Destination 2020 & Veterans: Putting Theory into Practice
Ottawa – May 20, 2014
This text was authored by Guy Parent, Veterans Ombudsman, and originally published in The Hill Times on Monday, May 19, 2014.
On May 12, 2014, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Wayne G. Wouters, and his team launched Destination 2020 in a webcast that engaged public servants across Canada. A consensus-built document providing the framework for future innovation and engagement within Canada’s Public Service, it is the culmination of a year-long effort to involve all federal public servants in reform and renewal of their workplace and work practices.
The new initiative is anchored in the Clerk’s release last year of Blueprint 2020, which set out the objective to develop the best approach to innovation within the Public Service to meet the new standards of excellence required to address the demands of the modern world.
In conveying his support for its launch, Prime Minister Harper remarked: “In order to adapt to the rapid rate of change in our world, all successful organizations need to consistently reflect on how they do business and pursue continual improvement. Canada's Public Service is no different.” He encouraged all public servants to embrace innovation, transformation and continuous renewal.
The Clerk focused discussion by asking: Where does the Public Service need to be in five to ten years? How do we have to change to get there? What best practices should we adopt to help us do our job better?
The 8th Report of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service summarizes the four guiding principles of Blueprint 2020 as follows: an open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners for the public good; a whole-of-government approach that improves service delivery and value for money; a modern workplace that makes smart use of new technologies for networking, access to data and customer service; and a capable, confident and high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working and mobilizing the diversity of talent to serve the country’s evolving needs.
How does this affect Veterans?
Let’s start with the Clerk’s 21st Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service. In it, he highlights that serving Canadians by improving access to information and services is one of the key areas of ongoing focus within the Public Service. In fact, the Clerk states: “Ensuring that we continually assess whether services are being delivered to Canadians in the most efficient and effective way possible is critical [...] Departments and agencies are continuing to look for opportunities to lever technology to deliver services to Canadians.”
In Veterans Affairs Canada’s final report on Blueprint 2020 activities, it stated: “Canada’s Veteran population is changing and Veterans have increasingly varied and complex needs for services and benefits. That is why VAC has undertaken a formal Transformation Agenda with the goal to be a high-performing organization that is able to quickly respond and adapt to these needs. Transformation at VAC is about streamlining business processes, reducing red tape, and maximizing the use of new technology.”
The Blueprint 2020 initiative provides an environment to encourage Veterans Affairs Canada to embrace improvements to information and services access. We have already started to see some initiatives such as the Benefits Browser, My VAC Account and mobile applications. These are good first steps, but are they enough to make a real difference?
More often than not, it is not technology that is the limiting factor, but rather a culture that supports the status quo. Destination 2020 is about challenging the status quo to better serve Canadians.
So what would it be like if Veterans and their families had access to all of the program information that departmental staff have? Think about it. What would happen if all of the barriers to information access came down? As simple as it sounds, I believe that it would not only truly revolutionize Veterans’ engagement with Veterans Affairs Canada, but it would also make the engagement more efficient, effective and cost-effective than it is today.
What if a Veteran was able to access on-line not only general program and policy information, but also the business processes, program directives and guidelines? What if the interrelationships between programs were more clearly explained with online tutorials to improve understanding? Imagine how different the engagement between a Veteran and the Department would be if both parties had access to the same information. I would venture that service to Veterans and their families would be measurably improved and a lot of time and effort would be saved if both parties started from an informed position.
Now some may say that it would be too risky to give such access to Veterans because they would not understand all of the information available and this would lead to more confusion and inefficiency. I believe, however, that complete transparency and citizen engagement would bridge this gap. It is the best way forward leading to good governance, and turning barriers into catalysts for change.
Others may say that many of the Veterans Affairs Canada’s guidelines or business processes detail internal processes that provide no value added to the Veteran. Perhaps, but is it not better to err on the side of transparency? If more information is available on departmental processes, it could not only improve the quality of Veterans’ applications, it would also help to manage expectations.
Then there may be the argument that the technology is not available at the moment to do this, but I believe that it is and that Veterans Affairs Canada could make this happen quickly. The Department has an internal Benefits Browser that provides access to all program information – not just the limited amount that is available on its external web site. If the internal Benefits Browser were made public and integrated into My VAC Account, Veterans and their families would have all the information available that they need. That would be putting Destination 2020 into practice.
In conclusion, the question is whether there is the will and commitment to make the leap to a more transparent and Veteran-engaged future? Veterans are expecting change. The Public Service wants to change. Let’s do it. As the Clerk said last week: “Full steam ahead, no looking back, and straight on to action!”
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