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Innovate on demand

The Government of Canada is constantly looking for new ways to train public servants in an innovative and modern way. The launch of a series of podcasts by and for the federal public service, focused on innovation, will allow public servants to learn about innovative projects and processes. Listen to podcasts using AppleGoogleSpotify, or Stitcher

E6: Self-Help

Episode 6 is tailored towards those who struggle to innovate in the public service. Abe Greenspoon, Program Lead of Canada’s Free Agents focuses on what employees should look for in other people and within themselves when innovation just doesn’t seem possible.

Todd Lyons
Producer

Valeria Sosa
Project Manager, Engagement and Outreach

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence
Innovation and Policy Services

Abe Greenspoon
Program Lead, Canada's Free Agent Program
Natural Resources Canada

Length: 26:28

Transcript

INNOVATE ON DEMAND - "Self-Help"

TODD:
I'm Todd Lyons.

NATALIE:
I'm Natalie Crandall.

VALERIA:
I'm Valeria Sosa.

ABE:
And I'm Abe Greenspoon.

TODD:
And this is the Innovate On Demand podcast.

On this edition of the program: self-help. Reflections, realizations, and suggestions for a path forward for those who've struggled to innovate in the public service: what to look for in other people and within yourself when the frustration makes you feel like quitting.

NATALIE 
We're here today with our guest, Abe Greenspoon, who is going to talk to us a little bit about what it means to work in innovation in the public sector.

ABE 
Great. Well, what I thought about was [to] just give you some of my reflections on some of the work that I've been doing, with Free Agents in particular. It's given me a good perspective on what it's like to work on something different and innovative and trying to influence change in the public service. And the place I started was -- it's tough. There are days when this job can be a slog and days when when it's an incredible amount of work and when when you want to give up and just stop and go back to a regular nine to five job and just put in your time. And it's tempting sometimes to think that way. I think I'd be bored if if I tried to do something like that, but there are days when I think, why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this stress and this challenge that I'm facing? Personally, what I've figured out is that it's really important to have perspective. There are so many days when I love my job. Overall, I think I feel so fortunate and grateful to be in the position that I'm in. A great salary, great job security, but also a real opportunity to solve some big problems, and think about how I can influence systems to solve problems for Canada, on a much broader scale. And it's so easy to get sucked into your work and think about all the different challenges you face: the difficulties, the stressors on you, every day. And I talked to so many people in this community about their their challenges -- the challenge of balancing life and work and finding a good space for you to feel good about your work. But I think if you can just keep perspective on the opportunity you have and the contributions you make and the fact that you're in a really good position -- just working in the public service in general -- gives really good perspective. And I think it helps helps me get through those really difficult times.

NATALIE 
It's very interesting how you're articulating this Abe because something I've been thinking a lot about is what are the of the challenges or the barriers to our culture, our work environment for innovation? You talked a little bit about the stress and the challenge of actually doing innovative work within the public service, and how maybe a nine to five job wouldn't have those kinds of stresses. So maybe we could unpack a little bit what that is and think about how we might be able to mainstream innovation in a different way.

ABE 
Yeah, I definitely appreciate the question. I definitely think a few things. One thing that comes to mind first is that I think this idea of an 'innovation group' or an 'innovation bubble' or an 'innovation class' in some ways, I think about it -- it's really not a great way to think about things -- but we've set ourselves up that way. We've done things like we've created innovation hubs and labs, we've created teams of innovators, we've identified innovative things. And then by doing so, we've set up the opposite, right? We've put everybody else into the opposite bucket. What's up with that? Why do we do that? And what's the value of that? And I know we don't mean to do that, but that's not a good place to work from. Because now every time if you're working in that way, and if you're thinking about things in that way, every time you'll have a conversation with someone who perceives themselves as outside of that group, there's already going to be a barrier. You're already going to have a wall. You're going to have resistance from those people who probably want to see themselves that way and want to think about themselves that way. But you've set it up as that dichotomy -- that oppositional, confrontational relationship from the very beginning and that's not a good place to be. So a lot of the stress comes when people see us that way -- see me that way. And I'm responsible for some of that, I'll admit, and the place I always want to start is to look at myself. What are the things that I'm doing? And I find I create a lot of that stress myself, when I revert back to that mindset of 'they're the problem, I'm the solution,' and I just need to 'solve' them. I need to fix them because they're broken. And setting things up that way, it's a losing formula. And so when the stress comes, I find, is when when I set it up that way. And in conversations when you bring the person with you, when you try to understand where their head is at, what they're thinking about, what's their experience. And a lot of it is similar to the idea of user-centricity just understand the person and their experience. That's where empathy comes in. And I think that our stress comes from lacking empathy, from not being able to understand the experience of the person we're trying to work with.

VALERIA 
First of all, I just want to ask, how often do you have these feelings? [laughs]

ABE 
That stress?

VALERIA 
Yeah, is it weekly? Is it monthly? Is it daily?

ABE 
Probably every day. [laughs] And it comes and goes. And there are some times when it's more or less. But it's really hard to be able to lose your ego, to lose the importance of your own personal success and understand the success of the organization or the success of the team, or the success of the whole public service, or the success of Canada and your position within that. And when I get stressed out, I find it's when I lose sight of that, and that happens daily. It's a constant practice of trying to remind myself to get my head back to where I need it to be, which is thinking much bigger thinking much more contextually about why I'm contributing what I'm contributing.

NATALIE 
I couldn't agree with you more. I do think that the concept of pigeon-holing some people as innovators and therefore others as not innovators is incredibly damaging to that very culture that we're working all of us so hard to change within the public service. We're all innovators, because innovation is actually...

VALERIA 
Well... [laughs]

NATALIE 
...in a lot of ways...

ABE 
[laughs]

NATALIE 
...precisely...

VALERIA 
[laughter] Are we though? Are we? [laughs]

NATALIE 
There's gonna need to be some serious editing here, Todd.

TODD 
Oh, no. This is going in as-is. [laughter]

NATALIE 
But the point is, is that as soon as we start -- as you say, Abe -- labeling some people as not being innovators, then then that is a very dangerous position to put them or anyone else into. There is no us and them. The whole public service needs to become more agile, learn how to shift, to pivot, to be more innovative. For me personally, I think that's a set of methodologies that actually will will spark innovation. And that I think it's something that needs to be widely done across the public service. If I were ever asked, what is a job in the public service to which we do not need to apply the innovation lens? I don't think I can answer that question. So I can't accept a public service where we position people as not being innovators.

ABE 
Yeah, definitely.

VALERIA 
As as you guys were speaking, actually, it just made me think of the difficulty it is when you use labels and jargon and how exclusionary it is. And I think whenever a trend appears in government, you're going to find this.

ABE 
Totally.

VALERIA 
I think it happens with our -- I call it -- the letter number, caste system that we've also created, you use this. It's the policy analyst and you use that lens to perceive that or the administrative streams or any of those. And the same thing I found when I started working in the innovation space. Having a bit of a mixed background from different areas, I would hear people speak in the innovation space and the jargon that was used and I [realized] that's kind of the same as this, and the same as this, and the same as this. But we like to use this jargon without trying to break down all of those labels and just get to the core essence of it. And what do we actually say when when we want people to innovate?

ABE 
Yeah, for sure.

VALERIA 
And I think that's where the focus needs to be. But it's kind of a Catch-22. Because if you want to tick that box that you're doing what you need to do as part of your plan, you got to use the jargon as well.

ABE 
Yeah, I think a lot of what we're taught, we talked about is about behaviors. I think a lot of it is behaviors that people exhibit that are, quote, unquote, 'innovative' or not 'innovative'. And so you're trying to do, often one of two things. You're trying to influence behavior or you're trying to change your own behavior. I sometimes set it up as simply as that. And I know the easiest behavior that I can change is my own behavior. So I always -- every day -- start with my behavior. What am I doing? What have I done? What can I do?

VALERIA 
This is good introspection.

ABE 
And so that's what we need more of. I put a point in about some interesting skills that I think people need to develop. Empathy I mentioned already, which is one of them. But introspection -- I heard a great talk yesterday at the policy community conference, a woman talking about creating great choices. And she talks about the idea of metacognition: thinking about your thinking. What is my frame of reference? What is the perspective from which I am thinking and seeing things? And that process of introspection, self reflection, metacognition is so important to try as much as you can to remove bias from the way that you behave. It's also really important just in terms of relating to other people. And so, one of the other things I was talking about was just how important people are in the system. We tend to focus on rules and processes and bureaucracy, but what are all of those things if not things that are implemented, created, governed by people. And so the people, and I've mentioned this before, it's people who have the ability to change those things, to influence those things. Those things don't exist by themselves. They are not followed by themselves. They are followed by people. And so, it is the people that we're trying to influence and change. It's the behaviors that we're trying to change. And that happens through the sorts of behaviors and skills that I'm talking about.

VALERIA 
I found myself the other day having a conversation with somebody who was helping helping us put through a contract payment. It was related to Canada's Free Agents, and she said something about the paperwork. And she said, "Well, this is all very weird." And instead of thinking about it as weird, I [said] why don't we just think about it as 'new' because this is just something you're not familiar with. So let's look at it that way. But it was funny to realize that the go-to -- automatically, when something's just different from what you're used to in your habits in terms of doing the bureaucracy -- that's the first thing: this is just weird. I don't want to deal with it.

ABE 
So the next question you ask after that, in my view is really important. You've come to a situation where a person feels uncomfortable about something that you're trying to get done. So what's the next thing that you want to do? And the first question you would ask would be: why is this person such a jerk? Why do they hate me so much? Why did they... Why are they so uncomfortable with innovation? Why are they so...  Why do they want to maintain the status quo? But another question you might ask is, well, why does this person feel that way? Or where have they experienced other things like this, or how can I help this person? How can I help this person help me overcome challenge that we face together? I always tell people, that's another one of the sorts of skills that I think are really important is just curiosity: being deeply curious about people and their motivations and what brings them to a certain way of thinking about things. And it's not that they're thinking about them better or worse -- have to try really not to put any value judgment on the way people behave. But just be curious about it, curious about it, to understand it, because understanding her experience in the past, where she's come from and what's brought her to where she is, it just creates such a better kind of way of thinking about things in relationship where I think we'll see more progress when we get there, because then we're not butting heads against each other. We're trying to understand each other and we're trying to solve problems and make things better.

NATALIE 
It's funny, the choice of words or the choice of how we react to those things can really dictate how then that person holds their opinion. This is actually a lesson that I've learned the best from my four year old son, which is sometimes, someone reacts to something in a certain way, and how you then manage that reaction and your reaction to that changes everything. So in in some situations, some, Oh, this is really weird. If you're tickled pink about how weird it is, that person might be more excited about it. And, sometimes we don't need to necessarily accept a negative connotation to some of these things. It's okay to celebrate something being different. And to give the person the space to recognize that it's different and maybe come back a little bit later on and say: so remember that process it was really weird? How did you feel about it? Did it How long did it take you to do this that was there anything that you felt was missing? And be able to tackle that culture problem from a different side.

VALERIA 
As you were talking I just had a visual of taking on an Anthony Robbins persona, every time you talk to somebody [laughs].

ABE 
But there's some of that, isn't it?

VALERIA 
This is an opportunity, everybody! This is it! This is the moment! Take it! Change what you do!

ABE 
There are funny points of opportunity there and points of leverage. From a systems perspective, we always talk about leverage. Where can I leverage change in something? And it's complex. So obviously, there's no straightforward answer. But even just asking that question at an opportunity like that, at a juncture, in what seems like a very mundane kind of routine interaction, can actually be surprising and how much potential value there would be to stopping and taking a moment to think about that. And it's difficult because (A), we're really busy, and (B) getting into human behavior is uncomfortable generally. And, you're probably not going to be having that conversation with a person that you have a lot of trust with. It's probably not a lot of safety in that space. But, if we can find a way to have those types of complex conversations about motivations and behaviors in even those mundane situations, I think we'll be better at influencing change. I think we'll see better change. We'll see a lot of progress towards really thinking about our thinking and thinking about our mental models and being more effective, because of that. We'll build more trust. We'll have more empathy for people. And I think we'll get more done.

VALERIA 
I think I mentioned this previously, but the transition from the Blueprint 2020 to the Beyond 2020, where the focus is to change mindsets and behaviors. I think this is going to provide an opportunity for some excellent work to be done and advance some things in the government. Yeah, looking forward to seeing how this rolls out.

ABE 
Yep. Me too. One thing I think I've been thinking about, too, is that so I like the Beyond 2020 model. I like the idea of influencing mindsets. I think that's really important. I've been thinking about how do we how do we agree on some of that stuff that we're talking about? What what does it mean to to behave in an innovative way? What expectations do we have and Beyond 2020 has tried to articulate some of those mindsets that we have and I think that's really important. I think we've been moving out, we've been seeing a lot of development of things like principles and standards in the public service, because I think what we're recognizing is policies as like rules. And that's one thing that policies are -- as rules -- might not be the best or by themselves might not be the only way to influence behaviors in that way. And so we're coming up with things like principles and standards, or manifestos or whatever. There's all that lexicon around a set of agreed upon ways of working and agreed upon ways of behaving. And I think those are actually really useful. We'll see how much impact they can have or how useful they will really be. But I'm seeing a lot of people go in that direction. And I'm interested in that because people do refer to now things like the OneTeamGov principles. They refer -- they're starting to refer to the digital standards a little bit more. And so you're hearing reference to these ideas, which often actually, you're seeing a lot of similarity between them, which is really interesting. And we do also have to think about how they relate to the values and ethics in the public service. Because we already have some standards of behavior that we expect from public servants, which is really important. People relate, I think, often little to the values and ethics in the public service, but they're there. And obviously, you have to follow them and they're important. And thinking about these established sets of norms, I guess, and then reinforcing them and articulating them, I think, is one way that we'll also start to see some change and influence. Because then I think we're operating hopefully from the same -- with the same sort of goals, that we're seeing some value in doing things this way, for our work. That our work will benefit from these sorts of ways of working wherever we are. And then if we agree on that, and we understand to be true, then we'll start working in different sorts of ways. And I think we're seeing some of that happen. And I think each individual person needs to be understanding that, understanding those principles, understanding those standards, whatever they are. And checking themselves first on their behaviors, to make sure that they're following those sorts of principles or standards of themselves as an individual, and then start to look at your team and then start to look at your organization, and then start to look at the bigger picture more broadly. I'll throw in what I think: it's important to recognize complexity. Complexity, I think is really important for me. It's what I've been thinking about a lot lately. And again, this for me is a learning journey, like it's always been. I've tried to make it as much as I can a learning journey for me to figure out how to do all these things. I fail all the time. I miss so many opportunities because I lose sight of what I'm really trying to do. But complexity is one of those areas I keep coming back to, to try to solve for complexity in systems and in behaviors and in communities and in all of our interactions with each other. And we're in an organization -- a large, large organization -- the public service, which could also be seen as a bunch of different organizations with their own complex cultures. How do we operate in that sort of environment? And there's lots of theories out there, so I'm not going to try to go into ideas of how you should respond to complexity -- but recognize it and do some work around it and try to try to bring a lens of complexity to your work. I found that to be really valuable to just think about the fact that it's not as simple as you think it is. It's never as as simple as you think it is. There are always so many different elements of of behaviors and of actions and of rules and of processes in every system that you're trying to change. So again, it's still something that I'm learning about, something I'm going to admit I don't know much about, but I keep seeing it, and I keep coming back to it. And I keep seeing people jumping. The biggest problem with problem solvers is they're not good enough at identifying the real problem. And that is what makes complexity so important is that you're probably not solving for the right problem. There's a pretty good chance that you're not solving for the right problem. And we got to do things eventually. I'm also a firm believer in actions and action orientation. But, if you're straight to an action without trying to understand some of the complexity, you're going to most likely be solving for the wrong problem, or at the very least, your odds aren't great that you will solve for the right problem. So I think it's respecting that complexity and understanding that and that we're in a really complex system.

NATALIE 
I think that's a very important point. And I think it's one that's really happening all over the place within the federal public service right now. Because we are in the process of really trying to become an enterprise. But you're 100% right. We are a collection of departments and agencies who have very specific mandates and very specific work cultures. And so there's a there's a huge amount of complexity as we start thinking about how do we become an enterprise, and any of these overarching things that we're trying to do, whether it's about mobility for individual employees, or anything like that, really require us to start thinking about things at the enterprise level, and it's a huge layer of complexity on anything we try and do.

ABE 
Definitely.

VALERIA 
What you said just made me think of this. I was recently speaking to a team and somebody was trying to bring in -- or they're in the process of bringing in -- a certain methodology for managing workflow. It's a bit of a private sector perspective. So in talking about this, one question that I kept on having. or I kept on bringing up. was how. How? And they kept giving me the big vision, the big purpose, what the big outcome is going to be. I believe all that. You don't have to sell me on that. What I'm asking is how. And the only thing that I kept on hearing -- so essentially what you're telling me is that you've your plan so far -- concrete -- is, Person A is going to nag everyone into the mindset that they're going to adopt this. That's all I can hear at the moment. And it's understanding the complexity of the team dynamic and the group and what's going to work -- not only with each individual, but as a collective, so that you can bring them along this pathway of change to get them to a point where everybody's willingly and wanting to do this and actually understands the purpose and the why. Just saying "this is the best way to do it" it's not probably going to get you there. The culture itself may change for a little while, but then people go back to their own habits and their own comfort in terms of the culture. 

ABE 
The last thing I just want to say then is -- and I've already said it, but I'm just reinforcing a point -- is that through this whole learning journey that I've [been] seeing myself on, I've always tried to put the emphasis on myself and my responsibility and my role in change, or in in influencing the system. And, it's the behaviors that I am displaying. It's complicated, because you want to make sure you're not putting the pressure on yourself because it can create a lot of stress, and it's something I struggle with frequently. But at the same time not be so hard on yourself -- to understand that you're trying to figure these things out. And do it with earnest. Do it with with a real desire to learn about people to learn about systems, to learn about complexity, to learn about behaviors, and how you can influence all of those things, so that they're better. And come with humility, and just understand that you're trying to learn, you're trying to do better. And so I try to give myself space as often as I can to self-assess, to understand my contributions and what I'm doing. And then try to bring what I can to the table to influence the way that work is being done. So that's the position that I try to come from. And I've found that to be more successful for me in a mental health way. I don't put as much pressure on myself. I learned that 'I will learn' and 'I can only contribute as much as I can contribute' and I want to figure out what motivates people and I want to figure out all these complex systems and understand them, and I'm just starting down that path to do that. So I'm giving myself space to do that too. And I'd encourage other people in the innovation space to think about it the same way.

NATALIE 
Thank you very much.

ABE 
My pleasure. Thanks.

VALERIA 
Thank you.

TODD
You've been listening to Innovate On Demand, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. Our music is by grapes. I'm Todd Lyons, Producer of this series. Thank you for listening.

E5: Individual Innovation

This episode of Innovate on Demand focuses on individual innovation. Dana Landry, Senior Policy Analyst in the Strategic Policy Directorate at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, discusses what an individual within a government organization can do to support change and innovation. She also dives into ways in which individuals can boost their productivity by building awareness into their daily activities and within their environment as a whole.

Todd Lyons
Producer

Valeria Sosa
Project Manager, Engagement and Outreach

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence
Innovation and Policy Services

Dana Landry
Senior Policy Analyst, Strategic Policy Directorate
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

Length: 36:22

Transcript

INNOVATE ON DEMAND - "Individual Innovation"

TODD
I'm Todd Lyons.

NATALIE
I'm Natalie Crandall.

VALERIA
I'm Valeria Sosa.

DANA
I'm Dana Landry.

TODD
And this is the Innovate On Demand podcast.

It can be daunting, even depressing, to be a person with an idea inside a massive organization. After all, what can one individual to do effect change from within? On this episode of Innovate on Demand, Dana Landry asks us to consider the power of one.

VALERIA
Welcome Dana, we're very happy to have you here. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself to start.

DANA
Thank you. I'm very pleased to be here. So I am a Senior Policy Analyst. I work with Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. I've been with that department for almost 13 years, the duration of my federal career to this point. And I'm here to talk about individual innovation.

NATALIE
Individual innovation, that sounds really interesting. What exactly would you say is individual innovation?

DANA
Well, I think it's pretty interesting. So hopefully others will follow suit. So when I'm talking about individual innovation, I'm talking about not relying on systemic change in order to find a better way or to address those micro-irritants that we all face within our work, being aware of what your surroundings are, and what your gap-stop measures are, but also ways to increase your productivity and your ability to network with other employees to build more awareness and competence into your daily skills, but within the system as well.

VALERIA
Can you give me a for instance, of a micro-irritant?

DANA
I think, probably the best example of a micro-irritant are the systemic pathways that we are all engaged with. So we'll talk about the briefing process. Yeah. Everybody hold on to your chairs. So I think in terms of a micro irritant, we all have those sort of nuances. We talk about how the workforce is changing. Telework is becoming more and more popular. People are being asked to step outside of what they see as the norm for a public servant. But they're not given the tools to really do that in a way that eases the burden. So you're fine to write a briefing note from your from your home, from your home office, or wherever you are, because we have that secure Citrix capability. But what we lack is the physical docket-running capability in the electronic realm. We don't, we don't do that. So we create a system where we allow for micro innovation, but not complete in the cycle. So it just becomes an irritant that I can work from wherever I am, as long as I have internet connectivity. But I can't actually fulfill my entire duty without having somebody in the office…

VALERIA
…to do your dirty work.

DANA
Exactly, exactly -- to do the legwork for me -- literally to do the legwork.

VALERIA
So that's a good point, actually. I never thought of that. Can you think of anything else?

DANA
I think, well, for me, in particular, and it's a major irritant, but it's really displayed in a sort of a micro way is the level of cultural competence within the department -- within my department in particular. And I say that, because I'm an Indigenous person. And I find many, many times that our department is not particularly able to ensure that part of the hiring mechanism is the ability to display cultural competence. So we end up with people who are very good at their work. It's not a question of competence in that regard. But it's a question of understanding how the work that you do at your desk, affects the community and affects an actual human being. So we are disconnected. And for me, that's an irritant. Because we don't -- we don't actually recognize that the human factor is so much more of what of what we do each day. So we become desensitized to the plight of human beings.

VALERIA
Have you contributed to making that better? In a way, within as much as you can control as an individual?

DANA
As much as I can control as an individual, yes, I do feel like I'm making strides for change. And I know that there are many indigenous public servants, particularly within my department that do off the side of their desk, serve to -- I'm going to use a word I don't like: indigenize. And we can come back to that in a minute. But so many public servants are taking this approach where part of education within the system is to educate your colleagues -- is to, be mindful of, of how you do your work and for whom you're doing your work. And when you're faced with an individual within your organization, perhaps the person who sits beside you or someone who shares the table at lunch with you. And you know that that person comes from a culturally different background from you and a different way of life and, and the bundle that they bring into the building with them is theirs alone. And you don't need to know what's in their bundle. You don't need to understand every facet of their life. You just need to recognize that the work that they do, is being done with a different lens than the work that you do. So you recognize that you're all bringing a bias with you. But if we are conscious of that application, we have an opportunity to change the system without having to have this grandiose approach. And we don't have to be saying the term innovate, innovate, innovate, because we're doing it.

NATALIE
I'm fascinated by this articulation of the individual innovation. And as you're talking, it's sort of hitting me… What would you say is the first step for an individual to really change their mindset around this. I feel like it comes down to maybe one of two things. And I could be completely wrong here. Maybe it's a third or fourth that you think of, but it's a sort of a juxtaposition of a methodology and a philosophy. And I don't know what you think about that?

DANA
I would, I would agree completely with that. And I think one of the tools that my team in particular has been working to develop, and it's been going on for quite some time now is it's a intersection of policy development model. So it looks at the traditional policy development cycle. And at every juncture, it accounts for gender bias, it accounts for indigenous perspective, it accounts for intersections of sex and gender, it accounts for a variety of mechanisms that serve to "other" people. So by addressing it from a systems base, we've created this capacity to create systematic change, and not just to have that micro change. So by implementing micro level change within an individual's work and how they perform their work, we're actually creating systemic change. And that really is the fundamental principle which actually brings me to the point of indigenisation, because to me, the term indigenisation means that we are in digitizing something that is pre-existing. But the problem with that is that the system of business, the way that we operate within the federal government is inherently broken. So from my own perspective, I don't want to indigenize a system, that's lot, I want to implement a fulsome system that actually does what it's intended to do properly the first time so that no Band-Aids are required. So we don't have to have this GBA-specific lens where, you check the box on your Treasury Board submission, you have to go through your GBA area to ensure that you've reflected that context within your work -- it's already baked into the system. And that teaches people how to recognize that their bias, although relevant to the work that they perform, is actually just one part of the equation. So it's the bias that you recognize within yourself. It's understanding that there are many different characteristics that are part of your colleagues and part of the population that you support -- part of their realities. But it's also recognizing that by using a system that is not flawed, you have the opportunity to create real innovation because you're serving real people.

VALERIA
Yeah, that's interesting. What you're looking at is complete mindset shift. And so I'm just going to -- I'm going to plug because I'm working with the Public Service Renewal team right now. So I'm just going to ask you, because it's been on my, on my mind quite a bit. So are you familiar with the Beyond 2020 framework, and for public service renewal, and that they're looking at mindsets and behaviour changes in that perspective?

DANA
Yes. I'm not well versed in it, I can tell you that honestly, but I am aware of the concept and what they're trying to work toward. I do -- I support it. I think it's an active approach to change.

VALERIA
Yeah, I was -- Well, and that's what I was going to ask you. I was going to ask you what you thought about that -- about just -- they're looking at agile, inclusive and equip. But if we just look at it from a bigger perspective, the mere fact that the government is focusing on mindsets and behaviours, to me is pretty huge.

DANA
Oh, it's, it's massive, because it's recognizing that the work of a public servant is not a paper-based exercise. We support human beings, and that needs to be tantamount in our approach to our work. Because if we don't understand that, at the end of our pen, is the life of a Canadian, of a human being, or a community, or a municipality, or a province or whatever the case may be, regardless of how big it gets. The point is that if we can't see that human factor in the work that we're doing every day, then we're not looking deep enough. We're not really affecting change. We're part of the machinery at that point. So when people -- they play out their career, they get to the end, and they're saying, Oh, I'm just going to coast a little bit. Now, I'm at my 28 year mark. And that's fine. People, they need to re-acclimatize to the reality of their life within those coming years. But they are still a part of the machinery. And as long as they're recognizing that machinery involves their perspective -- that their perspective as a senior public servant is very important. So it's not to say that, that the work that they've done counts for nothing, it's to recognize that no matter where you are within your career, that the power of change is at the end of your pen, and everyone has that capacity, no matter what your role is, or what your job is, within the system. You have that capacity for change. And I think that that's part of what often is missing in our innovative strategy. When we say that term, "innovation" -- when we say to people, "Oh, go and bring me something innovative." I've heard that several times. "Let's make this innovative." Well, I'm not a trained circus performer. I don't -- I don't -- I don't perform on cue, I need to think…

VALERIA
You can't innovate on demand?

DANA
Exactly.

TODD
We're going to have to re-title the show now.

DANA
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll try to be a more compliant guest, next time.

VALERIA
Sorry, I had to -- I had to do that.

DANA
No, no. Of course, of course. But it's very real. You cannot innovate on demand. You can action-manage a crisis on demand. But when you think about innovation, and really what that means. It's not just about doing it differently. It's about all of those small pieces that build up to this place of, Oh, we've really made an impact here, or wow, this has really changed the way that we do business. And part of that, for me is that every individual employee really needs to comprehend the strength of their pen, and how their work -- no matter what they do within the institution -- is extremely valid to this concept of holistic innovation.

VALERIA
Let me ask you, do you -- in the years that you've been at the public service, and the years that you've been at CIRNA, or what was INAC or what was AANDC

DANA
I get confused, too.

VALERIA
Is there an example that sort of sticks out of someone or something that sort of happened, that really inspired change, and it was just such a small thing.

DANA
I think one of the things that's really sort of served to change my perspective on things and to recognize the value that each individual plays within the organization, and how that individual role is so important for global change is to look at how we've, over the years, managed issues of mental illness. And in particular, for me, this is one that hits really close to home. I’m not embarrassed to say who I am. Part of my makeup is that I have a depressive illness. I manage it -- some times better than others. But in 13 years, within the same department, I have seen the management of mental illness, take a real turn-around. And I think for me, one of the most poignant things that I've seen within my career was the wellness framework was released last year -- the mental health in the workplace, I can't remember what the title is, and I apologize for that. But our Associate Deputy Minister, introduced the launch, and she spoke very personally about a friend of hers and a friend who had suffered from, from depression. And it was so refreshing to see that very humanized content. Whereas for the most part, in the previous parts of my career, it was very much an issue of, just don't say anything about it. It's fine to be depressed, it's fine to know that your colleague is upset, it's fine to not be yourself today. But just don't talk about it, because it makes people uncomfortable. And people don't know what to say to you. So it's just better if we just largely ignore that facet of human beings altogether. So that I think to me was a very pivotal moment in recognizing that no matter who you are within the organization, you are at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day, a human being. And if that perspective is not ingrained into both the work of the institution, as well as the work of the employee, you failed.

NATALIE
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'd like to go back to something really interesting that you said around, you were talking about indigenization of a flawed system. And one of the things that that brings to my mind, again, is coming back to this juxtaposition between a methodology or a philosophy or maybe an alignment of a methodology and a philosophy is that I don't think I understand the concept of a non-flawed system. I think, for me, it's everything we do, we can never say to ourselves, Well, this is it, we're done. We accomplished it. I feel like this concept of continuous improvement, and constantly looking at all of our systems, our processes, everything we do with that lens of "is this the best it can be", is something that that's really, I think, particularly important in government, because our ability to nail things the first time sometimes is compromised.

DANA
Yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right. And I agree completely, there will never be a perfect system. And that's the beauty of this is that because each individual person brings their perspective. It's very difficult to duplicate that. So when we change the system, and that's the nice part about systemic change is that because systemic change doesn't have to be finite, and really shouldn't ever be finite, you do have the capacity to continue to implement mitigating strategies. So if you change the system… All told, by instituting the recognition of bias and the intersection of various predicaments as a systemic baseline, then as your baseline grows and changes, you have the ability to recognize where you're -- where you're finding a gap, or where your process doesn't quite take into account the micro-issue that you're dealing with. So, if an individual public servant is given not only the skills and the abilities, but the absolute mindset that they hold within their hand, the key to implementing change in a systemic way, by operating under their own principles. And recognizing that the term, well, "It doesn't work but that's the way that we do it here" is never accepted -- by recognizing that that doesn't exist anymore, that we have advanced so far past that maintaining the status quo perspective, that each individual employee is an actual agent of change, and has the capacity and the tools and the approval to provide that input and say "the system is broken because of x, we need to implement y." So that's where this concept of systemic change really is never going to be finite. And if it is instituted in a way that is finite, then you failed, you failed immediately from the onset, because you're not recognizing the value of change and the value of perspective.

NATALIE
Constant iterative change that is the result of everybody's contributions.

DANA
Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that's part of something that is lacking in the system, because of the size of that system. And even when you break the federal family into its departmental entities, some ministries are quite small, but my ministry, the former INAC is massive and systemic changes is virtually impossible within this organization. So if you don't have a way to offer at least an attempt to indigenize, a system that is flawed, then you're completely without any tools at all. And I think that that's part of why there is such a churn within the former INAC, within Crown Indigenous Relations. Two things happen: one, you become desensitized to the population that we serve. And you start to see things that are totally unacceptable, as being normal. Because you start to take on the perspective of "I can't change it, because I don't have the personal power to change it." And the second thing that happens is that you start to see your role within the institution as simply your role within the institution. It becomes you being a cog in the machine. You are no longer required to think independently. You are no longer required to say that's wrong, you are no longer required to say, "why are we doing it that way?" You just become caught up in the mechanics of your position of your post. And when they started centralizing all the qualifications -- I'm in the EC category, so I know from my own personal experience what the EC category took on. And it was this way to ensure that you had lateral transfer ability across the federal sector, based on simply your category and level. But it didn't take into account the population that you serve. It didn't take into account the environment in which you work. It didn't take into account any of your subject matter expertise that would either serve to propel or cripple the work that you do. So when we perpetuate this system, because it's easier than to move employees from this post to that post, we've lost that fundamental perspective of individual intersectionality and bias.

NATALIE
Yeah, well, it all is part and parcel with part of some of the bigger issues I think that we're facing across the government. Everything in how we manage our human resources, is around describing work. And really, when we look at the future -- and you mentioned the topic of the future of work, what that looks like what teleworking looks like -- we really need to start describing our people. Like this is -- it's all about people first. And we need to get to that point where we're actually able to start having that kind of a conversation. I think that's the paradigm in our HR that's going to help us achieve those other goals.

DANA
I think so. And I think really, in particular, in that regard, what needs to happen is more of a longer term vision. Like we invest in employees on a yearly basis. We create a performance management agreement based on a year. We talk about their educational attainment, that can happen within a year. But what happens after that year is just a renewal of that system. So if we took a system where we brought an employee into the organization, and planned out the next five years of their career -- and I'm not just talking about, you're going to go to the Canada School, and you're going to take a course on how how government works. And then you're going to come back and you're going to share that information with your team. And you're going to go back to your job, and you're going to do the same things you did before, you might be able to implement a subtle nuance, but for the most part, it's going to be you, the employee, performing their their tasks. So if we take that system away, and say, "this is your career development plan. It's a five year plan, you're one there's a check-in, year three there's a check-in, and in year five you either have completed your plan, or there are areas that need improvement." Because then in those five years, you haven't just allowed somebody to gain a notch on their belt of expertise at the EC five or the EC three level, you've actually taught them the tools that they need not only for their position, not only for their next position, but two or three positions down the road, and potentially even that transition into to the EX -- into the management realm. So you're actually creating more diverse and skilled employees, because you're teaching them how to operate within the system, but also how to mitigate issues of change and to be agents of change, because you've invested in them.

NATALIE
So how close do you think that somebody manager needs to be, really? Like, what you're talking about is people management. It's a beautiful vision, by the way. I just want to let you know. I'm always on top of -- I'm always on board with anything where we can change how we manage people, which I think is the greatest resource here in the federal government. So how do you envision being able to manage employees through career development over five years, when probably our mobility requirements for employees and things like that aren't going to have that person in the same job that whole time.

DANA
And that's the plus and minus of our system, is that it's very easy for somebody to go through the motions of the career ladder progression. It's very easy to do that. But the person that's being cheated in that regard is the employee themselves, because they're not getting what they need. And their job satisfaction is based on that next rung -- get to the next level, get to the next level, make the next jump. But when you get to that plateau, what happens to you? That's when you have to start looking at yourself and internalizing: where do I want to be? How do I make this happen? Do I have all of the tools in my toolbox? Do I have all the skills that I require? So when I think of this plan, this visioning cycle, I think it's very difficult to ascribe the responsibility for it to one individual. Because that individual, much like every individual within the public service is transitory. There's, there's no clear indication that that individual is going to be there in a year, or six months. You don't know what's going to happen. So I think from my own personal reflection, that the easiest way to manage a system where where employees have a longer term vision is to ingrain it into the system. So you make it part of your baseline HR corporate function, and you manage it through a third party. It doesn't need to be a third party exterior to the government. It just needs to be a third party who isn't the manager or the employee who can provide a non biased perspective on the situation and say, Oh, these are the things that you've -- you really knocked that right out of the park.

NATALIE
Like if every employee had a talent manager who wasn't their hiring manager.

DANA
Who wasn't their hiring manager, and who wasn't their day to day person that they report to. Simply because, that system only recognized the skills of the hiring manager or the direct report, and not the skills of that level completely. If you find a manager -- you happen to be so lucky to work under a manager who has a real knack for big p policy, long term vision. This is the most excellent situation you can find yourself in. If you do ever find yourself in a place where your direct report talks about long term vision, talks about the steps that need to happen in order for big level change: hold on to that person, and learn everything that you can from them because they are so instrumental. We as an institution, don't utilize the genius that is big p policy. We are so trapped in this micro-approach in this "What are we going to do tomorrow? What do we need to have done by the end of the day? What's the vision for next week?" that we have lost sight of the fact that there is an endgame here. So with the creation of Indigenous Services Canada, to me, that's a clear example of where for the most part, people have looked around and thought, we need an endgame. And that endgame is the devolution of services and programs to indigenous organization, or aggregates. That's the concept behind the creation of indigenous services. But to me that says, we've really looked at this long term. We've looked at what it is that's broken, and why we need to fix it. And how are we going to get there? So we've established a goal. But in a system where we don't recognize an individual's ability to grow and change within the organization, we've lost them. So if you have this five year vision plan, and you give employees the opportunity to grow their language skills, to grow their policy development skills, to understand what program application means, and to really be part of a cycle of change, they can see how their micro innovation is absolutely crucial to the perpetual motion of the system itself.

VALERIA
I love what you're saying. And I think it also speaks to being able to mobilize the right types of people. When you have a specific objective or a vision in mind, and realizing that if you will want to accomplish (A) that now we need a different type of person here. And it's about timing. And one of the issues with our system -- what I always found -- was the rigidity, and the inability to be flexible. When I came in from the private sector, small businesses from Montreal and I started working in public service, there was quite a few things that really just hit me really strongly. But one of the things was I realized they don't care, or my impression at the time was that the "big they" weren't motivated to have the right people in the right jobs at the right time. At all. Whereas, when you're running a small business, you can't afford not to have the right people in the right job at the right time. And you move them around and you develop them as you need to fulfill your big picture vision that you need to accomplish. And as a government, we completely lost sight of all of that. I do feel that we're slowly getting there, though. Yeah.

NATALIE
I feel like actually, what we're talking about right now is talent management. And really what the game changer is, there's performance management, there's career coaching, there's career development. Once you start going to talent management, you're actually starting to think about (A) it's back to that "how are we describing people?" Because talent management inherently includes the concept of -- there's also a need that the enterprise needs to have built. And there's the concept of matching, and there's the concept of data. So if we come back to “Oh, you're looking at ‘now we're starting to map skills and competencies of an employee’, right?" And we can start thinking about “Hmm, instead of describing the pieces of work that need to be done, what skills and competencies do I need to hire for?” Now we're starting to talk about talent management, and that gives us the ability to say, I actually have a whole different system and process and mentality around what that 'best fit' means. And how do I actually get the right people in the right place at the right time? You said some really interesting things Valeria. You talked about the objective or the vision in mind. You talked about the timing and the flexibility. All of those things are the outputs that we can expect as we start actually doing talent management. Coming back full circle to what you were saying, Dana, which is, if an employee has a talent manager who's not their hiring manager, then all of the sudden, we start having this concept of developing our workforce in a completely different way, which doesn't take away from the people and leadership management we do for people who are actually working. That happens also from their hiring managers, and from the leadership of the places where people work. And once we start moving towards that system, I actually think that's where we have the actual possibility to make some very serious changes in how we do things in the public service.

DANA
And I agree with you. And I think really, Valeria, to your point with regard to the small business, that is absolutely why the small business is able to either succeed or fail. It's because that human element is there. It's right in their face. They know they don't hire you because of your sparkling personality. That's a bonus. But that's the bonus that comes with the skills that you have to do the work. So in the public service, part of the issue is that it's just too big. And we know that and I think that that's very evident in many of our processes, and in our policies is that we are designing a system that needs to speak to the absolute massive masses, but is removed enough from individual characteristics that it doesn't become a sort of nepotistic style of management and career development and placement, but yet, still recognizes that there are values in having someone who is particularly gregarious and outgoing and friendly and adapts beautifully to new situations, in a position that requires those skills -- those soft skills -- behind the hard skills that they need to actually do the work of that position. So it's not just recognizing that, Oh, I have a box that needs to be filled. No, I have a need for an outgoing people person who has the ability to implement a full policy cycle. But the critical factor is the human characteristics. Those are the essential requirements that I need. And there's no reason why -- aside from meeting the hard requirements of a position, so the educational requirements. which are quite flexible. There are many facets to to hiring, essential qualifications that can be changed and augmented to fit what it is that you're looking for. And I think part of the thing that we're seeing now in the public service is that people are being very candid in their callouts for staffing. They're talking about the dynamics of their workplace. They're talking about how the institution operates. They're talking about the personalities that they're looking for. And by writing those things within your "sans-sees" you're actually giving employees an opportunity to say, "Hey, I really sparkle in that area. And I'm more than just my ability to implement a great program." So those soft skills and hard skills are becoming of value to an employer, as well.

VALERIA
Thank you. This has been a great, a great chat, and super interesting. And I think we should also invite Diana back at some point, so we could keep having this conversation.

DANA
I'd love to come back. Great, great talk.

VALERIA
But any final thoughts before we wrap up?

DANA
My one final thought would be to say to people, if you are a public servant, do not limit yourself to the phrase, "I can't." Just do it. Just do it. Pull a page out of Nike and just do it. And you will always, always have an easier time asking for forgiveness than you will for asking for permission. So if it's in your mind, and you feel like this is imperative to the work you do, or your ability to remain within the confines of your position, do it.

NATALIE
Thank you very much, Dana. No final final thoughts?

TODD
No final final thoughts.

VALERIA
Thank you.

DANA
Thank you.

TODD
You've been listening to Innovate On Demand, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. Our music is by grapes. I'm Todd Lyons, Producer of this series. Thank you for listening.

E4: Human-Centred Impact Evaluation

What is an Innovation Lab? What is Rapid Impact Assessment and how does it differ from iteration? How can acknowledging failure increase connectedness and bring a better overall outcome to innovation? On this episode of Innovate on Demand, host Valeria Sosa discusses more honest experiences with Catherine Charbonneau and Jordana Globerman.

Todd Lyons
Producer

Valeria Sosa
Project Manager, Engagement and Outreach

Catherine Charbonneau
Manager, Innovation LAB
Employment and Social Development Canada

Jordana Globerman
Research Advisor, Innovation LAB
Employment and Social Development Canada

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence
Innovation and Policy Services

Length: 24:27

Transcript

INNOVATE ON DEMAND - "Human-Centred Impact Evaluation"

TODD
I'm Todd Lyons.

NATALIE
I'm Natalie Crandall.

VALERIA
I'm Valeria Sosa.

CATHERINE
I'm Catherine Charbonneau.

JORDANA
I'm Jordana Globerman.

TODD
And this is the Innovate On Demand podcast.

What's an Innovation Lab? What is Rapid Impact Assessment, and how is it different from Iteration? And how can acknowledging failure increase connectedness to the people affected, and bring a better outcome? More honest experiences from the field, on this edition of Innovate On Demand. 

VALERIA 
Welcome! Welcome, Catherine. Welcome, Jordana. Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about yourselves.

CATHERINE 
I work in the Innovation Lab. This is Catherine. I work in the Innovation Lab at ESDC -- Employment and Social Development. And basically, I'm the manager of projects in terms of design. So, these are projects that anybody from the department comes to the Innovation Lab, and we help them using different human-centred methods and mix them together tailored to their needs. And we bring the perspective of Canadians to those projects. And they vary in size and scope and in length of time. Yeah, yeah.

JORDANA 
I also work in the lab with Cat. I'm a designer and a facilitator. So when we say design don't mean computer Adobe standard design, although there is a little bit of graphic design involved in what we do, but more strategic design, designing for programs, for delivery of services, and for different innovative solutions to different problems that we see happening around ESDC.

NATALIE 
Thank you. Welcome. It's very interesting. I keep meeting public servants who tell me that they work in an innovation lab. So tell me a little bit about what that actually what that means. What does that?

JORDANA 
Yeah, so I think for our Lab, it's a in some ways, a bit of a misnomer. Like we call everything innovation that is a bit different in the government, or that falls out of the traditional ways of working. But what we are is primarily a Human-Centred Design Lab, which means that we bring the user into everything we do. So we try and create a conduit between the government and actual Canadians.

CATHERINE 
Yeah, and I think in answering your your question, a difference with being an innovation lab is that we have a bit of space. We're working in a tent in a way that allows us to re-frame, and rethink maybe some problem areas where maybe more operational team may not have that space that is required for that. So that's the difference -- the main difference, I guess -- with working in an operational or policy shop versus an innovation lab is just having a bit more space to do those kinds of thinking,

NATALIE 
It's maybe some space also to try different methodology. I heard you talk about how you work.

CATHERINE 
Yes, we bring behavioural insights, we have a team of behavioural insights in the lab. And we also have a lot of like, skill sets like Jordana, who designed in terms of design thinking, which is that methodology really is all about rethinking from the perspective of the end user at the forefront of any ideas. And that's really the main difference with traditional policy development or traditional program design.

NATALIE 
Coming back to concept of people first.

CATHERINE 
Yes, exactly.

VALERIA 
I have to say, so, as a Free Agent, one of my first assignments was at ESDC Innovation Lab, and I have a lot of fond memories from my time there. But I also came back to the Free Agents. And I strongly recommend that every Free Agent should probably do at least one stint in an innovation lab because of everything that you learn when you're in that space. And the ESDC Innovation Lab in particular, they're focused on the human aspect and element and trying to bring it in. It's just so different in comparison to how we work as public servants on a regular basis. So…

JORDANA 
Yeah, it's kind of a funny idea, too, because you wouldn't think that that would be such a massive, innovative step, just going out and talking to Canadians before you design for them. But it has such a big impact.

NATALIE 
Maybe you guys could walk us through one of your projects and some of the methodologies and processes you're using to to deliver this.

JORDANA 
Sure, yeah. So Cat and I recently, were working on a project for the New Horizons for Seniors program. So it was an evaluation for that program. And part of this evaluation, we worked on what we call a Rapid Impact Assessment. So this in itself is a bit of a innovative methodology. It's not used all the time. But it's much faster than a standard evaluation, much more iterative. So what you do is you design an alternative scenario to the current program, and they call this a counterfactual. But this is just another scenario or group of scenarios that are just as logical, just as possible, just as legal. And then you use that to compare the actual current program with it.

CATHERINE 
The neat thing about it is oftentimes when we sit in public service -- you have all kinds of -- everybody has ideas. We should have designed this this way -- it makes no sense. Or there's something in a program space or a policy shop, there's something off already. But the evaluation, and doing an Rapid Impact Assessment does is gives you in a way the flexibility to imagine if you were to redesign the program, or if you were to rethink an area that you really don't think there's something off there? Well, you can re-imagine that alternative. And I guess the neat thing, in terms of what we brought to this I thinking is, in the past counterfactual or other departments in the government had tried Rapid Impact Assessment. And the alternative scenario that they used was the absence of a program. So you have the program, and what if so basically, what if the program didn't exist? So what we wanted to bring in this, this kind of process was, what if we actually designed this program and rethink this program from the perspective of the actual beneficiaries. So that's a human-centred part that we brought in. And so with the use of design thinking and talking directly with seniors talking directly with front line organizations, we were starting to really bring forward some of the irritants and the pains and challenges that they faced with the current design of the program.

JORDANA 
And so our counterfactuals were very different. They're actually full different programmatic tweaks or entirely different programmatic structures. And those were created collaboratively with Canadians. So we had a few different workshops. But it actually was, it was really exciting for the lab, because we had our biggest external workshop, or what we call focus project. So it's not our like full year project. And we had 80 different -- about 80 different people. There were seniors, there were program beneficiaries, there were small businesses, and they're all coming together to talk about the challenges they were facing, what could have served them better, and to work on different types of programmatic tweets that might yield a much better program for them in the end. That was really exciting.

VALERIA 
What's the difference between that and iterating?

CATHERINE 
It's actually a great question, because part of it is, the Rapid Impact Assessment allows you to look backwards, look at where are the things that are not really working well with the program, but also allow us to look forward. If we were to make some changes to the program, they may not need to be radical changes, that could be incremental changes and tweaks. Basically, the rapid Impact Assessment allows for that iterative process to happen, maybe a little bit more with more agility, rather than waiting at the end of with a summative evaluation. So the rapid impact assessment is basically what we think made is the case with a New Horizons for Seniors program, it will be a line of evidence to support the summative evaluation, but already give some insight and some new evidence to the program, so that if they want to make some incremental changes, while they have some of that evidence now from having discuss and talk to users. And the one thing I would add with what Jordana mentioned with the size of the workshop, is it was very important for us to have multiple perspectives and multiple voice. And that's a big tenet of design thinking. And we had purposefully in that workshop, people who actually hated or didn't like the New Horizons for Seniors program, and purposefully would not apply to the program. And we had people who weren't successful in terms of applicants as well as applicants that were successful. We had the technical experts, so those who are internal to the department and knows the ins and out of the operating context. So all of those different subject matter expertise are all brought in into this, this big event of 80 plus people. And I guess it came out of a failure. And I wanted Jordana to talk a little bit about that failure.

JORDANA 
Oh yeah, it came out "uhhhh" of but there's a really good lesson in this failure, which is that it's important to admit when you failed at something or you never get better. Yeah, so we had held a workshop before that. And that was a mix of internal and external folks. So we had people from government, side by side with senior-serving organizations. But part of the issue was that we It was a two day workshop. And on the first day, it was just internal stakeholders. So second day, you had all the people arriving. And they say, Oh, by the way, you guys missed a lot day one. And there was just this, this huge jump of content that they weren't filled in on. And there's also a dynamic that was set up in the room where they were coming into this. And it seemed like they were a bit shut out. And to add to that they weren't exceptionally happy about everything that they had received from the program. And so they had stuff that they wanted to get off their chest, they wanted to use this opportunity to share it. And they felt that they didn't really have it because they were kind of forced into this design for a day to get to an outcome.

And another issue that we realized with that was that there wasn't maybe enough conversations with them leading up to the workshop. So it would have been helpful to introduce them to the process to find out more. What did they really want to get out of that day? So, I goofed it. 

CATHERINE 
So we picked up on that. We picked up that when they left they weren't so happy. The externals, especially. So we picked up on that. And we didn't want that to continue.

JORDANA 
No. And so I called all the externals and I had feedback calls with them, to see what we could have done better and to learn from it. And for one of my calls, I talked to actually the head of the Council on Aging, and explained to her the setup, explained to that we would have loved to have more external guests, but it just didn't work out that way. And so she offered to connect everyone for this massive workshop. So that was a huge win for us. But it only came because we followed up with our tail between our legs.

CATHERINE 
And I guess the cool thing here -- and what we realize is as soon as we're done -- I hung up the phone, we're high-fiving in our cubicles. We're really excited. But at the at the end, we're not owning the program. So we have a client, it's just amazing. Bruce works with us in Evaluation Directorate. And we just literally ran from our office to his office to say, hey, there's a support entity, we need to go there, because part of it is we wanted to check it from a privacy standpoint, can we and can we do this? Is there agility in the organization, we like to actually react to this support entity. And so because the Lab has this mandate, but at the end of the day, the client is the project authority. So Bruce in Evaluation had to had to say whether or not he wanted to pursue this. Good for us. And we were quite convincing, too.

JORDANA 
We said it was very exciting day for government. We were running up, bursting into his office. Bruce!

CATHERINE 
Yeah.

VALERIA 
For the record, Jordana's doing a lot of actions to go along with her-- [laughs]

CATHERINE 
And so he just gave us the green light. And then we also had the support of our own director in the Innovation Lab, Jeannie, she both Bruce and Jeannie supported this. And then within a week, we turned around this massive event. And everybody came in and it was a -- we also were able to bring during this event, a few people that were technical experts of the program to come in to answer also questions that the public may have, in a way that wasn't too detailed into the inner workings of government. Because Joe and Jane Canadian don't really care about how the inner workings work, but they do have something off their chest that they want to talk about, and to have the technical experts there with us, gave some credibility to the whole workshop. So it was set up in a way that we played out all of the frustrations that they have around the program. So--

JORDANA 
And it gave that really nice opportunity to the externals that they had wished that -- some of them who were able to attend the first one -- had wish they had, which was there is a about a half an hour dedicated to just them asking questions to the program. And they never have the opportunity to do that. So that was an amazing opportunity just for externals to be able to communicate in a one on one conversation with government. They were really happy about that.

CATHERINE 
So how we turned out to develop the counterfactual through this exercise is, obviously, we can't ask them in the field: do you like this or you don't, because it's become more of a opinion conversation. And we're not in the interest of opinion, we're in the interest of what actually happens. And to surface the actual behaviours of how the program makes them react. So what we ended up doing is we we created tension cards or they're not, it's kind of like building on -- yeah, it's like a balancing act. That's what we call it. So we played out the elements of the program that each program has to make choices. So for instance, is it one hub? Or is multiple hubs, the operating structure? Is there one stream or multiple streams? And how do the streams come in? So we played out all of the different components. And we put those on cards, and we asked the participants to evaluate what was that what was the right balance between those two tensions.

JORDANA 
And it's almost like a game, too. They had these playing cards so they could throw them out, or they could trade with each other to have a different one if they didn't like it. And then it got them to deal with more nuanced programmatic tensions then they might have been able to engage with otherwise, just because they're not within the program. But I had some really interesting output from it.

CATHERINE 
Mm hmm. And so, based on the input we got from the cards, we started having some really interesting qualitative feedback to support the development of the actual alternative design and what that could be. So then we collected the different input from the multiple tables that we had. And then we sat with our internal clients with the evaluation Directorate, as well as the program to look at all that input together with them, and started thinking about the alternative design, what could that alternative design be? And so it was all from what we heard. And so we were very excited about this, because it's the first time that a rapid Impact Assessment actually took that kind of shape.

NATALIE 
I find it really interesting, because one thing that you're saying is resonating so loudly for me right now, which is, so many times when I speak to public servants about landing something or a project or moving in a new direction that they really feel was innovative. There's always that moment, which you guys really actually articulated so well. The excitement and the passion that you felt when you went running in his office is still palpable. And I really I find it, it's very interesting to me how there seemed to be two things that are part of that magical set of ingredients for all of these things. And that is employees who took the time to look at things from a different perspective, and see that there was an avenue forward wasn't one that would have been contemplated in another context. And the other one is leadership that says, Yeah, let's do it. Yeah.

CATHERINE 
Yeah, we were fortunate. And we know the recipe, some of the conditions for this to have worked as obviously with a client with our Evaluation Directorate client, but also the program. Now the folks in the program space, of course, the counterfactual creates an inherent tension. Because the people in the program space, they know their program very well. And they know what works and doesn't work. It's not the lab that comes in and tells them what doesn't work. They have a sense already. But they work within bounds of constraints and work within bounds of resources and all kinds of timeline, what the Innovation Lab doesn't necessarily have. So, when we support them in exploring what that alternative design may be, there is sometimes some tensions around, what do we keep? And because they know, these are the bounds of the program. And then we come in and we say what if we change that frame of mind? What if we were to change that? And that can be met with both, 'Wow, that's an interesting thought' to some resistance, because it's maybe not the right time, you might not be -- whatever the reasons are there.

JORDANA 
It's just been done a certain way for such a long time that it's hard for people to really break that from their framework.

CATHERINE 
Yeah. So there. So the alternative design allows for just a, I guess, a pause in terms of the current way of doing to pause and say, What if that would work? How would that look like if we were to do a program that would look this way? So the space the evaluation provides and the space the rapid impact provides, in a way is that moment of being able to imagine like we were saying, like…

JORDANA 
It's like a generative evaluation, which you don't normally get. You're normally only looking backwards, but this is projecting its future potential as well.

VALERIA 
So I'm also curious about the timing, like how, so this method, in comparison to traditional evaluation method? What kind of timelines are we looking at? In terms of…

JORDANA 
So this began in November and it's wrapped. Like our part is pretty much done. There's another workshop that's supposed to come out of it, that other consultants will get. So it's pretty fast for traditional evaluation.

CATHERINE 
So it's interesting you asked this question, Valerie, because even the evaluation client, when we talk to other departments who have attempted the Rapid Impact Assessment, because their alternative is no design. It's much, much faster. So our rapid impact is, is is a bit longer than other rapid impact assessments. But there's still -- it's still faster than waiting for a full summative evaluation. So and because the way we've worked, we've had lessons learned, it's gonna likely not take as much time I suppose if we were to redo another rapid impact on another program. So it is it is really gathering this new line of evidence to help with program iteration. Yeah.

VALERIA 
So, I guess the way you refer to it, so this is a methodology? Where did it come from? Where did it originate from? How common is it?

JORDANA 
So the Rapid Impact Assessment methodology, I think it's been around for a little while, I'm not exactly sure how it originated, but our approach to it is entirely new. And that's something we've developed in the lab merging that with design thinking and bringing the user perspective into it.

CATHERINE 
Yeah, and there is a Treasury Board guideline directive around Rapid Impact Assessment. And so they highlight the thinking around why do a Rapid Impact Assessment. It's relatively new. There has been -- so the details of when it was presented, I don't know. The client -- our client and evaluation would know more.

JORDANA 
Like it's been happening for about five years or something.,

CATHERINE 
Yes, I was going to say three or four years, but maybe five. So there was a high level presentation around like 'This is a new methodology evaluation should try and attempt'. And so our Evaluation Group really wanted to try this innovative, innovative method. And they leverage the innovation lab to support their work.

JORDANA 
And this was the pilot as well.

CATHERINE 
They didn't know -- they didn't know we were going to bring the human-centred approach. They just -- it was more of a curiosity of what it is you guys can do. And then when they explained to us the Rapid Impact Assessment, we -- kind of what you were saying, Natalie -- just went, 'Oh, my gosh, we could totally design from a human -- from the actual beneficiaries'. And we could totally do this. And we started being very excited about that could be an interesting new way of doing a Rapid Impact Assessment. So, yeah.

JORDANA 
And I think they were gung ho about it. But I think it was only until the second or even the last workshop that they really saw the value it brought. And but so as a pilot, it seems to have gone very well. And they think they would like to do it again. So…

VALERIA 
Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

JORDANA 
All I would say is, I think another thing about this, this project that's been interesting for me, and actually, I should say, I only joined the lab -- I only moved back to Canada in September. So this was the first main project that I saw from beginning to end in the lab. And I guess what, what has been really interesting to me, is that it seems like a small thing on the surface, it seems like a small thing to do an evaluation with a more user-centred approach. But it's radically different from anything that's been done before. And I think it's a really good idea example of how innovation doesn't necessarily mean a big overhaul of what we think of in terms of a program or a service, it can be a new approach to something that we've always done just doing it a bit differently. So that was what was really impactful for me.

CATHERINE 
And I guess the other thing, from my perspective is also we set up the conditions to be able to be agile. So there was a privacy protocol to allow us to do that we're working with a client. So that agility allowed us to when there's a snowball effect of something that really is interesting that we want to pursue, then it's a quick turnaround to, to be able to actually follow that lead or follow this initiative. And part of it is when we started the actual thinking of what that project would look like, we didn't know that we would have an 80 plus people workshop, or we didn't know that we would have a completely flopped workshop. So all those things. Yeah, obviously, we didn't plan that flop workshop, but part of it is, I guess, the thinking behind working in innovation space. Again, I tie back to your original question is that the iterative process of a project, we do have in mind what it is we want to achieve out of it, but we don't necessarily know exactly what that will become. And I hope that there is appetite and interest for that kind of thinking moving forward. And I know it's not always that kind of thinking for that right timing. But if we can do it, it really reaps great, I guess, benefits and the user stories are so powerful, and they are applicable to so many other areas. Yeah.

VALERIA 
No, this is a great approach. Thank you so much for coming and sharing this with you.

NATALIE 
Thank you for your final final thoughts. That was fantastic.

CATHERINE 
Thank you for having us. It's really fun.

JORDANA 
Yeah, thank you so much.

TODD
You've been listening to Innovate On Demand, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. Our music is by grapes. I'm Todd Lyons, Producer of this series. Thank you for listening.

E3: Field of Broken Dreams

This episode tackles innovation in the public service by going back to basics. It sheds light on the meaning of innovation and examines the challenges of sweeping innovation across government. Are we innovating for a solution before there is even a problem? Co-hosts Natalie and Valeria speak with guest Sean for a reality check on innovation and share their personal experiences with innovation in the public service.

Todd Lyons
Producer

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence, Innovation and Policy Services

Valeria Sosa
Project Manager, Engagement and Outreach

Sean Turnbull
Project Lead, IN.spire Innovation Hub

Transcript

INNOVATE ON DEMAND - "Field Of (Broken) Dreams"

TODD
I'm Todd Lyons.

NATALIE
I'm Natalie Crandall.

VALERIA
I'm Valeria Sosa.

SEAN
And I'm Sean Turnbull.

TODD
And this is Innovate On Demand podcast.

On this episode of the program, we go back to basics. What does innovation even mean? Is it the magic bullet for any problem that some people make it out to be? Is it something we should even be attempting in the public service, given what's at risk? Or is it the latest shiny thing we feel pressured to chase? We were past due for a frank and fearless conversation. Natalie, Valeria and our guest were happy to oblige.

VALERIA
Welcome, Sean! So Sean, let's just let's just dive right in. Why don't you tell us what you think about innovation?

SEAN
I'm a little exhausted of the term "innovation".

VALERIA
I'm shocked! [laughs]

SEAN
Yeah. Spoiler alert: it's going to be a little bit dark. So, every job I've had in government so far, has had the word innovation in it. And I'm a little bit jaded when it comes to government bureaucracy innovation, based on those experiences. I do want to say from the start that I don't want it to be super negative and say people shouldn't try to innovate and that we should just continue along with the status quo. Obviously, there are times when there are many examples where we need to try new things and be more adaptive in government.

VALERIA
And you're also not just jaded when it comes to innovation. [laughs]

SEAN No, no, that's just a general sort of approach to life for me.

VALERIA
[laughs]

SEAN
Truth. But I think with government innovation, we oftentimes try and import ideas and concepts from other places, mostly the private sector, especially the startup sector. So we try to do things like the cargo cults where they would build these airports out of cardboard boxes, and then they would think that airplanes would land. So we think if we build an innovation lab, then innovation will then happen. It's the "Field Of Dreams" innovation strategies. And I don't think we take seriously, (A) I don't think we take seriously the lessons that we could be learning from the private sector and (B) I don't think that there are necessarily a lot of lessons to be learned from the private sector. We aren't the private sector. And we need to make a b case about why we need to innovate in a certain field or with a certain tool before we actually do it. And just because it's there to try and just because it's a new idea is not good enough. And so that's one of my main takeaways from, from being in the government innovation space, both in terms of innovating with new interventions to work with the public, but also in terms of innovating within our own Corporate Services, and internal innovation and the way we think about and see the world.

VALERIA
Can you give us a for instance?

SEAN
Sure, blockchain is really interesting. It's a very cool tool. Distributed ledger systems can can help solve real problems and are solving some real problems. And so we should know about blockchain, especially from a regulatory perspective. We should understand it. We should add it to our toolbox. But we shouldn't try and shoehorn in block chain solutions to problems that do not exist. We shouldn't take a problem that can be solved with just an Excel file, and try and do a block chain solution, just because it's cool and new. And similarly, with design thinking, a very cool way to approach the world. We can't design think every single problem. So I do sometimes worry that we fall into the trap of being tool-driven in our innovation, where we see a solution, and then we start looking for a problem. And I think the best innovations are ones that are problem-driven. We see a real problem in the world. This is a problem for Canadians. I'm less interested in problems for government employees; those are real problems, too. But when there's a real problem for Canadians that we can fix with an innovative tool, that's the best kind of innovation. And there are real, very cool examples of that and you guys have probably talked to some people, or will talk to some people who have great examples of that. But when we see something cool in the world, and we just want to try it out, that's when we get into some problems, I think in terms of not really delivering real value for your organization. You're not really delivering real value for Canadians. And this, this cuts to the core of what annoys me about it is, you don't get focused on outcomes anymore. The innovation itself becomes the outcome. Getting the money out the door, getting the innovation out the door, becomes the outcome, become success. And you are right to think that way, because you will get the ADM Award if you get that innovation done. But did you produce any real meaningful outcomes? So that's a lot of it. That's the core of my exhaustion.

NATALIE
So if I were to maybe try and paraphrase, and please correct me if I'm not capturing it: not everything necessarily lends itself to an innovative lens right now. And so maybe we should put a bit of time and thought into where we should be innovating? Would you say that that's fair? SEAN Yeah, definitely. I always say -- and this gets back to the definitional question -- what is innovation, which is both exhausting, but also important to think about. Innovation is trying something new. And when is the best time to try something new? Well, when the old thing isn't working. And what evidence do we have that the old thing isn't working? And in any given scenario, our evidence in government ranges from non-existent to kind of crappy. We rarely have good evidence about what we're doing right now. So how can we even presume to think an innovation would be necessary? We don't even know how fast the car is going. Does it make sense to put a new engine in there when you haven't even built a speedometer? And so I think a lot of our innovations are like engine-focused innovations: we've got get going faster. And I always get frustrated that we don't really know our original speed. We have no baseline to compare this to and those questions aren't even considered necessary, because it's just "Oh, cool. It's an electric engine. Let's get it in there."

NATALIE
So, I have a question for you. I've been thinking a lot about this, thinking of you coming on as our guest Sean, with your background. How do you think that experimentation can actually contribute to innovation within the public service?

SEAN
It makes me very happy that you asked me that question.

VALERIA

[laughs]

SEAN
That's a very b host move, I would say. So yeah. And that's been part of my innovation journey, too, is that I started in innovation and then I ended up for the last year at Treasury Board working on the experimentation file. And it was for that reason, I think, experimentation is like Innovation 2.0, or it is a necessary precondition to innovation. Because experimentation -- capital E experimentation, not when people just use the word experimentation to mean innovation because doesn't mean that -- but the rigorous experimentation of testing something: that really opens up a ton of space for you to then say, "Okay, we think this program is causing this change in the world. But we have to do an experiment to test it: test it against another way of working or test against nothing at all." Sometimes, maybe our programs are worse than doing nothing. And so once you start thinking in that way, you start questioning your assumptions. Well, we thought sending this letter would get this reaction from Canadians, or we thought this website would get people to click on this. And then you have to think, "Okay, we need to measure this now. We need to compare it to something." And then when you find out, it's not working the way you wanted it to, or it is working, but you think it could be working better, or it's working, but compared to an international benchmark, it doesn't look so great, that's when innovation can come in. Because then you've got actually created a problem that you can then solve with an innovation. You have a hypothesis you can test. You can say, "Look, we're doing it this way. That led to this level of client satisfaction, or that led to these processing times, whatever your metric is that you want to change in the world. We think doing it in with a design design thinking approach will will shorten that amount of time to process it or will, or will increase client satisfaction. We think moving to blockchain will help the whole thing run faster, while not sacrificing the timing. So experimentation, rigorous experimentation, even just thinking it through… not even running a full experiment, but but bringing experimentation mindset, I think helps better prepare you to have a more meaningful innovation conversation, because it forces you to ask the right questions, to draw your logic model, to interrogate your assumptions. And then that opens up space for meaningful innovation, instead of just slapping an innovation down because it's a new, cool thing to do.

VALERIA
So let me ask you, what do you think would be the next step? Or how could we go about educating people on this front? Because I think we've had this conversation before. I think after hearing you speak on the subject so passionately, so many times, I started observing in people, the fuzziness and the blur between innovation and experimentation and how even entire departments misinterpret these words and their meaning. So what do you think is the solution in terms of working with a common understanding of everything? Because we've been trying for years, really.

SEAN
I think it's really, really hard. I think there's like a depressing answer, and then a more hopeful one.

VALERIA
[laughs] Depressing first.

SEAN
So, the depressing one… the depressing and insulting one -- but it's insulting to me, so I can say it -- is I was doing a roundtable on experimentation and someone -- I think was at Global Affairs -- said we have a "liberal arts problem" in policymaking where we hire people who don't come from a rigorous empirical field. And if you hire -- 90% of those people, ECs, have that background. They weren't engineers. They weren't even psychologists who at least have to understand stats. If you hire that kind of people, then that's the kind of innovation experimentation you're going to get. It's going to be liberal-artsy, fuzzy experimentation. So that's the depressing answer is that there is maybe a systemic challenge in the way that we educate policymakers in the design of the programs. Literally going back to high school and then universities -- people are not empirical enough. They don't understand the stats. That's not to say empiricism is the only important thing in the world. But, a weaknesses is an over-used strength. And I think we're really b on the liberal arts ideas and the concepts of philosophy that we need, and the qualitative understanding of the world. We have that in spades. But what we might need is some more quantitative [understanding], and that can be achieved, other than reforming the education system -- which is kind of a crappy answer to give -- there are ways we can do that at a departmental level with Free Agents and the PCO Fellowship Initiative and people trying to make changes to rapidly staffing. Talent Cloud, maybe, with bringing in new kinds of expertise much more easily than we could do before. So that's one way of doing it. But then there's also just at an individual level, and that's maybe more the kind of point of your question was, how do we convince individuals who might not be so familiar with it? And that one, I don't know what the answer is to it, other than to say, I think we need to be more thorough, experimentally with the way we do this outreach and kind of test, instead of just sending out an email or organizing a workshop, try and be a bit more rigorous with thinking through what change, we want to see the world and testing different approaches to that change. So it's a meta point, but we have to be experimental with the way we we support experimentation as well, or else what kind of hypocrites will we be?

NATALIE
I find that really interesting because I think it'd be fairly easy to extrapolate the same situation around data and database decision making right now. So the world we live in, and the world we work in, the environment we work in is changing significantly. So how do we make sure we've got those skill sets? Because I agree, we talk about data all the time, but I don't see anything that lets an individual take that data and say, "How do I know that I've understood this data?" How do I know that I'm actually maximizing the use of what's available to actually make better decisions, to better understand the situation, to better determine an experiment, or identify a hypothesis or whatever it is that you're trying to do?

SEAN
Yeah, I totally agree. I think data is an overlapping Venn diagram with experimentation and innovation. And we are opening up new frontiers in terms of the level and type of data that we have access to the point of now, we, we probably have too much. And so again, I think it goes back to the like, level of expertise we need in government. We need more data scientists. I push Comms teams a lot on why they don't run more experiments, because they have access to so much data. If you're sending an email out to 10,000 Canadians, you can send it twice, and just randomize which version they get, and just see which one better leads to the outcome you want. And those kind of experiments are quite rare in Comms teams, even though those are the easiest to run. If you gave every Comms Team a data scientist, you'd see a lot more of these things. But we have no budget for that. And frankly, even if we wanted, there's not enough data scientists who have some Comms knowledge that you can even do that. You couldn't even hire that many. And so again, I do think it's an expertise problem. But then there's also an individual question of what can any individual do to get better at using data. I think some people have started to answer that question. We do have that data strategy that is out and things are happening around it, I guess, I don't really know.

VALERIA
I think this brings up an important point. I've also seen something [that] doesn't measure what it says it's going to measure. But people are convinced that this does measure what it says. You know what I mean? I've seen it so many times, we're like, "Really? I don't think this is actually measuring what you think it is." Yet, we accept it. And as you're talking, what I'm thinking about is building diverse teams, and how important that is. Consciously constructing a diverse team so that you have those knowledge gaps filled, and giving that opportunity. And that's part of the experimentation too, figuring out how we can put some rigor behind building those teams, because I know, but I don't have any evidence to support it at all. I think the results would be much better.

NATALIE
I feel like you're trying to define a unicorn. Some mythical creature who's both a data scientist and a master storyteller.

SEAN
Yeah, I think I think we know story is important. And sometimes when I when I go on this rant, people think…

NATALIE
So this isn't your first time on this rant?

SEAN
No, no…

NATALIE
Excellent. [laughs]

SEAN
It won't come as a surprise to you.

VALERIA
Oh no. Anyone who knows Sean, knows his rants. [laughs]

SEAN
I'm not trying to put myself out of a job. I don't think it should only be just the nerds with glasses doing the Moneyball advanced stats of government. We definitely need that qualitative storytelling side of things, and it is more about the diverse teams. But diverse teams are one way to do it. And so we can look at other [ways]. We can learn some lessons about experimentation from other fields as well and think about how do they do it in the medical side of things -- not that we want to reproduce that system necessarily, but we can take we can take lessons from how do they do it in the UK where they have a trial advice panel, where they have a list of academics who are willing to give their time to government to help design experiments. That's a structure that they have built. We can look at the private sector where they have experimentation teams that, much in the same way we have innovation labs in government, whose real focus is they have the data experts and they have the empiricists and they have the people who can do experimental design. They have the ethicists, though that's a separate question, and they can really build meaningful, useful ethical experiments within their respective organizations and learn from those who improve -- whatever -- the way you sell pet food or in the UK the way that government works.

VALERIA
Random example. [laughs]

SEAN
There was. I think Petco, or there's some company that has a real b experimentation side. It's very impressed. Just to say there's more than one way to do it. And I think at first, before we make the systematic change in the way we educate and hire public servants, I think it might be more the centralized approach which has its problems, but I think it is working in some departments. I think in ESDC you see it working in terms of they do have a team that is an innovation experimentation focused team that can deliver wraparound services to help people solve a problem, and they're getting some some good outcomes from that. And we're seeing other departments trying to replicate that model and the CRA as a great great team as well. IRCC. So we do see things happening. It's a question of… It's like any change management. It's got to be from the ground up. It's got to be at the mid-level. You have to incentivize it at your leadership level. There have to be champions for it. There have to be real resources put aside for this stuff. So I think it's like any big problem that we face. If we want to tackle it, we have to tackle it at every level with multiple vectors.

NATALIE
So would you say then, that it's fair to say that we need to mainstream some of the concepts of innovation, experimentation, data, all sorts of things within our everyday work culture so that we can utilize them better? What would you say that's fair?

SEAN
Yes. But… I think sometimes we over mainstream the innovation piece of it. Not everything needs to be an innovation. Some things work. Government is actually good at some things, there's no need to innovate in them. Now, the Foresight guys might argue, you always got to be one step ahead of the problems on the horizon. And that's a fair comment. But, I would say, maybe it's the lens I have because it's where I've been working. I've been working in this innovation bubble, so this might not be true, if you haven't been in that bubble, or you're in maybe not even in the National Capital Region. Maybe there's something about my experience, but I do feel that we've done a pretty good job on convincing people on the innovation side of things. And we still have a lot of work to do on the data and experimentation, even evaluation. Even the rigorous evaluation piece. I think we found a way to hive off evaluation into its own ecosystem that we don't really need to interact with as policy and program people, which defeats the whole purpose of evaluation. And so that's it's own podcast entirely. But we found a way to take a very useful concept and bureaucratize the usefulness out of it with the way we do evaluation. I hope evaluation people don't get mad at me for saying that. I think a lot of them would agree with that.

NATALIE
I think they'd feel supported. They would like to be much more involved. I think the people who work on evaluations firmly believe that it needs to be an integral part of the entire process, whether it's a program or a project or whatever it is. But if you are not incorporating everything that you learn through your evaluations and tweaking and adjusting, then what's the point of doing it?

SEAN
What's the point? And I think that we talk about building diverse teams. One way we could really quickly do that, and we wouldn't have to change very much at all, is break apart the evaluation shops and take those people and put them in program sector and just say, like, stop doing these three to five year post-hoc evaluations mandated by Treasury Board on questions of questionable relevance to the program, and people on the ground and start helping people design programs from the start that are based on existing evidence and help generate new evidence. Those are the two important things. Once we have better evidence, then that feeds into the experimentation and innovation pieces, because then we can know this program isn't working the way we thought it would. But right now, the way that evaluation is consulted for half of a second before TB sub goes through, or an MC goes through, and then they're brought in three years later to run the large evaluation. But that's too late. So many decisions have been made. And this goes to data as well. If you're not capturing the right data, it's pretty hard to run an evaluation five years later.

VALERIA
And I think that it's not only on a big scale, but when you talk about small scale, it's almost like a muscle that we have brain muscle that we need to build within teams, because people just put that aside, and they just feel like there isn't any time -- that it's a luxury. Evaluation is a luxury. You put something forth. Let's just say you put an initiative within your team. You have to talk about it afterwards. Did it work? Did it not work? And, it's not a luxury to have that discussion. It's a necessity. Evaluation of anything that we do is a necessity.

NATALIE
Some of these these topics come up often. If we want to talk about innovation, if we want to talk about experimentation, if we want to talk about these things, we need to take a step back and take a bit of time to think about things to be strategic. So we keep coming up to similar points in our conversations. And I guess one question that I would ask is: it's one thing to talk about innovation for those people who consider themselves in a and work in the innovation space. But our public service employment satisfaction survey this year, asked every employee what their views are around innovation, and whether they felt that they were encouraged innovate in the workplace, which really got me thinking about how an average public servant -- and I would consider myself to be exactly in that boat. I'm working in something that's called an innovative space for the first time in my career, but I don't feel like it's the first time that I'm applying an innovation lens. The question that I would ask is, what fundamental changes to our environment, to our work culture, could we make to allow those concepts and allow that understanding of what that all means to become more mainstream in the public service? I don't mean mainstream, that an innovation lens needs to be applied to everything but more that this kind of an articulation is something that's within reach of all public servants.

SEAN
I think that's a really hard question. I think we're wrestling [with it]. It's true and that's part of the problem is when you do approach these things, by trying to create a centre of excellence is that you undermine the mainstreaming side of things where you say, like, only these people are doing innovation, which, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. And so I think it's really important. And I think we don't want to marginalize innovation in the same way we have sadly done with gender based analysis, where it's something if you have time for it, it's nice. But you rewrite the paragraph after you've written most of the MC and you worry about it post-hoc. It's not. It needs to be an integral tool that you use to evaluate ideas from the start. And so all of these things we're talking about innovation, experimentation, data, concerns, evaluation, gender, reconciliation… these things are not solved by creating another annex to the treasure board submissions there solved by mainstream media into everyone's toolkit. I don't know how to do that. I do wish we were more evidence based when we tried to do things like that, because there's really good literature out there. Another issue I have is that we are pretty myopic, and the way we think about things, we barely even look at past evaluations of programs that are similar to what we do. We almost never look at the wider landscape of evidence for a given intervention or a given field. There's a lot of work out there on how to do change management. There's a lot of work on how to become a ber organization, when it comes to data. It's being generated by governments, NGOs, but by private sector as well. And so I think we need to be better at taking a breath and saying, What's the literature say on this? Like, a meaningful literature review of how to how to negotiate change management, these fields. And some of it's the same old stuff: you need resources and champions, and you do need some way of tracking it and incentivizing it. But I think we could be a little bit more innovative in the way we support innovation and a little more experimental as well and saying, Look, we know these approaches worked in this situation, let's try them. And let's make sure we're measuring something to know if it's working or not. And let's make sure we check that in a year to see if it's getting better. And if it's not, we'll try something else. Again, that's not a very helpful answer, but that would be the change I would like to see is an evidence based innovation approach to the way we do business. I haven't seen too much of that so far.

NATALIE
Thank you very much.

VALERIA
Yes. Thank you.

TODD
You've been listening to Innovate On Demand, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. Our music is by grapes. I'm Todd Lyons, Producer of this series. Thank you for listening.

E2: Artificial Intelligence Showcase – "The Art of the Possible"

Over the past few months CSPS has been working collaboratively with a number of federal departments and agencies to explore how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could facilitate, review and analyze the stock of 2,600 federal regulations to ensure that they support innovation and growth while protecting the health, safety, the well-being of Canadians, and the environment. A recent Request for Proposals process identified 17 successful industry proposals that were shared and showcased by the School to federal departments and agencies on October 19, 2018 at a showcase style event.

This Podcast was recorded live on October 19, and features the three panelists from the event:

Benjamin Alarie
University of Toronto, Faculty of Law Professor and Co-founder and CEO of Blue J Legal;

Jennifer MacLean
Executive Director, Southern Ontario Smart Computing for Innovation Platform;

Aneeta Bains
Assistant Deputy Minister, Digital Transformation Service Sector, Innovation Science and Economic Development.

This Podcast highlights a mix of public and private sector views on AI, its current state, and its integration into the realms of digital, agile and innovation within the public sector.

Length: 16:58

Transcript

Artificial Intelligence Showcase - "The Art of the Possible"

Hello and welcome [I guess] to our second episode now of our podcast Innovate on Demand. Where are we today, Laura?

So we are at Bayview Yard which is a fantastic innovative venue that we've collaborated with quite often now. I guess I can just give you a brief breakdown of what we're doing here, why we're here and just some background information if that works. So a couple months back, we put out an RFP, which is a request for proposal, for any kind of A.I. algorithm, application or proof of concept that could be applicable to the Government of Canada. When I say that I mean more specifically to the realm of regulations which not everyone is totally familiar with. So we qualified 17 vendors on our list and we were super happy with that result, and of those 17 we're going to have a kind of a different set up for today. So, we're going to have almost like a Dragon's Den style pitch for the top eight. And then we have our other vendors who have booths who can provide their proofs of concept and really pitch them to the Government of Canada. It's a really really neat project to be a part of and we're really happy and we're actually joined with some fantastic speakers here today.

People who can help us figure this out. That's great!

Exactly. That's right. So Jean, maybe if you can give them a brief introduction.

Absolutely so we're joined today by Benjamin. Alarie from the University of Toronto He's also CEO and co-founder of Blue Jay Legal. Jennifer McClean Executive Director Ontario's Smart Computing and Innovations Platform. And Anita Baines Assistant Deputy Minister, Digital Transformation Services at Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada. Thanks for joining us guys.

Our pleasure, Thank you. It's great.

So you guys just came off a panel discussion. How was it? Who argued with who? Do we all agree?

Yeah I think we I think we mostly disagreed about whether or not AI is able to make morally justified decisions.

OK. So I guess I guess before we do that for. folks like myself who have no idea, what is this AI beast we're talking about and when is it taking over the world?

And the private sector view? Is it the same?

I don't know sometimes when people ask what AI is, I'm inclined to say it's really just applied mathematics or applied statistics. So it's actually it's, it's really that fundamental. It's really performing mathematical operations, usually on data in ways that allow you to leverage that data in novel ways. And so, for me, if you retreat down to that kind of base level it becomes somewhat less scary and because I'm not as worried when people say, you know, is math taking over the world?

I see.

You know, you know, there are, you see, this podcast is only made available because of mathematical developments and computing power and all those things. But I don't think that we really worry that math is taking over the world. So that's how that's how I like to think about it. Maybe it's maybe it's just my maybe it's my human need to you know want to feel like I'm going to survive. But I think of A.I. as math.

So I would say A.I. has been around for a long time. Sure it's top of mind right now, but it's really just one type of tool that data scientists have available to them. So there's a lot more to data science insights and things that could be done than just AI and it's a really powerful tool that's now made available through technology improvements. So there's a lot that can be done using data science and AI.

Yeah so just kind of a question for all three of you. But from your perspective what would the advantages be to bring this to the government of Canada and when they see this. I mean A.I., this approach, and what do you think about that?

I think that it's time. The government of Canada is just like any other sector right.

So we all need to start getting into becoming digitally enabled sectors and the government's just a little bit behind, in that space. There's some fundamental things that we have to do that are still not quite fair in terms of how we leverage technology for better use but specifically A.I. it helps with speed to getting insights into information that we have so we can actually bring regulations out to the forefront faster so that the speed that comes with it and more precision. I mean that's essentially it, right? Instead of having 100 people in room crunching data that they are trying to get their hands on, most of it is not even physically available it's not structured it's all over the place. How long it would take versus pushing it through a mathematical process and algorithms and bringing that together and actually getting some sort of idea much faster. Essentially that's what it can do and it will get our processes more automated first to getting those insights and then it'll start driving better inside. And that will give us better outcomes around coin precision policy making right. Why not.

And I think that's a great point in touching on something that you had mentioned, Jen, in your panel, um just the idea of even having basic Wi-Fi access you know that's not something that everybody has.

So I think that's that's a really valuable point. And just kind of a starting point and you know there's there's basic needs that we need to address first and then move on and really kind of dive into this world.

So if I understand right we're not too late as the government.

No, no, I don't think you're ever too late in leveraging amazing innovations. Cause I don't like calling AI tech especially when we are calling it math.

I do not think we are ever too late.

But I do I do think that the benefits, we need to speed up the benefits, pretty quickly because the world is moving really fast and it's very diverse now. There's a lot more people that have a difference of opinion and I think we kind of have to provide some sort of social support. Right?

I think I might just add the private sector is a little bit ahead of the public sector in adopting artificial intelligence because of competitive forces in the private sector and so competitive forces motivate parties to adopt new technologies to compete to retain customers to grow their customers to deliver better more efficient services. What we're going to see I think what we're starting to see is that there's a different kind of motivation in the public sector typically which is, which is related to political will, and what the constituents are looking for. And I think we as a society are looking at what's happening in the private sector and saying oh wouldn't that be fantastic if we had access to some of the same developments in the public sector and so that's the vector for pushing for a lot of this. So I agree with everything that said, I just might say that you know it's kind of inevitable that it's going to be that the public sector is slightly lagging the private sector because you don't have the same incentives and to get the body politic to wake up and go why, where is my AI, don't know, whatever, you know they need to see examples. We need we all need to witness these examples and then we'll say OK so government, let's do this. And then when Canadians make the call for that sort of thing the government has a way of delivering.

So the good news also is that I'm finding , I am very new to the government, only a year old in my role, So I do come from the private sector and I'm finding that the government is actually wanting help and it's trying to find a ton of ways to get it. While in the past it was very streamlined and now it's you know helped this way that way small help big help you know faster. And I think that has created a lot more innovation in how we procure and partner and we're trusting each other more so that that's like a big big value proposition.

It's a good Segway actually I was you know knowing that AI is not the end all be all of solutions. I guess I'd ask each and every one of you, maybe we can start with you, Jen, one example complex not so complex in the actual world today where AI is solving a problem or a wicked problem.

Very cool, so I can use the example that I cited on the panel as well. We have a research project that we're supporting where a company is working together with a researcher at the University of Windsor to solve border wait times. Uh, So looking at a truck driver coming down the highway 401 when they get to, when they get to a border crossing to go into the States, what would be the fastest border for me to go through?. So they don't need to know what the border to wait time is right now. They want to know what it will be when I get to that border. So they're coming through there in about London. They want to know if they should go through Sarnia or if they should go through in Windsor. They can predict what the wait time will be based on traffic patterns on the 401. What would be the fastest border for them to get through? Makes transportation much more efficient makes companies more efficient makes them on time with their deliveries rather than kind of throwing it to the to the winds and just hoping for the best when they get to the border.

So a killer application of A.I. at the moment, I'm inclined to say that I really think it is, you know, in the realms that I'm familiar with, it really is viewing this paradigm shift of viewing the law as something that you can predict and saying that this really is something that can be predictable.

And this isn't the end of judges by any stretch in fact the paradox is it's going to be judging more important and more difficult because if you're able to predict how the easy cases are going to be decided they're going to be settled out of court and what's going be left in court are those challenging cases right on the boundary of yes or no plaintiff or defendant. And so judging actually comes very very important because those new judgments become precedents that then you know become part of the apparatus that we use to predict future cases. So I think it's a very exciting time for access to justice and the transparency of the legal system and also in the development of the legal system to make it fairer going forward. So that's what gets me excited.

I think my examples are more fun because, I because I, I'm not seeing a ton yet in more of the, I am going to say, you know, focused sort of industries, that are that are much larger more complex those traditional industries are still catching up you know Agriculture is trying to catch up. Science it trying to catch up. You know we know public sector definitely is in the kind of cusp of it but I always think about retail and retail as my favorite example of AI. We actually have it every day.

We just don't even notice it, right. Our phones are all AI engine. And so my favorite is Amazon right. You guys have maybe recently heard of Amazon Go. And when it bought Whole Foods, they created their first store that is complete AI driven. So it's in Seattle right. So basically take your mobile device, you go through the front, you scan your I.D. There's no human beings in there. You scan your ID,, you guys seen this ad on YouTube, You scan your I.D. you walk in there with, you know like, your basic bag or your plastic bags that are reusable and you put all of your groceries in there that you want and you leave that's it. You don't do anything else. Could you imagine? You feel like you're stealing food.

Start the car.

Yeah. That is essentially to me the most phenomenal change in creating efficiency easy consumer access to goods and like there's no transaction going on and that is completely driven by analytics AI and a form of a trusted framework which I think is super cool.

That's huge.

Let's lead out of really really interesting points there. And let's begin on the other spectrum of things, in five years time, how do you see the regulatory and legal profession changing as a result of AI?

I think it's unambiguously going to be way. So here's another paradox. It's going be way deeper. The amounts of regulation are going to be much more significant. But the paradox is that it's going to be much easier to comply. So you're gonna have much better tailored regulation so creating fewer friction points for those who are trying to comply those regulations are gonna be based on better science better understanding of what the actual real world implications are of those regulations. So the regulations are going to be more tailored. And then on the compliance side because they're going to be fewer of these pitfalls or gotchas or regulatory gaps and there's going to be technology to actually figure out in this situation what do I actually need to do. It's going to be a good news story. So it's a bad news story if you think about it from the perspective of Oh I'm going to have to read all of these regulations but that's not gonna be the reality for very many people at all that's going to be true of the engineers who are involved in building the systems. But regulation is going to become very much software driven. And so it's going to be it's going to code in the software sense not in the current regulatory code sense.

I think it's that I think it's tricky right. I mean, maybe the legal profession is definitely more advanced. Definitely. But I think it's really tricky and my thought also goes to the three step process of you've got to get your foundation right in terms of your internal processes and access to data and standards, the trusted framework and the sharing and you kind of got to get your process information around that so you can get insights and then you actually you know as you start to improve your precision around regulation you actually have to serve it. So there is a service aspect of it as well. And all of that is driven by digital technology. And of course A.I. But you know in five years from now I don't know how advanced we are going to be. I think we'll be hopefully advanced on the foundational pieces because that is very hard to do and takes a ton of experimentation and failure and risk and success. But then you actually have to serve those regulations so people can comply to the more easily you can't you don't even know what half of them are you can even find them right.

As a civil society so we do have some work to be done.

That actually brings up our final question which is really around the you know we're talking about it being math, being technology so and so forth but there's a human side behind that, a whole change management piece. Obviously you know we're we're lagging a bit behind but it's not too late so that's good news. But how do we continue to move forward. You guys have any practical advice on that more change management component for organizations within the public sector or even private because ultimately it gets the same challenges we're looking at.

I can start on that one. So one of the things we've seen when we work with companies is they're trying to dip their toe in the water when it comes to A.I. and data sciences, that often times the data scientists employed at the company understand it really well. But anyone above that really doesn't know how you can use it, how you can best leverage it, and it can be a little bit terrifying sometimes. So enabling those middle and senior managers to actually understand what data science and A.I. can be used for, what it can't be used for is a really powerful way of making sure that it's used properly and leveraged properly within companies and within the public sector.

I think I think a huge onus for change management actually goes to the solution providers. So if you just think about what, what's actually brought computing into being a mass phenomenon it's actually ease of use.

Right so it's the reason why everyone has an iPhone because an iPhone or an Android device is actually really really pretty simple to use. And so it's, you know, you could try to do the change management thing by teaching everyone to be a coder and there are these people who say we need to teach coding in kindergarten because that's how people are going to learn how to use computers or you could say, OK, we could do that or we could maybe bring the technology to the last mile and actually make it very, very accessible and easy for people to use, to try to get the payoffs that they need in performing their work.

And so I think as someone who thinks a lot about how do we actually make this happen.

A huge amount of it has to turn on the user experience the user interface. And how do we actually make this solve the problem for the user because you can you can architect the greatest algorithm in the world but if what you're disseminating is a command line interface that has a blink cursor at it you go, OK do the machine learning, you're not going to get anywhere in trying to roll that out. You need to make it much easier for people to use and get quickly the insights that they need to do their job more effectively. So I think it's the responsible is really on that those who are developing the solutions to make them easier to use.

Well we wanted to say a huge thank you again to all three of you for taking time to chat with us today and we hope you enjoy the rest of the events. Take care. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks John.

E1: Innovation – It's a start!

Co-hosts Laura Smith and Jean Cardinal from the Canada School of Public Service kick-off this podcast series on innovation in the public service with quick chat with Neil Bouwer Vice President, Innovation and Policy Services Branch.  This series is targeted to all Public Servants unwilling to simply accept the status quo and willing to try new and funky things to innovate and improve the lives of Canadians.

Neil Bouwer
Vice President, Innovation and Policy Services Branch

Laura Smith
Communications Advisor, Innovation and Policy Services Branch

Jean Cardinal
Director, Foundation and Specialized Learning

Length: 8:48


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