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Video: Pillars of Federal Government


In this video, Neil Bouwer, Vice-President, Innovation and Skills Development Branch at the Canada School of Public Service, describes a model to understand the different areas of government. This model categorizes them according to the policy objectives they pursue. Public servants will learn a new way to track their work experience and plan their career using this policy objective framework.

Duration: 00:06:10
Published: November 25, 2021
Code: FON1-V14

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Pillars of Federal Government

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Transcript: Pillars of Federal Government

[Neil Bouwer is seated in his home and greets the camera. His title appears on screen (Vice-President, Innovation and Skills Development Branch, Canada School of Public Service).]

Hi, I'm Neil Bouwer. I'm a vice president at the Canada School of Public Service).

One way to think about all the different parts of the Government of Canada is to look at the policy objectives that they pursue. We have many objectives across the Government of Canada, we can generally group them into four different bundles.

[An illustration titled "Government of Canada" appears on screen, with a horizontal and vertical axis. The horizontal axis is labelled "Policy objective".]

First, we have economic objectives, looking to maximize the economic well-being of Canadians. For example, promoting innovation and increasing productivity.

["Economic" is added to the horizontal axis.]

A second bundle is social policy, where we are seeking to maximize the social well-being of Canadians and people.

["Social" is added to the horizontal axis.]

A third bundle is public safety and national security, where we're looking to protect Canadians from external and internal threats.

["Public safety/National security" is added to the horizontal axis.]

And fourthly, we have the global policy domain, where we're looking to maximize Canada's place in the world and contributions of the world.  

["Global/International" is added to the horizontal axis.]

Between these four bundles: economic, social, national security and public safety and international, you cover the waterfront conceptually of the many policy areas for the government. And across a career, many people really try to specialize in one of those policy areas, whereas others tend to be more generalist, moving between them. But we can think of these four different bundles of policy areas as forming one axis of our model of government.

A second axis of this model of government is the business of government itself, and there are different instruments and functions that the government uses.

[The vertical axis is labelled "Policy function".]

So here are a few broad categories that you can use to put this into perspective. The first bundle is that the government deliver services itself.

["Services" is added to the vertical axis.]

For example, it administers student loans, it registers businesses and bankruptcies and things like that. So, we deliver services to individuals and services to businesses.

A second bundle is where the government pays other people to do things. We call these transfer payments or grants and contributions.

["Transfers" is added to the vertical axis, with "G&Cs" underneath.]

These are areas where the government itself doesn't necessarily have the tools at its own disposal. And in these cases, we pay others to advance government objectives.

So we have a bundle of doing things, we have a bundle of paying other people to do things. And then of course, there's the bundle of taxation, this is a very specialized domain.

["Tax" is added next to "G&Cs".]

And the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency implement that policy instrument. Then we have a bundle of forcing people to do things and we call that legislation and regulation.

["Regulation" is added to the vertical axis.]

That's where Parliament sets laws, prohibitions and permissions, gives regulatory authority, and other legal instruments. This is a very powerful policy instrument.

There's another bundle of areas where we use moral suasion. So a good example in this area is science, where government invests in science to help orient and change society.

["Science" is added to the vertical axis.]

But we're not necessarily forcing anyone to act on it, we're just bringing big thoughts to bear and bringing evidence to bear. So these are all bundles of policy instruments for the government that are public-facing.

["Policy" is added to the vertical axis.]

The other area to consider is the bundles that are inside the Government of Canada.

["Corporate services" is added to the vertical axis.]

We have a lot of areas that are not public-facing, that are in fact just part of the machinery of government. So these corporate services include: people management, financial management, procurement, information management and information technology and other corporate enablers. So all of the business areas of government are constantly changing and evolving.

[The illustration is updated into a table chart.]

For example, we've seen the emergence of new policy instruments, like social impact bonds, x prizes, as well as the use of data analytics and artificial intelligence. And in fact, often a person's expertise in the business of government is as valuable as their knowledge of a particular policy area. So in short, if you're thinking about the government, there's a dimension around policy, there's a dimension around the business of government. 

[The horizontal axis for "Policy objective" and the vertical axis for "Policy function" are each highlighted.]

Both are equally dynamic and interesting, we have many that are citizen-facing, and others that are internal to the Government of Canada.

[A series of differently sized rectangles appear on the cart, to represent different departments and where they are positioned on the two axes. A few of these rectangles are highlighted in red, to indicate the shape of a plane.]

So together this makes like a plane of government and as we travel through this plane on our careers, one thing I like to do is to map out on that plane, you know where we've been and where we have lines of sight, literally like a bingo card. So, where have I been on this plane? Well as an example, when I was at FINTRAC, Canada's financial intelligence unit, I was working on public safety and national security as a regulator.

[FINTRAC appears at the nexus of Public safety/National security and Regulation on the table chart.]

So I had my eye on the regulatory function, as well as my eye on public safety and national security policy as a domain, so this gave me a line of sight in each of these dimensions.

[Regulation and Public safety/National security are each highlighted.]

And as I moved around to other areas, I could fill out this diagram and bingo card, which was useful to me because when I was thinking about a change in my career and where I could maximize my learning, I could look at this model to see where I had been and where I was aware of the different policy domains. And I could think about whether or not I wanted to change one dimension or more than one dimension at a time, as I travelled through my career.

So to me, this is meant to open our eyes to the different areas of government. And when we think about departments, departments are usually organized vertically on this model, in the sense that they're organized around policy domain, but cross many different functions.

[The departments that appear vertical on the chart are highlighted: NRCan and ESDC.]

So one department will be in pursuit of a particular policy objective, using different policy instruments are its disposal. Overall, you can start to develop a picture of where you fit in an organization and where others fit, and the kind of conversations you can have with people about the different axes of integration across the government.

[Silhouettes of different people appear across the chart, before the screen fades back to Neil seated in front of the camera.]

I hope that gives a little bit of a picture of government and a kind of framework for thinking about and maybe even for planning one's career, but also just thinking about this model of government. I realize that I'm grossly oversimplifying things here. I know some people will want to add different elements to each of those two dimensions for good reasons, and that's awesome. This is really meant to be a tool to help you to think about government, your place in it and the kind of learning that you can do, across the different policy domains, as well as the different business functions of government. Thank you.

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