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Participating in Federal Public Policy: A Guide for the Voluntary Sector

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Working with public servants

Description

In addition to your MP, you should be in touch with the bureaucrats who work on your issues and any related issues. Government staff interested in your specific policy area can be found in a number of ways. Your elected representative should be able to help identify with whom you should talk. Letters to ministers often get sent on to people within the bureaucracy for follow up work. Developing a relationship with individuals in the public service is a key to success.

One key government resource is the Government Electronic Directory Services, maintained by Public Works Government Services Canada. This directory of most federal public servants can be searched by an individual's name, organization or department. You can also access a directory of all government departments through the main Government of Canada Web site at http://www.canada.gc.ca.

Tips

Follow the example set by private sector companies who were identified by senior bureaucrats as exemplary in their effectiveness in working with the public service (as outlined in a 1999 analysis by Mark Schacter and Tim Plumptre for the Institute on Governance).
  • Be a dependable source of ongoing information on your sector, present information in a relaxed manner and serve as a "constructive critic" of government initiatives.
  • Serve as a role model for your sector.
  • Take a "long view" in terms of your sector's activities and give credit to the government when it is due.
  • Recognize that you are in this for the long-term and communicate with government regularly - not just when you need something.
  • Position your input in a way that will align with government objectives rather than positioning yourself as a government critic.
  • Build the government relations function into your whole organization rather than focusing it solely in a government relations department. Engage every staff person, board member and volunteer in the public policy strategy, including sitting on advisory committees, providing feedback and advice when asked, initiating letter writing campaigns and working with the public sector in order to move policy issues forward. 10

Advantages

Since much of the work on policy issues occurs within the bureaucracy, having a good relationship with ministers and public sector officials will effectively situate your organization's issue.

Limitations

  • Few voluntary organizations can afford government relations staff (for example, about half of Canada's charities have revenues of under $50,000).
  • As there are numerous ways for voluntary organizations to approach and work constructively with bureaucrats, it can be difficult to know which will work best for your organization.
Reports

Description

One specific approach your organization can use when working with bureaucrats is to provide them with technical reports such as research results, policy findings or option papers related to your organization's issue.

Tips

  • Ensure reports get to the right people (that is, ensure that they not only go to the Minister but also to the public service staff and other organizations interested in the issue). The Minister's staff will be asked to analyse and provide advice to the Minister.
  • Ensure the purpose of the report is clear.
  • Keep the report short and to the point.
  • Collect relevant and up-to-date information and use it to build your case.

Advantages

  • Technical reports can provide a thorough explanation of project decisions and policy decisions.
  • These reports also provide a format with "hard evidence" supporting your position on the issue.
  • Reports provide options, helping to identify your organization as a credible source of information.

Limitations

  • Technical reports can be too detailed for many readers.
  • The reports may not be in clear, simple language that is accessible to the average person.
  • Reports can be time consuming to write and it can also be expensive to get an outside contractor involved. What is more, hiring someone to do the work can often create biased reports or may not always present the options your organization needs to build its case.


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Last Updated: 2019-11-15