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Trudeau’s ‘deliverology’ on the verge of becoming a punchline

18 Nov 17
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Earlier this week, questions about “deliverology” were liable to be met with a shrug by many in and around the federal government. Few could clarify what the results-oriented management strategy Justin Trudeau promised — complete with the knighted British ace who initiated it in Tony Blair’s government meeting extensively with the Liberal cabinet — had amounted to.

Now, what was likely to be a new method of lighting a fire under the federal bureaucracy is on the brink of turning into a punchline.

Blame the new “mandate tracker” launched on the internet by the authorities on Tuesday. With intentionally abandoned promises (“balance the budget in 2019-20”) reported as “under way with challenges” and extremely unspecific commitments (“create a housing plan”) charged as “under way on track,” the Liberals’ attempt to write their own report card appears to make a mockery of deliverology’s assumption: that achievable, data-driven goals are clearly communicated and progress toward them regularly reported in an unvarnished fashion.

It is probably unfair to seem deliverology’s death knell, according to a single suspicious public-relations exercise. The Liberals have put in significant work behind the scenes to implement Sir Michael Barber’s theories, including setting a unit dedicated to it at the Privy Council Office and officials tasked with it in every department; the installation took long enough that it is too early to be definitive about what they have achieved. And supposedly, the authorities will soon publicly publish a much more data-driven set of self-reporting.

But if you’re trying to understand why even a number of those more enthused about deliverology in principle have grown skeptical about Mr. Trudeau’s ability to put it into practice, what was released this week is informative. There are enormous differences with the one previous, apparently more successful adoption of it in this country.

Mr. Trudeau gravitated toward deliverology mainly because it was seen to have functioned well during Dalton McGuinty’s early years in office. Not coincidentally, Mr. Trudeau’s top advisers served the former Ontario premier back then. But since they have basically attempted a enormous scale-up, they appear to have abandoned some core tenets that made it work provincially, like the way it had for Mr. Blair in Britain.

One of these is a relatively narrow focus. The provincial Liberals didn’t suddenly try to introduce a new means of delivering policies across the whole government. Rather, they focused squarely on healthcare and education, and particular aspects thereof — waiting times for medical procedures, graduation rates and student test scores. By comparison, the federal Liberals appear to have implemented it to pretty much their entire election stage — or to 364 distinct priorities assigned in ministers’ mandate letters and included in the new tracker, which might extend it to the point of losing any meaning.

A second, related and likely even more important distinction is specificity in desirable outcomes. The idea, as implemented previously, is to research available data to ascertain a reasonable “stretch goal” — an objectively quantifiable, aspirational but attainable improvement over the status quo. That is then communicated within authorities and publicly, to create both liability and pressure to quickly implement whatever policy changes are necessary to achieve it. Regular reporting of progress toward the goals is supposed to help identify necessary changes on the way.

A few of Mr. Trudeau’s stated ambitions — clean drinking water for First Nations communities is a clear example — have that measurability part or could easily be forced to do so. However, for the most part, the goals are much more abstract. Mr. McGuinty set out to be judged on if more children were completing high school and more patients were undergoing treatment quickly, which was readily quantifiable. Mr. Trudeau set out to be judged on whether he’s helping the middle class and people working to combine it, which isn’t. Have a look at the mandate tracker and you’ll see many references to particular policies implemented and specific dollar amounts committed, but they are listed under the fulfilment of highly subjective targets.

There’s a third difference, less inside the Liberals’ discretion but underlying a few of the ways they’ve struggled to accommodate from Ontario. Relative to provincial authorities, Ottawa does not directly do so much to influence Canadians’ daily lives — not enough, at any rate, to have the ability to control outcomes.

Unlike Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Trudeau can not often determine social-policy metrics and just use levers at his disposal to reach them: He must rely on partnerships with other levels of government, more directly involved in service delivery. And on foreign-policy matters which have been occupying a lot of the government’s time — especially the fate of NAFTA, which might be the single most crucial issue of Mr. Trudeau’s first mandate — this nation’s authorities is hostage to particular slightly inconsistent celebrities.

Maybe that makes deliverology a non-starter federally, and the Liberals were too fast to set expectations (and include government jobs) associated with it. Or perhaps, in the long term, they will prove to have landed a altered version that works on its own terms.

This week, it felt like an earnest effort to perform policy otherwise, reduced to a messaging campaign that could have come from any previous administration.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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