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“The Legacy of canada@150”

We recently sat down with canada@150 alumni Mark Matz Executive Director of Oceans Protection Plan Operations at Transport Canada. In the podcast he speaks to his former experience as Privy Council Office’s Project lead of canada@150.

In the podcast he speaks to how canada@150 in its conception back in 2007 was a leadership development program that sought to explore different ways of collaborating, working together and approaching policy problems. In the interview he highlights how canada@150 inspired a technological component to collaboration in the Public Service. He also highlights policy horizon’s instrumental role in piloting foresight as a key tool for policy development.

Transcript available below:

Welcome to Canada Beyond 150’s podcast series. We’re currently here with Mark Matz an Executive Director at Transport Canada.

Why don’t we start off with an introduction?

Hi I am Mark Matz. I am currently the executive director of oceans protection plan operations at Transport Canada. And about 10 years ago I was the project lead for PCO for canada@150

What was the objective was when you first decided to create canada@150?

In its conception back in 2007 was a leadership development program for early career public servants? So really focused on people who had recently joined the public service we had determined a cut off a little arbitrarily but around five years or so in their life as an in determinant.

But some of the things we wanted to test went beyond just leadership development.  We clearly had that aim. But we also wanted to at different ways for collaborating and working together. Technology, ways of thinking, different ways of approaching problems. Trying those out. Exposing this cadre of young public servants, early career, they came of all different age ranges and really it was that they were new to the public service.

We wanted to expose them to different ways of working. They came from across the country. We were adamant that geography should be no a barrier. We wanted a synchronist platform where they could collaborate. And what that means really is that no matter what time zone you’re in the broader community can see the conversations that are going on and could chime into them.

We also had decided that we wanted to build an ability way for people to blog about their experience or anything they were looking at or reading and share that with the community as a bit of a personal space. They had profiles on that as well. So used a platform that back then was called clear space. It looked a lot like GC Connects looks now. It was an open platform where you had profile and you could lots and lots of different things on the space. And groups edited documents in common via wikis. You could upload pictures, you could upload music. Some of it was work and some of it was fun. People could have water cooler discussion. We were able to put in Videos of all the conferences where came together and put those up on the space as well. So that people could look back at their experience. There was a big technological component. There was another area where a policy horizon was really instrumental in piloting different ways of approaching problems and different ways of thinking beyond just the technology. And foresight was one of the key tools that we brought into it.  Using foresight techniques to identify potential future issues. To be identifying some of underlying factors that would influence those issues in the future that might have a policy impact. And then think through what an appropriate policy response might be to that.

Now when you think about the legacy that you would like to have left behind and what you would like to see be carried out what do you envision?

Some of the legacy of canada@150, I think some of it was us achieving our aim. Some of it was things we didn’t anticipate and it became of great benefits. Piloted a bunch of tools. It became more mainstream within the public service. I’d point to GC Connect and other kinds of tools that public servants use a bit more regularly. Probably not as much as we would have thought they would have been adopted 10 years ago. But we’re seeing that more and more there is an interest to finding innovative ways to use technology to overcome things like distance.

Why do you think these collaborative online tools? Or even collaboration offline inter-departmentally. And even foresight. Why do you think these things are important for policy innovation?

I think it’s very easy to fall into a certain way of working that is accepted and generates a certain result. It’s not that way of working is wrong. It’s just that we can miss a lot of things if we don’t take a moment to try a different approach or try different tools. Foresight is a really good example of how you can use a different technique to think about a problem where you thought the underlying issue turns out to not be as important. And there are other factors driving change that you can start to identity. That will have a much greater impact on the ultimate results you’re looking at.

For example if you’re looking at the impact of climate change on migration patterns, and say international peace, stability of states and so on. You start to get a very different picture about some of the forces that might be influencing the problem you’re looking at. If you just looked at a failed state as an issue that leads you down a certain road and you start generate solutions that people already know about. If you start looking at that problem from a broader perspective which is one of the key things that policy horizon brought to the table. You start to understand your problem from a nuanced way and you start applying solutions that get to the underlying issues.

So where were you in your career when you got pulled on to the team to work on canada@150?

I was an analyst at priorities and planning PCO. Plans and Consultative group. Managing cabinet committees, looking at a set of files going up to cabinet. I was pulled into supporting and then ultimately leading the team for PCO that was putting on canada@150.

And if you look back at that experience, what kind of impact did it have on your career in the public service?

There were two key things that I got out of canada@150. One of them was learning. Learning about running a complex initiative that had a lot of different components. That had a professional component. Had an IT component. Learning about how people interact. The different tools we were applying. What were the benefits and draw backs of tools. Different ways of interacting. All of that was really important in learning. And I have used in different contexts.

The other thing I got out of it was a fantastic group of friends many of participants and the people working on the program. The program itself was a bonding experience which has generated lasting relationships which has been a great thing. Ten years’ worth of friendship. Friends that you can call on and talk to.

Canada@150 laid out a vision for the Public Service of 2017. When you look at the Public Service today, based on what was envisioned at Canada@150 has that vision come to life?  

To an extent I think. Our goal was never to write a series of policy prescriptions for either for Canada in 2007 or 2008 or to predict the future of 2017. That was never what we were looking at doing. We were trying to run a development exercise where people would be engaged in these problem and issues. There was no expectation to be creating a policy agenda for Canada or the Public Service.

What we were happy to find was that in the end there was a lot of valuable material that came out of what the groups and participants were doing. There was a lot to think with in the material they had produced.

Looking back, I think a number of the participants as they were going through the foresight exercises and developing policy ideas hit on recurring themes that have stayed with us up until today. Many of it is reflected in Canada Beyond 150. So Open and Transparent Government was a really important theme for a number of participants. Particularly as they were working with a technological tool for all the participants gave them far more transparency into the policy process. They could see what different groups were doing. They could see the different conversations emerging. And dip in and contribute to different papers as they wished. That sense of transparency in the Canada@150 exercise became a really important facet of governance for how they saw the future of the public service. Things like that have played into our dialogue on Open Government, Open Data, Transparent Government. Things that are still being discussed today.

If you could relay wisdom to the cohort that has been selected for Canada Beyond 150 what would that be?

I would say be bold. A lot of my experience in Canada@150 and subsequently in my career is that most of the limitations that people feel are self-imposed. And my advice would be to do what you can to think outside of the box to approach problems in a creative way. And rather than assuming that you can only come to one solutions and that you can only think certain thoughts. Assume the opposite. Dare to think differently. Ultimately if it isn’t fruitful that’s fine you can leave it to the waste side. But the experience of doing those things are core to learning and developing as a policy thinker in Government.

Policy Horizons Canada, also referred to as Horizons, is an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.

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