Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada on the Policy Community Project

July 29, 2016

Message from co-champions

Dear Clerk: 

It is with great pleasure that we submit this first report of the Policy Community Project to you. It will be made available to the federal public service at large on GCpedia.

When we were asked to champion this Project, we accepted with enthusiasm. There are few topics more central to our profession than the importance of providing excellent, responsive, evidence-based advice to government, and it was exciting to work with others throughout the public service to enhance this aspect of our work. A key challenge and opportunity before us was to tap into the wealth of knowledge and ideas from the policy community, with its members found from entry-level employees to our most senior leaders, in every occupational group, in all regions, and across all departments and agencies.

We therefore, early on, set out principles that would guide the work we do on the Policy Community Project.

  • The policy community is broadly defined and inclusive. We engaged with all potential members—inclusive of policy, program and service delivery—on how to improve.
  • The Project is widely accessible. We communicated through traditional and new channels, making full use of GC2.0 tools for collaboration.
  • The Project empowers participation across regions, levels and departments. We shared tools to encourage participation in and ownership of projects and initiatives.
  • The Project works “with” the policy community. We worked directly with members of the community to co-produce initiatives.
  • The Project is evergreen and the benefits will be ongoing. We developed recommendations and identified tools to strengthen the policy community; the focus on improvement should be ongoing to address evolving public service needs and issues.

Our Project was launched in Winter 2016, after planning and discussions took place with a network of engaged colleagues with shared interests in supporting and strengthening the policy community. The progress in advancing the Project, reflected in the report, was the result of the efforts of many individuals who shaped and fuelled it. We are grateful for all the time and effort put in by those who worked directly on the Project—the Project Secretariat, the Reference Group and those leading or contributing to a workstream—as well as those who participated in the engagement initiatives to provide their valuable perspectives—from armchair discussions and Twitter chats to e-surveys and meetings.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the work undertaken, as well as recommendations for avenues to pursue that we feel have the potential to enhance, strengthen and transform an already high-performing policy community. In particular, the report recommends “first steps”, such as launching a cross-sector mobility pilot project. Such a project could better leverage existing tools, with links to the talent management cycle, in order to ensure the necessary depth and diversity of skills in the public service. Another first step would be to validate, and ultimately rollout, a “policy standards” tool to help guide policy development. The report also recommends “fundamental changes”, such as modernizing the recruitment of policy professionals with tools to effectively recruit entry-level, mid-career and senior-level professionals (as a complement to all efforts to develop policy professionals already in the public service), establishing a community of practice and holding an annual policy workshop.

We believe there remains important work ahead. The pace and progress in advancing the Project has to date been driven by the outstanding response of many public servants with a true interest in ensuring a strong policy community. We see value in continuing to build on this progress, much like the Project itself builds on the excellent work already taking place across the public service. With the implementation of the recommendations in the report and in the pursuit of new work streams under the Project’s five themes—capacities and competencies, policy innovation, enabling conditions, measurement, and leaders and leadership—there is an opportunity to move forward. 

We thank you for the opportunity to lead this important work.

Philip and Diane

Philip Jennings
Associate Deputy Minister
Natural Resources Canada

Diane Jacovella
Associate Deputy Minister
Global Affairs Canada

1. Introduction

Sound policy advice is fundamental to the business of government and central to our role as public servants. Sound evidence and analysis underlies well-supported decision-making and effective outcomes. It bridges together multiple perspectives, responding to the needs of citizens, anticipating long-term trends and advancing the government’s objectives. It enables the government to deliver concrete actions for Canadians in a manner that reflects and promotes the values of our democracy.

Yet the policy challenges confronting our world, along with the growing web and complexity of issues affecting Canadian society, require us to reconsider how we work, the sources and methods that inform our policy advice, and the tools that influence and define our success.

We live in an increasingly global and interconnected world where issues and challenges transcend national borders. Rapid and constant advances in information and communication technologies have changed how we connect and interact with citizens and stakeholders alike. These technological advances are also giving rise to unprecedented amounts of data and providing a platform for new voices to join the policy conversation. Together, these changes call for new tools and capabilities to curate, process and analyze information in real time. They also enable new forms of collaboration—including the sharing of ideas, goods and services—with the potential to disrupt social and economic norms. These trends are empowering citizens to self-organize and interact with their governments—and each other—in new ways, changing expectations about the nature of the citizen-state relationship and the programs and services that accompany it.

These and other factors are creating new conditions and expectations for policy-making and challenge the public service to be networked, agile and innovative to enable the continued provision of high-quality policy advice. More importantly, each of these trends has important implications for policy professionals: what issues we focus on, which sources of evidence we privilege and consult, how we interpret the policy context, and how we relay this advice to elected officials. Our response to these challenges will determine how our advice is received, how relevant it is, and the extent of the impact we can have on the security, well-being and economic prospects of our fellow Canadians, and people around the world.

The Policy Community Project was born out of recognition of these changing conditions and realities, and a commitment to ensuring that our policy work remains sound, relevant and useful. Formally launched in Winter 2016 (with some preliminary work carried out in Fall 2015), the Policy Community Project set out to engage federal public servants in a meaningful and lasting dialogue on how to provide world-class, timely and responsive advice to government. To this end, we have focused on the following five themes:

  • The capacities and competencies required for policy practitioners to carry out their role and function;
  • New ways of working that better foster policy innovation;
  • The enabling conditions that promote open and networked policy development;
  • The characteristics of “good policy” and a focus on measurement; and
  • The cultivation of leaders and leadership that will strengthen the federal policy function.

This report outlines progress made, initial findings and overall recommendations, including opportunities for moving forward.

2. Context: what were our building blocks?

When approaching this Project, we recognized that we were building upon significant momentum and hard work that had already been initiated from across the public service. For example, our approach was shaped by the work of the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation (previously known as the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Social Media and Policy Development). This Committee has examined the changing context for policy development, identified innovative tools and approaches with the potential to transform policy and program outcomes, and committed to testing them in member departments and agencies.

Blueprint 2020 and Destination 2020 have also been important sources of information, inspiration and best practices, particularly for their ability to reach and mobilize a wide community of dedicated and innovative public servants.

Existing community networks within the federal public service, including the Young Professionals Network, the Recruitment of Policy Leaders, and the Advanced Policy Analysts Program, also offered valuable starting points for us to share perspectives, seek input and test ideas with public servants.

These initiatives, networks and reports have established a solid foundation for policy innovation across the federal public service, but we believe that the Policy Community Project has an important role to further shape this landscape, acting as a catalyst and focal point for dialogue and actions to strengthen the policy community. The policy innovation agenda advanced by the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation, and Blueprint 2020 and Destination 2020, as well as the various networks, have yet to focus on the specific role of the policy professional—the skills, leadership, enabling conditions and standards required to carry out excellent policy work; it is here that we have focused our attention.

3. Structure and governance: How were we organized?

As co-champions of the Policy Community Project, we deliberately chose to work with a team of interested and engaged collaborators at various levels across government, many of whom volunteered to be part of the work.

We particularly benefited from the efforts of a dedicated group of Assistant Deputy Ministers and their Reverse Mentors. These collaborators became partners in our work and formed the Project’s Reference Group. The Reference Group has been instrumental in guiding and shaping the Project, helping focus our intent and scope, developing a set of core principles and advancing efforts in each of our five thematic areas. Each member of the Reference Group was invited to champion one of the five themes and identify a workstream captain (appointed from within the member’s department) who would help create a work plan and lead an interdepartmental project team to advance the plan. These project teams were also comprised of volunteers who came forward at project events or who reached out to us online to offer their time.

Finally, a core Secretariat team, with representation from each of the co-champion departments (i.e., Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Global Affairs Canada), supported the Project’s activities, acting as a liaison between the Reference Group and the broader policy community, and undertaking an analysis of findings across all thematic areas.

4. Activities and methods: What did we do?

From the outset, we understood that the way in which we worked was key to landing on the right conclusions and recommendations and to building early buy-in for implementation. Therefore, we focused on establishing engagement mechanisms and conducting activities that reflected our core principles; that is, to ensure wide accessibility of the Project and to empower participation across regions, levels and departments.

We began by examining previous and existing Government of Canada efforts focused on improving the policy capacity of the federal public service to familiarize ourselves with what had already been done, the networks we could leverage and the resources upon which we could build. We also researched international perspectives from other jurisdictions, including the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand and Australia, to better understand how they have focused on enhancing policy capacity within their respective governments, and interviewed key individuals from these governments.

As co-champions, we met with a number of Deputy Ministers. These one-on-one discussions enabled us to gain insights from some of the most senior officials from across the public service and to benefit from their wealth of knowledge and experience. We were encouraged to find that Deputies expressed widespread support for strengthening the policy capacity of the public service.

We used online Government of Canada tools, including GCconnex and GCpedia, to reach a broad audience virtually. We held five discussions on GCconnex on varying topics to better understand the role of policy analysts today. In addition, we conducted online surveys to learn more about how the policy community defines itself and the opportunities envisioned to strengthen it. Finally, we participated in Twitter chats and leveraged social media to engage public servants on the Project’s themes and to share information about upcoming events. One such event, a #LeadersGC tweetchat generated 550,000 impressions, several hundred tweets, 424 participants and 1,651 connections.

The Project’s official launch event took place as an “armchair discussion” in February 2016 and was organized in collaboration with the Canada School of Public Service. The discussion included speakers from different departments and organizations including Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Carleton University, who were invited to share their perspectives on the policy field and the changing environment in which policy is developed. The event was well attended, both in person and online—a promising sign of virtual engagement!

Each of the five thematic teams also undertook specific projects and activities aimed at developing tools and resources for the policy community. This work, and the key findings derived from it, is described below and was the basis for a retreat held in May 2016 at which point we came up with concrete recommendations.

5. Thematic workstreams: What did we do and what did we hear?

I. Capacities and competencies

This workstream set out to explore the capacities, competencies and experiences needed for policy professionals to carry out their role and function effectively. The effort was co-led by Rachel Wernick, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy, Planning and Corporate Affairs at Canadian Heritage and Chris MacLennan, Acting Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet for Priorities and Planning at the Privy Council Office (PCO). The team also included Reverse Mentors Amanda Sobchak and Leanne Labelle, as well as Steve Findlay, Lauren Gregus, Drin Rrahmani, Amanda Troupe, Kristen O’Hare and Nisa Malli.

At the outset, it became clear to the team that there is no single definition of “policy professional”, “policy-maker” or “policy analyst” in the Canadian federal public service. These terms are typically used interchangeably, across occupational groups and classifications. What is more, each occupational group and classification has different assessment criteria for required capacities, competencies and experiences, as well as educational requirements.

The team discovered that at a Government of Canada-wide level, numerous organizations have established initiatives for identifying, defining, developing and hiring policy professionals, including the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, the Public Service Commission of Canada and the Canada School of Public Service. To establish a baseline of information, the team undertook various research and engagement activities to help unpack the issue, including:

  • Collecting promising international examples of development and recruitment efforts from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, which could provide insights and options on how to strengthen the policy community;
  • Developing an inventory of promising initiatives that could be used to support and strengthen the policy community based on the December 2015 Blueprint 2020 Progress Reports from 29 participating Departments and Agencies;
  • Engaging with the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Public Service Commission of Canada to better understand their respective roles in identifying the capacities and competencies of policy-makers as well as the processes and resources for their development and recruitment;
  • Working with the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer to undertake a preliminary analysis of occupational group classifications, typically considered “policy professionals” (e.g., EC, PM, CO, EX) as an initial measure to scope the characteristics of this employee population (e.g., number of employees, demographics, percentage of work force, etc.); and
  • Participating in online engagement sessions through a #LeadersGC Tweet Chat, holding preliminary discussions with university programs targeted at developing policy professionals and reviewing departmental recruitment programs.

Based on this information, the team used a broad definition of “policy-maker” when engaging and consulting with public servants on questions related to capacities and competencies to recognize the wide scope of policy activities that are performed by public servants across all classifications and at all levels:

“A ‘policy-maker’ is a public servant who develops and analyzes policy; presents policy analysis, options and recommendations to senior officials; presents policy analysis, options and recommendations to the Minister/ Minister’s Office; undertakes research and analysis to develop evidence-based policy or program positions ; and, prepares briefing notes, presentations, comments and similar documents on policy positions.”

In May 2016, the team conducted an electronic survey (e-survey) on capacities and competencies to seek public servants’ views on ways to recruit, retain and develop policy practitioners. The e-survey was posted on GCpedia for access by all federal employees and over 750 public servants responded from over 18 different departments and agencies and across 19 different classification groups. Key findings include:

  • Most respondents identified themselves as a ‘policy professional’ because of their involvement in “preparing briefing notes, presentations, comments and similar documents on policy positions” and “presenting policy analysis, options and recommendations to senior officials”;
  • Respondents expressed that their work is most closely related to “program policy” followed by “strategic policy”; and
  • Although respondents were from a range of classification groups, most were from Economics and Social Science Services (EC), Program Administration (PM), the Executive (EX) level and Commerce (CO).

Competencies and capacities

  • Written communication, collaboration with partners and stakeholders and policy analysis skills were identified by policy professionals as the top three competencies (i.e., professional skills and abilities) for performing their job, while judgement, adaptability and problem solving were identified as the top three key capacities (i.e., personal/interpersonal skills and abilities).
  • On-the-job activities were identified as the top way to develop policy professionals’ competencies and capacities.
  • Create vision and strategy, promote innovation and guide change, and leading teams were identified as the most valuable competencies to develop in order for policy professionals to perform their job in the next five years, while relationship building, innovative and networking skills were identified as the most valuable capacities.
  • And rotational opportunities were identified as the top thing a department or agency could do to better support policy professionals in developing and maintaining their key competencies and capacities.


  • Develop a departmental post-secondary recruitment campaign, recruit through Recruitment of Policy Leaders/ Advanced Policy Analyst Program and advertise and recruit policy professionals from the private sector were identified as the top three things that a department or agency could do to better recruit policy professionals into the federal public service.

The results of the e-survey suggest that policy professionals desire to maintain, develop and enhance their capacities and competencies to better perform their jobs now and in the future. Departments and agencies can help policy professionals develop and maintain their key competencies and capacities by providing them with on-the-job activities and rotational opportunities. Additional details can be found in the e-survey report posted on GCpedia.

These numerous efforts affirmed that the public service currently relies on a decentralized approach to recruitment, retention and development of policy professionals across the federal public service and reinforced the value of considering a whole-of-government approach to defining and reinforcing the policy community as a profession.

II. Policy innovation

This thematic area was led by JD Neil Bouwer, Assistant Deputy Minister for Science and Policy Integration at Natural Resources Canada, and Catrina Tapley, Assistant Deputy Minister for Strategic and Program Policy at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ADMs were supported by Reverse Mentors Sabrina Persaud and Gina Clark. The team set out to learn more about opportunities to catalyse innovation in policy development.

The team successfully developed and launched a web portal on New Policy Instruments and Approaches on GCpedia in February 2016. The Portal, which was highlighted in the Twenty-third Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, provides information on new instruments and approaches and highlights when to use them, as well as promising domestic and international examples of how they have been put into practice. The portal was created to better share information about new policy instruments and approaches within the Government of Canada—by leveraging collaborative technology at scale—and to reduce duplication across the system. Since its launch, the portal has received over 5,000 hits, with users most interested in “Open” approaches (i.e., Open Data and Open Policy Making). The portal was developed using information gleaned at a series of workshops on different policy instruments held in Fall 2015. It will continue to grow in size, scope, and sophistication in order to support policy innovation and program experimentation.

The team also completed a review of the various barriers to policy innovation and shared their findings in a report published on GCconnex. In collaboration with the Canada School of Public Service, the Policy Innovation team organized an “armchair discussion” on new ways of working that can catalyze and encourage creativity. The event attracted nearly 400 public servants (90 in person and over 300 via webcast), as well as online interest via Twitter. Building on this work, the team later organized an informal policy dialogue with close to 50 public servants and conducted a series of interviews to discuss and experiment with problem-solving approaches in different sectors, including health and education, which could be leveraged to overcome barriers to innovation.

Based on this work, the team found that public servants are keen to engage on innovation with colleagues and stakeholders, suggesting a need to establish a community of practice that could support the testing of innovative ways of working. Attempts to inform and encourage the use of innovative policy approaches could fall short if existing barriers and structures inhibit public servants from using transformational instruments. For example, cultural barriers such as risk-aversion and resistance to change can limit the promotion and adoption of innovative practices. Finally, the team identified the need for innovation to be self-sustaining within the public service.

Options identified by the team to further work in this area include:

  • Issuing a pro-innovation policy statement (“positive policy”) that would provide explicit senior-level license for innovation and experimentation and set out corresponding expectations, thereby encouraging and enabling the policy community to explore new ways to drive public value through innovative practices (this is being pursued through the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation);
  • Adopting the Portal on Novel Policy Instruments and Approaches and scaling up the use of the expanded toolkit, establishing it as a centralized source of knowledge and sharing information for the federal policy community;
  • Developing a framework on policy instrument choice that could help teams identify the most appropriate policy tool given desired outcomes; and
  • Enabling the allocation of a dedicated pool of funds that could be used for experimentation and risk-taking using innovative policy approaches and developing an experimentation guide to help policy practitioners evaluate pilots and testing.

III. Enabling conditions

The Enabling Conditions workstream was established to better understand the key conditions required to promote open and networked policy development, and to consider how these conditions could be applied consistently.

The team was led by Kathryn McDade, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Income Security and Social Development at Employment and Social Development Canada, and supported by Reverse Mentors Sean Turnbull and Michelle Piano, as well as workstream captain James van Raalte. Members of the Project Secretariat (Jennifer Miller and Noah Pollak) also contributed research and undertook activities in support of the team’s efforts.

Considering the broad theme, the team decided to narrow its focus to cross-sector mobility as a particular enabling condition for a thriving policy community. In particular, the team considered whether we have the right mix of tools, incentives and supports within the federal public service to learn from and work with public servants at other levels of government and members of the private and not-for-profit sectors through mobility efforts. This includes both bringing outside experts into the public service and sending public servants out to other levels of government and the private and not-for-profit sectors to gain valuable experience. For employers, cross-sector mobility can offer a flexible and expeditious way to fill knowledge gaps, obtain a better understanding of the workings of partner sectors, and create a strong diversity of views within an organization. For employees, cross-sector mobility is recognized as providing important developmental opportunities that can improve productivity by providing an opportunity to develop new skills, ways of working and perspectives. Done strategically, cross-sector mobility can also be low-cost and low-risk, and enhance recruitment and retention efforts.

The team made use of several lines of inquiry to advance an understanding of key barriers, conditions for success, and opportunities‎ for new approaches to cross-sector mobility, including:

  • Building on a Public Policy Forum (PPF) report on cross-sector mobility by contracting with PPF to initiate a second stage of research (consisting of roundtables and interviews) focused on verifying this work in a Government of Canada context;
  • Conducting an informal review of international cross-sector mobility models and comparing these to the Canadian context; and
  • Working with the Capacities and Competencies team to include cross-sector mobility questions (e.g., regarding Interchange Canada1 and mobility in general) in their e-survey to help shed some light on the general level of awareness of and interest in cross-sector mobility within the federal policy community.

The team’s findings focused on both existing mobility tools and their use. While examining Interchange Canada as a key mobility instrument, the team noted that there seems to be no major issues with the tool itself, but that it could be used more often and more strategically. Interchange participation dropped significantly between 2007 and 2012. When the program is used, it tends to be used in the context of facilitating work opportunities with other levels of governments and agencies rather than across the private and not-for-profit sectors.

In addition, the team identified several barriers to cross-sector mobility within the federal public service. These include: a general lack of awareness of the opportunities and mechanisms available to public servants and potential host organizations; cumbersome and complicated application processes with insufficient administrative support; fear of being “left behind” or “forgotten” by one’s home organization; fears around conflict of interest; and cultural resistance to employees exploring cross-sector mobility opportunities (which may result from unclear value propositions to all parties, outside experience not being recognized/valued as part of career progression, etc.).

Early engagement on this theme resulted in the identification of opportunities for further work:

  • Better awareness-raising and the deliberate and strategic promotion of Interchange and cross-sector mobility within the federal public service, particularly in the context of supporting the talent management cycle; and
  • Identifying ADM- and DM-level champions to pilot the strategic implementation of cross-sector mobility opportunities within their organizations, as well as those at middle management and working levels to promote and take up the opportunities.

IV. Measurement

The measurement workstream was tasked with addressing one of the most important and challenging questions we face as policy practitioners; that is, how do we measure good policy? Nicholas Leswick, Assistant Deputy Minister of Economic and Fiscal Policy at Finance Canada and workstream captain/Reverse Mentor, Nelson Patterson, led one stream of activities while Project Secretariat members Aysha Mawani, Muneeba Omar and Gemma LeGresley (all from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) led another.

As a first step, the team reached out to the newly formed Results and Delivery unit at PCO to gain an understanding of their work and the development of the Delivery and Outcomes Charters intended to outline targets and indicators for major policy areas across government.

The Secretariat team conducted research on what other jurisdictions had done in terms of establishing a set of “policy standards” to help policy-makers throughout the policy process, and held informal discussions with peers on the issue. The team also looked into previous Government of Canada activity in this space. Several jurisdictions had implemented initiatives to reinforce the policy function. For example, the UK Department of Education introduced a series of “Policy Tests,” the New Zealand Treasury Department issued a document entitled “Quality Standards for Policy Advice,” and the Province of Ontario developed its own “Quality Policy Standards”.

The team found that the development of policy standards is gaining momentum amongst different policy communities, including in provincial jurisdictions in Canada. The team further noted the utility that other jurisdictions place on the standards. For example, employees in the UK found that policy standards challenged assumptions in a clear way such that if a policy initiative failed to meet a given standard, it was fairly straightforward to understand where lay the shortcoming. The UK policy standards are now being used within early policy formulation, to review delivery processes and implementation plans, and in the review of existing policy areas.

Following this research and analysis, the Secretariat team set out to develop a tool on “policy standards” for federal policy-makers to help define their work and develop sound policy advice. The tool sets out clear principles that represent the key dimensions of policy development and which are intended to be used as a reference at any stage of the policy process. The tool is intended to support discussion and continuous improvement of the policy development function and to challenge policy advice.

The draft standards suggest that policies and policy-making should be:

  • Engaged and horizontal;
  • Strategic, aligned and forward-looking;
  • Results-focused;
  • Evidence-based;
  • Open and transparent; and
  • Integrated with service delivery.

There is an appetite and an interest in testing and validating the proposed tool and disseminating it broadly through various tools such as GCpedia and GCconnex.

V. Leaders and leadership

Leaders and Leadership is a cross-cutting theme that finds relevance across all areas of the Policy Community Project. The work team—led by Shawn Tupper, Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy at Transport Canada, along with workstream captain Ellen Burack and Reverse Mentor Marcia Jones—focused on a single overarching question: How do we cultivate leaders and leadership that understands and strengthens the policy function? In particular, the team set out to better understand the qualities of a good policy leader at all levels, the enabling environment required to help leaders thrive in a policy context, and the structural supports that could help strengthen policy leadership across the federal public service.

The team combined a mix of research and engagement activities to inform their findings. In the early stages of the Project, the team undertook research on policy leadership qualities and best practices, referring to both external literature and Government of Canada sources, such as Blueprint 2020 materials. The team also undertook research into policy leadership models in like-minded jurisdictions, namely, the UK and New Zealand (both of which have a policy champion called the “Head of the Policy Profession”).

Building on this research, the team organized a range of engagement activities that was designed to solicit feedback on key questions relevant to the cultivation of policy leaders and leadership. The central activity was a cross-departmental, online survey on leadership qualities and the workplace supports that are needed by leaders. As the work was focused on leadership at all levels, the survey canvassed policy professionals in both the analyst and managerial cohorts, including by engaging relevant networks such as the Young Professionals Network, the Recruitment of Policy Leaders and the Advanced Policy Analyst Program. Other initiatives included online chats and in-person discussion sessions, and a dedicated question in the February 2016 #LeadersGC Twitter chat on leaders and innovation, that was led by Deputy Minister Graham Flack and which engaged public servants of all levels.

Through their research, the team found that cultivating leaders and leadership is linked to:

  • Developing and maintaining policy professionals’ expertise;
  • Creating opportunities for horizontal collaboration and networking at all levels;
  • Trusting and empowering policy professionals to take appropriate risks;
  • Establishing and improving communications in support of a common identity for the policy community; and
  • Facilitating a common sense of purpose and a shared understanding of policy and policy development among policy professionals.

The workstream concluded that an environment that was built on the above characteristics and which was optimized for the cultivation of good policy leaders/leadership could be created by:

  • Establishing a common identity for the core policy community;
  • Facilitating the increased autonomy of policy professionals at the analyst level through early development of their leadership skills and the practical application of those skills, balanced by appropriate accountability; and
  • Mainstreaming collaborative behaviour across the policy community, including by setting an expectation that policy activities routinely involve collaboration/networking.

Overall assessment and recommendations

A number of recommendations emerged from each thematic workstream area. Each of these recommendations was discussed, refined and consolidated at a Policy Community Project Retreat (which included the Project’s co-Champions, Reference Group and Secretariat members), held at the end of May 2016.

During the retreat, participants shared their findings and workshopped potential recommendations for this report and opportunities for future work. Once recommendations had been refined by the group, all participants were invited to vote on those that they believed could be implemented quickly and with limited resource implications. This set of recommendations is referred to below as “first steps.” Other recommendations—those that required significant resources, time or investment from across the public service—were classified as “fundamental change” and are presented below for consideration.

We also presented our recommendations to the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation on June 17, 2016 in order to seek their members’ input and support. This was a very useful exercise and we were encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by members of the Committee. The insights gleaned during this meeting helped us further refine our recommendations below. A number of Deputies volunteered to pilot and/or champion various initiatives in the coming year. While several focused on how to support cross-sector mobility, there was also interest in piloting recruitment measures and policy workshops focused on community building and skills development.

Recommendations: “First steps”

1. Better understand the policy community

One consistent finding that emerged over the course of our work is that policy professionals are a varied and diverse group and there is no consistent definition or common understanding of their shared characteristics or functions. It is not always clear what constitutes “core” policy work, as opposed to work that supports or flows from policy development. Given the diversity of work done in policy units (whether strategic, program-focused, or other), and the many pathways that lead to policy work in the federal public service, this conclusion is not surprising.

The preliminary information gathered on policy professionals, combined with the results of the e-survey on capacities and competencies, could be used as a starting point to better identify and understand the policy community. An enhanced understanding of what constitutes a policy professional, including by identifying those who define themselves as such, could lead to better and more deliberate decisions about the development, recruitment and retention of policy professionals.

Recommendation 1: Work with the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, the Public Service Commission and the Canada School of Public Service to collate their learnings and best practices and build the base of evidence on policy professionals and the policy community. This would include working with the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer to add “policy” as a community of choice in the upcoming Public Service Employee Survey to ensure a reliable and predictable source of information on policy professionals and the policy community into the future. By doing so, we can isolate the policy community responses to see the challenges, opportunities, and priorities of this community and work to better support their interests and needs.

2. Convene the policy community

Over the course of our work across each thematic workstream, we noted that policy professionals at all levels are keen to engage with their colleagues on best practices in policy development and innovation, suggesting both a need and an appetite for a practical and accessible policy community of practice. In this regard, we determined that a yearly gathering, supported/co-hosted by different departments, to convene members of the policy community could help build a sense of belonging and investment in its members. It would also provide a platform for network building and development.

Recommendation 2: Launch a national policy workshop to support horizontal collaboration, networking, and community-building for policy professionals and policy practitioners. The workshop would mirror similar events organized by other communities of practice such as the Community of Federal Regulators’ Annual National Workshop or the Communications Community Office’s Annual Learning Day. Potential topics for the national policy workshop could include enhancing skills and abilities of current and future policy practitioners in innovative fields such as open policy-making, social innovation and behavioural economics.

3. Launch a cross-sector mobility pilot project

In view of the changing context for policy-making, and the fact that we need to move towards a more porous and fluid policy environment, it is timely to reconsider how to revitalize cross-sector mobility initiatives that benefit the public service, the employee and the host organization. When doing so, it will be important to address barriers that were identified throughout the consultation period.

Recommendation 3: Engage ADM and/or DM-level champions to pilot cross-sector mobility initiatives with relevant stakeholders in other levels of government and the private and not-for-profit sectors, ensuring opportunities are deliberate, strategic, branded appropriately, and aligned with the talent management cycle. Champions could help forge external partnerships with potential host organizations and identify candidates to participate in such projects. It would also be important to identify middle management and working level champions in piloting organizations who would be responsible for taking up, implementing and promoting the new program. The national policy workshop proposed in Recommendation 2 could provide an excellent venue at which to raise awareness about cross-sector mobility pilots.

4. Develop/streamline specialized training for the policy community

The diversity and fluidity of the policy community within the federal public service suggests that we rely on a spectrum of skills in areas including written communication, narrative development, knowledge of process, the ability to analyze complex data, issues and problems, as well as important emerging skill sets/fields, such as behavioural economics. In order to develop and maintain core policy capacities, we could develop a training package that would include required courses, tools and networks to support the development and/or maintenance of policy expertise through both formal and informal learning opportunities.

Recommendation 4A: Work with the Canada School of Public Service to establish “policy professionals” as a distinct group of learners. Undertake further work with the school to develop online and in-person courses and training sessions for policy professionals across their career life-cycle, promote training opportunities at all levels and create modern training programs that leverage insights from previous training (e.g., Cabinet Bootcamp, Budget Bootcamp, etc.).

Recommendation 4B: Test and validate the draft policy standards tool developed as part of this Project, and launch a structured validation and testing exercise to identify gaps and shortcomings. In addition to using government online resources (GCconnex and GCpedia) to raise awareness about the tool, the national policy conference proposed as part of recommendation 2 could provide an excellent opportunity to familiarize people with the policy standards. Consideration could also be given to seeking external expertise and feedback on the development of policy standards from other professionals and experts in the field, including Treasury Board Secretariat. Such expert advice and feedback could help validate the standards and help mainstream its use going forward.

Recommendations: “Fundamental change”

5. Build and formalize a “Policy Community”

The issue of identifying and formalizing a core “policy community” was an interesting source of inspiration and tension throughout our work and influenced each thematic workstream area. The Canadian policy community is broad, diverse and inclusive. While this diversity can strengthen our advice, we also have an obligation to consider the health, vitality and relevance of the function as a whole, and to provide the framework and resources needed to support its growth and development in a modern policy context. A formal community supported by a structured framework and concrete resources could provide guidance and inspiration for policy professionals at all levels. We looked at jurisdictions having a Head of the Policy Profession, and began to consider whether having a Head or similar policy champion would be beneficial in the Canadian context. We believe that structured leadership of some sort (relevant to our particular context) is an idea worthy of further exploration.

Recommendation 5: Endorse the concept of identifying and formalizing a core federal Policy Community, with consideration given to models that account for the various pathways and roles used to enter and exit the policy community; the spectrum of skills required to develop good policy; and the need to integrate early policy thinking with program and service delivery outcomes, as well as with regional considerations. Specific streams of interest within such a formalized policy community could also be identified (e.g., Indigenous, finance and economics, social policy, international, etc.), keeping in mind that permeability (i.e., moving in and out of the policy community) is a core feature of policy development in today’s context.

As a preliminary step, consideration could be given to examining two possible models to establish the policy community: 1) a community of practice similar to the Community of Federal Regulators; and/or 2) working with senior officials and Central Agencies to establish dedicated and resourced leadership (e.g., a head of policy profession similar to the UK). A structured policy community would also provide a forum for recognizing and modelling examples of outstanding individual and collective policy leadership, which exist at all levels, departments and agencies of the federal public service.

6. Modernizing the recruitment of policy professionals

Recruitment in the modern policy context is not a linear process and the assumptions that once guided our thinking in this area need to be refreshed. In the current policy context, we need to recruit entry-level, mid-career and senior-level professionals to ensure the optimal balance of experiences and capabilities. We also need to continue developing policy professionals so they can continuously sharpen their policy toolbox.

Recommendation 6: Explore and develop options to modernize the recruitment of policy professionals at all stages, levels and throughout the career life-cycle, and work with Central Agencies and the Public Service Commission to develop a focused committee to study the issues in this regard; leverage existing programs that have recruited and/or developed strong policy professionals in the federal public service (e.g., the Recruitment of Policy Leaders Program and the Advanced Policy Analyst Program).

Final thoughts

The two tiers of recommendations presented in this report raise some interesting reflections and questions. Some, our first steps, seem to be in reach within our existing model and resources. Others, the fundamental changes, would require endorsement and investment from policy leaders outside of the scope of the current Project group.

The Policy Community Project, like so many other innovation initiatives across the public service, was driven by volunteers. In some cases, public servants were able to reserve a portion of their time to participate in our work, supported by their managers’ agreements and in line with their learning and development goals. In many other cases, they dedicated their personal time to the Project, driven by a commitment to the profession and a modern, relevant public service. While this model provided us with flexibility to recruit across department lines and to benefit from a broad range of perspectives and skills, it also dictated our pace, as well as what we were able to achieve. Going forward, the pace of work could certainly be bolstered with some dedicated resources.

Our path forward will also be shaped by the government’s unfolding agenda. In particular, the government’s emphasis on engagement, consultation, and experimentation are expected to provide fertile ground for new policy approaches and to test our skills as policy-makers. It is our hope that the Policy Community Project will be able to support the public service as it responds to these new imperatives. 

Finally, our conversations with policy leaders across the public service, from the most senior to the working levels, suggest a genuine interest and commitment to reinforcing and strengthening the policy function across government. Leveraging this interest and energy will be critical to the shape and progress of the Project going forward.

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