Renewal
May 7, 2012

Trust and Engagement: Renewal at NRCan

An interview with Deputy Minister Cassie Doyle.

This is a difficult time to be a deputy minister. The demands are increasing and the role is changing. How do you approach being a deputy?

I think real engagement is the key. The longer we stay in our departments, the more effective we become. Stability is important from a leadership perspective and also from the perspective of the department, knowing who you are and what you expect.

I try to meet with stakeholders as much as possible. Otherwise, the only time you get to deliver messages as a deputy is in front of Parliamentary Standing Committees, unless you make a specific effort. When I was a deputy in B.C., someone once told me success was never having your name in the media. But we have to get our department’s story out, to engage the public.

It is important to have a collective approach to leadership. I don’t believe in the “great man” theory, that it’s just one individual who is heroically going to transform an organization. How we’re defining that at Natural Resources Canada is around 3 Cs – Common Purpose, Collaboration and Cultivating Leadership.

The Common Purpose has been achieved through a process of developing an integrated framework, a strategic way of thinking about natural resources.

The Collaboration has been a result of adopting a more integrated vision and mandate that allows us to work more effectively across the department. We’ve made good use of Web 2.0 tools to support collaboration. Our wiki has taken off and it is used to advance our horizontal task teams and communities of practise. It’s really impressive how it’s galvanized collaboration in this department and is transforming the way we work together.

And cultivating leadership is a key approach that aims to ensure that leadership is valued across the organization and that everyone sees himself or herself as being included. It really makes sense from the perspective of a knowledge organization like NRCan and, of course, public service renewal. Young professionals want to learn and to make a contribution. So that’s what a focus on Cultivating Leadership is about.

Our October 2008 edition profiled your collaborative wiki. Your staff were enthused that you said, “You take the risks, I’ll take the heat if something doesn’t work.”

It was our young employees who suggested the wiki. When we were reviewing how we might actually take up that idea, we identified several risks – around privacy, implementation, etc. But we had to weigh these risks carefully. Fundamentally, I trust the employees of NRCan. They demonstrate the highest level of commitment and excellence in their work. And I’m willing to accept risks associated with a tool that supports our goal of facilitating horizontal collaboration – to provide a forum for employees to show off what they know and what they’re doing, and to comment on each other’s work. NRCan staff are dedicated professionals and public servants. So trust was really the starting point for this initiative.

Trust is the antidote to risk aversion. A lot of our risk aversion behaviour is focused on the eventuality that something is going to go wrong and the worry that it could become an issue. The bigger risk, though, is in not creating a workplace that attracts and retains young talent. The wiki is a catalyst for innovation and knowledge sharing. And it has been a lot of fun. We’ve got to create workplaces where people feel they’ve got space to connect and innovate.  

The wiki has become a really useful tool. We developed a dashboard on the wiki to monitor the impacts of the economic downturn on our sectors in real time. It’s updated a couple of times a week. You can get right in the there and see exactly what’s happening in markets and across the country at any point in time. It allows everyone in the department to be contributing what they know and what they’re hearing. It’s been powerful from that perspective.

Some observers are concerned that the Government Recovery Plan is neglecting science and innovation. How has NRCan been affected?

I don’t agree with that characterization. The stimulus budget is really about playing to Canada’s strengths, particularly in the natural resource sector. We’ve had investments in NRCan that contribute to the competitiveness of the forest industry, through forest product innovation and market development. We have investments in modernizing federal laboratories.

We received a billion dollar investment for clean energy. This, strategically, is where we have to position Canada’s energy sector, to invest in R&D and demonstration projects for new technologies that will reduce emissions from our energy systems. There are also investments in Arctic research and science.

The community adjustment fund of a billion dollars over two years will support communities where the impacts will be cyclical, to keep the capacity to allow for a recovery. So, for example, in cases where mines are shut down, when markets rebound they will be in a position to reopen.  

Do you see natural resources as a field that’s likely to lead the recovery; how can you help the field build for that recovery?

We characterize Canada as having three strategic natural resource assets: the natural endowments themselves; our ability to innovate; and our systems to support competitiveness. On innovation, we’re investing in clean energy, carbon capture and sequestration for coal and the oil sands, forestry product innovation, and green mining. On systems, we have developed a Major Projects Management Office that will improve the performance of the federal environmental assessment and regulatory requirements for large natural resource projects.  

I’m really excited on the forest side around the recent budget’s investment in demonstrations of bio-refineries. These are ways we can enhance the value proposition of our forestry resources. We’re focusing on being well positioned to recover quickly.  

Are there many public/private partnerships in these activities?

Actually, almost all the science we do in our laboratories is highly partnered with universities, industry, and non-profits. On carbon capture and storage (CCS) for instance, we’ve partnered with over 15 organizations around the Weyburn-Midale CO2 capture and storage project. It’s the largest CCS project and the first one in Canada. Another project that I’m very excited about is our Materials Technology Laboratory moving to the McMaster Innovation Park. That’s the CanMet MTL Lab that will be part of an innovation cluster that will enable synergies around materials and manufacturing research with the university and a number of industries. On the forestry side, we partner heavily, of course, with FP Innovations, the largest forest research institute in the world. And we helped get the new Canadian Mining Innovation Council started to enhance partnerships on that front. We need to make sure that we’re still developing mining engineers and scientists because mining will continue to be a huge competitive advantage for this country.   

The Tellier-Mazankowski Task Force recommended increased focus on performance management and that deputies be given more authority on HR. How’s that going to work here? I hear new professionals say, “I don’t want a slacker hanging around beside me.”

Or even worse, supervising me. That’s the model that I want to avoid at all costs. I feel confident that we’ve put in place an integrated approach to renewal at NRCan. For example, it’s really important to have a compelling framework that establishes

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