Future Talk

Lac Carling’s “secret formula” is all about connecting diverse people and ideas to shape and deliver a vision for the future of government in Canada. This year, the formula was applied to the Congress itself at a panel session designed to envision what Lac Carling might become over the next decade. One of Lac Carling’s strengths has always been its ability to evolve and grow, the panelists told participants, but success in the past does not guarantee future success. While Lac Carling has become the place to come for ideas about service transformation, it must continue to provide leadership to stay at the forefront of change. Therefore, they said, it is important to take a hard look at what works about Lac Carling, what doesn’t and what will be important to keep it relevant over the next decade.

The first step in getting from “here” to “there” is to know where you want to end up. And the panelists presented some compelling and deliberately controversial pictures of Lac Carling 2016.

The vision they outlined would see the Congress become more inclusive, more strategic, more influential and more collaborative. Most importantly, it would guide and lead change through building the relationships and partnerships needed to make this happen.

Lac Carling’s organic and non-hierarchical nature already encourages interactions and relationships between participants; it has overcome many traditional barriers to collaboration between levels of government and with the private sector. But it is now time to move beyond this type of ad hoc cooperation to facilitate more broadly based systemic change, the panelists said. Future Lac Carlings should therefore provide leadership around how to transcend barriers to collaboration in more structured ways. Thus, one of the top priorities should be exploring and promoting sustainable collaborations between governments and between governments and industry.

It has always been a premise of Lac Carling that more partnerships would be made possible by sharing ideas and experiences. Yet, relative to other countries, Canadians are still not strong in developing public sector partnerships. In fact, there are few instances of governments actually forming partnerships to develop programs. All too often, innovative projects, with demonstrated success, do not go beyond their home departments. There are many reasons such partnerships are challenging: Constitutions, geography, language and politics. But in addition, partnering is a difficult job, one that easily discourages proponents and is readily abandoned. Therefore, future Lac Carlings should make it a priority to unlock the secrets of partnering. For example, they could showcase the best examples of public sector collaboration in all fields, not just service delivery. As well, they could look at what’s not happening and why.

The next 10 Congresses should aggressively take down the walls that impede strong partnerships and effective collaboration because Canada must become a leader in both service and governance innovation.

Today’s governments are being challenged to provide more just-in-time services and to be more relevant and nimble. To do this, they will need to learn how to effectively develop and use partnerships to multiply their rates of innovation, experimentation and implementation. Lac Carling is the ideal laboratory for doing this. Future Lac Carlings should therefore take on the task of leading governments into a new phase of dynamic and fruitful partnerships between governments at all levels and with the private sector.

In the short term, the panel agreed, there is still much to do to deliver seamless, integrated, inter-jurisdictional service delivery and service transformation. Lac Carling should not abandon the topic of service transformation in the future, but should look at several new aspects of it.

First, Lac Carling could be a means of helping governments get better at leveraging and learning from the private sector in this area.

Second, it should help develop information management (IM) capabilities so a single view of the customer can be created. Effective IM is critical to the future success of service transformation because it is at the root of the ability to share information across channels and jurisdictions.

Third, Lac Carling should begin to explore more flexible approaches to innovation in service delivery and how to build and sustain the culture needed for service transformation, illustrating ways to champion, demonstrate, inculcate and reward the new attitudes required at every level.

Fourth, the Congress could examine how to incorporate and use citizen engagement to keep transformation efforts focused and on track. Other related topics that could be addressed in the future include: providing global service delivery to Canadian citizens around the world and improving how governments buy IT services.

As governments become more citizen-centred, participation in Lac Carling needs to be broadened; the Congress was in danger of becoming a “congress of the converted.” To address this risk, future Congresses should consider including more small and rural communities, aboriginal groups, municipal service delivery representatives, politicians, the media and the public. Other new participants could include front line government workers at the forefront of service delivery; industry leaders who have applied networked strategies to create programs, and scholars who can address the organizational behaviour issues associated with collaboration in the Congress’ deliberations. Furthermore, delegates must work harder to make their entire organizations a part of the event or “we will be condemned to push the rock up hill with little understanding and support in our home jurisdictions.”

The increased participation of political leaders in future Lac Carlings is especially important, said the panelists. The Congress should seek to raise the level and number of politicians who participate in its sessions. More participation from outside Canada would be a good way to get at other successful perspectives, e.g., Denmark is a world leader in e-health. Most importantly, future Lac Carlings must attract leaders and feature topics and speakers that will appeal to them.

In addition to expanding participation, it is also time to take Lac Carling’s message farther afield, many panelists said. This can best be done by enhancing its existing constellation of relationships and adding to it. Lac Carling could have a strong outreach component at other events where its message could be delivered and input gathered, such as the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. While some individual initiatives are already present at these events, the Lac Carling message would be stronger if this participation were coordinated and branded. In short, Lac Carling needs to become a movement, not simply a once-a-year event. Finally, several panelists suggested that Lac Carling expand its partnerships to academia and within the private sector in order to learn from their ideas and experiences.

If participation is to be expanded in this way, the format and location of Lac Carling will need to be examined. Technologies such as web-casting and video-conferencing would facilitate more localized participation. Two Lac Carlings might be needed – one tactical and one strategic. Regardless, to ensure ongoing success, future Lac Carlings should continue to be a showcase for both practical achievements and strategic ideas.

In the longer term, the Congress needs to take a broader view because governments are not just about service delivery. The next great challenge will be how governments can enhance and increase citizen participation in determining the kind of society they want. Engaging citizens and ensuring that their participation is broadly based and representative of all should be a key topic for future Lac Carlings. Since the joint councils have taken on much of the project work that was done at earlier meetings, future Lac Carlings should become more about strategic thought leadership. In particular, the Congress could tackle topics in three broad areas:

Health, education and safety

The next generation of governance and e-democracy

Public-private infrastructure and how it can be leveraged to achieve innovation.

Future speakers also need to challenge participants to think more broadly and remind them of issues like the role of cities, the environment and international issues.

Lac Carling has a story to tell and it must use a variety of channels to tell it. For example, high profile speakers will attract the media and their participation could be very influential in spreading Lac Carling’s message. Doing this well will be a challenge however. The Congress will have to attack more topical issues and provide the right “spin” on them in order to get and keep the media’s attention.

The past 10 Lac Carlings have sown seeds in all these areas, said the panel. Future Congresses must nurture these seedlings in order to achieve real results. Getting from “here” to “there” will be possible if Lac Carling continues to provide the leadership and the milieu needed to make true change happen. 068108

Heather A. Smith (hsmith@business.queensu.ca) has chronicled the Lac Carling Congress for 10 years.

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