Talk it up

It’s okay, all you hard-working bureaucrats who think politicians don’t recognize the effort that has gone into streamlining and integrating the provision of government services.

They really do appreciate it, says John Milloy, a member of the Ontario Legislature and a former political assistant on Parliament Hill. They just don’t see the need to say so.

“Politicians are interested in outcomes, not mechanics,” Milloy pointed out in an interview after appearing on a panel at the Lac Carling Congress. “It’s likely a lot of them aren’t aware of how far information technology has come and how it can be used. What they want are ways to deal with problems.

“They are looking for better ways to engage with citizens,” he added. “That means public servants need to demonstrate to the public and the politicians what service integration can do.”

The bureaucrats may also have to learn that the Harper government and, increasingly, its provincial counterparts are far more IT savvy than their immediate political predecessors, as can be seen in their growing use of Web sites and blogs by federal politicians and their supporters.

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, the new co-chair of the Crossing Boundaries National Council, is one of those young federal ministers who are considered extremely comfortable with computers, the Internet and IT.

Former Ontario education minister John Snobelen suggested on the panel that politicians may not demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm for the potential of citizen-centred service delivery because the bureaucrats involved in service transformation development don’t express much excitement about its potential.“You need to show a little more passion when you talk to politicians about these matters,” he told the conference. “You need to craft a compelling story because a lot of them, including ministers, don’t really understand the role of public servants.”

Integrating services also doesn’t mean a lot to a public that feels remote and disconnected from government, a sentiment reinforced by most encounters with the health care system, he continued. “They feel powerless. This is not a question of technology but attitudes in government (toward dealing with citizens).”

Elected representatives also don’t think they can interact with the public and other governments in a meaningful way, Snobelen added. “You need to demonstrate to the politicians how you can use the technology to raise the bar on service delivery.”

He praised participants in the Lac Carling Congress as “the people who are willing to show the way” to better government.

Don Lenihan, president and CEO of the Crossing Boundaries council, said the Harper government has started with a clear intention of respecting provincial and municipal jurisdictions and if it sticks to that position, it could boost the notion of collaborative government.

An encouraging sign, he said, was a discussion paper on the fiscal imbalance between the federal and provincial governments that was released with the May budget. Among other items, it highlighted “the ongoing areas of collaborative government and the interdependence among jurisdictions.” This is an important acknowledgement for making service transformation work.

If the Harper government sticks to its principles, it will help change the assessment of the success of service transformation to outcomes rather than jurisdiction, Lenihan said. It would also put more emphasis on determining what citizens and interest groups want. “That would get us out of a box we have been in for a long time.”

No segment of Canadian society needs better service delivery than the aboriginal population, Tony Belcourt, president of the Metis Nation of Ontario, told the conference. First nations want to move to self-government but their leadership lacks any knowledge or experience with information technology. “In fact we need help to convince my people of the benefit of using it for better service delivery.”

On behalf of native leaders, Belcourt presented the conference with a Crossing Boundaries report on recommendations for giving aboriginals a voice in the service delivery debate. The report looks at how information technology can help native bands “meet critical social, economic and cultural needs.”

Milloy said selling politicians on the merits of service integration and the potential of current technology is a valuable role for both Lac Carling and the Crossing Boundaries council.

Canada has become a modern, urban country, he added. More than 80 per cent of the population lives in cities and large metropolitan centres and governments have to recognize this in developing policies. “As well, service delivery must break down barriers between levels of government. Citizens don’t care about which level of government provides the services; they want results. As a result politicians need to focus on results not jurisdictions.”

The success stories in service transformation show it can be done and how governments can respond to new problems, Milloy said. “Still we see areas where governments are not working together. The response is that ‘we have always done it this way.’” Milloy suggested that officials should be locked in a room at times until they figure out how to work co-operatively. 065788

– Binkley

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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