Why policy-makers should care about behavioural science: Supriya Syal

As someone who likes ‘nudge’ and related behavioural approaches, liked this article for the examples it cited, both outside and inside Canada:

Classic examples of behavioural interventions for the public sector include measures that help people save more for retirement, consume less electricity, be more likely to pay taxes, sign up for organ donations and get jobs. But the application of behavioural science to policy-making is becoming increasingly diversified around the world. For instance, the Copenhagen Airport in Denmark, in partnership with iNudgeyou (a Denmark-based social purpose company), combatted the problem of people smoking just outside terminal entrances by using stickers that guide them to a designated smoking area a few metres away. Instead of telling people what not to do (no-smoking zones near doors), providing guidance on what behaviour is desirable (smoking zones away from doors) proved more effective. In South Africa, the government of the Western Cape, in partnership with Ideas42 (a US-based nonprofit behavioural design and consulting firm) and the University of Cape Town, used a computer-based “HIV risk game” to educate at-risk youth about HIV. Instead of the typical one-off information brochure, a gamification approach that got youth to make repeated decisions about HIV risk and provided immediate feedback about their choices was a more powerful aid for increasing young people’s understanding of such risks. In Australia, Alfred Health (a hospital), working with Deakin University, Monash University, VicHealth and the Behavioural Insights Team (UK), increased healthier food choices in its cafés by using a traffic-light colour system to classify nutritional value and portion sizes of beverages. Instead of telling people about the health costs of sugary beverages, the team marked drinks as red (most unhealthy), amber or green (most healthy), and “red” drinks were simply removed from the displays and self-service refrigerators and placed under the counters — still available for sale, just less obviously so. The total number of beverages that were sold didn’t change, but the sale of unhealthy sugary beverages went down by 28 to 71 percent in a range of trials.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency is successfully using behavioural nudges to get people to pay outstanding taxes and to file their taxes online. The Privy Council Office Impact and Innovation Unit (IIU) is using behavioural insights to help Statistics Canada increase its survey response rates, and to help the Department of National Defence recruit more women into the armed forces. The Innovation Lab at Employment and Social Development Canada has used behavioural insights to help people find jobs and has partnered with the IIU to increase uptake of the Canada Learning Bond among low-income families. And the foremost public sector behavioural insights group in Canada, the Ontario Behavioural Insights Unit, has succeeded in increasing organ donation rates and online licence-plate-sticker renewals using behavioural insights.

Despite these initiatives and widespread academic expertise, support and talent, the public sector application of behavioural science in Canada lags behind that of other comparable nations, and the opportunity to create better outcomes for Canadians through behavioural evidence-based policy is immense. Moreover, the bulk of behavioural-insights policy work in Canada amounts to what one might call repair jobs — it is as if we were retrofitting old buildings to make them work in the modern-day context — and behavioural science interventions are used mainly to improve implementation or compliance with a pre-existing policy. Which is important, no doubt, but we could also be building new structures that benefit from modern advancements and would be much better suited to their users’ needs. Indeed, behavioural science provides powerful tools that could help us get it right at the policy design and formation stages. And, in addition to using behavioural science to design better for the public, we could also be using these insights to design better for public servants. But there are few, if any, applications of behavioural science interventions to organizational decision-making within the Canadian government or the bodies that it regulates, so this is a significant area for exploration.

Some of our greatest challenges today are large-scale, complex problems of public policy, public perception and public action: climate change, vaccinations against infectious diseases, diversity and inclusion of historically marginalized groups, humanitarian crises, to name a few. Behavioural science promises empirically validated solutions that are derived from an understanding of the human beings that make up that “public.” And it rests its propositions on evidence in favour of what works to help people themselves make decisions that are better for them, so they can lead better lives. A pretty irresistible call to arms, wouldn’t you say?

via Why policy-makers should care about behavioural science

Multiculturalism: Getting the Balance Right – Reflections for a new government

With a federal election upon us and the possible change of government, what are the multiculturalism policy changes an incoming government may wish to consider, and which policies may it wish to keep?

The Conservative Government under Minister Kenney refashioned multiculturalism through greater emphasis on integration than accommodation. In many ways, this was reverting to the original recommendations of the 1969 Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that stressed integration over assimilation, while recognizing the need for individuals and groups to maintain their cultural identities within the overall Canadian legal and values framework.

But Kenney made a number of important shifts. He emphasized that multiculturalism involved relations between all groups of Canadians, not just ‘mainstream’/visible minority relations. Prejudice and discrimination were issues between different visible minority groups. Religious diversity became a more explicit part of multiculturalism. Emphasis shifted from equality and employment equity to ensuring government services were more attuned to serving an increasingly diverse population.

The government also delivered on a series of historical recognition activities for groups that had either been subject to wartime internment (i.e., Ukrainian and Italian Canadians) and immigration restrictions (i.e., Chinese, Indo, and Jewish Canadians). He revised the grants and contribution program to include both project funding and event funding (food and folklore), but with an explicit focus on bringing communities together. He broadened racism and discrimination programming to include specific forms but disappointingly only focused on antisemitism, largely abandoning broader messaging.

The citizenship program reinforced this integration messaging, as well as warnings against ‘barbaric cultural practices’ such as forced marriage and importing ‘homeland’ conflicts into Canada. The Government also used niqabs at citizenship ceremonies as a wedge issue.

Many of the above policy shifts were needed and reflect the ongoing evolution of Canadian diversity. However, in its focus on social cohesion the Government neglected social inclusion.

Early symbolic changes could include language changes. Fully accept that multiculturalism is the Canadian brand of diversity and stop trying to shift to pluralism (which is less integrative). Retain the emphasis on integration — across all communities — but with more acknowledgement of accommodation. Stop using the niqab as a wedge issue but reinforce that accommodation cuts both ways. Reduce the emphasis on the monarchy, both for Canadian identity reasons as well as the mixed history British colonialism has for many groups. Re-assert the equality aspects of multiculturalism along with employment equity.

Beyond language, what other policy and program changes should be considered?

The Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act needs to become a more informative, evidence-based report on the state of multiculturalism in Canada. Ideally, submissions made by individual departments extolling their progress would be complemented by more independent perspectives.

A new government will certainly wish to revisit the program’s objectives. While the core of first objective, “promote intercultural understanding … and equal opportunity … core democratic values” should remain, more inclusive language on accommodation should replace the emphasis “civic memory and pride.” The second objective — improving the responsiveness to an increasingly diverse population — needs to be broadened to (re)include employment equity within government institutions, given the poor record of some departments and agencies. No change is required to the third objective which essentially enables international activity.

A new government needs to ensure that specific anti-racism initiatives (i.e., antisemitism) are complemented by broader anti-discrimination messaging, along with other targeted initiatives as appropriate (e.g., anti-Muslim activity).

This needs to be linked to a review of the current governance arrangements for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, established as part of redress for Japanese Canadian World War II internment. The Foundation, arms-length but with board members appointed by the Government, has arguably not lived up to expectations. Consultations and evaluation, jointly with the National Association of Japanese Canadians, are needed to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness.

Moreover, responsibility for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) needs to be brought back to the multiculturalism program rather than being housed in the Office of Religious Freedom as IHRA’s focus is broader than religion.

A new government should examine the balance between grant and contribution funding for immigrants (almost $600 million for settlement services and the like) and funding for longer-term integration issues under multiculturalism (less than $9 million). Shifting $10 million to multiculturalism projects — more than doubling the budget — would allow for more effective programming to address second-generation issues such as racism and discrimination, radicalization and extremism, and equity and inclusion, with little or no detectable impact on settlement services. A new government will also need to consider whether it wishes to retain ministerial sign-off on projects (for greater political direction) or have this delegated as it does for settlement programming to improve program timeliness and efficiency.

A review of the effectiveness of the Government’s $30 million contribution in 2006 to the Global Centre for Pluralism would allow those board members appointed by the Government to play a more effective role.

A new government will also need to address the dilution of multiculturalism resources and expertise within CIC. Resources have been cut and dispersed, and beyond the Annual Report, and the small grant and contribution, there is little sign that longer-term integration issues are being given the attention that they deserve. Part of this reflects the natural consequences of the functional rather than business line model, which invariably results in resources and management attention devolving to CIC’s ‘centre of gravity’ — immigration.

One of the clearest examples is the loss of research capacity and focus on multiculturalism and longer-term second-generation issues. Given the importance of these to the ongoing success of integration, this capacity needs to be strengthened. A more ambitious agenda would include resuscitating the Ethnic Diversity Survey (not to mention the Census!), last conducted in 2002, but strengthened to reflect religious as well as ethnic diversity.

This dilution has been further exacerbated by the complex web of Ministerial responsibilities between Minister Kenney, as the political minister responsible, Minister Alexander as the departmental minister, and junior Minister Uppal, having largely a ceremonial role. Absent any major machinery change — disruptive at the best of times — any new Prime Minister  should consider only having two ministers, one being the senior minister for CIC, the other being the junior minister, ideally responsible for both citizenship and multiculturalism, to provide somewhat of a counter-weight to the immigration centre of gravity.

While in an ideal world, the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act should be reviewed and updated, the current Act provides sufficient flexibility for governments to interpret and implement policies and programs, as demonstrated under the Conservative government. However, should a new government wish to be more ambitious, any review of the Act should also consider whether a parliamentary Multiculturalism Commissioner would be appropriate to provide a stronger political focus.

While compared to some of the other immigration and citizenship-related issues facing a new government, multiculturalism will be a secondary priority. However, more inclusive language into any messaging can set the tone and signal changes in direction, with more substantive changes to follow as priorities allow.

— Multiculturalism: Getting the Balance Right

New generation of DMs top-notch managers, but lack policy development expertise: Mitchell | hilltimes.com

Interesting debate between David Mitchell, President of the Public Policy Forum, and Donald Savoie, of Université de Moncton, on the policy skills of the current crop of deputies, and whether the emphasis is on policy development or management skills.

I think context matters. While deputies generally have a rounded skill and competency set, there is less appetite for longer-term policy development under the current government than previous governments, as the Conservative government has its own strong policy agenda and the public service has focused more on short-term program policy in implementing that agenda.

It is the more open-ended and longer-term policy development that has been weakened, and my understanding is that policy capacity  in a number of departments has been cut back through successive rounds of expenditure reductions. Not to say there was not capacity to be trimmed, or that this does not reflect legitimate political and bureaucratic decisions. We need to start by acknowledging the changes and likely longer-term impact of the capacity of the public service.

Savoie’s comments strike me as ignoring the current context. Just as he has argued against parliamentary officers at a time when Parliament is not performing its job of scrutinizing government spending (Do we need a PBO?), he does not acknowledge the degree to which policy advice and direction comes more from the political level. In addition, he does not acknowledge the degree to which official-level advice has been discounted or ignored, or limited to program policy and implementation issues.

Given the paywall, full text below:

The newer generation of federal deputy ministers have top-notch management skills, but lack sufficient expertise in policy development which could prove to be detrimental for the current and future governments in dealing with unforeseen crises situations such as terrorism, climate change, or military conflicts, says David Mitchell, president of the Public Policy Forum, one of the country’s leading think tanks, but other experts disagree.

“The newer deputy ministers who are emerging or senior public servants who are emerging have very, very solid managerial skills and expertise, but probably less experience in terms of policy development because there hasn’t been such a great demand for it in recent years,” said Mr. Mitchell in an interview with The Hill Times, adding that that the outgoing deputy ministers have more policy development experience than the ones replacing them.

“Most of the work of the public service has been around service delivery, management [and] accountability because that’s been the order of the day, but there’s been less of a demand on the public service for policy development and policy skills and many of the senior public servants who are moving into retirement are taking those skills with them and the newer generation of leaders likely has not had as much experience with that. That could be a challenge in the future when a government may require policy options and policy development skills, especially if they are not there in abundance in the future.”

Mr. Mitchell, a political historian who also served as MLA in the British Columbia legislature from 1991-1996, said that the process of shifting of focus away from policy development to effective management, service delivery, and accountability in the federal public service has been in progress over the last generation and now most of the policy development takes place in thinks tanks, industry associations and universities. This, he said, has made the top bureaucrats unprepared to deal with crisis situations.

“An aging population, increasing responses to natural disasters, international dimensions to public policy in terms of terrorism, climate change, or military conflicts, or unanticipated areas that we really don’t know about. If the public service isn’t actively thinking through scenarios and coming up with potential policy options for future governments, we could be in a position where we could be less prepared as a country to deal with emerging realities that the Canadian public can’t easily anticipate now. But it used to be the job of the public service to be thinking about this and to be prepared to not only advise the government of the day, but also to present policy options in order to deal with unanticipated circumstances. Today, that capacity has atrophied within government,” said Mr. Mitchell who in the past served as vice-president of Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, and Simon Fraser University.

Mr. Mitchell said that with the departure of outgoing deputy ministers, the federal public service not only is losing individuals with significant policy development experience but also the institutional memory.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) shuffled the senior ranks of the public service in late July. In the shuffle, George Da Pont, who was then president of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), was appointed as the deputy minister of Health; Bruce Archibald, then president of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario was named president of the CFIA; Karen Ellis, former associate deputy minister of Natural Resources was named the president of Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario; Anita Biguzs, former associate deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration was promoted to the position of deputy minister in the same department; Wilma Vreeswijk, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (Business Transformation and Renewal) was named associate deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Colleen Volk, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (senior personnel), Privy Council Office, was named deputy secretary to Cabinet (senior personnel, Business Transformation and Renewal) Privy Council Office; and Helena Borges, former assistant deputy minister, programs group at Transport Canada was named associate deputy minister of Transport. At the time of the shuffle, Prime Minister Harper also announced the retirement plans of Glenda Yeates, former deputy minister of health, and Neil Yeates, former deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Meanwhile, Donald Savoie, who holds a Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Universitè de Moncton, N.B., and is also a leading expert on the machinery of government, disagreed with Mr. Mitchell’s opinion that senior federal public servants have insufficient experience in policy development.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think deputy ministers today have to have a number of skills. One is policy, second is political skills, not partisan, I want to make that important distinction. They have to have political antennas, not partisan antennas, a big difference. They have to have policy skills, they have to know how to work with other departments because policy now transcends departments and they do hopefully know how to manage and it’s a very difficult environment,” said Mr. Savoie, who is the author of numerous books and articles on public administration and public policy, in an interview with The Hill Times.

“There’s a series of skills that someone who makes into a deputy minister rank has had to prove in the past and policy skills happens to be one of them,” Mr. Savoie said. “The deputies who are recently appointed over the past several years, a lot of them come from central agencies: the bulk of deputies from the PCO, Finance, Treasury Board and so on. That’s not where you hone your management skills, that’s where you hone your policy and political skills.”

Mr. Savoie, who also has extensive experience in both government and academia, said that the process of policy development has changed over the years with more players offering their input but the senior civil servants are still the ones that are the decision makers in the formation of policies.

“There’s different forces that come into play, different contributions. But, ultimately, at the end of the day, people who present policy packages are those who are in government. Deputy minister is the final funnel before policies arrive on a minister’s desk, or the Prime Minister’s desk, or the Privy Council Clerk’s desk. Various forces shape it, but deputy minister is the guy or the gal who has the gate to the policy process. The policy process gate is still inside government. It hasn’t moved outside. Different people try to make it to the gate, but deputies still control that gate,” said Mr. Savoie.

Mr. Savoie said that the loss of institutional memory is not something new in the public service as it has been going on dating back to 1867. He, however, suggested that the government should come up with some arrangement by which the institutional memory could be preserved.

“You can’t [pull] the hand of a deputy minister to stay in government till the age of 75 to protect institutional memory. It is part of the process. Should there be a process to capture better institutional memory and to value it inside government, yes. There’s all kinds of things you could do: There’s a need for more case studies on policy management [and] development inside federal government. I don’t see many case studies that have been produced. They are relatively simple to produce. And exit interviews, inviting the [outgoing] deputy to a series of round tables, there’s a way to capture that institutional memory and I think government should work on it a bit more.”

Mike Joyce, former assistant secretary at the Treasury Board Secretariat who retired about five years ago, in an interview with The Hill Times, also disagreed with Mr. Mitchell that the new crop of top civil servants have insufficient policy development expertise.

“The previous criticism of deputy ministers has, of course, been the reverse that they’re good at policy and they are rotated so quickly that they are not very good at management. If you are looking at the current crop of senior appointments as being good at management, I would say that’s a good thing if that’s true, but I wouldn’t suggest that they are any weaker on policy,” said Mr. Joyce who is now an adjunct professor at Queen’s University School of Policy Studies.

New generation of DMs top-notch managers, but lack policy development expertise: Mitchell | hilltimes.com.

Column: What’s the evidence for evidence-based policy?

William Watson raises some valid and important points about evidence-based policy and the limits. While some data and evidence is largely neutral and firm (e.g., Census data) other evidence can be subject to confirmation and other biases, in addition to the limits of our understanding of the complexity of society and behaviour. Evidence is still better than anecdote, but it limits also need to be understood. #W2P #GOC

Column: What’s the evidence for evidence-based policy?.