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Creating Space for Employee-Led Experimentation (TRN5-V29)


This event recording explores how evidence generated by employee-led experimentation can lead to program improvement and renewal, help develop and retain talent, and ultimately deliver better results for Canadians.

Duration: 00:58:44
Published: January 11, 2023
Type: Video

Event: Creating Space for Employee-Led Experimentation

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Creating Space for Employee-Led Experimentation

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Transcript: Creating Space for Employee-Led Experimentation

[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]

[Dan Monafu appears full screen.]

Dan Monafu: Hello and welcome everyone. My name is Dan Monafu. I'm a senior policy advisor with the Canadian Digital Service, a group that's part of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and I will be your moderator for today's event.

A bit about myself, I've worked in the field of policy innovation in the Government of Canada for the past eight years, including three of those years advancing experimental government across the Government of Canada. While I've recently shifted focus and am currently working on digital government, experimental methods, and the great experimentation community we've built over the past number of years continue to have a very special place in my heart.

So, I'm thrilled to have so many of you with us today. As of this morning, we were at over a thousand registered participants, 1,024 to be exact. Welcome, and thank you again for joining us.

I would like to start by acknowledging that I am joining you from Ottawa on unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Some of you are no doubt joining us from various parts of this country, and I encourage you to take a moment to recognise and acknowledge the territory that you're occupying.

If you are experiencing technical difficulties, to make your viewing experience better we encourage you to disconnect from the VPN if possible, and then reconnect to the event. Please note that we have simultaneous interpretation and CART services available to you for this event in French. Please refer to the reminder email you received from the school or visit the V Expo to learn how to access these features.

As this is a 60-minute event, please note that we won't be having a question-and-answer period at the end of this panel discussion. However, throughout the event, feel free to submit questions you might have by using the bubble shaped chat icon located at the top right hand corner of your screen. And even if you don't see your questions appear, rest assured they will be coming our way and we'll be selecting a couple of those to enhance our discussion.

Finally, my colleagues at the Canada School of Public Service have asked me to mention that they have other great events coming up. Of course, you can browse the Canada School of Public Service website, or you can register for the school's newsletter to receive the latest updates and offerings. And so, with all that out of the way, let's get started with the wonderful event we have planned for today.

We are very fortunate to be joined by a leader, both in the Government of Canadas well as internationally, sharing with us their firsthand experiences in creating space for employee-led experimentation.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels. Text on screen "Creating Space for Employee-Led Experimentation; Develop and retain talent, and ultimately deliver better results for Canadians. / Donner aux members du personnel la possibilité d'experimenter; Former des gens compétents et les maintenir en poste afin de mieux server les Canadiens."]

Dan Monafu: So, joining us today from Ottawa is Sarah Kennedy, manager of the Solutions Fund at Health Canada, as well as from London, United Kingdom, Iacopo Gronchi, expert at the Finnish think tank, Demos Helsinki.

Sarah Kennedy has been with the Solutions Fund program at Health Canada since its inception and launch in 2018.With the support of her wonderful team, she works to cultivate a workplace conducive to experimentation and innovation through supporting employee-led initiatives. Since joining the federal public service in 2009, Sarah has led a variety of internal service redesign projects, all aimed at improving collaboration and client service delivery. She has built networks that continue to support each other, and they are now integral partners of the fund contributing to its success. Sarah is passionate about the innovation and experimentation space, you will see that, and welcomes any opportunity to share learnings and collaborate.

And Iacopo Gronchi works as an expert in transformative governance Demos Helsinki, a nonprofit independent think tank, researching and consulting on societal transformations. In addition to this, Iacopo is currently a PhD candidate at University College, London's Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. I'm a big fan of that institute. His research and professional interests revolve around the role of public sector organizations in accelerating societal transformations by means of decentralized experimentation. He has explored these topics by working closely with national governments in Finland, public agencies such as Business Finland, private companies like Mera Open Loop, as well as Global Foundations.

So, welcome to you both. I will be done speaking in just a second, but I'll just situate us a little bit.

[Dan Monafu appears full screen.]

Dan Monafu: So, the term experimentation, particularly in a public sector context, can sometimes have negative connotations, bringing to mind everything from uncertainty and risk to failed social experiments. But we would argue experimentation should not be scary. To offer just a simple definition, experimentation is both a lens as well as a tool. It is a lens for exploring problems and a tool for testing and de-risking innovations.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years working in this field, is that experimentation quickly becomes theoretical and eyes glaze if we don't provide examples of what we mean in practice. So, let's dive in and I'll start with an easy first question. What is employee-led experimentation, and can you give us some examples? We'll start with you Sarah.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: Employee-Led experimentation, big question. It's employees. It's leading the charge. It's providing the time, the space, the resources for employees to tackle the persistent problems, to support Canadians. Employees are the problem solvers and they work often on the side of their desks. Experimentation, or the experimentation innovation space, allows employees to try new things on a small scale. It's a safer way to make change, just like what you just said.

At Health, when we were setting up this innovation experimentation space back about 2017, beginning of 18, we had Deputy Kennedy, who was our fearless leader, and he said, we have a lot of talented people in the organization, highly skilled, highly educated people who are closely [INAUDIBLE] and providing the service to Canadians. They have the visibility on the things that could work better and what should be improved, and he was right.

So, we created those spaces to allow employees to do that. Employees are everyone. So, a director is an employee, a CR two, CR four, whatever level, whatever place you're in, you're an employee of the Government of Canada. So, everybody has the responsibility to do work in this space. I don't think it's just a level thing. I don't think it's an area thing, if you're a scientist versus a policy maker, versus an administrative, I think we all have a role in this, and we all have the ability to take these tools and the innovation experimentation space, and apply it to the work we do to make change. So, employee innovation experimentation is employees doing it. It's employees.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: That's, so that's the emphasis. Do you want to start with like one example or two, or do you want to leave that for later? Okay.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: Okay. I have an example. We have a team here in our health food products branch. They are scientists, chemists. They have a huge issue and they wanted to see how machine process learning AI could work to help solve a problem that they were having. They're not data scientists, in their field. They're not IT specialists, but they decided, okay, we have this problem, we need to solve it. So, they went and learned. They took courses, they learned how to, the what was needed, and they applied it to their work and they developed an experiment for tests.

They did this on their own initiative because they saw that there was potential to solve this problem and to augment their work, and to create a better systems approach and design to what they were doing. And that is employee-led innovation. It's the desire, the mindset, and the willingness to fix things that aren't working so well. And we have a lot of people with this mindset, and we have a lot of people doing it, it's just that some have spaces and some don't have those defined spaces. We need to celebrate and highlight that more, I think in general.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Okay. Thank you for that. Iacopo, any first thoughts on your end on the definition and some examples?

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: Yes, well, thank you Dan for the introduction and thank you, Sarah. It's very hard to go on top of that because I think that the word employee exactly gives up the value that experimentation has, not only to find out what works, but also to tap into the human wisdom that they have by gathering firsthand knowledge of how and what it takes, in a way, to implement policies, programs. To understand how to feed them from the theory on paper to the practise of human needs that are diverse, that are scattered across communities, and that need to be contextualized in order to fit public purpose, so to speak.

But if I can add something, it's also about the possibility that experimentation entails to test new things. So, to tap not only into wisdom and contextual knowledge, but also to tap into creativity, power to create. Also, because rarely the way we do things is not the best, or we can improve them incrementally, but sometimes tapping into experimentation and the creativity that lies within public service, is also a way to radically challenge them on their very basis and rational and design.

And to substantiate this definition, I'll go through very quickly three examples that go from the micro level to the macro. So, one concerns, for example, everyday tasks in public service. Let's say, for example, teaching. In Finland, we have a national agency of education that enabled teachers exactly from their ground level perspective to play a substantive role into changing the curriculum at the national level. For example, with respect to topics that range from indoor or outdoor teaching, external curricular activities, but also relationship to emerging technologies for education. And what happened is that the benefits that you get not only concerns child education, which also lead Finland to be among the best countries in the world for that field, but also for teachers themselves that learn how to relate, acknowledge that they have an empowered sense of agency to shaping them to fulfill their mandate.

The second example expands the focus from the everyday task of teaching to public services management as a whole. And this of course, concerns not only the implementation aspect, but also the design. And the one good story about it, for example, is taken from the UK where the behavioural insights team wants to implement a big unemployment scheme through decentralized job centre officials. Basically, rework the assumptions behind the program themselves.

The original program in itself had a focus on basically inducing reporting from the unemployed about why there was such, and why they would've tried to do a job. And they felt that that was not empowering for the recipient of the service themselves. So, what they did and what they convinced their own directors in a way, to test at a small scale, and eventually at a broader scale once the experiment had success, was to basically turn the negative into a positive. Basically, ask them what they would like to do in their job, what would be the purpose that we would like to fulfill? And this is something that worked out, that was tested through randomized control trials and what basically scaled up from the bottom level to the top one with success.

But this is not only about improving the existing, it's also about dealing with the new, and this is my last example. It's about engaging with new a societal phenomenon. For example, migrations. We have beautiful examples still in Finland in our immigration office, Migri, which dealt with new technologies in order to empower newcomers during the first war in Ukraine back into 2014, 2015, to basically have them be without papers, and leveraging blockchain to create a new methodology for them to basically tap into new ways to dealing with bureaucracies, receive funding for support and so forth.

These are only a few examples where they give an idea of how this goes from tackling very specific problems that present in everyday life to broader challenges that affect our societies as a whole, and how public state can relate to that.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Yes. Thank you both. I think there's a range of examples there. I'd love to hear a little more about them as we go along. I've heard a few keywords and some of them are giving folks license, and giving them agency, and creating possibility and creativity.

So, how do we create the right conditions for employees to get to places like that? Are there specific ingredients or conditions that we need to create in order to get them to those moments? Sarah, do you want to start?

Sarah Kennedy: Yes. This was a big question when we were setting up our space, our innovation experimentation space at Health Canada. What is the right recipe, I guess you could say, or the formula?

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: And the literature. You go back to the doers, those who are doing it well, those who have done it before, you learn from. And that's basically what we're trying to do is learn from, and build onto. Evidence based.

So, creating that space for it requires leadership support. We're a government, we're a bureaucracy. We have directives, we have mandates. We are begotten to Canadians. And so we need to have that voice that says, you have permission, you have our support to do this. With that permission, it then says, okay, so what does this look like? What does this look like for me versus what does that look like for you? It's not going to be a one size fits all for every department and agency, obviously, but it's there.

So, at Health Canada, Deputy Kennedy moved on, then Deputy Lucas came in. We were so blessed because he had come from ECCC and he said, innovation and experimentation are more than buzz words. They're mindsets. They're about being open to taking risks, showing curiosity, exploring new ways of doing things, encouraging a workplace to be more conducive to innovation is a management priority.

So, from that, we created a framework. So, we engaged our communities, we engaged our employees, we engaged those outside of our organization, inside our organization and private sector and public sector. And we created this framework that said, here's the formula for our department. We have the Learn and Act, which is the capacity building. Go learn, go be part of it. The Exploring Test, which is the doing, get your hands dirty, try new things. And then the Report Measurements Share. Tell us what you learned. Tell us where we can learn. Where's the evidence-based decision making.

There's accountability from the organization down, and there's accountability for the employees to take these opportunities and do it and be a part of that. And this framework is the permission slip. It's the go and do it.

And so, what's happened here at our department is we have strategic plans being built off the framework, like in HEX and in CFOB, at Health Canada and the regulatory branch, we have pockets of innovation centres being developed in branches. We have the Solutions Fund, which is here for employee experimentation. So, we have resources, we have the learning opportunities, the resources to go learn, the resources to do the doing, and then we have those mechanisms to put in place. And so by creating this ecosystem, by creating that permission slip, by creating those things, then you see more doing.

In 2020, we had 20 innovation experimentation projects, more in the innovation. In 2022, we just did environmental scan. We have 40 projects being done. So, we are growing, we're maturing, we are learning that it's a good thing to do. And that it's supporting our objectives of getting evidence based decision making, using the public purse appropriately, solving the problems in a concerted way, not just solving them to fit into something that doesn't work. We're seeing the fruits of this. And we have projects happening as a result of Covid, so we had to act fast at Health.

So, by having these examples and by having these in place, we were able to act fast. By having Solutions Fund projects, doing this work, we're learning when to fail fast. We had a voice technology project who came in and set up, and they learned very quickly that we're not supposed to be in that space at this time, and so, failing quickly. Those are examples of the doing and the benefits of having the space, being allowed to fail. Happy failures, we call them, and moving on, building off of them. So, yes, I'm all over the place, but the conditions are resources, permission, mindset, learning opportunities and sharing. Sharing.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Yes, especially the last one, closing that feedback loop is something that, I think, people kind of forget. They want to move off to the next thing. But I think if we don't embed those things in the organization so that the next generation learns from them, it's lost a bit.

So, I want to turn to Iacopo, tell us a little bit of what you're seeing. Sarah just mentioned the many, many things happening just in one place, but I'd love to hear what you're seeing in terms of these ingredients or conditions internationally.

Iacopo Gronchi: Absolutely. Well, Sarah already described quite well my points. I would say culture, I would say leadership, I would say [INAUDIBLE] and tools, and support.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: And what I would basically argue, if I look closer internationally, is that basically that what we are doing right now, in having this conversation, is partially changing that culture. And tapping into the global conversation and understanding where are we, understanding that this is something that can be done, and that is being done elsewhere, is also a way to get aware of it and start having conversations such as this one, that start fostering different kinds of mindsets throughout organizations of the people that are joining us today. Values of critical thinking, values of autonomy, learning, and eventually experimentation.

And maybe one thing on top of them all, which is also our current word at Demos Helsinki, which is humility. An assumption behind it is that it is important to say aloud that not only is there something wrong in pretending that failure can be problematic, but there is something positive in basically making clear that there is assumption that can become part of the tools of the rationales for public intervention. And that can also be reflected into everyday agency and action. In how each one interprets its own work in the daily basis.

So, this is something that, of course, leaders can do quite well by saying that not only it is okay to fail, but it's certainly welcome to be humbled. And we are eager to be humbled into engaging you and understanding what are the learnings that we can get from you to revise our own assumption about what might work and what does not.

But it's also the capability in a way to tap into external knowledge once one recognises that there are no clear ways forward [INAUDIBLE] give you a problem. So, reaching out to each other, sharing the problem, understanding what the different physical hypothesis might be going forward, and eventually also leveraging the web and different tools, because there are already plenty of toolkits, playbooks that presents canvasses, assistant mappings exercises, workshop methodologies that can already be taken basically off the shelf and be used in everyday work within public agencies in order to learn how to be experimental in practise.

And of course, we'll go back also to the question of support, but eventually, this is something that while materializing into seeds in different parts of a broad public sector, which is of course, scattered, centralized among multiple agencies and levels, once these seeds grow up, eventually they also tap into experiments such as the Solutions Fund, innovation labs, as we see internationally, or experimentation units, as we've seen, for example, in Finland during the last decade, that also help eventually systematise, put into an institutionalised perspective, the learnings that emerge from experimentation, and also make them spill over and infuse the mindset.

If you do that, if you're able to tap into that energy from the [INAUDIBLE] map and to institutionalise it at the top, then what you get, for example, in the case of Finland, is that one single unit, even managed by three to four people, is placed at the right strategic level, such as it happened in Finland with three or four people working, results in 20 to 25 experiments at a strategic level across different ministries. And if you look also beyond government and into society, more than several hundreds of experiments being done at the local level by civic associations, private companies even, and so forth, which is what happened in Finland during the last 10 years.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Thank you for that. I love the emphasis on humility. I think as soon as you start creating your hypothesis, your assumption, you realise how small you have to go to test something. You have to realise all of the elements that you're just sort of ignorant of, in a sense. So, thank you for that reminder. I want to go back to Sarah, you mentioned the Solutions Fund, and for folks joining in that maybe are not at Health Canada and don't have the good fortune of having a Solutions Fund, what should public servants do in those situations where they don't have a ready-made access to a support system?

Sarah Kennedy: This is a question that we get asked a lot. So, first I'm going to put in the caveat that we're very blessed here at Health Canada. We're fortunate that we're a science based organization. We're kind of set up to do this. And when we do innovation, experimentation, design, we're really linked to project management.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: And it's a very organic and natural space to be in investment planning, project management. At some departments, that's not the mandate. You look at Heritage, they're doing things really well, but they're not meant to do scientific problem sets. So, we're not a one size fits all, but Solutions Fund or the idea of a lab or a centre or a space, that's something that can happen.

And I asked this question today to one of my project teams. I said, what do you need? And he said, first, we need someone to listen to us. So, we need someone to listen to the fact that we want something or we have an idea. The second thing that we need as teams, if we want to do this, if a team really wants to do this, they need to start asking. And when they get a no, they need to ask the next person, and then they need to ask the next person.

But you know what worked for us? And this is where I'm going to highlight Dan. When we were setting up the Solutions Fund, senior management needed to kind of wrap their head around this new thing. It was really new, it was very conceptual, and we were having a hard time getting it across the finish line. So, we did a Call a Friend. We called Dan and Sarah at Treasury Board, at the Experimentation Works team, and we said, come over, come to us and let's talk this through. Let them hear from your experience, let them understand what we're trying to achieve. So, that's the Call a Friend method.

So, I would say: you need mindset, you need the willingness, the entrepreneurial spirit, the drive to do this work in that space. You need to develop your call a friend. I'm a friend, call Health Canada. Call Experimentation Works, call the Chief Digital Office, call ESDC's lab, we're all over the place. We're on each other's GC tools pages, I know GC tools, but we're all over the place. You just have to connect the dots and call us. We put our socks on the same way you put your socks on. We're no better. We're humble. We're very humble. Meeting someone who wants to be in this space, can actually lend to us doing more in our spaces. So, we're open to that.

So, if you want to do this, first, you need the mindset. You need to have the curiosity, the willingness to do it, and the willingness to say, okay, that person doesn't want me. I'm going to go here, I'm going to go there, I'm going to go there. A door will open. And then of course you need the resources, the leadership and all that <laugh> other stuff, and that will come. But if you want to be in this space or you want to try, trying doesn't cost anything. You don't need a lot of money to try, you don't need a lot of resources to do things.

The Solutions Fund has been run on three resources or less for five years. You could do it. It's the friends, it's the community you build around it, it's the support structure to get it off the ground. It's a movement. You only need one person to start a movement, like that video that went around a couple years ago. So, that's what you need. But yes, Treasury Board saved us. The Experimentation Works saved us and got us going, put our best foot forward. So, let us all help you put your best foot forward, if that's what you want to do.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Thank you for the nod there, Sarah. She mentioned that I'll get a mention when we chat, but I didn't know exactly how, so I'm glad it's positive, so I appreciate that.

So, we heard a little bit about resourcing. Iacopo, maybe you could talk to us a little bit about the mindset piece a little more. So, if we talk about experimentation as a lens, and it allows, you know there's a [INAUDIBLE] resource that went around in this space that sort of said, okay, exploring what if, and what could be type questions.

So, how can governments use this mindset to arrive at more long-term goals or more complexity, because I think there's a difference between trying something at a small scale and then using this mindset to get at more and more complicated goals. Have you seen that play out in in some spaces?

Iacopo Gronchi: Absolutely. And I would say that the connection between even the smallest of experimentation processes and the longer-term goals that the governments are grappling today, such as climate change, for example, in these very moments, are at least threefold.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: And the first one I would say is kind of very blatant if you think about it, but very crucial to how public action is devised, which is the complexity of implementation itself. Two great political scientists Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky once wrote a beautiful book in the eighties, which is called Implementation, and focuses on a massive urban employment scheme implemented in the USA in 1966. And the results of the policy process itself are very much well told by the subtitle of the book, which is How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed in Oakland; Or, Why It's Amazing the Federal Programs Work At All.

This is basically an argument, the one that they put forward, for street level bureaucrats relevance into pursuing any kind of goal. Not only longer term, but even in the short term. This is because much of the implementation truly happens at the ground level. Policies and programs are often designed from the top down of governments, and then may be refined for secondary or tertiary legislation.

But eventually they do embed elements of ambiguity that need to be solved out and figured out by civil servants on the ground. And this is where exactly the challenge of implementation turns out. This is where also great expectations can be let down in a way. Understanding that employees are not just machines that receive inputs and put out outputs, but actually have the knowledge that is critical to deliver and adjust the programs to the actual needs is essential to pursue any kind of goal.

So, this is the first complexity that needs to be understood and leveraged to other levels of governments, I believe, in order to understand the crucial role of experimentation and how it can help us achieve an effective public action.

The second one is about the complexity of today's wicked problems that are the farther layer of complexity into helping us acknowledge that we don't know. None of us arguably knows in depth how to shift, for example, from a linear to a circular economy. None of us knows or has full visibility on how to reform our states in a growingly aging society. We might have ideas, but we need to test them out in order to understand.

And this is where, once again, experimentation as a mindset comes out. And because it helps us embrace eventually that we do lack the knowledge about the nature and the visibility of our political solutions and enables us to throw the art beyond the obstacles, as we say in Italy, and start solving the problems together, which is the key, the true essence of learning and moving forward towards the goal, long term or short-term problem solving.

Final element, fostering a culture of humility is important, not only as something that substantiates civil service ethos, but also that creates dynamic capabilities, as we call them into UCLIADB. It creates basically the state capacity for actors to adjust to the problems, such as, for example, Sarah was telling beforehand, with respect to the pandemic, it creates greater resilience across the whole of government to adapt, to do different and even unforeseen needs. And this is also a benefit of experimentation, basically empowering employees to be better at their job and at adapting to different circumstances together.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Thank you. Before the session, we talked a little bit about making sure that we keep the focus away from the system and on the employee. So, thank you to the audience for kind of keeping us grounded. We got a very, very practical question from the audience. So, let's see how we do.

So, how quickly should we be failing? What kind of timeframe should we be looking at? Should we fail in a few weeks, a month or so, longer? I think you can take that question in a few different directions of, should we continually be failing every month and moving on, or I don't know if anything comes to mind from that? Yes, Iacopo. We'll go with you first.

Iacopo Gronchi: Yes, sure. It truly depends on the problem ahead, of course. So, there are programs that last decades and programs that last years, or that are even tested on a monthly basis.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: So, it truly depends on context. And at the same time, on the degree of, and on the type of learning that you want to tap into. Sometimes the programs go through revision, sometimes they are explicitly being piloted, so they do last for a certain amount of time that is basically designed by the system. But this is something that eventually, at the very micro level of every day's job can also happen on a daily basis. Like even holding meetings or weekly scrums in different ways is part of experimenting.

And this is something of an internal sales making process and shared collective learning about how to best run an organization that can truly be tapped into besides RCTs and pilots and how they work. And this can happen on a daily basis, I believe. But of course, it also depends on the challenge at hand. And this can take also many years, of course, to make sense of complex, for example, programs.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Sarah, you call them happy failures. Tell us more.

Sarah Kennedy: Well, okay, so this is really interesting and I'm going to talk about happy failures, but I want to say that this is where good governance and oversight comes in. So, at Health, we've set up a governance structure to not be so heavy, you must do, and where's your green light, red light, orange light, kind of outcomes.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: But to be more of that body that asks those questions to say to the challenge function, how are you doing this? Why are you failing? What do you need? Is it because we didn't provide you with something you needed? Or is it because you didn't know what you didn't know? Or is it because it's just a bad idea?

So, having that oversight and governance body that's more of a coaching mechanism, and a sounding board is how we determine when to fail. When to say, yep, we failed, we're failing. Great. We're failing happily. And that's why they're happy failures, because they're not risky, they're not epic. They're manageable. It's not a good feeling to say, cut the cord, we're done. But it's okay in this space because it's set up and designed to receive it and do that.

And by having this oversight and this governance mechanism, it allows the public purse to be used properly. It allows the department to have that oversight that it needs to make the decisions and the evidence, but it also allows the coaching and the mindset and everything to be done in the safe place. Because when you're doing the work, so say that voice project that I was talking about, if they hadn't come to us, they might have just kept going because they thought maybe they wanted us to keep going. Because that's a cultural norm in a lot of departments. But by having the check-ins, by having that governance body to have these conversations, we were able to say, try one more thing. And if that doesn't work, let's cut it. Let's just stop, and let's take that money that wasn't spent and put it in a different spot, and that is important.

So, there is no right way to fail. There is no right time to fail. There is no road, there's no formula. But having the community around you to support you in that space, I think is really, really important. And we've learned that. So, we've had our number of failures in our department, in the experimentation innovation space. We've had a lot of failing. And that's great. We want to see that. We want to see that because then we pivot. Let's use these words, we pivot, we change course, we set up a new experiment and we move on. And that's the benefit of this space. That is the biggest benefit.

When you guys wrote the directive on experimentation, that was clearly outlined in there. We want a space where you succeed to get evidence based decision makings, and you move on. And we want a space where we can fail on small scale. And we're moving out of small scale experimentation to higher impact. So, we're hoping to take those learnings of failing so we can put them in higher impact projects. I think that's where we're at in the iteration. So, that's my answer to that, for now.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Yes, it's a good point. I think one of my insights from my time on the file was creating space, and almost de-politicizing the outcomes so that it's not a big deal if it doesn't work. And also saying, well, this is normal. It was part of the plan. We tested this, which takes away some of that tension that comes with saying this is public money and this was a reasonable hypothesis that a bunch of folks made an educated guess about. So, I think that's key. The de-politicization of the experiments is an important one. Because otherwise you run into political problems small key.

Sarah Kennedy: And the other thing too, is to mention, because this is employee-led, there's employees in all levels, wherever they come from, doing this work. Reprisal is not part of this because we're building it into our ecosystem, into the way we do things. People working in this space, and this is what we hope to cultivate through our fund, and through Employee-led Experimentation Innovation at Health Canada,

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: is that we're giving you the space to make mistakes, to learn and grow from them. It's not a place of reprisal. It's not like you're going to be seen or your career is going to end because you failed. If anything, it's going to help you develop the person you are, your skill sets to bring forth to your next thing that you do, and to make you a better public servant, to make you better in your position that you're in. So, we see it as happy, as good, as productive, and not as negative. We're trying to dispel all that too.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: There's another question from the audience that, Sarah, I think more or less touches on your side. So, it goes something like, often regional employees are very operational and many problem solving activities are reactive. Given these circumstances, have you been able to integrate regional employees into the experimentation work?

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: Yes, we have. Everyone's welcome. Our teams are regional. The regulatory enforcement branch has a lot of regional employees. They're our biggest experimentation project source at Health Canada, one of our biggest. So, the regional lens is really important. Are we doing the best? No. Could we do better? Of course. But we want the regional perspective.

So, right now we have a video gaming project looking at the Ontario region and work that they're doing with students to educate them on environmental health hazards, as an example. So, the Ontario region has a project in the Solutions Fund. We have collaborative teams from Labrador/Newfoundland, BC, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, that are all on one team. So, we're trying to have the regional perspective as well as regional focus projects.

So, bring them on, bring it on. I mean it's not out of scope, but we always could be doing better with regional integration in all the work we do, but maybe that could be a Solutions Fund project <laugh>, how do we do it better? <Laugh>

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Yes, Iacopo I think the broader level question internationally would be, what do you do if you don't have a central team in a national office or federated space? Can you work in a decentralized way? And have you seen ways to integrate those so that the learnings are actually captured, and they don't get lost?

Iacopo Gronchi: Well, it is very hard in a way to accumulate learnings at that level, but this does not mean that collaboration between different parts of government cannot happen.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: I would say that definitely tapping into different kinds of networks, both within government, but also beyond government, looking at other public agencies internationally, but also different societal actors, for example, universities that do provide the capacity in a way to make sense of the learnings and spread them out is a good initiative that can help in a way, and ensure that some of that experience is not lost. That is something that is translated into real impact or narratives that can even spread out either through academia or through public service or through citizens themselves, in order to make sure that the movement in itself goes on in a way.

Of course, being the first movers in any context is very difficult, but there are partners, they are very much everywhere, and some of them are into this conversation, so let's tap into them to make that happen.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: All right, I'll switch gears a little bit here. So, another question. One of the central tenents of behavioural science is to change the default. So, make it easy to do the right thing. At the same time, some folks still consider that experimentation is hard, they don't know where to start.

So, can you think of the behaviours and the strategies that whole teams can adopt to make experimentation kind of baked in, we called it, or kind of normal as part of their workflow. Are there ways to do that aside from having all of the resourcing and the strategies and the top cover, anything else comes to mind in that sense? I don't know, Sarah?

Sarah Kennedy: You know, it's really hard to run an RTC on the side of your desk, especially without all the skills or knowledge or maybe the academic background.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: But I think that you can start small scale. I learned small scale, I'm growing in my mindset and in my understanding of this space on a daily basis. And so, I think it starts with being creative. What is our problem? Problem solving, thinking outside the box, what else is being done? Being curious, researching, be well informed, take some courses. What is design thinking? What is user experience? You know, what are these things, these innovative practices or these methodologies.

Take an incremental approach, take a really small problem and work through it one time. See how that works out. Then take a bigger problem and work through it. Talk it through with your colleagues in your area. Talk it through with others.

Seek horizontal support. Okay, someone's trying it or someone's doing it. And I think that's what you're talking about. We've been talking about, is it internationally? Is it provincially? Is it my neighbour in a different branch in my department? Is it a different department in itself? What has been done? Ask questions, and that's the Call a Friend model, too. Or leverage things.

So, right now, I was saying that we have that video gaming project. Health Canada's not specialists in video games. We want to use game-based learning to inform and educate students on environmental health hazards, and gaming has been identified as a way to do it, but how do we build a game? How do we do it? So we called CSPS. They have the people. So, we're doing a horizontal partnership to run a test and experiment in this space. We alone can't do it, we need to call on our friends and our partners. So, that's really, really important.

Don't compare yourself either. Don't compare yourself. Focus on what you need to do and how you need to do it, and stay in that space. Because if we always compare ourselves, we never go anywhere. We'd always be in that turn on that hamster wheel. So, those are the elements for behaviour change: mindset; the desire to do it; taking the leap of faith; calling a friend; connecting with others to do it. Humble thy self. Our team says that all the time. I'm so glad you said that, humble yourself. Don't compare. Just try, and do. Just try it. I don't know, just do it. <Laugh>

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Anything to add on that inspirational message, Iacopo?

Iacopo Gronchi: The inspirational message is part and parcel of it, and I feel the moment when this starts becoming normal is exactly when this becomes part of a movement.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: So, I would definitely say that as recalling Sarah's advice before, in order to make that happen, you need to sometimes, depending on the context, make the first step, but sometimes also make use of the resources that you have already on hand. And there are infinite canvasses, as I was explaining before, that can already model the way you tackle certain problems.

For example, we use Canvas for devising different incentives for local governments to participate into experimentation with the Philippines Environmental Protection Agency, in order basically to understand their own needs and also adapt the positions behind the policies that we were helping them to deploy in order to make that happen.

And there are tested methodologies that, for example, other parts of government, but those external consultants can make use of, and they can also be relayed, but they're also available on the internet as freely, and they can be used every day in order to make that happen, and that provide standardized approaches to do so.

And another example relates to the Latvian Civil Service where we had managed the transition from offline to online throughout the pandemic. And their experimentation canvasses were basically used to split different communities into working groups, understanding different needs. For example, employees that had elderly people living at a home, people with low digital literacy and basically helping them with new ways of thinking about how to adapt it to each specific circumstances, their own job.

So, this looks difficult, but it's also very playful, and it can become as such once you exactly make use of these resources that are broadly available. And they can also tap into by, either making the first step, getting in touch with peers that have already initial experience with it, or seeking them out because the world has plenty of them. And I think that all of us are very available to share some of this experience further also beyond the event itself.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Thank you both. So, one interesting question I've been sort of toying with is this idea is experimentation.

[Dan Monafu appears full screen.]

Dan Monafu: Is it a must have? Or is it something that you can sort of do in a corner and it's optional? I want your gut reaction. So, maybe in one minute or less, tell me, and tell me why, where ever side you fall. Sarah, let's go to you.

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: It's a must. That's it. Hands down, it's a must. So, we've seen it, we've seen the fruits of the labour that has happened here. Evidence based decision making creates better change, makes rapid implementation. We've seen how the small-scale attempts and successes at experimentation can yield a better return on investment. You want me to give you the business case? I can do that. You want me to give it on the capacity building? We have experimentation and having this in your department and your agency in the work that you do, the people's capacity.

Transferable skills are real, and they can make big, big incremental change. Having that learning, that knowledge base, it can be applied when employees do their work, when they move on. It's incremental everywhere. We have a tendency of, we said bureaucratic, the political, the politicizing of it. This is taking it down to actually solving a problem and not making it political.

And I think that we've seen how that is a good thing. We see how evidence supports the political, it helps our decision makers, it helps our senior leaders make better informed decisions. It makes them confident in their employees. You know, it's a win-win-win. So, I would say must. Must. Definitely, hands down, must.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Yes, Iacopo?

Iacopo Gronchi: Of course, I cannot disagree. <Laugh> and I cannot disagree for many reasons. They help us know what works and what doesn't.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: It is a good vehicle for engaging stakeholders to co-create together policies, program services, to increase their legacy on the ground, not only within government to increase the coherence and effectiveness of public action, but also its relatability to everyday citizens' problems in itself.

It is good for employees themselves, because it empowers them to take an active stance to own the job that they do, rather than receive orders and translate them into action. And it increases also the relevance, it increases their status. And maybe even in broader terms, expanding on the narrative that experimentation can hold for public service is a part of also shifting how we perceive the civil service, as a key element of our societies.

Last but not least, it is essential to implementation because if you don't experiment, that's how eventually you get great expectations in Washington get dashed in Oakland. And we don't want that to happen. Experimentation is essential to that, and this is why it is a must.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Sarah Kennedy: Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>

Dan Monafu: Thank you both. Okay. So, we're nearing the end of our session. And I have one final question, which is kind of the usual, okay, so now what? Where do we go from here? And I think we could take it, pick what you want from that, but a couple of rapid fire including one from the audience that I think is relevant.

So, who should participants talk to if they want to experiment? Where can they get support? And I think the final bit on, now what, say you've actually done a successful experiment. How do you scale for impact beyond that point? So final thoughts? I'll start with you, Iacopo.

Iacopo Gronchi: Yes, that's the moment where you need basically to pull learnings from different parts of the ecosystem and start making them visible.

[Iacopo Gronchi appears full screen.]

Iacopo Gronchi: This is usually done through political support eventually, and by creation of a unit that is dedicated to that. I'm also partially skeptical, to be honest, after seeing 15 years of experimentation in the public sector innovation trend, that sometimes they can be the solution for broad transformations of government. But this is the best that we can do so far. And this is already quite enough because we can provide tangible results. And I'm sure that in 10 years or so, we'll see government all over the world start looking very much differently thanks to the experiences of the first comment that are sometimes very visible, such as in the case of the Solutions Fund, but sometimes hidden, and beneath procedures and internal work, but they are actually present across different administrations.

So, that's how you scale it. It takes time, but it's part of being a movement. So, it goes through ups and downs and overall the journey, looking at the 10 years and in the past looks like that this ethos is shifting and slowly becoming something that is substantive to governments as a whole. So, there's no reason not to believe into it.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: Wonderful, Sarah?

Sarah Kennedy: So, I'm going to start with the scaling and then I'm going to say how to. So, the scaling is a thing we're actually working on right now

[Sarah Kennedy appears full screen.]

Sarah Kennedy: because the Solutions Fund, when we were put in place, it was like, maybe we'll be here for a year, maybe we'll be here for two years. We don't know. You have to plan for it.

So, you have to plan for the idea that if successful, what then? Do we have the resources in place for the scale up? Do we have the ability to do that? So, that has to be worked into your experiment, and to actually plan for success. Plan for the scaling up of the evidence based, the things that we work towards. So, we're doing that now. We're transitioning into that space now, and the how, it is coming along, and I think everyone can do that. But I think good planning, good discussions, always bringing it forward, keeping it relevant, keeping it on top of mind. We'll keep it in that 10-year space and not in that, oh, we did that once long ago.

So, that's my one thing there. But the second thing is, how do you do this? Call us, call Dan, call Sarah. Call all of us. Call Demos. Call Treasury Board Experimentation Works Team, call us. Start somewhere. We can always lend the next step or give our advice. We're coaches as much as we are doers, and we want this space to grow. We believe in this space. We care about this space. We see the benefits of this space. So, we'll help you. I mean, we don't have the answers, we can't do it for you, but we can get you on the right path to starting doing it for yourselves. But join. Everybody. This is not a cool kid club. This is an everybody club. This is for everyone. So, call Dan, call me.

[Dan Monafu, Sarah Kennedy and Iacopo Gronchi appear in video chat panels.]

Dan Monafu: You want to add something or are you just giving us the phone number where to call you?

Sarah Kennedy: <Laugh>

Iacopo Gronchi: Well, I can do that, and I'll be very glad to, and what I was about to say was exactly to specify the [INAUDIBLE] Helsinki working in the space for the last 15 years doing capacity building at courses, either short term or long term all over the world. And we are experienced with basically understanding what are the issues of navigating change within different public administrations. And we are very happy, of course, to get in touch across different parts of the world in order to make that happen.

We have publications going on actually making visible that there is a changing ethos in civil service. And wisdom borne out of experimentation is one of the four characteristics that we put forward. So, if you want to get in touch, please feel free to do that. We are looking for partners to make the movements grow. Just wanted to echo Sarah's words on that.

Dan Monafu: That's wonderful. Well, thank you both. I think we're at time here. I will have a couple of final concluding remarks here, but I think this has been a fascinating conversation. I think the trouble every time we talk about experimentation is just that an hour is very insufficient to get going. So, if this is our plug for the Canada School to continue this series, there's many, many, elements, and sub elements that the experimentation as a field can bring. It's a very meaty topic.

And I just want to thank you both for your enthusiasm and your participation, and I want to thank the audience for their questions. And I think both of you have said, experimentation and innovation are not buzzwords. They are emerging fields with a lot of substance, with excellent practitioners, with experts, and with a vibrant and growing community of practice, not only internationally, but also right here in the Government of Canada.

[Dan Monafu appears full screen.]

Dan Monafu: So, if you feel like you found your people with this presentation, and what you've heard today resonated, I'd encourage you to get involved, to stay involved. And as Sarah and Iacopo both mentioned, you can start small. You don't have to feel like you have to have a fancy innovation practitioner title to engage in this work and to meaningfully make things better for the people you serve. I think that's the final reminder, that this is what it's all about.

[Text on screen "Browse the Learning Catalogue! It includes courses, events and other learning tools. Visit"]

Dan Monafu: Making things better for our citizens, we should keep that top of mind. As I mentioned at first the school has many more events to offer you.

[Text on screen "Consultez le catalogue d'apprentissage! Il vous propose des cours, des événements et des outils d'apprentissage. Visitez"]

Dan Monafu: So, check their website to register for future learning opportunities, including in this exciting space of innovation experimentation. And we hope that you enjoyed this event. We'd like to hear your feedback on how it went. So, please take a moment to fill out the survey. You'll be getting an email from the school in a few days with it. And that is it from me. Thank you all again for joining us today. Until next time.

[The video chat fades to the CSPS logo.]

[The Government of Canada logo appears and fades to black].

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