Ian Matheson

The challenge of developing policy during a pandemic

Science has a role to play in policy development and needs be integrated with other considerations…

  • After emphasizing how the Government of Canada was following recommendations from scientists in the early days of the pandemic, Prime Minister Trudeau was asked by a journalist if there would come a point when decisions would be based more on politics.
  • The answer, of course, was that in our system of government, all policy decisions are political. They are made by elected representatives who make decisions in the public interest.
  • Scientific evidence is one of the inputs to policy decisions, albeit an important input during a public health crisis.

Calibrating policies to maximize public support has a political driver…

  • Politicians are motivated to get power and then keep it.
  • To keep power by choosing policies that the public supports is the political calculation.
  • Finding overlap between what the public will support and non-partisan policy advice is the art.

Discerning societal values in policy choices isn’t always easy…

  • Decisions that reflect our personal values seem intuitively right to each of us.
  • Decisions that don’t reflect our values seem flawed and may even lead us to act in ways that reflect our lack of support. For example, some people haven’t followed requests to limit their trips outside their homes, and instead have been spending time with friends or family.
  • We tend not to interpret these behaviours in terms of values, but values are motivating the behaviour, in this case around the right of government to limit our personal freedom. It is important for public policy makers to develop a sense of how values influence support, because the effect of values on behaviour directly affects the success of a policy.

The pandemic offers many examples of how calibrating policies to maximize support is a challenge…

  • Internationally, we have seen national governments respond to the pandemic in a range of ways related to their respective societal values.
  • For example, the timing and degree of restrictiveness on travel, on border closures, on the level of state-funded financial support, or choices with respect to how to manage diminishing supplies of medical equipment are just a few examples of policy decisions that reflect an awareness of how the policies will be judged in each country.
  • The escalation of restrictions can also be seen as a calibration that gently shifts people’s willingness to accept the policies in tolerable increments, to a point of restricting individual freedoms to a degree which might not have been supported at the outset.

Of course, societies are not homogeneous in their values…

  • Individuals have values and groups of people may have shared values, but uniformity is rare.
  • As individuals, we evolve in complex ways. We can probably recall how we held certain views at a younger age, and know that our views have evolved as a result of greater knowledge or experience.  The specific point in time when our views changed may not be easy to identify.
  • Collectively, we are societies of people at various points in our evolving understanding of what is true. For some, an understanding of the importance of scientific evidence is a characteristic of their values.  For others, it is a suspicion of science.

The challenge for policy makers is to anticipate how different people will react, given the range of “individual truths” that are present…

  • Drawing on Integral Theory, it is helpful to start from the perspective that everyone is right — at least partially.
  • The process of integrating values involves gaining insight into those various truths, and spotting their contribution to resolving a policy issue.  An example of such integration is a policy to self-isolate that is communicated as good science, as a sign of caring and support for our most vulnerable family members, as well as support for our courageous health care workers.
  • Being able to pick out the “truths” while resisting the temptation to counter them with our own truth, is an important skill for policy makers and government leaders.


Image courtesy of the CDC.


The SNC Lavalin case through the lens of public interest decision-making

Like many, I’ve been following the SNC Lavalin/change in Attorney General issue and the decision whether to use a deferred prosecution agreement.  This post is intended to bring clarity to pertinent aspects of how our system of government works to help make sense of the situation.

To my mind, there are two fundamental questions:

  • Whether, in this case, our system for making decisions in the public interest is satisfactory, i.e. is the design sound? and,
  • Whether people have played their roles in that system correctly, i.e. was the design well-implemented?

Deciding in the public interest involves reconciling or prioritizing private interests

  • The design of our system for handling the public interest decision in this case appears up to the task. It uses legislation (the Criminal Code), the enforcement of legislation (i.e. police), and then the courts – all three branches of the Westminster System.
  • The new mechanism of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (resulting from an amendment to the Criminal code) allows the Government to pursue an alternative to the courts as a way of factoring in the interests of those who were not involved in wrongdoing, who might be negatively affected if SNC Lavalin were to be found guilty — such as the suppliers and the employees and pensioners of SNC Lavalin.
  • This feature seems to offer the potential of a better balancing of interests than might otherwise occur from a simple finding of criminal guilt. It combines punishment for wrongdoing with some protection of the interests of innocent parties from the collateral effects of a finding of criminality by the courts.

What is important to notice in the design of the system is who gets to make decisions

  • We’ve seen the Director of Public Prosecution decide to pursue prosecution and not use the DPA (at least, not yet). We’ve also seen that the Attorney General may decide to direct the use of the DPA, but hasn’t (at least, not yet).
  • A way to understand this design is that the DPP is considered capable of making a sound public interest decision, but in some cases, the Attorney General may be better placed, by virtue of the information to which they may have access, as a result of their position or relationships.

In our system of Government, we see can see many levels in the hierarchy are given the power to make decisions in the public interest

  • It is a principle of good governance to delegate responsibilities to the lowest possible level, but also to ensure that the more complicated decisions can be made at higher levels, when appropriate. Within the Executive Branch, Ministers make the decisions that involve a more challenging balance of private interests to determine the public interest.
  • That’s what is going on when we see that the DPP can make a decision, but the Attorney General has the power to change that decision. Clearly, an Attorney General has information that may be more pertinent to the various interests at stake than a Director of Public Prosecution would.

In governance terms, it is good to have such clarity about who can make what decision

  • It is also good (and normal) that there are further checks on power. Specifically, Prime Ministers have the power to appoint or dismiss a Minister, Parliament has the power to vote down a government, courts can overturn decisions by the government and citizens have the power to elect a new government.  These are features of “responsible” government found in the Westminster System.

Whether people have implemented the processes according to the design is an equally important measure of good governance

  • At this point, the focus is on whether “pressure” on the Attorney General in the decision-making process was appropriate, which is perhaps better stated as whether there was any conflict of interest and whether the lobbying that occurred was appropriate.

We tend to rely on discussion and debate to bring clarity to decisions…

  • All three branches of the Westminster System function this way. Parliament, the Judiciary and the Executive each use processes of deliberation to draw out the merits of various aspects of issues to improve the quality of their decisions.

Conflict of interest has to do with whether a decision-maker was influenced to decide in a way that was of personal benefit to them…

  • It seems that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner will examine this question, however, I have yet to see any mention of behaviour that involves conflict of interest as defined by the Act. I have seen confusion from media coverage around the term pressure, which is often used with a negative connotation.

Public interest decision-making usually involves pressure.

  • Those with private interests in a decision want to be heard. We often describe their expression of their interests as pressure.  Lobbying is just such a process and federally, it is regulated, largely to bring transparency to who is meeting with certain decision-makers (called Designated Public Office Holders in the Lobbying Act).
  • Any Designated Public Office Holder (DPOH) who agrees to meet with a lobbyist knows that it will be registered publicly and that they may be asked questions about that meeting. Essentially, the DPOH has to consider whether the meeting will assist or create an imbalance in public interest decision-making (or a perception of imbalance).  Citizens communicating with Members of Parliament or Ministers is not lobbying.  MPs or Ministers discussing what they learn about private interests related to a government decision are doing their jobs.

Independent decision-making doesn’t mean isolated decision-making…

  • Our court process is designed to bring the interests of parties before a judge with a high degree of transparency. Transparency around lobbying is to a lower degree, largely for practical reasons, but that standard can be adjusted, if so desired by Parliament.
  • Judicial independence is a principle meant to allow the judge to render decisions without fear that those affected by the decision will be able to interfere with the judge’s personal interests (i.e. fear of job loss, or negative consequences for family members). It is not to protect them from an awareness of the interests, nor to protect them from consequences of poor performance.

The focus on this issue provides an opportunity to learn and improve…

  • The means of accountability, which involve gathering information and reaching some judgement, can help in correcting errors, improving processes for the future, and helping actors within the system learn.Parliamentary Committees and officers of Parliament (such as the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner) are examples of how we practice accountability.
  • The fact that the DPA is a relatively new mechanism and has not been used yet, means that those involved are still learning how to use it. We are looking to other jurisdictions that have experience with such mechanisms and are trying to learn from them.
  • To me this is reassuring, because we are operating in a human system and we have to allow for learning and improvement.
  • Do we have a growing understanding of the nuances of independence, pressure, lobbying and conflict of interest as a result of this case? Are we gaining judgement?  I believe we are.
  • More importantly, are we learning to be mindful not to weaken a very good system through misinformed – or worse, intentionally misinforming public discourse? If we aren’t yet, I hope we will.


In response to a comment from David Stambrook about my not having mentioned the Shawcross Doctrine I have added a comment on the LinkedIn version, which I repeat below:

There are a few points to make, to unpack David’s mention of the Shawcross Doctrine.

Essentially, we don’t want a prosecution to be guided by political interests, e.g. using the DPA for the express purpose of winning support in Quebec in the upcoming election.  Nor would we want an Attorney General directed by the PM or his staff to use the DPA, as it could be interpreted as an ultimatum with failure to follow through resulting in removal (that might fall within the definition of conflict of interest).

In this respect, we can see that if the DPA were to be used, it will raise the question of whether it was used for political gain or in the public interest (to minimize harm to innocent SNC Lavalin suppliers, pensioners and employees).  As well, what remains unknown is whether the “pressure” that the previous Attorney General/Minister of Justice felt was an ultimatum or contextual information, useful to making her decision.

Ultimately, this situation may well lead to considering whether having an AG outside of Cabinet, or some other measure, offers a more desirable level of protection from political influence in decisions on prosecution.

Discerning pressures for change in the media

Political parties exist to bring about change

  • Every former politician who came to speak to my classes described how something they wanted to change drew them to politics. 
  • Many had concluded that the best way to advance change was to form the Government and become a Minister. 
  • To support Ministers well, public servants need to be able to discern the dynamics of public debate related to their Minister’s mandate for change, some of which is reflected in the media.

The media plays an important role in facilitating public debate

  • Opposition parties and stakeholder groups exert influence on government through the attention they bring to an issue through media coverage.  
  • Of course, media organizations operate according to their own motivations and how they do so is worth examining.

Good communication takes into account the interests of the audience 

  • In the media, news is often equated with “drama” i.e. there is a connection to what to change, what’s changing, or who is resisting change.  
  • What gets reported and how it is reported tends to reflect the extent to which a story deals with forces of change that touch the interests of the media’s audience.
  • We see this occurrence most clearly in the U.S. at the moment, in the differences between Fox News and CNN.  Clearly, each organization is communicating in a way that connects with a particular audience’s interests and worldview.

Media analysis helps public servants determine what advice is relevant

  • Specifically, Ministers tend to want advice on the implications of adopting policies for which public support exists or is growing.  
  • Good media analysis assesses the various narratives present in public debate, the arguments for change and the segment of the public whose interests are reflected in those narratives.
  • Public servants who follow public debate closely have the opportunity to be proactive in providing non-partisan advice that is relevant.
  • Ministers’ central choice is the degree to which policies, for which there may be public support, also serve the public interest (i.e. are effective and efficient).  Advice on how to reconcile these interests has the potential to be most useful to a Minister.

Acuity, our ability to discern the narratives and underlying motivations, can be developed

  • Some questions to ask about the narratives in public debate include:
    • How does the narrative serve the interest of the originator? 
    • How might it support the interests of others?  
    • Whose interests doesn’t it serve?  
    • What is the scope of support and the degree of influence of supporters? 

In my next post, I’ll offer ways of discerning values that are present within narratives, which is the ability that is key to engaging in the debate and leading effectively.

Interpreting pressures for change

To be effective within the system requires an ability to discern, interpret and choose how to respond.  In this post and the next, I’ll use recent debates over conflict of interest rules and environmental regulation to look at how the pressures for changing the system operate.

The “System” of government is a system of relationships

  • The pressures for change tend to arise around the:
    • structure of relationships (e.g. are responsibilities for environmental regulation assigned in a way that leads to good public interest decisions?),
    • process within the relationships (e.g. what procedures should be followed in considering submissions by interested parties about a project affecting the environment to best balance private interests?); or the
    • rules/culture within the relationship (e.g. is it enough to follow the letter of the law on how officials manage their investments?)

Positions tend to be raised or taken by private interests, but assessed within a context of public interest

  • When opposition parties hold a minister to account through questioning, they know it is in their interest to look deserving of the responsibility to govern.
  • Generally, the opposition will try to position itself on an issue to be perceived as in the broader interest of the public.  For example, highlighting a weakness in the conflict of interest rules and/or the perceived judgement of an individual minister are arguably relevant to the broader public interest.  In the recent case, the opposition challenged the government to improve the rules and demonstrate the trustworthiness of its ministers.
  • While there can be many factors at play in how the government responds, it will essentially look for where good public policy overlaps with what it believes the public will support.

Responsibility and Accountability are fundamental concepts for decision-making within the system

  • My earlier post on the subject clarifies these two terms that are often used interchangeably, but have different meanings.
  • Essentially, accountability involves asking people how they fulfilled their responsibilities (i.e. what action did they take in areas they are responsible for?).  The answers that are provided will lead to a judgement as to whether the actions were sufficient or not (i.e. should corrective actions should be taken by a higher authority?).
  • We see this in how the answers by the Minister of Finance regarding his personal investments inevitably drew in the Prime Minister on both the questions of whether the rules are sufficient and whether the Minister of Finance retains his trust.  I think we can assume that the Prime Minister was fully aware that with his answers he himself would also be judged by the opposition and by the public.

So, discernment is important for sorting out what is the issue, or the various issues, at play

  • Seeing the interests of all stakeholders, not just opposition parties, on each issue is helpful in determining how to decide what to do, or what advice to offer. Ideally, we want to see as objectively as possible what action(s) will maximize the public benefit, being fully aware of the implications for the various private interests.  (For more on issue framing see my earlier post here.)

I’ll continue on this subject in my next post, looking at the role of the media, how narratives of interpretation are used and what leadership looks like within this dynamic.

Designing a Public Engagement Strategy — the Basics / Élaboration d’une stratégie sur la mobilisation du public — principes de base

There are many choices to be made in designing an engagement strategy

  • There are choices about timing, scope, frequency and medium. Decisions should be based on the objectives of the strategy, which, in my view, always includes building and maintaining trust.
  • As many public policy questions are complex, in designing an engagement strategy, it is important to analyze the various aspects of the decision in relation to who will be affected, their capacity to contribute to the decision, and their degree of representativeness.

In principle, stakeholders (or those who represent them) should be able to influence the decision in proportion to its impact on their interests

  • In practice, this principle is challenging to apply, as it is a factor of both the engagement process and the design of how responsibility is assigned and accountability assured.
  • For example, public discussions on how to manage consultations on democratic reform reveal the depth of complexity one can face.  Clearly, those involved in that initiative are highly sensitive to how choices in consultation can affect the decision.  The Brexit experience in the U.K. offers important lessons as well.
  • If we choose to involve others in a decision for which we are responsible, it is in our interest to ensure they have access to the information they need and that they have sufficient judgment.  For this reason, some engagement strategies include building knowledge and awareness before asking stakeholders to provide input.  This type of “deliberative” or “participatory” engagement supports meaningful consultation.

Seeking expert advice as you develop your engagement strategy is recommended

  • Expertise can generally be found in departments’ Communications sections.  Some departments have dedicated public engagement and/or stakeholder relations centres of expertise.
  • The Privy Council Office has a consultations and engagement unit (consultation@pco-bcp.gc.ca) that can provide functional guidance as well as oversight on high-profile consultations.
  • There is a Consultations Community of Practice internal to the Government of Canada (hyperlinks are under my References tab) – which brings together stakeholder relations and public engagement professionals from across the government to foster innovation, learning and knowledge-sharing in the field.
  • The Canada School of Public Service offers resources on consultations and engagement.
  • There are also a number of non-governmental organizations focused on capacity-building for public engagement practitioners, such as the International Association of Public Participation whose articulation of a “spectrum” of public involvement and influence has informed similar tools used within the Government of Canada.
  • As well, I find the resources available from Ten Directions offer an advanced understanding of how to facilitate participation in decision-making processes, particularly with respect to managing conflict and the challenge presented by differing value systems of participants.

Il y a de nombreux choix à faire lorsqu’il est question de concevoir une stratégie sur la mobilisation

  • Il y a des choix concernant le moment opportun, l’ampleur, la fréquence et la méthode. Les décisions doivent être axées sur les objectifs de la stratégie qui, selon moi, doit toujours inclure l’établissement et le maintien d’un lien de confiance.
  • Comme de nombreuses questions sur les politiques publiques sont complexes, il est important d’analyser les divers éléments de la décision en tenant compte des personnes touchées, de leur capacité de participer à la décision et de leur niveau de représentativité.

En principe, l’influence que peuvent exercer les intervenants (ou les gens qui les représentent) sur la décision doit être proportionnelle aux répercussions que celle-ci peut avoir sur leurs intérêts

  • En pratique, il est très difficile de mettre en œuvre ce principe, car il s’agit d’un facteur associé à la fois au processus de mobilisation et à la façon d’attribuer la responsabilité et d’assurer la responsabilisation.
  • Par exemple, les discussions publiques sur la façon de mener des consultations au sujet de la réforme démocratique indiquent le degré de complexité que l’on peut connaître. Les personnes qui participent à cette initiative sont, bien sûr, très conscientes des répercussions que les choix qui se font dans le cadre de la consultation peuvent avoir sur la décision. On peut également tirer d’importantes leçons de la situation du Brexit au Royaume-Uni.
  • Si nous choisissons de laisser d’autres personnes prendre part à une décision dont nous sommes responsables, nous avons intérêt à nous assurer qu’elles ont accès à l’information dont elles ont besoin et qu’elles font preuve de bon jugement. Certaines stratégies de mobilisation mettent par conséquent l’accent sur l’acquisition de connaissances et la sensibilisation avant de demander aux intervenants de formuler des commentaires. Ce genre de mobilisation « délibérative » ou « participative » favorise la tenue de véritables consultations.

Il est recommandé de demander l’avis d’un expert lorsqu’il est question d’élaborer une stratégie de mobilisation

  • En règle générale, on peut trouver des experts dans le secteur des communications des ministères. Certains ministères ont des centres d’expertise consacrés précisément à la mobilisation du public ou aux relations avec les intervenants.
  • Le Bureau du Conseil privé a une unité de consultations et de mobilisation (consultation@pco-bcp.gc.ca) qui peut donner une orientation fonctionnelle et assurer la surveillance des consultations de grande importance.
  • Il existe une communauté de pratique sur les consultations à l’interne du Gouvernement du Canada (les liens sont sous l’onglet “References”) – qui regroupe des spécialistes de l’ensemble de la fonction publique chargés des relations avec les intervenants et de la mobilisation du public – dont l’objectif est de favoriser l’innovation, l’apprentissage et le partage de connaissances dans le domaine.
  • L’École de la fonction publique du Canada offre des ressources concernant les consultations et la mobilisation.
  • Il y a également un certain nombre d’organisations non gouvernementales axées sur le renforcement des capacités pour les spécialistes de la mobilisation publique, notamment l’Association internationale pour la participation publique, dont l’explication d’un « éventail » d’influence et de participation publique a guidé l’élaboration d’outils comparables au sein du gouvernement du Canada.
  • Je trouve en outre que les ressources que propose Ten Directions permettent de bien comprendre la façon de favoriser la participation aux processus décisionnels, particulièrement en ce qui concerne la gestion de conflits et la difficulté que constituent les différents systèmes de valeurs des participants.

Things to Know about Public Engagement / Ce qu’il faut savoir sur la mobilisation du public

There is an important role for program and policy executives in building capacity and leading public engagement 

  • The Government of Canada is currently involved in many ongoing consultations and engagement activities between the government and the public.  (See: Consulting with Canadians.)  This post is the first in a series about how public servants, and particularly executives, can contribute to public engagement.

There is a distinction to be made between engagement and consultation

  • In this context, engagement refers to ongoing, two-way communications between government and stakeholders (citizens or organizations) and may include consultation, the solicitation of views on a particular question.
  • Point-in-time consultations on decisions to be made are often not sufficient.  It is important to consider how to integrate openness in our day-to-day business, throughout the policy or program development cycle.

Government uses engagement to develop policies that will be effective and supported

  • There is a risk in democracies that the majority will be unaware of how the policies it favours affect the minority.  For this reason, decision-making processes often include some manner of seeking feedback from stakeholders, to help broaden our understanding of the interests of those who may be affected by a policy and the way it is implemented.
  • In choosing in the public interest, ministers seek to strike a balance between private interests.  Engagement is a way of developing awareness of private interests and managing the risk of being surprised by the impact decisions have on stakeholders.
  • As a colleague working at the Privy Council Office notes: “Openness and transparency in decision-making are hallmarks of a well-functioning democracy. Informed decision-making requires the knowledge, views, values and skills of experts, stakeholders, and citizens.…”

Open Government is a priority of the current government

  • The Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership sets out commitments to enhance engagement between the government and Canadians.  Specifically, Commitment 20 is to “Enable Open Dialogue and Open Policy Making”.  Public Servants, particularly those involved in policy development need to align their work with this plan.

Sharing of government data contributes to engagement and informs dialogue with stakeholders

  • It is important to make the connection between the information government shares publicly and how that information can contribute to informed discussions on data gaps, evidence-based policy options and measures of success.
  • In my next post, I’ll introduce some principles in designing engagement strategies and provide references and suggestions on how to build capacity in this area.

Les cadres chargés des programmes et des politiques ont un important rôle à jouer en ce qui concerne le renforcement des capacités et la mobilisation du public

  • Le gouvernement du Canada organise actuellement de nombreuses consultations et activités continues de mobilisation avec le public. (Voir « Consultations auprès des Canadiens ».) Je vous présente le premier d’une série de billets qui portent sur la façon dont les fonctionnaires – et surtout les cadres – peuvent contribuer à la mobilisation du public.

Il faut distinguer entre mobilisation et consultation

  • Dans ce contexte, la mobilisation signifie une communication bilatérale continue entre le gouvernement et les intervenants (des citoyens ou des organisations) et peut comprendre de la consultation, c’est-à-dire la sollicitation des points de vue sur une question précise.
  • Souvent, il ne suffit pas de tenir des consultations ponctuelles sur les décisions à prendre. Il est important de déterminer la façon d’intégrer la notion d’ouverture dans nos activités quotidiennes, tout au long du cycle d’élaboration de politiques ou de programmes.

Le gouvernement se sert de la mobilisation pour créer des politiques qui seront efficaces et appuyées

  • Dans les démocraties, il se peut que la majorité ne soit pas consciente des répercussions que les politiques qu’elle favorise peuvent avoir sur la minorité. Par conséquent, les processus de prise de décisions comprennent souvent un moyen de solliciter les commentaires des intervenants, afin de nous aider à mieux comprendre les intérêts des personnes qui sont peut-être touchées par une politique et par la façon dont elle est mise en œuvre.
  • En choisissant de tenir compte de l’intérêt public, les ministres cherchent à établir un équilibre avec les intérêts privés. La mobilisation est une façon de sensibiliser les gens aux intérêts privés et de composer avec le risque d’être surpris par les répercussions que les décisions peuvent avoir sur les intervenants.
  • Comme l’affirme un collègue, qui travaille au Bureau du Conseil privé : « L’ouverture et la transparence dans le processus décisionnel sont des caractéristiques d’une démocratie qui fonctionne bien. Pour assurer la prise de décisions éclairées, il faut pouvoir compter sur les connaissances, les points de vue, les valeurs et les compétences de spécialistes, d’intervenants et de citoyens… »

L’initiative « gouvernement ouvert » est une priorité du gouvernement

  • Le troisième plan bisannuel du Partenariat pour un gouvernement ouvert établit les engagements visant à accroître la mobilisation entre le gouvernement et la population canadienne. Plus particulièrement, l’engagement 20 a comme objectif de « permettre le dialogue ouvert et l’élaboration de politiques ouverte ». Les fonctionnaires, surtout ceux qui participent à l’élaboration de politiques, doivent harmoniser leur travail avec ce plan.

Le partage de l’information gouvernementale favorise la mobilisation et oriente le dialogue avec les intervenants

  • Il est important de faire le lien entre l’information que le gouvernement diffuse au grand public et la façon dont cette information peut favoriser les discussions sur les lacunes en matière de données, les options de politique axées sur les preuves et les indicateurs de réussite.
  • Dans mon prochain billet, j’expliquerai quelques principes portant sur la conception de stratégies de mobilisation et je présenterai des conseils et des références sur la façon de renforcer la capacité dans ce domaine.

How to think about a Treasury Board submission / Comprendre l’objectif d’une présentation au Conseil du Trésor

Treasury Board (TB) submissions seek the delegation of an authority

  • The first step is to determine what authority you have and what authority you need to be able to advance your program.

TB tends to require submissions when management risks are high

  • TB’s decision is based on an assessment of a department’s capacity to manage risks that are higher than normal.
  • For example, some departments carry out complex information technology projects only occasionally and will have to demonstrate they have built up their capacity to manage risks.

TB decisions are made within the context of the day

  • Related events, recent experiences and personal preferences of TB members can all influence the decision.  These influences are appropriate, since we are all expected to use the information available to us to exercise our responsibilities.

It is important to remember to whom TB is accountable

  • TB is accountable to the PM with respect to how it serves Cabinet’s collective responsibility.  The House of Commons, particularly the Opposition, continuously judges the PM and his Government on its ability to govern.
  • For this reason, as they make decisions, TB Ministers always consider the context of the Prime Minister, the House of Commons, and by extension, the citizens the Members of Parliament represent.
  • It is worth underscoring that we should all make decisions with an awareness of the context of those to whom we are accountable.  Their context becomes our context, and we usually need to actively discern what that context is (e.g. by obtaining management debriefs and discussing how to interpret what is going on in the world of senior managers).

Before recommending approval of your submission, Treasury Board Secretariat will want a strong narrative – something like this:

  • The expected result of this initiative is important to the Government’s agenda…
  • There are risks to be managed with this work, such as… (reflect an awareness of TB’s context here)
  • However, the governance of this work is well designed:
    • the people who will exercise the authorities are____(i.e. positions, not names)
    • and the way management decisions will be made to achieve results and manage risks is as follows…
  • Our past performance (and possibly, the corrective measures we have taken) together with our plan for managing this work make the proposed approach an appropriate balance between the residual risks (i.e. remaining risks) and the expected results of this initiative.


Les présentations au Conseil du Trésor visent à obtenir la délégation d’un pouvoir

  • La première étape est de déterminer le pouvoir que vous possédez et le pouvoir qu’il vous faut pour faire progresser votre programme.

Le Conseil du Trésor a souvent besoin de présentations lorsque les risques liés à la gestion sont élevés

  • La décision du Conseil du Trésor est fondée sur une évaluation de la capacité d’un ministère de gérer des risques qui sont plus élevés que la normale.
  • Par exemple, certains ministères ne réalisent qu’à l’occasion des projets complexes liés à la technologie de l’information et auront donc à démontrer qu’ils ont renforcé leur capacité de gérer les risques.

Les décisions du Conseil du Trésor sont prises en fonction du contexte actuel

  • Les activités connexes, les expériences récentes et les préférences personnelles des membres du Conseil du Trésor peuvent toutes exercer une influence sur la décision qui sera prise. Ces influences sont appropriées, car on s’attend à ce que nous utilisions tous l’information que nous avons à notre disposition pour nous acquitter de nos responsabilités.

Il est important de ne pas oublier de qui relève le Conseil du Trésor

  • Le Conseil du Trésor relève du premier ministre en ce qui concerne la façon dont il assume la responsabilité collective du Cabinet. La Chambre des communes, en particulier l’Opposition, juge constamment le premier ministre et son gouvernement en fonction de leur capacité de gouverner.
  • Pour cette raison, lorsqu’ils prennent des décisions, les membres du Conseil du Trésor tiennent toujours compte du contexte du premier ministre, de la Chambre des communes et, par extension, des citoyens que représentent les députés.
  • Il est important de souligner que nous devons tous prendre des décisions en tenant compte du contexte dans lequel se trouvent les personnes dont nous relevons. Comme leur contexte devient le nôtre, nous devons normalement nous efforcer de bien le comprendre. Nous pouvons y arriver, par exemple, en obtenant de l’information des cadres supérieurs et en discutant de la façon d’interpréter ce qui se passe dans le milieu de la haute direction.

Avant de recommander l’approbation de votre présentation, le Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor souhaitera y trouver un exposé bien articulé. Voici un exemple d’un exposé bien structuré :

  • Le résultat attendu de cette initiative a de l’importance pour le programme du gouvernement…
  • Il y a des risques à gérer dans le cadre de cette initiative, notamment… (se montrer sensible au contexte du Conseil du Trésor)
  • La gouvernance de cette initiative est toutefois bien assurée :
  • Les personnes qui exerceront les pouvoirs sont _____ (c.-à-d. des postes plutôt que des noms);
  • Les décisions de la direction en vue d’obtenir des résultats et de gérer les risques se prendront de la manière suivante…
  • Notre rendement antérieur (et possiblement, les mesures correctives que nous avons prises), ainsi que notre plan visant à gérer cette initiative, font en sorte que la méthode proposée assure un équilibre adéquat entre les risques résiduels (c.-à-d. les risques qui subsistent) et les résultats attendus.

Treasury Board’s role in policy implementation / Le rôle du Conseil du Trésor concernant la mise en œuvre de politiques

Once a policy is approved, attention shifts to managing implementation

  • Treasury Board (TB) is the Cabinet committee that establishes and oversees management within the Federal Public Administration.
  • The extent to which TB policies apply varies for different types of organizations.  Most TB policies indicate the scope of their application in reference to the schedules in the  Financial Administration Act.

There are four functions of management:

  1. planning,
  2. implementing plans,
  3. monitoring and adjusting implementation, and
  4. evaluating.
  • Treasury Board policies cover each of these areas, and may assign responsibility for developing more detailed, organization-specific policies to Ministers or Deputy Heads.

We often equate Treasury Board with financial management, but that is only one area

  • There are management policies in many other areas, including human resources, contracting, project management, information management, internal security, audit and evaluation.

A fundamental decision for TB in setting policy is how to delegate responsibility

  • Generally speaking, it is considered efficient and preferable to delegate to the lowest level capable of making sound decisions.
  • Sound decision-making requires knowledge, judgment, access to pertinent information and effective relationships with organizations implicated in, or affected by the decisions.
  • Effectively, this capacity comes down to the ability to manage the risks that go with the decisions, i.e. balancing the potential benefit of the action with the risk tolerance of those on whose behalf you are deciding.

When it comes to implementing policy decisions, the first question is: what authorities are needed?

  • TB policies may give departments many of the authorities they need.  That is, TB has determined that the department can manage the risks.
  • However, in some areas, TB policies may require that a Minister seek a specific authority, i.e. requiring the Minister to demonstrate, in a TB submission, that measures are in place within the department to manage the higher than normal risks.

TB submissions seek specific authorities from TB

  • This point is worth emphasizing. While you could just fill in the template for the TB submission, it is better to keep in mind the overarching purpose is: demonstrating that your department is capable of managing the risks associated with the decision-making authority it seeks.
  • More on how to prepare a TB submission in my next post.

Dès qu’une politique est approuvée, on porte l’attention sur la gestion de la mise en œuvre

  • Le Conseil du Trésor est le comité du Cabinet chargé d’établir et de diriger la gestion au sein de l’administration publique fédérale.
  • Le degré d’application des politiques du Conseil du Trésor varie en fonction du genre d’organisation. La plupart des politiques du Conseil du Trésor donnent un aperçu de la portée de leur application en faisant référence aux annexes de la Loi sur la gestion des finances publiques.

La gestion comprend les quatre fonctions suivantes :

  1. la planification,
  2. la mise en œuvre de plans,
  3. le suivi et l’adaptation de la mise en œuvre, et
  4. l’évaluation.
  • Les politiques du Conseil du Trésor portent sur chacun de ces domaines et peuvent attribuer à des ministres ou à des administrateurs généraux la tâche d’élaborer des politiques plus détaillées ou propres à une organisation particulière.

On associe souvent le Conseil du Trésor à la gestion financière, mais il y a plus que ça

  • On trouve des politiques de gestion dans de nombreux autres domaines, notamment les ressources humaines, la passation de marchés, la gestion de projets, la gestion de l’information, la sécurité interne, ainsi que la vérification et l’évaluation.

Lorsque le Conseil du Trésor élabore des politiques, la façon de déléguer la responsabilité représente une décision fondamentale

  • En règle générale, il est jugé préférable de déléguer la responsabilité au plus bas niveau possible où l’on trouve des gens en mesure de prendre des décisions judicieuses.
  • Pour prendre des décisions judicieuses, il faut des connaissances, du jugement, un accès à de l’information utile et des relations efficaces avec des organisations qui participent au processus décisionnel ou qui sont touchées par les décisions.
  • En fait, tout se résume à la capacité de gérer les risques associés aux décisions, c.-à-d. d’établir un équilibre entre l’avantage éventuel de la mesure et la tolérance au risque chez ceux pour lesquels on prend des décisions.

Lorsqu’il est question de mettre en œuvre des décisions stratégiques, il faut d’abord se demander de quels pouvoirs on a besoin.

  • Les politiques du Conseil du Trésor peuvent donner aux ministères un grand nombre des pouvoirs dont ils ont besoin. C’est-à-dire que selon le Conseil du Trésor, le ministère est en mesure de gérer les risques.
  • Dans certains domaines, par contre, les politiques du Conseil du Trésor peuvent exiger qu’un ministre cherche à obtenir un pouvoir précis, p. ex. : obliger le ministre à démontrer dans une présentation du Conseil du Trésor que les mesures sont en place au sein du ministère pour gérer les risques plus élevés que la normale.

Les présentations au Conseil du Trésor cherchent à obtenir un pouvoir précis du Conseil du Trésor

  • Il est important de souligner ce point. Vous pouvez simplement compléter le gabarit des présentations au Conseil du Trésor mais il vaut mieux tenir compte de l’objectif principal : démontrer que votre ministère est en mesure de gérer les risques afférents aux autorités qu’il souhaite.
  • Dans mon prochain billet, je donnerai plus de détails sur la façon de préparer une présentation au Conseil du Trésor.

A good policy is one that… / Une bonne politique…

A good policy is one that…

  1. responds to political pressure — that is, the actions of the Government will be received favourably by those holding the Government to account;
  2. solves a problem — whether we call it an “issue” or “pressure” that drives policy, it is easiest to think of as a problem that requires a solution;
  3. aligns with society’s values — given the diversity of society, we try to satisfy the values of the majority; and
  4. can be implemented successfully — solutions must be practical and capacity must exist.

Governments respond to the priorities of those who hold them to account 

  • Our system is based on relationships defined by responsibility and accountability: citizens give Members of Parliament the responsibility to represent them — and hold them to account.  Parliament gives the Prime Minister and Cabinet the responsibility to govern — and holds them to account.
  • The Government’s agenda and how it is implemented will be judged by Parliament, and citizens, so Governments make decisions with this eventuality at the forefront.

It is important to clearly identify the problem to be solved and the objectives

  • There can be many perspectives on what the problem to be solved really is.  Reaching agreement on this point to the satisfaction of the Minister(s) proposing a policy is, of course, important.
  • Evidence, cause and effect relationships are important considerations, but sometimes not as complete as one might like.  Ideally, there should be some defensible logic to how a policy will solve a problem, or at least contribute to the solution.
  • Learning approaches to policy (i.e. try something, learn what works and what doesn’t, then adjust) can sometimes be the only viable approaches in our increasingly complex world.

The process of developing policy is how we define the public interest, i.e. to reflect the values of the majority

  • Of course, the values of the majority are difficult to assess precisely and can be influenced through information and debate.  That information and debate is part of the policy process.
  • We have a diverse society, and since Cabinet will ultimately decide on policy, Prime Ministers tend to choose Ministers to represent that diversity.
  • The options available to solve a problem will normally reflect the degree to which values (e.g. minimizing cost, maximizing effectiveness, minimizing environmental impact etc.) can be reconciled or prioritized.

An assessment of the plan for implementation is also necessary 

  • The emphasis on managing implementation in a way that increases the chances of success is given attention at the point when policies are decided upon.
  • Considerations include resources required, how risks will be managed, and whether there is support and capacity among all those on whom implementation depends.
  • While Cabinet policy committees do consider implementation to an extent, Treasury Board plays a much bigger role in this area, which I will elaborate on in my next post.

Une bonne politique…

  1. répond aux pressions politiques – c’est-à-dire que les actions du gouvernement seront accueillies favorablement par ceux qui demandent des comptes au gouvernement;
  2. résout un problème – qu’on l’appelle un « problème » ou une « pression » qui oriente une politique, il est plus facile de le considérer comme un problème qui nécessite une solution;
  3. s’harmonise avec les valeurs d’une société – compte tenu de la diversité de la société, nous tentons de satisfaire les valeurs de la majorité;
  4. peut être mise en œuvre avec succès – les solutions doivent être pratiques et la capacité doit exister.

Le gouvernement répond aux priorités de ceux qui lui demandent des comptes 

  • Notre système repose sur les relations définies par notre responsabilité et notre obligation de rendre des comptes : les citoyens donnent aux députés la responsabilité de les représenter – et de rendre des comptes. Le Parlement donne au premier ministre et au Cabinet la responsabilité de gouverner – et leur demande des comptes.
  • Le programme du gouvernement et sa mise en œuvre seront jugés par le Parlement et les citoyens. Le gouvernement prend donc des décisions en prenant directement en considération cette éventualité.

Il est important de définir clairement le problème à résoudre et les objectifs 

  • Il peut y avoir de nombreux points de vue sur ce qu’est vraiment le problème à résoudre.  Parvenir à une entente sur ce point à la satisfaction du ou des ministres qui proposent une politique, est, bien sûr, important.
  • Les données probantes et les relations de cause à effet sont des considérations importantes, mais elles ne sont parfois pas aussi complètes qu’on le souhaiterait. Idéalement, il devrait y avoir une certaine logique défendable quant à la façon dont une politique résoudra un problème ou, du moins, contribuera à la solution.
  • Les approches d’apprentissage en matière d’élaboration de politiques (essayer quelque chose, savoir ce qui fonctionne et ce qui ne fonctionne pas, puis s’adapter) peuvent parfois constituer les seules approches viables dans notre monde de plus en plus complexe.

Le processus d’élaboration de politiques est notre façon de définir l’intérêt public, c’est-à-dire de refléter les valeurs de la majorité 

  • Bien entendu, les valeurs de la majorité sont difficiles à évaluer avec précision et peuvent être influencées par l’information et les débats. Cette information et ces débats font partie du processus d’élaboration des politiques.
  • Nous avons une société diversifiée, et comme le Cabinet se prononcera en dernier ressort sur la politique, les premiers ministres ont tendance à choisir des ministres qui représentent cette diversité.
  • Les options qui s’offrent pour résoudre un problème indiqueront normalement la mesure dans laquelle les valeurs (minimiser le coût, maximiser l’efficacité, réduire les effets environnementaux, etc.) peuvent être conciliées ou prioriser.

Une évaluation du plan de mise en œuvre est aussi nécessaire 

  • L’accent sur la gestion de la mise en œuvre de façon à augmenter les chances de réussite attire l’attention au moment où les politiques sont décidées.
  • Parmi les considérations figurent les ressources requises, la gestion des risques et la question de savoir s’il y a un soutien et une capacité chez tous ceux dont la mise en œuvre dépend.
  • Bien que les comités d’orientation du Cabinet se penchent dans une certaine mesure sur la mise en œuvre, le Conseil du Trésor joue un rôle beaucoup plus grand dans ce domaine, que j’expliquerai davantage dans mon prochain message.

Framing issues for decision / Formuler les questions aux fins de la prise de décisions

Public Service advice includes framing issues for decision

  • Framing the issue can influence the perspective we bring and, as a result, the focus on what actions can be taken.

Issues are usually framed as “whether to..” or “how to…” take action

  • For example, I assume that Cabinet considered how to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees, or perhaps: how to select and successfully integrate 25,000 refugees.
  • The issue may have been framed in a way to reflect the desired outcome, as in “successfully integrate”, or perhaps “…by the end of February 2016”.
  • By refining the issue statement, you can clarify objectives and the focus of the decision.

Decisions can be framed at various levels*

  • I analyze an issue statement, by asking the question “why?”  Doing so, leads to a higher level issue statement.  For example, “why admit 25,000 Syrian refugees…?” leads to the issue of “how to help with the crisis in Europe caused by the exodus of Syrian refugees”.
  • Both are valid ways of framing issues, but which one you choose will depend on the decision-maker.  The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship might prefer the former. The Minister of Global Affairs might prefer the latter.

Be careful not to frame the decision at too high a level

  • By increasing the level of how you frame the issue, you will reach the point where it exceeds the authority of the decision-maker.  For example, “how to stop the flow of refugees worldwide” is beyond the means of one government.

Framing a decision too low is also problematic

  • By framing an issue too low, you may be involving a decision-maker in an area you are responsible for, i.e. delegating up.
  • You can usually find a lower level framing by asking “what’s stopping?”  E.g. What’s stopping successful integration by Feb 2016? could lead to framing the issue as “how to accelerate refugee processing times”.
  • That way of framing the issue might best be dealt with by those delegated to manage the processes.

Of course, we frame issues for each level of management

  • While I have used examples that involve policy decisions by ministers and Cabinet, these same principles apply to any level of management decision-making.
  • Bottom line: there is potential to improve the quality of decision-making greatly by devoting time to framing issues/defining problems accurately.

*My thanks to André Potworowski with helping me many years ago in framing issues.

Les conseils de la fonction publique visent notamment à formuler les questions afin d’éclairer les décisions 

  • La formulation de la question peut influer sur l’angle par lequel on l’aborde et, donc, les mesures que l’on peut prendre.

Habituellement, les questions sont posées de la façon suivante : « Fautil… » ou « Comment peuton… » appliquer des mesures?

  • Par exemple, je présume que le Cabinet s’est penché sur la question de savoir comment admettre 25 000 réfugiés syriens ou peut-être comment sélectionner et intégrer avec succès 25 000 réfugiés syriens.
  • Il se peut que la question ait été formulée en fonction du résultat souhaité, comme dans les énoncés suivants : « intégrer avec succès » ou « […] d’ici la fin de février 2016 ».
  • En affinant l’énoncé de la question, il est possible de clarifier les objectifs et l’élément central sur lequel doit porter la décision.

Il est possible de formuler les décisions selon différents niveaux*

  • J’analyse l’énoncé d’une question en demandant « Pourquoi? » Par le fait même, un énoncé de niveau supérieur se dégage. Par exemple : « Pourquoi admettre 25 000 réfugiés syriens? » renvoie à la question de savoir « Comment contribuer à la solution de la crise causée en Europe par l’exode de Syriens? »
  • Ces deux façons de formuler les questions sont valables, mais celle qui est adoptée dépend du décideur. Il se peut que le ministre de l’Immigration, des Réfugiés et de la Citoyenneté préfère la première, et le ministre d’Affaires mondiales, la seconde.

Prendre soin de ne pas formuler la question à un niveau trop élevé

  • Lorsque vous augmentez le niveau de la formulation, vous finissez par atteindre un point qui dépasse le décideur. Par exemple, la question « Comment arrêter l’afflux de réfugiés dans le monde? » dépasse la compétence d’un seul gouvernement.

Formuler une décision à un niveau trop bas est tout aussi problématique

  • Lorsque vous formulez une question à un niveau trop bas, il se peut que vous deviez faire appel à un décideur dans un secteur qui relève de vous (c.-à-d. délégation à un échelon supérieur).
  • Il est habituellement possible de trouver une formulation de niveau inférieur en posant la question suivante : « Qu’est-ce qui empêche…? » Par exemple, la question « Qu’est-ce qui empêche de réussir l’intégration d’ici février 2016? » pourrait amener à reformuler la question de la manière suivante : « Comment accélérer le délai de traitement des dossiers de réfugiés? »
  • Il est probable que les personnes à qui la gestion des processus a été déléguée soient les mieux placées pour formuler la question.

Évidemment, nous formulons des questions pour chaque niveau de gestion

  • J’ai choisi des exemples qui concernent des décisions stratégiques que doivent prendre les ministres et le Cabinet; toutefois, les principes sur lesquels ces exemples reposent s’appliquent à tous les niveaux de gestion.
  • En conclusion : Il est possible d’améliorer grandement la qualité du processus décisionnel en prenant le temps de formuler les questions et de définir les problèmes avec précision.

*Je remercie André Potworowski qui m’a aidé il y a bien des années à formuler les questions.

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