Future talk

Lac Carling’s “secret formula” is all about connecting diversepeople and ideas to shape and deliver a vision for the future ofgovernment in Canada. This year, the formula was applied to theCongress itself at a panel session designed to envision what LacCarling might become over the next decade. One of Lac Carling’sstrengths has always been its ability to evolve and grow, thepanelists told participants, but success in the past does notguarantee future success. While Lac Carling has become the place tocome for ideas about service transformation, it must continue toprovide leadership to stay at the forefront of change. Therefore,they said, it is important to take a hard look at what works aboutLac Carling, what doesn’t and what will be important to keep itrelevant over the next decade.

The first step in getting from “here” to “there” is to knowwhere you want to end up. And the panelists presented somecompelling and deliberately controversial pictures of Lac Carling2016.

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

Lac Carling’s organic and non-hierarchical nature alreadyencourages interactions and relationships between participants; ithas overcome many traditional barriers to collaboration betweenlevels of government and with the private sector. But it is nowtime to move beyond this type of ad hoc cooperation to facilitatemore broadly based systemic change, the panelists said. Future LacCarlings should therefore provide leadership around how totranscend barriers to collaboration in more structured ways. Thus,one of the top priorities should be exploring and promotingsustainable collaborations between governments and betweengovernments and industry.

It has always been a premise of Lac Carling that morepartnerships would be made possible by sharing ideas andexperiences. Yet, relative to other countries, Canadians are stillnot strong in developing public sector partnerships. In fact, thereare few instances of governments actually forming partnerships todevelop programs. All too often, innovative projects, withdemonstrated 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 discouragesproponents and is readily abandoned. Therefore, future Lac Carlingsshould make it a priority to unlock the secrets of partnering. Forexample, they could showcase the best examples of public sectorcollaboration 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 wallsthat impede strong partnerships and effective collaboration becauseCanada must become a leader in both service and governanceinnovation.

Today’s governments are being challenged to provide morejust-in-time services and to be more relevant and nimble. To dothis, they will need to learn how to effectively develop and usepartnerships to multiply their rates of innovation, experimentationand implementation. Lac Carling is the ideal laboratory for doingthis. Future Lac Carlings should therefore take on the task ofleading governments into a new phase of dynamic and fruitfulpartnerships between governments at all levels and with the privatesector.

In the short term, the panel agreed, there is still much to doto deliver seamless, integrated, inter-jurisdictional servicedelivery and service transformation. Lac Carling should not abandonthe topic of service transformation in the future, but should lookat several new aspects of it.

First, Lac Carling could be a means of helping governments getbetter at leveraging and learning from the private sector in thisarea.

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 servicetransformation because it is at the root of the ability to shareinformation across channels and jurisdictions.

Third, Lac Carling should begin to explore more flexibleapproaches to innovation in service delivery and how to build andsustain the culture needed for service transformation, illustratingways to champion, demonstrate, inculcate and reward the newattitudes required at every level.

Fourth, the Congress could examine how to incorporate and usecitizen engagement to keep transformation efforts focused and ontrack. Other related topics that could be addressed in the futureinclude: providing global service delivery to Canadian citizensaround the world and improving how governments buy IT services.

As governments become more citizen-centred, participation in LacCarling needs to be broadened; the Congress was in danger ofbecoming a “congress of the converted.” To address this risk,future Congresses should consider including more small and ruralcommunities, aboriginal groups, municipal service deliveryrepresentatives, politicians, the media and the public. Other newparticipants could include front line government workers at theforefront of service delivery; industry leaders who have appliednetworked strategies to create programs, and scholars who canaddress the organizational behaviour issues associated withcollaboration in the Congress’ deliberations. Furthermore,delegates must work harder to make their entire organizations apart of the event or “we will be condemned to push the rock up hillwith little understanding and support in our homejurisdictions.”

The increased participation of political leaders in future LacCarlings is especially important, said the panelists. The Congressshould seek to raise the level and number of politicians whoparticipate in its sessions. More participation from outside Canadawould be a good way to get at other successful perspectives, e.g.,Denmark is a world leader in e-health. Most importantly, future LacCarlings must attract leaders and feature topics and speakers thatwill appeal to them.

In addition to expanding participation, it is also time to takeLac Carling’s message farther afield, many panelists said. This canbest be done by enhancing its existing constellation ofrelationships and adding to it. Lac Carling could have a strongoutreach component at other events where its message could bedelivered and input gathered, such as the annual meeting of theFederation of Canadian Municipalities. While some individualinitiatives are already present at these events, the Lac Carlingmessage would be stronger if this participation were coordinatedand branded. In short, Lac Carling needs to become a movement, notsimply a once-a-year event. Finally, several panelists suggestedthat Lac Carling expand its partnerships to academia and within theprivate sector in order to learn from their ideas andexperiences.
If participation is to be expanded in this way, the format andlocation of Lac Carling will need to be examined. Technologies suchas web-casting and video-conferencing would facilitate morelocalized participation. Two Lac Carlings might be needed – onetactical and one strategic. Regardless, to ensure ongoing success,future Lac Carlings should continue to be a showcase for bothpractical achievements and strategic ideas.

In the longer term, the Congress needs to take a broader viewbecause governments are not just about service delivery. The nextgreat challenge will be how governments can enhance and increasecitizen participation in determining the kind of society they want.Engaging citizens and ensuring that their participation is broadlybased and representative of all should be a key topic for futureLac Carlings. Since the joint councils have taken on much of theproject work that was done at earlier meetings, future Lac Carlingsshould become more about strategic thought leadership. Inparticular, the Congress could tackle topics in three broadareas:

Health, education and safety

The next generation of governance and e-democracy

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

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

Lac Carling has a story to tell and it must use a variety ofchannels to tell it. For example, high profile speakers willattract the media and their participation could be very influentialin spreading Lac Carling’s message. Doing this well will be achallenge however. The Congress will have to attack more topicalissues and provide the right “spin” on them in order to get andkeep 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 inorder to achieve real results. Getting from “here” to “there” willbe possible if Lac Carling continues to provide the leadership andthe milieu needed to make true change happen.

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

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