Over the past two years, Alberta’s government has put into place a new approach for internal government discourse to support policy development. Since October 2011, the government of Alberta has adopted the use of “pods” to facilitate strategic discussion early in the policy development process.
Quite simply, pods create a venue for conversation and information sharing among ministries who have a common purpose to their work or who serve common client groups. They are not decision-making bodies, nor are they intended to replace the responsibility or accountability of ministries. Instead, pods enable departments to engage in policy discussions before decisions on complex initiatives are made by elected officials, thus ensuring resources are used most effectively, duplication and unintended consequences are mitigated, and policy is coordinated and integrated.
Pods are established at the minister, deputy minister and assistant deputy minister levels. This model is a first in Alberta, where ministers and deputy ministers engage in discussion in a neutral forum.
Each department belongs to a pod, and some belong to more than one. Members can also move between pods, joining one temporarily if the discussion relates to their program area, while maintaining their home in their usual pod. Government’s Policy Coordination Office within Alberta Executive Council participates on all three pods, providing secretariat support and facilitating information flow between pods. The pods meet regularly and these meetings provide the time and space for critical discussions to ensure the Alberta Public Service (APS) provides the best advice to government.
Pods align with Alberta’s three priorities: investing in families and communities, securing Alberta’s economic future, and advancing world-leading resource stewardship. So far, the approach has seen some real success. Senior officials, including elected policymakers, have dedicated time for robust policy conversations. As a result, policy proposals that enter the formal government approval process are better informed and more comprehensive. Another positive outcome has been not only a greater awareness among senior officials of the programs and services administered right across the APS, but also of the drivers, stakeholders’ issues, cross departmental connections and policy implications.
The establishment of pods are part of a culture change that Premier Alison Redford and Peter Watson, the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council, have brought to the Alberta Public Service, where the focus is on providing the best possible outcomes for Albertans by working together as members of a single government team.