Development
May 7, 2012

Closing the gap between policy design and execution

Government policy agendas have long been fraught with complexity. No one would dispute the efforts that went into creating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or building the Confederation Bridge. Yet, today’s world brings with it a whole new level of complexity.

Policy agendas now span multiple levels of government, and countless stakeholders, as officials work to address issues such as the global financial crisis, climate change, terrorism, immigration and an overburdened health care system. At the same time, intense media coverage and high profile program reviews hold public servants to higher levels of accountability and scrutiny than ever before.

Add in the rising cost of program failures, and you get a recipe for alarm. In a survey of public sector leaders in Canada and the U.S., Deloitte Research found that 65 percent of Canadian respondents feel the government’s image has deteriorated over the past three decades.

Notably, the biggest disconnect seems to be between those who design policy and those who execute it. According to 61 percent of Canadian respondents, policies are often designed with little or no input from the people expected to implement them. As this gap widens, program failures may rise, putting even greater pressure on all levels of government.

If the current state of affairs teaches anything it’s that the old way of doing things appears to be broken. To break free of this vicious cycle, government officials have begun to look for ways to replace their traditional tactics with a new approach.

Agility to execute
To close the gap between design and execution, public sector leaders must foster greater agility to execute. Although there are no hard and fast rules to achieve this feat, four strategies point the way to potential success: taking managed risks, embracing open source methodologies, focusing more on results than projects and cultivating leadership.

Taking managed risks
As the public sector works to embrace horizontal government, it is becoming clear that its approach to change may be outdated. Traditionally, governments engage in large-scale planning processes characterized by rigid program mandates and an inability to change course in the face of project failures.

This “can’t afford to fail” environment, however, may be hampering governments’ ability to achieve their objectives. Encouraging innovation requires a culture where it is safe to take smart risks – even when they don’t work out. Today, the hallmarks of successful execution are innovation and experimentation. This approach is characterized by a willingness to build small prototypes and pilots, conduct staged rollouts and build smaller failures into the process in an attempt to avert larger failures at a later stage. By allowing their people to fail small and fail early, innovators can frequently detect and correct errors before they spiral out of control.

Governments can take similar managed risks by testing potential program structures before rolling out to their entire community. By targeting a sub-set of early adopters, they can receive feedback that will allow them to improve their programs in advance of wider adoption. This will do more than help to close the gap between policy design and execution. It will also allow public sector leaders to engage in continuous performance improvement.

Embracing open source methodologies
To foster the agility to execute, governments must also seek input from numerous stakeholders at the policy design stage, including staff, external experts, not-for-profit organizations, private companies, students, citizens and other governments. This open source approach to design helps to both uncover new ideas and foster greater stakeholder engagement.

One example of this in practice can be found at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Using secure online blogs and wikis, the TSA collects employee suggestions for program improvement. It has already used those suggestions to streamline airport security lines and improve employee job sharing. Similarly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office relies on a community peer review of patents to accelerate patent approvals and reduce internal administrative backlogs.

The potential applications of open source thinking extend beyond policy design to execution as well. Organizations as diverse as the Toronto Transit Commission and the Obama campaign are finding ways to use the power of online communities to deliver on policy objectives.

Focusing on results
A third area that governments should examine in their attempts to close the gap between policy execution and design is their use of Project Management Offices (PMOs). While PMOs support 97 percent of major policy implementations, less than half of the respondents to Deloitte’s survey felt that PMOs were successful.

The reasons for PMO weakness include a focus on process rather than performance, a tendency to ignore people and change management issues, the setting of unrealistic timelines and taking a reactive approach to issue resolution.

To improve their executional ability, however, public sector leaders may want to look at replacing their PMOs with RMOs – Results Management Offices. By reducing the focus on process, giving implementation teams more latitude to respond to feedback and encouraging a shared understanding of expected results, RMOs can play a key role in helping governments improve policy implementation.

Cultivating leadership
A final action step governments must adopt is a commitment to cultivating visionary leadership. Deloitte’s survey shows that successful leaders are particularly adept at soft skills such as communication, consensus building and change management. As governments look to resolve their execution challenges, they will increasingly need to attract and groom leaders who possess these qualities. This involves not only hiring leaders, but also identifying them from among existing ranks.

Overcoming the change paradox
Governments across Canada are no strangers to the “big bang” approach to governing. However, this has involved managing innovation as a one-off change rather than implementing policies as a series of small projects. As experience shows, it also tends to generate a growing gap between policy designers and implementers, dooming new programs to failure.

To avoid this outcome, governments will need to encourage innovation, invite input from a wide community of stakeholders, focus more carefully on results and cultivate a new breed of leaders. While this may require governments to step outside their traditional boundaries, it is an effort that can only help to improve both policy execution and government’s image.

Paul Macmillan is Deloitte’s Canadian Public Sector Industry Leader (416-874-4203 or pmacmillan@deloitte.ca).

Todd Cain previously served as policy director to the President of the Treasury Board of Canada where he advised on expenditure reviews, improvements to budget, accountability and performance management processes, and major reforms to the governance of crown corporations (613-786-7521 or tcain@deloitte.ca).

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Development
 
In the past 18 months or so, new governments have taken...
 
Could robot doctors be on the horizon? A study published February...
 
We are excited to announce that the February/March 2019 issue of...
 
The use of “nudges” in policymaking has been a major trend...
 
There is an interesting paradox playing out with the public sector...
 
Last week, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based financial services company, announced...
 
Canadian Government Executive, in collaboration with Dalhousie University, is seeking your...
 
Imagine your favorite world class service provider replacing the Board of...
 
Lately, all levels of the Canadian public service have devoted much...
 
We have been hearing quite a lot about superclusters. The Government...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones talks with...
 
In 2017, identity theft cost Americans $16.8 billion, and, in just...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones interviews Alex...
 
It is time to reboot democracy. This year, the French constitution,...
 
We are excited to share with you the October/November 2018 edition...
 
Ontario Northland is a crown corporation that provides transportation solutions to...
 
Canada’s international reputation for welcoming and integrating newcomers is unparalleled. At...
 
In the three years to 2020, Canada will welcome almost a...
 
Mining embodies progress. Mining provides civilization with the materials required for...
 
On today’s show, J. Richard Jones sits down for a chat...
 
We are excited to share with you the May/June issue of...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones speaks with...
 
As the world grows more digital – and increasingly mobile –...
 
Throughout Canada, healthcare systems are challenged by population growth, aging, and...
 
Over half a billion children live in countries that are falling...
 
According to a recent McKinsey study there is a potential for...
 
On the global scene, technology has revolutionized and automated the work...
 
Today on CGE Radio, we speak with Craig Szelestowski, President and...
 
The adoption of new technologies provides many opportunities, poses unique challenges...
 
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote from management specialist Peter...
 
On a recent visit to Ottawa, I had the opportunity to...
 
Professional development is tremendously important to members of Canada’s public sector....
 
Over the last two years, an ever-growing number of organizations around...
 
Ships docked in a harbour may not be going anywhere; however,...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) and CATAAlliance , Canada’s one voice for...
 
Do Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs) make a difference? Our evaluation...
 
The design needed and practiced in government departments and the broader...
 
As social media becomes ever-more prevalent in the lives of today’s...
 
Evaluation is performed for a range of reasons:  to improve programs,...
 
Radical candour sounds rather outré as a prescription for government executives....
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones is joined...
 
Behavioural Insights (BI) is a multidisciplinary approach that uses principles and...
 
In March, the Canada Revenue Agency’s website was shut down by...
 
How does a mandate for innovation challenge evaluation? Increasingly, the public...
 
As the face of the Association of Professional Executives of the...
 
One of the writers in this month’s issue started a note...
 
Excellence in leadership is instrumental in serving the public interest. New-age...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE) announced last Friday, that George Ross...
 
We are thrilled to offer the July/August issue of Canadian Government...
 
At this time a year ago, the 88,000 displaced people of...
 
“Former Metro banker stole $73,000.”  “Enbridge sues ex-employee.”  “Woman stole $51,000...
 
The recent introduction of the new Government of Canada (GC) IT...
 
So, what can be said about Canada’s public administration as the...
 
The way forward to engaging Millennials in the public sector Passionate,...
 
We are happy to share with you the May/June issue of...
 
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance) is Canada’s One Voice...
 
Since Confederation in 1867, more than 17 million immigrants landed in...
 
In today’s world of heightened focus on good governance and accountability...
 
Orchestrating the transition from present to emergent leadership Millennial is the...
 
As ‘month 13’ for Canada’s Syrian refugee arrivals comes and goes,...
 
As governments around the world move towards the digital transformation of...
 
The way organizations recruit, shape and manage their workforce to find...
 
The promise of web 2.0 was the emergence of a user-driven...
 
Commodity Management (the official term for life-cycle asset management of goods...
 
During the past decade, the international university-level student population in Canada...
 
We have all heard the sayings: “Home, sweet home”; “There’s no...
 
Imagine a Canadian government that shares best practices in service delivery....
 
There is a new buzz in policy circles. Advances in data...
 
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with its 28 independent member countries...
 
The internal audit function in the Canadian public sector finds itself...
 
As Canada’s government agencies strive to improve delivery and efficiency under...
 
To boldly go where no one has gone before STAR TREK:...
 
In recent months, Canadians have borne witness to a new cycle...
 
Professionals, managers, and executives in the cost estimation industry can gain...
 
Canadian Government Executive kicked off its CGE Leadership Series for 2017...
 
The rapid advances in digital technology, demographic and societal shift even...
 
The critical challenge facing the public service is changing its culture....
 
Having the right talent is critical to delivering right results. But...
 
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are part of the new global “Agenda...
 
An Interview with Larry Ostola, Toronto’s Director of Museums and Heritage...
 
For all its subtleties and mysteries, the Westminster system of government...
 
When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message”...
 
Laskey Hart guest hosts CGE Radio this week with a summary...
 
The non-profit sector is operating within an era of increased accountability,...
 
Earlier this year the Ontario Ministry of Health announced that it...
 
Gladwell made Anders Ericsson famous—or, at least, his research work. A...
 
Canada’s top soldier said the Armed Forces continue to be locked...
 
BC Hydro said it is pushing through with it $9-billion, hydroelectric megaproject on...
 
Yesterday, Federal and Atlantic Provincial Ministers of the environment met to...
 
After writing the book “Megatrends: The Impact of Infrastructure on Ontario’s...
 
Governments around the world are seeking to tap technologies such as...
 
Signaling a realignment of Canada’s involvement with NATO, Prime Minister Justin...
 
As an executive you’ve probably experienced frustration when you ask for...
 
The Public Health Agency of Canada has long been aware of...
 
Dispersed organisations can be very powerful structures. There is ample evidence...
 
By Nicole Verkindt Despite growing up in a small town in...
 
Canada, today, became a full supporter of the United Nations Declaration...
 
A research project at that explores the design and feasibility of...
 
A landmark Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for some...
 
Years and years ago when I was unemployed, being able to...
 
Local job figures blew away expectations as records indicated that 41,000...
 
At first glance, the title may seem counterintuitive. By their very...
 
The Liberal government’s first federal budget laid out $11.9 billion over...
 
The Liberal government is expected to announce on Tuesday a new...
 
A leader’s credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping...
 
Monday was the final day for Canadians to donate money to...
 
Huawei is bringing back to Canada and expanding its information communication...
 
Many women entrepreneurs in Canada struggle to access capital, technology, networks...
 
Written by Tim Wacker Almost a quarter century ago, when most...
 
Written by  Brady G. Wilson You may not realize it, but...
 
Continuous, life-long learning is the future of the public service. Building...
 
Mega-ConnEX is an annual speed networking event organized by the Health...
 
Canada’s contribution to development and humanitarian assistance is recognized around the...
 
Deliberations and negotiations in the United Nations are intensifying on what...
 
The UN consultations on the post-2015 development framework are focused on...
 
At the turn of the millennium, the international community made a...
 
Budgets are statements of political will and power. They are performance...
 
Decades of reform in developing countries point to four enduring dilemmas:...
 
The Lough Erne Accountability Report states that the G8 has played...
 
While there can be no singular solution for good governance, building...
 
it’s not the most original saying...
 
With the demographics of an aging workforce and a significant number...
 
Shakespeare’s “dark comedy,” Measure for Measure, deals with the issues of...
 
Reform is almost always about developing the capacity of government to...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Assembly of First Nations National Chief...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 Before dawn on Monday, 18...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.4 April 2008 “What is a Foreign Service...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 Most observers expect more than 40...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 The Commonwealth Secretariat convened the first...
 
If you want to understand someone else’s position, walk a mile...
 
What makes a perfect mentor? Is it age and seniority? Perhaps...
 
Often, decisions about how to recruit are made based on habit...
 
It has been said that if everything is important, nothing is...
 
The Mosaic Index, by Professor Richard Florida, which measures the percentage...
 
Government policy agendas have long been fraught with complexity....
 
Looking at all the engineering diagrams overlaid on maps on the...
 
Gérés efficacement, les conflits peuvent favoriser la résolution conjointe des problèmes,...
 
Popular wisdom holds that the public service will need to recruit...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 As I mentioned previously, one cannot...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007 What is the toughest job in...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007 Growth can mean opportunity. Significant increases...
 
The subtitle of this report, prepared by the U.S. National Governors...
 
We can learn from archetypes. They can help us lead, if...
 
Improving leadership development is widely recognized by HR leaders and senior...
 
Natural Resources Canada is accustomed to nurturing, protecting and growing Canada’s...
 
In an increasingly competitive and complex global marketplace, both employers and...
 
The transition from the private sector into an executive role in...
In the past 18 months or so, new governments have taken...