“On any journey, it is important to pause and take stock. How far have we come? Are we still on track? What lies ahead? This document, called Building the Ontario Public Service for the Future: A Framework for Action, is a new way to check our organizational compass.”
– Message to the Ontario Public Service from Secretary of the Cabinet Rita Burak, 1997.
It’s hard to believe it was ten years ago.
In June 1997, when the first Framework for Action report was distributed to ministries across the Ontario Public Service (OPS), I was working as a senior manager in a central agency of the government. We had a better-than-average overview of what was happening across government and there was a real sense that the public service was undergoing a major transformation.
This was not just another shuffling of ministries, which happened with every new administration, or just another financial belt-tightening exercise, which tended to occur in tough economic times. This was different. The OPS was not going to be the same kind of organization in the future.
We weren’t alone. Ontario was part of an international trend of public sector reform, as governments around the globe sought to develop better ways to meet rising public expectations for service, harness the power of emerging technologies, manage fiscal challenges, and adopt more efficient and effective ways of running the public’s “business”.
I remember reading the first Framework report. It set out a vision for the future of the OPS as a smaller, more integrated and accountable organization focused on its core businesses and providing quality service to citizens. I thought it was good, but I didn’t expect there would be a series of them, and I certainly didn’t expect that one day I would be responsible for developing an annual Framework report for our Secretary of the Cabinet, Tony Dean.
The continuity is significant. Dean is the third Secretary of the Cabinet who has put his signature on the Framework for Action reports (in his case, since 2002). In so doing, he has recognized that organizational transformation takes time and committed leadership to ensure there is real cultural change. He is also signaling that this transformation belongs to all of us in the public service, not just to any one leader.
“When I came into this job,” says Dean, “I knew that the OPS had been working hard to realize the vision that had been articulated in 1997. Enormous changes had been made in a very short time. I didn’t feel I had to create a new vision. We were on the right track. The task I saw before me – which I am continuing to champion – is to build on what we have accomplished, fine-tune or re-calibrate where necessary, renew momentum, and keep pressing forward.
“If you look at these Framework reports from the beginning, you can get a sense of the cultural change that has taken place. We have become an organization that doesn’t just innovate in response to pressures and crises – our own people are constantly pushing us to do better.”
Michelle DiEmanuele, now Deputy Minister of Government Services and Associate Secretary of the Cabinet, was then a member of a small secretariat in Cabinet Office that developed the first Framework. The secretariat’s job was to be a catalyst for change across the OPS. It was also tasked with helping employees understand the need for and directions of change.
“The first Framework laid out a roadmap for change,” DiEmanuele recalls. “In year two, when the first-ever OPS-wide quality service standards were launched, we used the Framework report to hone in on what the vision meant when it said we must be a quality service organization. Since then, we have revisited, refined and updated our service goals and strategies. The quality assurance and service guarantees we provide today represent a maturing of those original concepts. Over the years, the Framework for Action documents have become an important vehicle for developing concepts, communicating key messages and telling good news stories about how the OPS is changing to serve Ontarians better.”
The Framework reports are like a trip log for the OPS – they document where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. They also reflect the fine line that must be walked by a professional, non-partisan public service. The change journey for the OPS spans different administrations elected by the people of Ontario. Our transformation into a modern public service organization has enabled us to do a better of job of delivering on the elected government’s priorities.
The Framework for Action released in January 2007 looks different than the first one. It is more magazine-style than report-style. A copy has been sent to every employee in the OPS, rather than leaving it to managers to discuss with staff, as had been done in the past. The report is online, and feedback can be provided with a click. There’s a video with Tony Dean encouraging OPSers to read it and talk about it.
In other words, it reflects the technological and communications revolution that has taken place over the past decade. But in other ways, it is similar to past Frameworks.
Frameworks discuss big concepts – like encouraging innovation through all levels of the organization, working horizontally across boundaries within government and with external partners, and, most recently, modernization. But they discuss big ideas using stories about real people doing their jobs to make government work better for the people of Ontario and, ultimately, to make Ontario a better place to be.
The Frameworks allow members to learn about and be inspired by what their colleagues across government are doing that is challenging and innovative. Frameworks showcase high-profile award-winners and little-known achievers, at all levels of the public service. These reports illustrate how the work that people do every day influences the course of change and fits into the “big picture.”
Last year’s Framework is a good case in point. The responses we received – and there has been an ongoing effort to encourage feedback – indicated that many people didn’t see themselves as part of modernization if they weren’t in a direct service-provider role with the public. So this year’s Framework took that issue head-on, showing how all of our employees are part of the drive to modernize public service (whether they develop policy or manage transfer payment programs or ensure regulatory compliance).
The Framework reports celebrate positive change and the people who make it happen. And we don’t apologize for that.
“In the public service fish bowl, we don’t lack for criticism,” Dean observes. “When we fall down on the job, we deserve to hear about it. And we need to be honest about where we have to improve. But I don’t think public servants hear enough about how well they do, day in and day out, working for Ontarians.”
In a decade, we have made the kinds of changes that used to take a generation. Much of what sounded unlikely even a few years ago – monitoring client satisfaction with public services, providing public services through and with other levels of government, electronic portals geared to groups of citizens using government services, like seniors or youth – are simply business as usual today.
We are proud of the progress we have made in the OPS. The Framework reports help us tell the story to our own employees who have worked hard and smart to get where we are today.
Angela Coke i