“These projects shouldn’t be done in isolation across jurisdictions,” said John Riddle.
“They have to plug into something that is (built) around nation building. That’s what defines public service. We’re building a country.”
With that, Riddle, the respected former CIO at Health Canada, called on participants in the Lac Carling Congress to consider Canada-wide agendas that address productivity, wealth development, U.S.-Canada relations and globalization.
The recently retired Riddle, a veteran of the Lac Carling Congress, concisely laid out the challenges in the transformation of service delivery to Canadians, in what amounted to a checklist:
1. Governing Horizontal Programs: With too many projects and too little capacity, “how do we decide what to put our energy into in cross-jurisdictions?,” Riddle asked. Other issues include reconciling agendas among people who work co-operatively most of the time but are driven by agendas with different legislative timetables and different time cycles. Another issue is ensuring one jurisdiction’s agenda doesn’t dominate all the others.
2. Engaging Municipalities: Not all municipalities are actively involved in inter-jurisdictional initiatives even though about 60 per cent of Canadians live in urban areas. How then is it possible to engage municipalities in projects from which they will benefit?
3. Funding and sustainability: Budgets cannot be started and stopped on projects. “We also have to get better at defining our business case, defining return on investment,” Riddle noted. “Increasingly, politicians are asking, where’s the beef? We just can’t endlessly project that we’re going to become more efficient without in fact delivering on some of that.”
4. Communications: The message and the meaning are all critical to communication with each other and with different audiences such as trade unions, staff, colleagues, politicians, and the private sector. “These audiences need to be considered.”
5. Building trust: Trust takes many sides: political trust, building trust through relationships that will disappear with staff turnover, and trust even when the project is not going well. “People who are associated with many of the projects we’ve heard about will not be there in two or three years….. Trust and relationships also mean how are you going to handle things when they are not going well?”
6. Sharing knowledge and best practices: E-contact is critical for public servants, who need to be kept up with what’s going on. This is not always easy with the flood of e-mail, reports and documents. One key requirement is to write succinctly, getting to the nub of an issue in documentation among members of a team. “We should commit to never hearing anyone in this meeting say: I didn’t know that. You should know the major initiatives going on in your jurisdiction.”
7. Integration of boundaries or harmonization: The critical message lies in examining issues holistically across jurisdictions while continuing to break down silos. As well, projects cannot be successfully undertaken and accomplished with loose, collegial relationships. “We have to have teeth,” Riddle reminded his audiences, to make the effort worthwhile. Equally important is awareness of other disparities across the country. “Just think of us working jurisdictionally where the salaries and benefits of people on these projects are radically different.”
8.Managing information: “For too long,” Riddle warned, “we have run projects where at the end we say: If only we had thought about the information management consequences of the project from the point of view of the client and his or her information needs rather than worrying about the technology and defining the process. This is an important and urgent issue.”