Convening for the first time

The Inaugural Policy Community Conference comprised a series of panel presentations and a workshop over one and a half days. 

Over 450 people participated in person. More than 230 connections to the webcast brought in participants from St John's, Fredericton, PEI, Sherbrooke, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver. 

The program was crafted in collaboration with 19 departments and external in-kind support to bring key speakers. 

Key messages 

• Policy community includes research, evaluation, policy, programs and operations 

Be open: Put the problem at the centre and invite solutions to enable creativity 

Expand the toolkit: use novel policy instruments to achieve the desired outcomes

Be outward looking: Seek to build diversity in external stakeholder networks; know the environment when planning to engage; be fundamentally partnership oriented 

Experiment: test rigorously for impacts and outcomes; choose experiments that fit context

Be transparent: Honest communication about results builds trust; recognizing what’s not working leads to improvement 

Decolonialize policy thinking: involve the individuals the policy is likely/designed to impact; never “for”, think “with” 

Keynote Speakers

Michael Wernick

In a world where anyone with a smart phone and Google account can do “analysis”, the Public Service’s advantage lies in its ability to transform a flood of advice and analysis into actionable decisions for democratic governments. 

  • Good public policy is always going to be about bringing disciplines together.
  • Find ways to talk and work with each other.
  • Policies have to translate in the real world into implementable programs and services with impact. 
  • Front line folks have something to say and we need pathways to ensure flow of intelligence through every phase of policy development. 

Geoff Mulgan, NESTA UK

Canada is in a moment of renaissance - is seen as a place of hope; showing how a society and a government can be compassionate and intelligent. Use the moment, don't be distracted, don't be too slow, don't talk too much. 

Globally, we are in a period of public service renaissance.

7 practical skills of a modern public service, to innovate with ambition and deliver results that really matter. Know: 

  • How to generate ideas - use labs, prizes, I2S
  • How to test ideas - use experiments
  • How to assess evidence - build what works centres
  • How to grow demand - outcomes and pbr. systems
  • How to engage - listen constantly
  • How to cultivate skills that matter
  • How to connect pioneers to the "mother ship"

Opening Remarks - Diane Jacovella, Philip Jennings

 "We [the Policy Community] will determine how far this takes us. "Our time as Champions of the Policy Community Project showed that the policy community is eager to:   

  • more quickly experiment with and adopt new approaches;
  • more systematically share best practices
  • offer best-in-class training and professional development opportunities; and
  • more systematically reach out to international and domestic partners.

Session 1 - Policy on Solid Ground

Matthew Mendelsohn

Elissa Golberg

Fraser Valentine

Two case studies examined how data can be marshaled to design policies that deliver results and impact: Canada’s International Assistance Review and Express Entry for Economic Immigrants.

  •  Administrative data is a rich resource that complements other data sources, and can add to agility and timely advice.
  • Ensure diversity in the voices informing policy thinking. Try different and innovative approaches and tools to enable those voices to be heard.
  • Reach out and interact with stakeholders on a regular basis to gather various perspectives.
  • Build your evidence base to make effective and timely policy and program decisions.
  • Evidence alone will not drive policy change- other factors include timing, capacity and political engagement.

Session 2 - Linking Experimentation, Innovation and Impact

Matthew Mendelsohn

Taki Sarantakis

Sabine Kröger

Jean-Pierre Voyer

Elizabeth Hardy

  • Move from "talking about how much was spent" to "talking about results"; what is being done for Canadians with money being spent?
  • New terms and conditions to support use of tools (like Performance Pay to partners, Prize Challenges and micropayments) are coming. Innovations don't have to be big ideas that cost a lot of money. 
  • Non-results from testing can be very insightful. Lab based experiments on behaviours can also be a less expensive way to test policy design. 
  • Experimental, theory and observational data work together for understanding policy issues. Academia can be a partner in this. 

Session 3 - Future Brain

Dr. Steffen Christensen

  • Ideas we imagine to be futuristic are happening now.
  • Undertaking a systematic scan of emerging trends in more than just technological advances, enables informed thinking about plausible future scenarios that may need a policy response. 
  •  Policy Horizons has a wealth of tools and a methodology to enable such systematic thinking; an exercise from the Horizons toolkit was conducted through group work on six relevant themes. 
  • This practical activity for both in-room and online audiences challenged them to think through one change driver and its potential implications for Canadians in 15 years. 

Session 4 - Cultivating Cross-Sector Leaders and Practices

Stephen Huddart

Chad Park

Lauren Hunter

Julie Greene

  • Government needs civil society to land programs and surface new ideas. 
  • Civil Society needs government to take proven approaches to scale
  • We're talking about collaboration based on a new relationship between civil society and government - a relationship focused on contributing our respective capacities for innovation, for taking risks, generating public engagement and creating systemic change at meaningful levels of scale.
  • Three projects were shared as examples of cross-sector partnering; the Talent Cloud, Energy Futures Lab in Alberta and Innovation in Public Health Agency program for Chronic Disease prevention. 

Session 5 - Open and Engaged

Peter McLeod

Jordan Zed

Sue Barclay

Kimberly Lavoie

Gail Haarsma

  • Publics can smell sincerity and have a sense of the value of their time. 
  • Presenting a tangible problem they can help solve is better than a broad question about likes and preferences. 
  • This panel shared concrete examples of engagement strategies and approaches in areas of public health, community safety planning and the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. 
  • Public opinion and experience is evidence; evidence of habit and values and ways of using policies and programs in the real world that have a real impact on their effectiveness. Public engagement is at least a way of knowing the environment into which a policy or program is going. 
  • Engagement design needs to consider multiple strategies for reaching people where they are and on their terms. 
  • A one-size-fits-all digital approach may not yield the input being sought. Acknowledging the expertise in a community goes a long way. 

Session 6 - Indigenous World Views and Policy Development

Jonathan Dewar, 

Manitok Thompson

Keith Conn

Erin Corston

Jennifer Lord

Danielle White

  • Indigenous communities are the experts in indigenous experiences, perspectives and futures. Face-to-face engagement with those most impacted by policies is essential. 
  • Flexibility and responsiveness in policies is needed to accommodate cultural practices, environmental realities and community priorities. 
  • This panel included speakers from Government and external organizations and emphasised the diversity and heterogenaity of cultural communities across the country.
  • Shifting away from thinking in "deficits" in programming, focus can be put on strengths in culture, language, comprehensive planning and adaptation. 

Forming a Policy Community

Workshop outputs

In a workshop on building the policy community, some main principles were: 

  • Define "community" broadly - open to those who may not define themselves as policy practitioners
  • Be community driven - work with the community to prioritize and respond to needs
  • Open outreach - work with other Federal communities, levels of government and organizations to learn best practices and skills for effective policy shaping

In the months following the Conference, a small secretariat will be built to catalyse the Community around: 

  • Communications and recognition;
  • training, and skills building; and 
  • facilitating knowledge mobilization and research.