Canada Beyond 150: The Program

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Canada Beyond 150: Policy for a diverse and inclusive future convened a Canada-wide group of federal public servants working in various capacities to participate in a ten-month program designed to support leadership and skills development, as well as drive culture shift across the public service. The main objectives of the program included:

  • Leadership development for a diverse cohort of public servants;
  • Experimentation with new methods in open policy, to build the required skills and encourage a culture shift to a more open, innovative, collaborative public service; and
  • Engaging external partners in the development of longer-term analyses and innovative ideas to inform future policy making.

Five Program Themes

Under the lens of diversity and inclusion, participants were invited to address complex policy challenges under the following themes:

  • Feminist Government
  • Open and Transparent Government
  • Reconciliation
  • Socio-Economic Inclusion
  • Sustainable Development Goals

Participants explored how these issues may evolve over the next 10–15 years, how the Government of Canada could prepare for these changes. Policy Horizons trained participants to use innovative policy tools and methods that allowed them to develop insights on each of these themes, and propose policy interventions.

People and Roles

The Privy Council Office (PCO) and Policy Horizons Canada (Horizons) delivered the program. Many federal organizations supported the program by sponsoring participants, sharing expertise, and offering guidance from senior executives.


Canada Beyond 150 participants were selected from 671 applicants from across the country, from a variety of occupational roles and federal departments and agencies. Selection criteria included leadership and initiative, teamwork abilities, policy aptitude and potential contribution to the program. The program was open to early-career public servants who were permanent employees of the federal public service for fewer than five years.

Ultimately, 86 early-career public servants accepted an invitation to participate. They came from a range of backgrounds and represented 30 federal departments and agencies. A quarter of the participants came from outside the National Capital Region. By design, the cohort exceeded the public service’s figures for representation of women (50 participants), visible minorities (23 participants), Indigenous Peoples (7 participants) and people with disabilities (5 participants).

Program Coordination

The Canada Beyond 150 coordinating team included staff from Horizons and PCO’s Priorities and Planning, and Communications and Consultations secretariats. The team was responsible for the design and management of the program, as well as day-to-day operations.

Experienced analysts and facilitators from Horizons helped guide the teams working under each theme. The primary role of these “enablers” was to provide guidance and advice to participants about the process, tools and methods, as well as to help manage timelines and products. The enablers served as a resource to help groups meet their goals, rather than as a project authority.

Participants also received support from internal and external experts. These included subject matter experts from a number of fields within the Government of Canada; external partners who worked in relevant areas; and alumni from canada@150, which was a precursor program to Canada Beyond 150 conducted in 2007–2008.


Two Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) co-chairs provided oversight, guidance and support on Canada Beyond 150: Isabelle Mondou, Assistant Secretary of Priorities and Planning at the Privy Council Office, and James Gilbert, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Public Affairs and Stakeholder Relations Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada (former Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for Policy Horizons Canada). They also led an ADM Steering Committee, which included representatives from departments responsible for the program’s five major themes, as well as one of the Deputy Minister Champions from the original canada@150 program.

The ADMs also acted as a sounding board during the development of participant teams’ policy interventions. Given the thematic linkages,
the program established relationships with the co-chairs of the Deputy Minister Task Force on Diversity and Inclusiveness, who also participated in the opening and final events.

What we did

The Toolkit

Canada Beyond 150 experimented with a range of tools and methods to help inform policy analysis and development. These included foresight analysis, design thinking, and engagement.

Strategic foresight helps us understand which forces shape a system, how the system could evolve, and what challenges, opportunities and surprises could emerge. This systematic process surfaces and tests assumptions and mental models about an issue, and uses our capacity to simulate and visualize how it could evolve. Participants developed system maps to better understand their theme, then scanned for weak signals of change taking shape in their respective domains. They used the insights gained from scanning to develop a range of plausible future scenarios and identify potential challenges and opportunities.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving that uses qualitative and quantitative research techniques to gain insights into people’s lives and contextual understanding of an issue. It involves a five-stage approach: empathizing with users, clearly defining or reframing the issue, coming up with ideas, creating prototypes, and then testing them. Participants carried out the first three stages within the timeframe provided. They used a range of techniques such as cultural probes, intercept interviews of people on the street, experiential activities to empathize with stakeholders, and developed interactive outreach tools. They also participated in engagement and co-creation sessions to help define the problem and come up with ideas to address the issues.

Engagement with a diverse spectrum of partners and stakeholders was a cornerstone of the program. The aim was to better understand the context of the five themes, as well as identify policy challenges relevant to the people interested in or affected by them—particularly those who are not typically engaged by government. Participants developed stakeholder maps to explore who would affect the system and who would be affected by the changes they had identified. They contacted identified groups, which included experts working in the field as well as people who provided insight based on their lived experience of the issue, to hear their diverse perspectives. During their discussions, they explored plausible futures, identified potential policy challenges, and developed policy proposals.

What are …

System maps are visual representations of the components of a system and their interrelationships. They allow a group to share their mental models, uncover their assumptions, and test shared analysis of how a system may evolve.

Weak signals are signs that a disruptive change could be underway, and include a preliminary assessment of implications for the system under study.

Cultural probes are an alternative way of collecting information to better understand people. They use a variety of tools (e.g., journals and cameras that help a person record their thoughts and experiences), artifacts (such as mementos from their childhood), or tasks (like writing, drawing or creating something that expresses how they feel at the moment about an issue) to help uncover implicit assumptions or perspectives on an issue area.

Intercept interviews are short dialogues designed around a series usually done in public settings as a spontaneous encounter with people likely to have a stake in a given issue.

Canada Beyond 150 was a platform to explore how these tools could contribute to more robust policy analysis and proposals through longer-term thinking, open policymaking, and user-centric design.

Curriculum: Teaching the Toolkit

The curriculum involved both online and in-person workshops. Participants attended three multi-day working meetings—at the program launch
in June 2017 (Ottawa), at the midpoint in November 2017 (Winnipeg), and at the conclusion of the program in March 2018 (Ottawa). At
the launch meeting, participants received an introduction to the program, themes and methods, and formed working teams by selecting among the five major program themes. At the mid-point, teams reported on their foresight analysis to a diverse group of local stakeholders in Winnipeg.This was a pivotal point in the program, as participants moved from scanning and foresight to policy analysis and development. The final meeting allowed participants to share what they had learned over the course of the last 10 months. The teams presented their experience and policy proposals to colleagues, managers, stakeholders, partners, and senior public servants.

While the overall arc of the program was established before its launch, the Canada Beyond 150 curriculum was designed to adapt and respond to participants. Evaluations were conducted after each workshop to account for the teams’ experiences and adjust the program as needed.

Technology to Support Collaboration

The Canada Beyond 150 program team expected participants to use a mix of tools to collaborate online, including government tools such as GCcollab, which is accessible to partners and stakeholders outside government. However, participants mainly chose to use cloud-based third-party platforms like Google Docs, Hangouts, and Drive to collaborate, as they found these to be easier to use. The program team built a custom website within Google for participants to organize their work. Some participants also used online tools such as Slack, and Mind42 to organize their work, collaborate and brainstorm ideas. Most of the online collaboration with external partners also used third party applications and platforms because they are tools that the partners are already using.

Diversity and Inclusion within the Program

Support for increasing knowledge on Indigenous issues and enhancing cultural competency

Reconciliation was one of the five Canada Beyond 150 themes. As such, Indigenous perspectives were an important element of all three of the in-person meetings, including a keynote by Senator Murray Sinclair at the final meeting. An Elder and an Elder-in-training provided support to the participants during the second half of the program. While the Elder worked most closely with the Reconciliation team, she also offered guidance and perspective to the program coordination team and supporting staff members.

The program team wanted to advance the Government’s commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #57 about public service training. Both the participants and the officials supporting the program participated in this professional development, including a joint presentation on the legacy of residential schools by an Elder and an official who supported the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The professional development also included a blanket exercise—an interactive teaching tool designed to share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Official languages

Recognizing the importance of offering the program equitably in both official languages, the program team engaged in targeted outreach
to offices that had high proportions of francophone federal employees. But both the application rate and subsequent representation of francophones in the program were low compared to the proportion of francophones in the federal public service.

In an effort to provide equivalent experiences to anglophones and francophones in simultaneous sessions, workshop presentations were delivered in each official language. But this meant that francophone participants who attended the French-only presentations missed out on the interactions that took place in the larger English-speaking group. For the last workshop, the program team presented an integrated English and French session for in-person participants.

Accommodation of visually impaired participant

One of the participants self-identified as visually impaired. The team met with him and Employment and Social Development Canada’s Office of Disability Issues to learn how to make the program inclusive and benefit from his participation. As a result, the program team made adjustments, like converting workshop materials into an accessible format, and scheduling longer breaks to meet his needs. The team regularly touched base with the participant to get his feedback, make adjustments as necessary, and develop further solutions.

Managing meaningful regional participation

Approximately 25 percent of Canada Beyond 150 participants live and work outside of the National Capital Region. Throughout the program, these participants would meet and collaborate online using various platforms, by video or teleconference, or through telepresence robots. Enablers used facilitation skills to ensure regional participants were heard (see our best practices for remote participation). In an effort to provide an equal workshop experience for everyone, the program team organized an online-only workshop. Although participants in the National Capital Region (NCR) found this experience difficult, regional participants found it to be one of the most effective. It also gave NCR
participants a sense of the challenges that regional public servants face on a daily basis. Still, technology can only do so much to bridge regional divides. Technical limitations sometimes made equal regional participation difficult, and participants reported in discussions and their regular evaluations that in-person working sessions were the most productive.

Opening the program beyond the participants

To open the program to the policy community, Canada Beyond 150 learning resources were shared on a website as they were finalized, and promoted on social media. The website also featured blog posts written by participants, partners, and the program team on various
elements of their experience with the program. Through a partnership with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the program also published a series of articles on Canada Beyond 150 with the Policy Options online magazine.

Social media use in the program

The program team envisioned that social media would help amplify participants’ experiences, learnings, and analysis. They anticipated that participants would make heavy use of social channels to these ends. Except for an initial burst of social media activity, participant engagement online decreased significantly throughout the program. Policy Horizons’ Communications team offered workshops to provide
guidance on the personal and professional use of social media. Here are some of the participants’ comments:

  • Some participants were hesitant to use social media to discuss “work in progress,” as they preferred sharing information about final results and outcomes.
  • Others pointed to the lack of support or understanding of social media channels, benefits, and restrictions for public servants from their supervisors.
  • Inconsistent policies on and access to social media continues to be a challenge for participants.