Episode One: Policy Innovation, meet Track Changes

Ride of the Valkyries

Episode summary: Welcome to Track Changes, season one, episode one, where we introduce ourselves and our show concept, we bring you inside our first long-form story about the Public Health Agency and their evolution in thinking about partnerships, and get a definition of open government.

Music: Journey of the Mandarin

Dan Monafu: You are listening to Track Changes, a new podcast series exploring public sector policy innovation from its many angles: from demystifying new policy instruments, to bringing you examples of innovation that worked and innovation that failed...

Susan Johnston: ...and from chats with previous generations of public service innovators to interviews with current leaders and practitioners from Canada and beyond.

Dan: Episodes are produced and created by an unofficial interdepartmental team of public servants with support from the Innovation Hub at PCO.

Susan: This is our first episode. Welcome.

Dan: My name is Dan Monafu; I’m one of your co-hosts.

Susan: And I’m Susan Johnston, also a host here at Track Changes.

Dan: Here’s what we have in store for you today, on our very first episode.

Susan: We’ll bring you inside one department, the Public Health Agency of Canada, to tell you a story about the changing nature of partnerships.

Dan: In the next segment, we’ll take a concept and ask a knowledgeable person to explain it in 100 seconds or less. In this episode, we’ll hear about open government.

Susan: But first, a note from our sponsors. [pause] I’m kidding, we don’t have sponsors. But we did want to tell you why we’re doing a podcast, what brought it about, and what we hope we can achieve through this project.

Dan: No pressure, Anatole.

Susan: Yes, welcome Anatole Papadopoulos, Executive Director, Policy Innovation at Canadian Heritage and Secretariat to the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation within the Government of Canada — and our main producer for this show. So Anatole, why are we doing this? Why are we talking about policy innovation? Why do we think anybody is going to listen?

Anatole Papadopoulos: So, it started as a bit of a conversation around a specific project, and sharing the lessons from the project, the sharing economy project, that was done for the Deputy Ministers’ committee, and I was chatting with Dan about it, and there’s this broader, of course, you know, narrative around the importance of sharing lessons, in innovation, right? So, sharing successes, failures, what we’ve learned from an experience. The hope is that that if you share, it will get replicated and you’ll get, you know, more innovation essentially, and it will scale up, or across the Public Service. The problem is that there’s also, you will always hear about the level of friction, to those lessons actually going over, especially over organizational kind of boundaries, and how do we sort of share these things you know, around the public service, tell these stories to each other and others. We were kind of chatting about this around this one project and realized that part of the problem is that it’s always text, right? Like we’re always writing a report, or a little note, or a text on a website. At some point, you realize, well you know, why not actually get creative with format, and also some people actually learn better in different ways, right? Some people learn better by listening. So we thought there’s a lot of people listening to podcasts, and podcasts are a way to actually tell a story, right? So it’s kind of telling a story, about policy innovation, about why policy innovation, what is policy innovation? We hope it’s not just federal Public Service listeners, we’re hoping that we will get content that will be of interest outside our walls.

Dan: So this isn't just inside baseball?

Anatole: I hope we don’t treat it as an inside track, I mean I think it is, it is public sector innovation, but we’re actually doing a lot of it with the outside world. Whether you look at partnership approaches, whether you look at open policy-making and more kind of deeper engagement with citizens and stakeholders, it’s actually about not doing policy in an ivory tower anymore, it’s about going out and doing policy with the outside world, not you know, for the outside world or on behalf of the outside world. The other thing that has really struck me is just how amazing the people are who are doing this work: their passion, their dedication to serve, their ingenuity and creativity is what is driving this, you know, this kind of public sector innovation movement. So hearing from these people, for me, is always really energizing -- the sort of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity I’m surrounded by on a regular basis. So I -- I learn something on this job every single day from the people I’m surrounded with, and I think that if we can share some of that more broadly, there’s a lot of power to that.

Dan: Anatole Papadopoulos, thanks for joining us.

Anatole: Thanks, this is going to be fun.

Dan:Through Track Changes, we want to humanize government... to show you the people behind projects and ideas you might not see in the news, and the impact these have on Canadians. We’ll introduce you to public servants, serial entrepreneurs, and their collaborators, inside and outside government.

Susan:Our podcast includes long-form segments to enable us to dig more deeply into some details. We want to tell you stories that, at first glance, can be easily missed; or ones where we can help connect some dots.

Dan:The story today starts with the Canadian federal government. We bring you inside one part of one agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Chronic Disease Prevention and Healthy Living unit, to talk about a group that started to re-examine how it partners and funds other organizations with similar goals.

Susan:This story is part of a larger narrative on how the federal government is shifting from a traditional, direct funder role, giving money to organizations that deliver programs on behalf of the government, to a much broader range of roles: bringing people together, collaborating with nonprofits, private companies and other players, and sometimes simply staying out of the way.

Dan:In this case, these folks did want to have a role - they wanted government to be in the much more messy business of co-creation: building with, not just building for Canadians.

Susan: Okay - let’s set the stage. Our main character is Rodney Ghali, and when we start this story, he’s a recently minted Director General with the Public Health Agency of Canada. Among his duties: get Canadians to exercise more and work to prevent the big chronic diseases, like heart disease or diabetes, in all Canadians.

Dan:This, you might think, is no small task. And the folks from the Public Healthy Agency have given us the stats to back that up.

Susan: Almost 1 in 3 children and youth are overweight or obese. Fewer than 1 in 10 Canadian kids between 5 and 17 are meeting the recommended amount of exercise per day. Around 1 in 6 children report drinking soft drinks, fruit drinks, or sport drinks every day, while only 1 in 4 children get enough sleep each night.

Dan: 2 out of 3 Canadians will die from a chronic disease (so cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases) and 4 of 5 Canadians have at least one chronic disease risk factor they could change.

Susan:Okay. So pretty big challenges, right? As Canadians, we sort of know what we need to do, but things haven’t changed that easily since we’ve realized it. To illustrate that point, we’ll tell you a story.

Dan: In 1974, the then-Minister-of-Health Marc Lalonde, published a landmark report entitled A New Perspective on the Health of Canadians. The report offered a paradigm shift from an illness-focused model to a wellness-focused model in Canada. It recognized the importance of lifestyle and environments as other important influencers of people’s health. It also introduced the concept of health promotion and led to a number of government policies that were focused on lifestyle: for example, seat belt legislation, physical activity, nutrition, and smoking cessation.

Susan:That was over 40 years ago. To put things in perspective, that same year, the table tennis video game Pong was invented, and in 1976 Ottawa the average price of a house was $46,500.

Dan:Since then, things haven’t actually gotten simpler. Over the same time period, significant public health progress has been made on some fronts - like smoking, or infant mortality. Yet, we’ve taken steps back on a number of interrelated chronic conditions linked to our diets, our physical activity levels. And we’ve also become more keenly aware that our systems are interconnected and that many of our interventions have ripple effects in our society.

Susan:Let’s go back to our main narrative, which spans about 5 years. Knowing these challenges, Rodney starts his new job in late 2011.

Rodney Ghali: It was December 2011 that I joined the Agency. So brand new, into the role of a Senior Director, taking on a program area for the first time in my career. So I had spent my entire career basically in strategic policy, came into this program area and at that point and time it was a year after a couple different program areas came together. So a cancer program area, a cardiovascular disease program area, and a diabetes program area. At that point in time it was probably about $12 or so million dollars in annual programmatic funding, and it was a team that wasn’t quite -- it was still distinct teams, it hadn’t all come together.

Dan: It didn’t take him long to realize something didn’t quite feel right.

Rodney: Recognized these programs weren’t, in my view, having any kind of meaningful impact. It was very, sort of, low dollar amounts, stakeholders that had been our stakeholders for years, the projects that they were funding themselves felt very stale. And so, just started thinking: I think there’s probably a different way that we can, sort of, manage this programming.”

Susan: The thing about Rodney is that he really likes talking to people. He’s curious, he enjoys meeting new folks, and seeing what makes them tick. And his default is to invite people to come and talk with him, even if, on the surface, they don’t have much to bring to chronic disease prevention or active living.

Rodney Ghali: And it was interesting ‘cause I think there was a culture of, as people would come in, the natural default was, no, we don’t really want to talk to you guys, cause you’re not sort of, of our traditional base and I kinda just said well, I’m just gonna talk to anyone who comes in who wants to talk to the Government, because that’s what we are here to do. As you start, like, talking to people that you’ve never talked to before, they start naturally bringing in these new ideas that you’ve thought could never actually be applied, sort of, in this space. So that was sort of the, I think, the trajectory that led us to then starting to experiment with some of these partnerships, that started out in theory in a sort of traditional intervention standpoint, but then started morphing into something very different. And the Air Miles/YMCA, was the very first sort of new intervention model that we started that completely catalyzed, I think, the work in a whole bunch of different areas.

Dan: This was one of Rodney’s first partnerships: with Air Miles for Social Change and the YMCA. For our international listeners, Air Miles is a reward or points program that’s very popular in Canada. And the YMCA is a community organization with gyms all over the country.
Through the partnership, YMCA members received an incentive, in the form of Air Miles points, if they increased the number of times they went to the gym.

Susan:This works particularly well in Canada, as Canadians love their points; the average Canadian is a member of around eight rewards programs.

Dan:Research showed that individuals need help to be active and to continue to be active. At around the 3-6 months mark, a 20% drop occurs because of lack of motivation and not reaching goals. Using the gym more, the theory goes, can lead to increased “stickiness” and retention, which increases the likelihood of engagement. The group of partners wondered if incentives could help with this.

Susan:The answer was a resounding yes. With the points incentive, year over year comparisons showed that 62% of YMCA members went to the gym one or more times compared to the same time last year. Since the program started, more than 98,000 Canadians have signed up. The original target was 25,000. So the program motivated Canadians to be active. In a program survey, about half (or 49%) of participants who were YMCA members said the partnership with Air Miles encouraged them to hit the gym more often.

Dan: But that’s not the end of the story. Rodney’s group continued to look for ways to initiate new and interesting partnership models. And they became more and more ambitious in proving concepts for various new approaches to partnerships. The thing about success in an organization is that the ripple effects keep on coming. And people trust you more, and give you more leeway to try new things. Here’s Rodney again.

Rodney:Once you start going down this road, it is so interesting to see people continuing to think about new ideas and then continuing -- starting, like, to push boundaries. And so the Play Exchange was grounded in a partnership model, had nothing to do necessarily with leveraging of funds to develop an intervention, it had something to do with, I guess, innovative ideas, but what we really wanted to test was this notion of public engagement, and could you engage Canadians in a very different way?

Susan:Here’s how the Play Exchange worked. Canadians were invited to submit ideas for how we can be more physically active. The group selected Canadian judges, who reviewed all submissions and picked the top ideas. Business and community leaders worked with the “innovators” to help develop their ideas and project proposals. The top six ideas received business mentorship and were showcased on national television in January 2015. Canadians from across the country had the chance to vote for what they thought was the best idea.
The winner received $1 million dollars to launch their project. At the centre of the success of the Play Exchange was the unique collaboration among the diverse group of partners - Canadian Tire, LIFT Philanthropy, the CBC and the Public Health Agency of Canada - with each bringing specific skills and expertise required for this project to take place. And it was the Public Health Agency of Canada that brokered these relationships, which made the Play Exchange a reality.

Dan:This allowed Canadians to direct the use of taxpayer dollars using an approach that united problems with problem-solvers. It also provided this container space to spark collaboration among investors, innovators, and citizen change-makers to address a complex social problem.
And it was the government recognizing publicly that it did not have all the answers. Turns out experimenting with new things often leads to unexpected effects.

Rodney: Great story coming out of it was the runner up which was out of the National Ballet School. For the last year, we have been working with them to further develop their business plan to bring new partners online.

Dan: We wanted to hear from the other sides of this story. So we tracked down the the CEO of Carrot Insights, who is also the former President of Air Miles for Social Change, Andreas Souvaliotis.

Susan: Andreas, tell us a bit about your experience with Rodney and his group, and how you managed to bridge the gaps in cultures. We always hear that the public and private sectors are two different universes.

Andreas Souvaliotis: I come from the world, you know, the classic private sector world, that’s filled with public sector paranoia. You think that the public sector is this very unapproachable, monolithic, large entity out there that we, we private sector people cannot do business with.
My theory was proven wrong by people like Rodney and his department. We initially dealt with him accidentally, through a specific program that we executed several years ago, and the entire cultural risk perception that some of us in the private world have about public, was gradually torn to shreds through working together. We found, first of all, we created very, very complex partnerships that didn’t just involve one public sector department and one private sector company. So it actually couldn’t have become more complicated, and one would think that that level of complexity would be fraught with all kinds of cultural barriers -- and the truth was, it was exactly the opposite. Once you brought people together and aligned behind a specific purpose, that made sense for everybody, that resonated with everybody, it was easy to find common ground.

Dan: But we didn’t want to stop here. From an organizational perspective, it’s good that people and the various partners got along, but we wanted to talk to the project people -- did they see a difference in approach? Did they notice this was their government doing things differently?
Remember the National Ballet School proposal, which Rodney mentioned? We tracked down the folks who submitted the Play Exchange application to understand a bit more about the process from their point of view.

John Dalrymple: So my name is John Dalrymple, and I am the Chief of External Affairs at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Susan:Thanks for chatting with us. Tell us, what was your experience working on the Play Exchange?

John: For us it was at a really important time in the School’s evolution. We’re known all over the world for the calibre of our professional ballet training, but we also have community-facing programs that have become an increasing priority for the School, in a way of sharing the health benefits, both physical and mental, with the wider community, in a way that, regardless of your ability, or aspiration, you can bring dance into your life and create a real positive change. It was really refreshing to work with a government agency in this way. Especially once we were named as one of the finalists, we had the opportunity to have our program shaped in some way through the process, so it wasn’t a matter of simply applying for a grant and hoping you’d got it all correct, but there was an actual opportunity to understand what the priorities of the Agency were and how our projects could, you know, be positioned, or evolve to really meet those targets. And certainly, now that our, we did not win the Play Exchange, but it opened the door to very fruitful conversations with the Public Health Agency afterwards.

Susan: Thank you so very much.

Dan:So what’s been the outcome of this story? We wish we had a nice bow to wrap this story with, to tell you that as a result of these programs, we’ve noticed a significant increase in Canadians’ levels of physical activity, that people are eating better, taking better care of themselves, and in the process, chronic disease rates are falling. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know -- especially right away. It might take decades to find out whether kids who participated in a walk-to-school program together have, you know, X or Y rates of diabetes or cancer, and then you run into attribution, causality, and other things that basically say: “can you prove to us that your program really did that?” But more on evaluation, and evaluation for policy innovation specifically, on a different episode.

Susan: What we can tell you is that partnerships let the government make an impact that it couldn’t have otherwise made. They surface new ideas and tools, often from people on the ground who are most connected to the problems we’re trying to solve. They bring money and other resources to the table, so that the government and its partners can share the burden and distribute risks. And they can break problems into pieces and let everyone tackle what they’re best at. Each partner gets to bring their strengths and best assets to the table. That’s the power of working with others to solve policy problems.

Dan: Today’s episode focused on just one Director General, and one team, but good ideas and successful projects create ripple effects and go viral, replicating and scaling up. In a bureaucratic system, anything that creates positive precedents is absolutely invaluable.

Susan:Lastly, for many of the projects we’ll showcase, this will be the first time they’ve been discussed outside of formal government or partner announcements. This is our humble attempt at making government more human, and sharing the stories behind the press releases and program funds. Stay with us.

Dan: Up next, we’ll bring you another segment we’re excited to introduce called TL;DR. That’s the Internet slang for “too long, didn't read”. We ask a guest to explain a policy innovation concept in 100 seconds or less.

Susan: Laura, thanks for joining us. Laura Wesley works in the Privy Council Office, as the Executive Director, Consultations & Public Engagement. Welcome to our show.

Dan: So, what is open policy making? You have 100 seconds. Go!

Laura Wesley: In my experience, open policy making is a broad term that people are using to describe many methods that make up engagement. And so how do we engage people across many different sectors, functions, and disciplines, in order to achieve societal outcomes? So I think the main idea underpinning open policy making is just using new ways of engaging the public to solve problems together. So some of the ways that we might think about doing that are participatory budgeting, multi-stakeholder roundtables, citizen foresight, different kinds of workshops and ways of being involved in different elements of the problem to co-create or crowdsource potential solutions. Those are methods that we use in order to engage in a meaningful way. However, I think there are also a lot of different components or terms that people are using to represent similar ideas. And those can be anything from policy innovation and social innovation, to open dialogue and open government or open governments.

Susan: Thanks for that, Laura. If you want to know more about Laura and her work, you can find her on Twitter @resultsjunkie. Thanks again, Laura, for taking time out of your week to speak to us.

Dan: You’re listening to Track Changes. A new podcast series exploring public sector policy innovation. We’re based in Canada, specifically within the federal Public Service, but we hope this show will resonate with folks in many fields and in many countries.

Susan: Absolutely. From those of us within the public service, Canadian citizens, to those with specific interests in design, the tech sector, civic innovation, social entrepreneurship, open data, big data - we’re all in the same tent. We might use different words to describe our work, but this is one movement, one that tries to do things better for our citizens using the best tools out there, and we’re excited to be a part of it.

Dan: Well, there you have it. This was our first show. Tell us what you thought about Track Changes. We’re on twitter at @trackchangespod, and you can find me, Dan Monafu, at @danutfm

Susan: And me, Susan Johnston @studio1402. We’d want to thank the PCO Innovation Hub for their support, our team of producers on Twitter as @anatolep and @nisamalli, as well as the Communications team within PCO - many thanks for your help. Thanks also to our guests on our show today, Rodney Ghali and Laura Wesley, as well as Anatole for explaining what we’re about, and you, our public service friends and community of policy innovators. We’re proud to be a part of this community of wonderful people.

Dan: We’ll see you again in about a month’s time. Check back on iTunes, soundcloud, the PCO Innovation Hub’s website, and follow us on Twitter to make sure you get our latest episodes. Until then, we leave you with our full theme song soundtrack, written for our show by friend of the podcast Mark Matz. Mark is a policy director in cyber security at Public Safety by day and a pretty impressive musician by night.

Susan: Here’s his piece, Journey of the Mandarin.

Related Links

The evolution of partnerships segment

Open government definition segment