Yakabuski: Trudeau government’s deliverology experiment ends with a whimper

While all governments have both bureaucratic and political level tracking systems, deliverology being just one approach, the success or failure is often determined more on the lower priority files than the high profile screwups that Yakabuski highlights.

And execution has been the Achilles heel of many governments:

One of the great ironies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is that it has proved so ineffective in the one area where it so emphatically promised to outdo its predecessors.

It was always presumptuous on the part of Mr. Trudeau and his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to suggest they would run a more effective government than any of those that came before them. But by dropping the ball so spectacularly on so many key files, Mr. Trudeau’s Prime Minister’s Office set itself up for the failure that has now befallen it.

There were self-satisfied chuckles of schadenfreude across the civil service this week as Mr. Trudeau announced the departure of Matthew Mendelsohn as the deputy secretary to the federal cabinet heading up the government’s “results and delivery” unit. With Mr. Mendelsohn’s return to academia, the Trudeau government’s much-hyped experiment in “deliverology” has ended in a whimper.

Mr. Trudeau thanked Mr. Mendelsohn for his “service to Canadians,” but cited not a single accomplishment made by the results and delivery unit that he and Mr. Butts had so championed. Nor did he name an immediate successor to Mr. Mendelsohn, a top official in former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty’s government who is joining Ryerson University in Toronto.

Mr. Mendelsohn, in Twitter posts, tried to put a positive spin on his tenure, insisting that the “new governance, processes and routines we established helped the government overcome implementation obstacles and hit most of the key targets it identified four years ago.”

Still, the Prime Minister’s silence on the successes (or lack thereof) of the unit Mr. Mendelsohn headed contrasted sharply with the hubris that spewed out of the Butts-led PMO in 2015, which promised to revolutionize policy making and implementation in the federal capital.

Mr. Trudeau’s government spent at least $200,000 to pick the brain of Sir Michael Barber, flying the British consultant and “deliverology” guru to cabinet retreats at resorts in New Brunswick, Alberta and Ontario. Sir Michael was handed a mandate from the Privy Council Office to “provide ongoing information, recommendations and advice on a tailored program to guide departments to meet commitments and deliver on priorities.”

Unfortunately, Sir Michael’s services did not come with a money-back guarantee. And in the end, they may have bought only grief for Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Butts, who resigned last year in the wake of the scandal involving alleged pressure from the PMO on former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.

To anyone who has worked in government, the whole concept of “deliverology” smacked of warmed-over administration theory repackaged by former bureaucrats-turned-consultants seeking to monetize their insider knowledge of the public service. And career bureaucrats do not take kindly to know-it-all political appointees telling them how to do their jobs.

The Trudeau PMO “imposed another layer of administration on some public servants. Their departments had been abiding by evaluation and performance policies for more than 40 years,” former Ottawa Citizen reporter Kathryn May wrote last year in Policy Options. “With deliverology, the public service still did all that work, and now they also had to report the progress on all the government’s goals to a ‘delivery unit,’ which, along with ministers and the Prime Minister, monitored and tracked these priorities.”

The Trudeau PMO has never seemed clear on its own priorities. So how could it expect the senior bureaucracy to be clear on them? At both the micro-policy level (electoral reform, balancing the budget by 2019) and macro-policy level (reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, supporting economic growth while fighting climate change), the Trudeau government has continually sent mixed signals to the bureaucracy about how seriously it takes its own promises.

When it has sprung into action, the Trudeau PMO has typically made a mess of it. The SNC-Lavalin affair, which started out with a straightforward move to bring Canadian law on deferred prosecution agreements in line with that of other developed countries, nearly destroyed Mr. Trudeau’s government all because the PMO failed to abide by its own deliverology credo.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the Trudeau government’s most notable successes – the implementation of the Canada Child Benefit and medical aid in dying, and the negotiation of new health-care funding agreements with the provinces – were overseen by low-key ministers who kept their eyes on the ball rather than their Twitter feeds. Social Development Minister Jean- Yves Duclos and Jane Philpott, Mr. Trudeau’s first health minister, were focused on results, not retweets.

Overall, however, execution has proved to be the Achilles heel of this government. It has proved inept at buying fighter planes or fixing the Phoenix pay system. It promised a bigger role for Canada in global affairs but has earned a reputation abroad for being fickle and stingy. The Canada Infrastructure Bank extends its record for overpromising and underdelivering.

Indeed, the scariest words in Canadian English may have become: “I’m from the Trudeau government, and I’m here to help.”

Source: Trudeau government’s deliverology experiment ends with a whimper

What ever happened to deliverology?

Good article by Kathryn May. May reflect in part an excessive number of commitments in the 2015 election platform as the critical voices cited have suggested. Agree that the release of Ministerial mandate letters may be the most significant achievement but paring down of the number of priorities would have liked improved implementation:

Mention “deliverology” to a public servant working on the policy frontlines, and you’ll get either a shrug or a grumble. The trendy management theory that took the federal bureaucracy by storm three years ago has struggled to live up to the initial hype.

Still, the person responsible for the public management approach believes it is changing the way policy is implemented in Canada.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power in 2015 hailing the governing theories of British political adviser Sir Michael Barber. Barber’s principles on how to achieve results on promised actions had been pioneered in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government 15 years earlier, with the establishment of the important “delivery unit” in the prime minister’s office. The approach became known as deliverology; its goal was to get ministers and public servants to keep a laser-like focus on the government’s priorities and deliver what was promised to voters.

Trudeau invited Barber to three cabinet retreats. He also visited Ottawa, where copies of his presentation to cabinet circulated around departments and were devoured by bureaucrats wanting to see what deliverology was all about. They bought Barber’s book, How to Run a Government: So that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy, and signed up for courses on the essentials that popped up around town.

In Canada, the Results and Delivery Unit was created, to be housed in Canada’s Privy Council Office (PCO).  Matthew Mendelsohn, a former Ontario deputy minister and think tank founder, became the new deputy minister who would head the office. Departments appointed “delivery officers,” and a cabinet committee was created — headed by Trudeau himself — to monitor the results.

The buzz fades

Fast forward to 2019, and the buzz has faded out to a murmur. In conversations with senior bureaucrats, management consultants, politicians, and other public administration watchers – none of whom would go on the record criticizing the government’s efforts – the word is they barely hear about deliverology anymore.

“It was such a big deal at the beginning, but it drifted. It’s just not top-of-mind now; no one talks about it anymore. They laugh about it,” said one long-time senior bureaucrat.

“There was all this anxiety and disruption over what it meant. Departments were busy setting up delivery officers and delivery units,” said public management consultant Mark Schacter.

“New performance measures had to be developed and approved. Everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. Then the wave of activity passed and things seemed to be back to business as usual.”

Another senior bureaucrat shrugged. “Is deliverology still a thing? I know the office is still there, but no one talks about it.”

The new approach imposed another layer of administration on some public servants. Their departments had been abiding by evaluation and performance policies for more than 40 years. They were already obliged to report findings to the Treasury Board Secretariat. With deliverology, the public service still did all that work, and now they also had to report the progress on all the government’s goals to a “delivery unit,” which, along with ministers and the prime minister, monitored and tracked these priorities.

Other public servants grumbled that all the resources and attention had gone to bureaucrats working on priorities, at the expense of other day-to-day operations.

Deliverology’s chief steward in Ottawa

Was the approach a total failure?

In a recent interview, Mendelsohn insisted the version adapted in this country works, and much of the criticism is misguided because Canada “never intended to do deliverology from A to Z as articulated in Barber’s book.”

He said the federal government borrowed four core principles from the UK model: to focus on policy implementation, establish routines around all aspects of the delivery process, identify obstacles to progress and remove them, and report publicly on progress in reaching the promised results.

When measured against those standards, Mendelsohn said, the system is working. He argued that the big “unappreciated” shift has been a culture change in the public service. Public servants are now trained to think about results and how to measure them at the front end of policy development, before proposals are ever brought to cabinet.

He said that shift is now baked into all reporting ─ including memoranda ─ to cabinet. The expected outcomes of a new policy or program, how they will be measured and tracked, must be incorporated.

“What we have done is we have brought greater focus on implementation into the initial policy-making choices, so cabinet and ministers are thinking about implementation, project management and delivery at the very beginning,” he said.

The idea behind deliverology was to bring a discipline into management and bridge a longstanding gap between policy-making and implementation, said Independent Senator Tony Dean, a former cabinet secretary in Ontario who helped create a delivery unit for Dalton McGuinty’s government.

For years, governments made big policy and project announcements, turned them over to the public service for implementation, and failed to deliver what was promised. Months could go by between an announcement and implementation, and ministers were not involved unless something went wrong.

The failure of the Phoenix pay system represented a cautionary tale for ministers of what happens when the senior echelons aren’t closely involved in the implementation of their policies and projects.

The ministerial mandate letters

Mendelsohn emphasizes the importance of the mandate letters Trudeau sent to all his ministers when they were appointed to cabinet. These letters laid out each minister’s marching orders and what they were expected to deliver over the government’s four-year mandate.

Up until then, mandate letters had been secret. Trudeau made them public, and he also introduced an online tracker to monitor the ministers’ progress in achieving the commitments outlined in the letters.

The argument was that when the letters are public, Canadians know exactly what the government is doing and which ministers are responsible for the policy — whether it was health care agreements, the Child Tax Benefit, or infrastructure.  Mendelsohn said the letters also created a daily pressure on departments to implement those commitments, because they were on the hook for reporting to ministers and the prime minister on the “progress being made and if not, why.”

Mendelsohn said the public release of the mandate letters, along with the online tracker, are crucial for transparency; they are driving accountability, culture change and “helping to get things done.”

One high-ranking bureaucrat acknowledged the letters became key to managing the government’s agenda in the face of a constantly changing political landscape. Without them, he said, the government would have lost traction on advancing its priorities in the second and third years of its mandate, given the unexpected threats such as the NAFTA 2.0 negotiations.

Many of the people interviewed argued that the mandate tracker backfired and distorted the principles underpinning deliverology.

Instead of focusing on a few top priorities, the government made all its election promises and the commitments in ministers’ mandate letters priorities, so that ─ as one official put it ─ “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

The original 2015 mandate letters gave ministers 289 tasks, but that to-do list has since swelled to 432, with new promises around the opioid crisis, irregular border crossings and other emerging issues. The mandate tracker suggests the government met 47 percent of its original promises, which would be 37 percent if the initiatives introduced in Budget 2019 are included.

“They never got it [deliverology] right, right off the bat,” said a former senior PCO official. “To my mind, it was an enormous failure in spirit not to identify just four or five priorities. The way it was handled, everything was a priority, and deliverology was another word for results-based management, which has been talked about since Moses was in short pants.”

Tony Dean said making the mandate letters public is a significant breakthrough, but the government should have picked a “handful of key priorities, elevated them, and shown tangible progress,” which they could be touting as they head into the fall election.

“It’s a method we know works,” said Dean. “If such goals had been set three years ago, the government would be readying to talk about progress made…”

The main question is whether Canadians are better off because of deliverology. Mark Schacter, who is the author of Does “Deliverology” Matter?, said there is no conclusive evidence it makes any “difference to the quality of public management” or to peoples’ lives.

Said Schacter, “A single-minded focus on targets sets public servants focused on targets, but being focused on targets is not necessarily the same as being focused on what’s good for Canadians.”

Source: What ever happened to deliverology?

Liberals should beware ‘deliverology’ guru: Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin’s contrary note to deliverology, not without merit for the caution it brings (similar note to David Reevely’s: Ontario’s experience shows serious flaws in ‘deliverology’ governance):

For me, the scariest signal yet sent by the Trudeau government was bringing English “deliverologist” Sir Michael Barber, to their Alberta cabinet retreat, to tell them how they’re doing. They imported a British con man who was a perfect accessory during the Blair years, and — now that slippery Tony is gone, replaced by the rawer, more authentic Jeremy Corbyn — he moves on to the colonies. Barber has delivered his spiel in Australia, the Punjab and Maryland. Are we impressed to be in that company?

It’s an early warning sign that the Trudeau folk are starting to believe their own BS. I’m not particularly against BS, everyone in power deploys it; the danger point comes when you start gulping it yourself and not just spooning it out to others. That’s when the vultures start swanning around the retreats.

CBC’s Terry Milewski interviewed colleague Rosie Barton, who was on site, re: the scam. Rosie seemed dubious but said the Brit told his marks they were doing rawther well. Terry, sounding like a true rube, i.e., someone who has no idea that’s what he is — or a candidate for Private Eye’s pseuds corner — said he counts on Rosie for hip terms like deliverology. It’s about as fresh as the 500 channel universe. I happen to own a copy of Barber’s Deliverology 101, from 2011. I won’t say I read it, it’s not really meant for that, but I sort of flapped through it once. It’s loaded with charts, checklists, bullet points: nobody reads these things but they’re meant to make you feel like a practical, can-do type, not someone who wastes time on books — a profile rife in the upper regions of education administrators, who happen to be Barber’s natural habitat.

I’ve avoided defining deliverology because it doesn’t actually exist. It’s just mouthfuls of verbiage. Barber told Paul Wells of Maclean’s, at an earlier cabinet retreat, that he’d been recruited to “the prime minister’s delivery unit” in order to rescue Blair’s government. “It’s not tremendously exciting, but it’s really important, getting the priorities, the definitions of success, the trajectories, the data” — I should’ve said gobfuls of verbiage. You could do a close analysis of his language to show how vacuousness is literarily constructed but it seems to hypnotize people like Wells, who views himself as deeply skeptical. If a Canadian talked in such vapours, Wells would shred him. What is it — the accent?

But of course, as Donald Savoie notes extensively, a lot of what government is good at is “mouthfuls of verbiage.”

Source: Liberals should beware ‘deliverology’ guru: Salutin | Toronto Star

Meet Sir Michael Barber, the political delivery man: Wells

Good profile of the delivery guru, advising the Government.

Given the ambitious nature of the Government’s platform, and the likely need to make some difficult choices given fiscal and other realities, will be interesting four years hence to see what worked and what did not:

Since he left the Blair government, Barber has honed these ideas into what he calls “deliverology,” the art of ensuring governments meet their goals. He’s become a global consultant spreading the gospel of deliverology to governments as far-flung as Australia, the Punjab, the U.S. state of Maryland, and to Ontario under the province’s former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty. When a large number of McGuinty-era Ontario staffers moved to Ottawa to work for the Trudeau Liberals, Michael Barber could not be far behind.

And so it came to pass that, during a three-day retreat for Trudeau’s cabinet in St. Andrews, N.B., in late January, Barber was in the room with the ministers for almost the entire time. Trudeau has appointed Matthew Mendelsohn, the former director of an Ontario think tank, as a senior public servant responsible for “results and delivery.” Mendelsohn’s job is modelled on the position Barber held with Blair.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Barber, the object of such ardent affection and attention from the new Trudeau crew, is equally impressed with this young Canadian government. “What they were saying was, ‘We know that often, including in the Blair case, it took a whole term for a new government to learn the disciplines of delivery and then get it right in the second term,’ ” Barber told Maclean’s. “ ‘But we want to get it right the first time.’ ”

The obstacles facing any new government are well-known. First, the usual constant barrage of unforeseen events. Second, the pressure to come up with new ideas rather than checking to see how the old plans are working out. Tony Blair was a sucker for a new idea. In his new book How to Run a Government, Barber calls Blair’s first-term administrative style “government by spasm.”

The alternative to spasm is an attempt to install a routine. A new government asks itself a series of basic questions. “One is: What are the priorities?” Barber asks. “The second is: If you succeeded in delivering a given priority, how would you know? What would success look like in 2019, at the end of this mandate?” The third question is, “How would you know at any given moment you’re making progress toward your goals?” This leads a delivery-oriented government to develop a set of indicators—usually publicly available and thus, if they’re heading in the wrong direction, acutely uncomfortable for the government. How many kilometres of roads have been paved to date, how many megatonnes of carbon went into the atmosphere, that sort of thing.

“It’s not tremendously exciting, but it’s really important, getting the priorities, the definitions of success, the trajectories, the data, the routines to monitor progress, and then the ability to solve problems as they arise,” Barber said. “Because however good you are at planning, you’re not going to get it right. The real world never works out exactly as you anticipate. So having routines to correct and adjust the plan all the time is important.”

One element that helped bring Barber and Trudeau together is a common sense that ambition should not be a bad word in government. “There are times when doing little seems to work, and underpromising and overdelivering seems a good option,” Barber said. “But that’s certainly not the analysis of the Trudeau government, and certainly not the prospectus that they put to the Canadian people during the election. They said, ‘Actually, Canada needs big change, we want to build an inclusive, diverse Canada, we want some renewal of faith in democratic institutions, we want to reduce climate change, we need a big infrastructure upgrade.’ These are big challenges.”

Source: Meet Sir Michael Barber, the political delivery man