliberate in project selection to cover social, economic and environmental policy areas, big and small, so that as we move to impact assessment, we will have a better understanding of what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. It’s why we are also developing new impact measurement methodologies to assess progress so that we can continuously learn and improve.

The past year has been filled with excitement, promise and lots of hard work. As such, I want to personally thank my team and other colleagues in the Privy Counil Office, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Correctional Services Canada, Crown and Indigenous Relations, Employment and Social Development, Finance Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, Heritage, Indigenous Services, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Treasury Board Secretariat. Also, a huge thanks to our Advisory Committee and all of our external partners that have collaborated and helped guide our work.

Looking forward to another excellent and productive year as we all continue to work towards making the lives of Canadians better.

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