The topic of conversation in the corridors and cubicles of government buildings has recently focused on the need to “trim” costs and “prune” programs to better serve Canadians. As spring blooms across the country, a group of public servants is trying to initiate a new conversation about the growth that follows pruning. Using GCpedia, the federal public service’s collaborative wiki space, a new initiative is underway for collecting and disseminating the innovative policy ideas that can help improve the public service – the Policy Seed Bank.
In this context, “policy seeds” are the ideas that eventually sprout into federal policies, programs and processes. Like real seeds, we see them as being full of potential, but fragile to the financial, cultural and political climate around them. These policy seeds develop and evolve in many ways: from reports and audits, citizen movements, water cooler conversations and, sometimes, from out of thin air.
Public servants are great sources of policy seeds. Unfortunately, institutional barriers often prevent the seeds within the public service from ever reaching the light of day. Hierarchies prevent them from being sown. Silos prevent cross-fertilization. Turnover rates stop growth prematurely.
We know that for some seeds, the conditions are not yet right to germinate, while for others the idea may be so new or novel that no one knows what to do with it. In other cases, people have plenty of policy seeds, but lack the time or the right environment to plant them and let them grow.
What is needed is a way to prevent policy ideas from being lost when people change jobs, or when good ideas, for whatever reason, cannot take root. A place where policy seeds can be stored and then retrieved when the right policy conditions take shape. What we needed is a Policy Seed Bank.
To be successful, the concept needed to be simple, accessible and user-friendly. We created a space on the government only GCpedia (www.gcpedia.gc.ca/wiki/Policy_Seed_Bank), and developed a template to help anyone capture and plant their seed using basic information:
• What is your idea?
• What is its story?
• Where can I find out more?
Good ideas do not need to be complicated. They can be about public service renewal, improving human resources processes, increasing collaboration across departments, how to address the challenges of the future – whatever you feel would be of interest to federal public servants. And we believe that, just as with genetic diversity, the greater the diversity of ideas, the greater the integrity and potential of the Policy Seed Bank.
Anyone from across the federal public service can contribute to helping various seeds bloom and grow. While the conditions may not be right to bring a policy idea forward at one department, another department may have a need for just such an idea.
By harnessing the collective intellect of public servants from across the government to work on ideas that they are passionate about, we are able to have better and stronger policy proposals to bring forward. Even more than that, it encourages the cross-fertilization of ideas across departments and policy areas that do not always seem compatible.
We hope that as participation increases, the Policy Seed Bank can act as an incubator of ideas by selecting seeds for “watering” by the policy community at large through online deliberation, by connecting with events that cater to the federal policy community, or through new communities created to harvest policy seeds. And as the seeds grow and develop, we hope that decision makers can use it as a place to find the occasional fruit of a policy ripe for the picking.
So the next time you are looking for a good idea, have an idea you want to share, or are simply looking for inspiration, visit the Policy Seed Bank and take a look around.
And if you are not with the federal public service, ask yourself: what do you do to help “conserve” good ideas? Because as any gardener will tell you, pruning may stimulate new growth, but transformation starts with a seed.
This article was wiki-composed by the Policy Seed Bank Collective, a virtual group of federal public servants with a passion for policy.