Bill Greenlaw is the elected president of the Institute for Public Administration in Canada. His keynote speech to their annual convention stressed the importance of championing the public service. He spoke with Vic Pakalnis, CGE editorial board member and director, Eastern Ontario Region, Ontario Ministry of Labour.
What do you see as IPAC’s greatest challenges?
I think we have two challenges. One is relevance and the other sustainability of the organization. I think that IPAC has, and will continue to be, well positioned to champion public service values: an independent and merit based public service which I think is fundamentally core to Canadian values with regard to what they expect from their public services.
The IPAC board has developed a five-year strategic plan targeting four key areas:
Leading edge research and knowledge sharing Education and professional development Recognition of innovation and excellence Relevant and sustainable organization.
But fundamentally, this year my particular focus will be on re-invigorating pride in public service. IPAC is well-positioned as a neutral delivery agent to champion across all three sectors of government the excellent work that we do; to champion our ideals; and to promote our raison d’etre, our “calling” to public service. I think that younger people have a broader understanding, a sense of value for the public good. They’ve been educated differently, they think differently, they want to be involved, they want to be engaged and IPAC can harness that energy, and promote and develop tools that allow organizations to recruit these new public servants.
We need to gather success stories, to share with Canadians. We have recognition programs, yet we need to more actively communicate what we’re doing. I see IPAC being the voice of public service. It’s well-positioned, it’s credible, it has a long history. It is able to speak to governance across the country, not to just reflect one order of government. It gives connections and gives you the big picture. And I find that new professionals are looking for broader connections, deeper understanding and to have more impact on society and influence in decision-making.
We need to communicate pride in public service to Canadians, and to students in particular. Jocelyn Bourgon, then head of the Public Service of Canada, spoke at Dalhousie University when I was there. I still recall thinking: I would love to work for that woman. Public sector leaders need to get out with energy and enthusiasm and tell the stories about the jobs they do and the good they do. People need to hear those messages.
How can young professionals contribute to IPAC?
Just like all organizations, we are grappling with what that means, and how do you actually make involvement meaningful for new members. We felt it was important to make sure that whatever we did was meaningful and really, truly gave everybody a voice at the table. We need them to contribute to the vision of Canada. Canada will undergo a significant shift in direction over the next 15 years. They will be the players, they will determine the direction in an involved, consultative, participatory way. IPAC has tried to give them voice by having a new professionals representative on the national board (Heather Orr); there’s a new professionals committee that links across all new professionals organizations; and we’ve created a new, reduced cost membership category for them and new academics. Nova Scotia has Governex, Ontario has TOPS and so on – IPAC can serve as an integrator providing value and connecting each of these to a bigger picture.
How can our readers help the new professionals to get the right start in their careers?
I think senior executives need to be aware of who these new professionals are, what their needs are, and the demographic information that’s out there. They need to act as mentors or assign mentors. It’s about finding the right match, finding out who they are and through your networks, try to find the right person that would help them at any given point in their career. A person can have multiple mentors, it’s not meant to be a one-time only experience. The needs evolve and a good time to sort these things out is through the performance review system.
You work with the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. Tell us a bit about it.
We spent the past four years developing our own strategic plan for Heritage in Nova Scotia, released in February, a similar process to the one we did at IPAC. Heritage is at the essence of governance because heritage is a public good and government is about public good. It’s not a business. A museum is not a business, it is a public good. Why do we want to preserve and protect artefacts for perpetuity? Because human beings, in my mind, have an intrinsic understanding of what’s important to them and when things get tough or they’re looking for grounding, they want to go to the family tree, they want to go to the gravestone or they want to go to the museum to understand the past so we can connect to the future. The issue of communicating relevancy is very similar to the issue we have in the public service. When the Americans went into Baghdad and the museum was looted, there was an outcry about losing these artefacts for posterity. That speaks very true to the importance of heritage as a public good and its link to the broader sense of public calling and public duty. I have only been in the file for five years but it is an extremely fascinating and complex file fraught with many intertwined issues and with the age old issue of being heard in a larger context where other sectors such as health and education are competing for attention and resources.