I was very pleased that the Government recently launched Canada.ca/results. Last week, the Results and Delivery Unit (RDU) posted the data set we’re using to track mandate letter commitments at open.canada.ca, allowing anyone to poke around in the data and analyze it as they’d like.
In my first blog post, I’d like to share my broader reflections on the core work of the RDU and describe our role, goals and day-to-day work, beyond our more visible work tracking progress on mandate letter commitments and reporting on outcomes (more on those in my next post).
First, we work to prepare materials for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications. These materials – usually in the form of dashboards, heat maps and short progress reports -- outline progress on key priorities and discuss where attention might be needed. For example, our reports highlighted progress on gender-based budgeting and analysis across the system, as well as improved recruitment of under-represented groups in Canada’s uniformed and security agencies, but also identified where more progress was needed. Having a short stock take meeting with the Prime Minister and key leaders, supported by data, was a very helpful way to accelerate progress. As a result, there is now greater clarity across the public service that the Prime Minister expects targets to be met and rigorous gender-based analysis and budgeting on all new proposals. In practice, this means that analyses of proposals will more thoroughly assess the differential impact on different groups, like women or racialized communities. We will be finalizing shortly our approach to publicly sharing these reports on results we do for the Prime Minister.
Second, we help departments as they prepare new policy and program submissions. Our focus is on three simple questions: what are you really hoping to achieve? How will you achieve it? How will you evaluate whether you’re achieving it and adjust if things aren’t going well? This usually means offering advice to departments on their submissions to Cabinet, but could also involve looking in more detail at their programs. Recently, we’ve worked with departments as they clarified their policy goals and their evaluation strategies on many issues, including reducing homelessness, increasing broadband coverage in remote and rural communities, targeting the opioid crisis, improving outcomes for job training programs and reducing the carbon footprint of the federal government.
Third, we work closely with departments day-to-day to help Ministers overcome obstacles to successful delivery of their initiatives within the system. That means that rather than letting problems fester, we surface problems, direct them to the right decision-making forum, and try to accelerate progress. In some cases, we undertake deeper dives on high priority issues that are not progressing as quickly as anticipated. This involves examining the overall delivery chain and all of the various partners and policies that may help or hinder successful delivery, which could include the federal government’s own rules on procurement and contracting, slow decision-making or capacity on the ground with partners. One such recent example is long-term boil water advisories on reserve. This has been a complicated issue that has been difficult to resolve. So, a joint team, composed of representatives from the departments, from PCO and from communities has been mapping out the delivery chain and identifying challenges.
These three functions were not previously performed in a systematic way across the federal government. Of course, each in their own way was sometimes undertaken in response to particular situations, but not systematically in an on-going way. All of them are designed to support a larger objective: shift the culture of the federal government to one more preoccupied with implementation issues and focused on outcomes. This means more investment in people who can deliver programs and projects, and more investment in data and evaluation to determine what results are being achieved. So “Results & Delivery” isn’t just the name of the unit – they are our mission every day. I guess we’re an autonym.☺
The RDU team knows that systems change is not easy. We know that most attempts in large organizations at significant culture change do not stick. We also know that systems change is even more difficult in government because we do our work in public, with a high degree of media scrutiny. But getting the public service to systematically and consistently focus on delivery and results, and measure the real impact that programs and policies are having on Canadians, is crucial work. Organizations in all sectors are facing rapid disruption and existential threats. Government must change too, despite all the internal and external incentives to avoid taking risks.
This blog will be a place where I describe what we’re doing and discuss the challenges the public service confronts as we move towards a more outcomes-focused organization. In my next post I will discuss our approach to public reporting and what comes next.
Matthew Mendelsohn is the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet for Results and Delivery in the Privy Council Office, leading the federal government’s Results and Delivery Unit.