Lots of people building a barn means everyone has their stake, has their part, and pulls together as a whole.

PS Renewal is like building a large barn: There's a blueprint, everyone has their part of the whole to work on, and everyone pulls together. And without enough supports, it can also fall down on everyone

Sub-title: An idea for how the Government can get on board with Web 2.0, solve its problems, and continue to adapt – all at once

First off – who am I to be writing about Public Service Renewal? As this blog is supportive of my quasi-academic studies on public administration, I studied Public Service Renewal starting from before it made it into PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch’s 2006 14th report (his first report as PCO Clerk – yes, I was following him closely from the start). Recently I dug up the papers I submitted while completing my graduate studies in Public Administration/Public Management (what’s the difference between the two nowadays, really?). Some of my papers are now on my GC20 wiki gathered together here.

In my 2006 paper aptly-titled “The Public Service – Indefinite Renewal or in Definite Renewal?” (see that? that’s one clever title), I argue that upcoming renewal efforts were even less of the same. I also draw a comparison that public service renewal efforts were a response to the media’s unflattering views on the public service, and that renewal was more about managing appearances than fixing the system. I compared upcoming reforms (gathered from PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch’s speeches on the matter) to priorities from previous Renewal efforts (particularly La Relève and PS 2000) which were more comprehensive. Like previous renewal efforts, I foresee the current one will not be completed.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you define “Public Service Renewal” (PSR):

  • “Public Service Renewal”, as an initiative, is an ambitious project launched by former PCO Clerk Kevin Lynch in his 14th report to redefine the public service, readjust its course and make it excellent.

In my paper reviewing the Public Service Renewal plans, I argue there were little ways PSR could succeed, considering the volatile minority government, the ambition of Lynch’s plans, and the current culture of the public service.

A year later Lynch’s following report (#15) was more modest, seeking instead to re-align HR processes to be more efficient less ineffective, to recruit better talent, and to reduce bureaucratic burdens.  A year after that, Lynch’s 16th report was even more modest, reporting on the progress of ongoing programs, initiatives, and giving an update of their success.

Now, without yet a public word from the current head of the public service, PCO Clerk Wayne Wouters since he was announced almost 4 months ago, the direction or priority remains unclear for public service renewal (or anything for that matter on the public service. Within the same amount of time in office, Kevin Lynch had delivered 4 speeches already and established PSR as a priority with 4 weeks). I would say that already there really isn’t much left in the Public Service Renewal, but my blogging mentor Etienne Laliberté would perhaps say differently. In his paper “An Inconvenient Renewal“, Etienne is fairer in his assessment of Public Service Renewal stressing the role of the public service itself be involved with the public service renewal, “convinced that public service excellence begins with the excellence of its employees. In other words, we may be the problem, but we are also the solution“. I couldn’t agree more.

  • “Public Service Renewal”, as a term, has evolved to becoming a metonymy for an evolving public service, a modernising public service, an unfixed and flexible public service.

To evoke “Public Service Renewal” in discussion is to refer to possibilities, efforts and opportunities for the public service. I don’t know if it’s either wishful thinking, or a push for something greater, but I know if you’re talking about Public Service Renewal and you’re not talking about Integrated planning, professional recruitment, workforce representation, leadership development frameworks, official languages or service infrastructure (all terms right there in PSR objectives in the 16th report), you’re not talking about the Government of Canada-wide initiative.

Should PCO Clerk Wouters keep up PSR efforts? I don’t know, and my Public Servant hat has me say “don’t go there”. But really, I don’t know. My most creative imagination on the bluest of Sunday mornings cannot fathom the quantum complexities of the work PCO deals with at any one time. But on PSR I suggest something different. I suggest a different way for PCO to work on Public Service Renewal efforts, using, you guessed it, Web 2.0.

I suggest that PCO totally crowdsource Public Service Renewal. Totally. Let the public service own it, improve it, implement it.

Think about it. The head of the public service establish the goals, the public service determine the means, the solutions. Let all those with the problems, those with the solutions, and those with the means to implement, share their knowledge. The director, senior analyst, HR expert, procurement expert, everyone submit their problems and solutions, and vote on them. No need for specially-formed committees and sub-committees, invitation-only expert panels that concisely frame the issues and pare them down to logic models.

It could possibly be the best collaborative policy development exercise ever. The benefits would improve the public service and set the trend for everything else.

How to do it?

I provide 6 points to crowdsource it. Now, it is important to note that crowdsourcing isn’t a way to avoid work by merely giving a project to the public and picking it back up from daycare at the end of the day. Crowdsourcing is engaging a group of people to provide solutions to a defined problem. Crowdsourcing gets better solutions, the best ones, from the stakeholders.

With the right system in place, I suggest the crowdsourcing work applying these steps:

  1. Determining the problem:
    This involves identifying the desired result. A more efficient public service? A better quality public service? A more adaptable public service? PCO is in the best position to determine this across the board, and would involve consultation with the PM, Ministers (and maybe the citizens) to determine what they need the public service that serves them to be.
  2. Identifying the concerns:
    What do public servants consider to be the greatest impediments to their work? Ask public servants to submit their issues, and invite them to rate/vote other submitted issues. Examples may include “Crippling IT infrastructure”, “Ineffective HR framework” or “The stifling practice of Information Hoarding”
  3. Reward/Recognise/Praise:
    those Public Servants for identifying and submitting the issues deemed most popular by fellow public servants.
  4. Categorise, group the issues.
    Put the most popular ones at the top.
    I.e.: “Crippling IT infrastructure”: IM/IT, “Ineffective HR framework”: HR or “The stifling practice Information Hoarding”: Culture
  5. Gather solutions
    Ask for innovative solutions from public servants to the most popular issues. The solutions may even already exist in departments that have already innovated a solution (for example, did you know the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans can staff an internal position in 3 weeks? Whoa…). Ask public servants to rate/vote on the solutions they like best.
  6. Start to implement the solutions
    Analysts draw up implementation plans, and share with the whole public service using a wiki (like GCPEDIA). Added benefit of this: support from the top is communicated and plans are transparent.

I know, this redefines Public Service Renewal as a process with PCO as the platform, public service as the implementers and champions as the stewards.

What’s the worst that can happen? Public Service Renewal doesn’t happen.

What’s the best that can happen? Canada has a public service that can “Recommit to excellence as the hallmark of how we do our work. Public servants have always been rightly proud of what they can do. We need to reaffirm our traditional values of excellence in service delivery and policy development as the basis for our future success…It is up to us to show that we can “learn while doing” and in particular that we can apply the lessons of experience in one part of the Public Service to challenges faced in other areas.” (PCO 14th report)

To GoC public servants: I know crowdsourcing was already implemented in an existing TBS project – I wanted to mention it but I don’t know if I can since I haven’t found any public information on it or know who to contact. I’d love to, but thems the rules (as far as I can tell)