Sessions Reflections from the 2018 Policy Community Conference

The 2018 Policy Community Conference

At one point during the excellent second annual Policy Community Conference, I jokingly mentioned to Steph Percival that she and her partners made the concurrent session selections very difficult.

Me: “It’s like being at a music festival and having two of your favourite bands playing at the same time on different stages. How do you choose?”

Steph: “Tweet that!”

I didn’t get around to tweeting it, but here it is in a post. Congrats again to everyone at the Policy Community Partnerships Office, the partners, speakers, enablers, and participants for making it an amazing experience. The tough choices are an indicator of success.

One of my choices was to attend the Public Engagement within the Policy Lifecycle workshop facilitated by Laura Wesley and her helpful crew.

We were provided with a fictitious policy scenario and worked in teams to reflect on and learn how to design engagement approaches based on:

  • People — we examined who has a stake in the issue, who has influence, and who is affected.
  • Context — we looked at each stakeholder’s awareness of the issue, their relationship with government, and their level of confidence in the system; and,
  • Goals — we identified and prioritized our public engagement goals, considering the people and the context we mapped out.

Then we considered and selected our public engagement methods. We had lots to choose from, including online forums, deliberative dialogue, round tables, and so many more. We could adapt and use them in conjunction with each other over our scenario’s life cycle depending on what we felt was needed and could feasibly do.

We didn’t discuss tools. While relevant, we worked on our critical thinking and sense-making skills to understand context, people and purpose, and aligning engagement methods accordingly.

It follows though that if particular methods were chosen, there are tools that could be considered to help put them into practice. Slido, GCCollab and Twitter are tools that were part of the Policy Community Conference engagement experience, for example.

My takeaway #1: Spend the time upfront to understand and clarify why we’re engaging the public, who we’re engaging, and the context we’re wading into. Select engagement methods accordingly informed by that understanding.

We had a good discussion at the How Might We…Develop Policy in a Digital World session that included Deepika Grover and Cedric Jean Marie sharing their use of Polis and lessons learned. This session was more tool-oriented, but not tool-driven…if you know what I mean.

After hearing about the Polis example, we worked with our tablemates to identify principles, considerations, and takeaways for the effective use of digital tools in policy shaping and delivery. Here too, understanding purpose, people and context were important. The Polis example got us thinking differently about how we can meaningfully engage people in inclusive ways and use tools to their fullest potential.

I captured some of our table’s discussion as it happened…

My takeaway #2: Digital tools don’t make on-line experiences inclusive, respectful and meaningful. People do.

Beatrice Andrews (remotely!) from the UK Policy Lab and Aleeya Velji (in-person!) guided us through the User-Designed Policy workshop. This one also included a scenario and got us focused on the users of social services, their life and service experiences, and ways to identify intervention points to address needs using design tools, like personas and journey maps.

We were tight on time, so the room opted to open the floor for some Qs & As, but next steps would have been to work as a team to formulate a challenge statement informed by our understanding of experiences and needs (e.g. how might we…?) and then brainstorm LOTS of ideas to address it.

The UK Policy Lab exercise includes questions to prompt critical and creative thinking to address a challenge, like:

  • What would a teenager do?
  • What would a scientist do?
  • What would uber do?

Following that we would have clustered ideas into themes, analyzed them, and selected a few promising ones to sketch out (i.e. prototype) and test to continue learning what works and why as a means of improving experiences and outcomes vis-à-vis our core design challenge.

My takeaway #3: We can’t be citizen or user centred from a distance. Our assumptions about what we think users need and that underpin our policies, services and tools are learning and innovation opportunities if we’re open to surfacing and testing them in rigorous, analytical and creative ways.

At the How Might We…Co-create Policy session facilitated by ESDC Innovation Lab’s Colleen Tiernan and Derek Alton from the TBS GCTools team, we learned about co-creation as a way to create policy directly with the people that it impacts, and how bringing users into policy creation can be a catalyst for policy and government innovation. This one was method-focused (co-creation) with a plug for collaboration tools at the end by Chris Allison (e.g github, GCCollab). Check out Nathalie Frank’s lightening talk on co-creation for an intro:

The session’s user-centred format was a nice touch. Participants were invited to sit at a table corresponding with their level of experience. The questions were tailored accordingly and after reflecting and discussing at our tables we shared insights for everyone’s benefit in plenary.

During our table’s discussion, someone shared a co-creation example, and I blurted out, “is that really an example of co-creation?” It was a well-intended question (says me), but I realized as quickly as the words left my mouth that there was a more positive way of making the point I was trying to make while learning from and building on the experience the person shared. We can can co-create shared understanding and meaning…

My takeaway #4: Co-creation is a two-way relationship where control of framing challenges, defining priorities, and making decisions is shared. We can practice it at different scales, within our teams, organizations and beyond, including with citizens and stakeholders…and even at the table during a policy conference.

“Don’t bring policy and delivery closer together, make them the same thing.” — James Reeve

I took in the How Might We...Work as One Team Across the Policy Ecosystem led by Nick Scott and Sarah Leblanc with a guest appearance by Kit Collingwood, who gave us a sneak peak of her compelling One Team Gov story that wrapped up the Conference and led to this:

Kit introduced One Team Gov principles and invited participants to discuss and share examples of one or more of them in practice:

  1. Work in the open and positively;
  2. Take practical action;
  3. Experiment and iterate;
  4. Be diverse and inclusive;
  5. Care deeply about citizens;
  6. Work across borders; and
  7. Embrace technology.

I love principles as a way of introducing how we want to work, engaging people to reflect on them and share real-life examples drawn from their own knowledge, experiences and contexts. It can help us build shared understanding, internalize, and demonstrate desired ways of working in action, which we can then build from and amplify.

Descriptions of principles can help frame what we’re talking about and it’s even better when they’re written in a way that resonate with people with relative ease. The One Team Gov principles are strong on that front, and as Kit explained, they’re not written in stone.

And while it was cool to share and hear about larger scale initiatives that demonstrate some or all of the principles in practice, the One Team session also served as a reminder that micro actions that put a principle into practice at a personal or smaller scale can be just as courageous, liberating and powerful.

My takeaway #5: Policy isn’t just about what we do, it’s about how we do it. We can plant and grow seeds of change by starting small and where we’re at, individually and collectively.

Finally, I capped off my Policy Community Conference concurrent session experience at the Canada Beyond 150 insight gallery, where I learned about the rich insights and policy ideas that came out of the 10-month professional development program. The project focused on five thematic areas, and there was a similar emphasis on how we engage, listen and make sense of diverse perspectives to design policies with citizens and stakeholders as opposed to for them from a distance.

“Canada Beyond 150: Policy for a Diverse and Inclusive Future is…designed around the principle that a consciously diverse and inclusive approach to policy development will enable better and more innovative methods, generate stronger analyses, and yield better outcomes and greater prosperity for all Canadians.” — Isabelle Mondou and James Gilbert in Policy thinking beyond Canada’s 150th.

The wrap-up of Canada Beyond 150 coincided with the Policy Community Conference and a special Policy Ignite on inclusion, which made for an action-packed week of inspiration, learning, and practice.

My takeaway #6: Let’s be open and resilient to change by practicing inclusive, emergent and iterative ways of working with others to make Canada and the world a better place, now and for future generations.

For info on the Policy Community Conference concurrent sessions, including workshop materials, check out the Conference-in-a-Box and Brian Double’s post for a behind the scenes take.