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One of the Government of Canada’s first tasks was to identify the Minister of Canadian Heritage as Minister Responsible for the Voluntary Sector. The Minister is supported by a Ministerial Consultative Committee (MCC) that provides high-level support for an enhanced government-voluntary sector relationship (see box above).
At the departmental level, an Assistant Deputy Minister Steering Committee (see box below) supports the MCC and offers strategic advice to the Joint Steering Committee, the VSI’s governing body. The committee members, who represent key departments and all central agencies, are also charged with sustaining and building on the VSI’s horizontal approach, and ensuring that the interests of the broader federal community are taken into account.
To promote commitment at the highest levels, the Clerk of the Privy Council has made deputy heads accountable for ensuring that the Codes of Good Practice are adopted within their organizations. This responsibility is now an aspect of each deputy’s commitment to consultation and citizen engagement as reflected in their performance agreement. To assist them, each deputy head has been called on to identify a senior official or champion responsible for promoting the Accord and Codes, and for leading by example. This network of champions helps avoid duplication of effort among departments by ensuring effective horizontal co-ordination and communication. As of fall 2003, champions were in place in virtually all federal departments and agencies.
At the first champions’ meeting – held in April 2003 – representatives from 41 institutions met to share insights and to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges of putting the Accord to work in their own departments. The meeting generated enthusiasm and support for future initiatives, such as a joint workshop for government champions and voluntary sector leaders to share best practices, develop a common understanding of the issues and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to a renewed relationship.
Federal focal point
Staff support for voluntary sector issues and partnerships is housed in the Department of Canadian Heritage. It’s a good fit. As the principal promoter of shared citizenship, values and culture, the Department has strong links to the voluntary sector. Moreover, the VSI complements the Department’s mission of contributing to a more cohesive and creative Canada, and builds on its objectives of promoting active participation and engagement in the country’s future. Assigned responsibility in October 2002 for spearheading the Government’s implementation activities, the Department has been collaborating closely with other departments and agencies, and the Voluntary Sector Forum, on a variety of awarenessraising and other activities.
Officials at the Department of Canadian Heritage have been working hard to enhance awareness about the Accord and Codes across the public service. One of the Department’s first priorities was to ensure that all federal departments and agencies knew about the Accord and Codes. Copies of key documents were also sent to some provincial/ territorial authorities, public libraries, academics and consultants.
Working with the voluntary sector, the Department of Canadian Heritage developed a series of resources designed to inform government departments and provide them with practical resources for implementing the Accord and Codes. These include:
Out in the field
Over the past year, the Department of Canadian Heritage staff have made a number of presentations, for example, to the first meeting of departmental champions as well as to individual departments, to help inform managers about progress and expectations with respect to the Accord and Codes. More frequently, staff takes part in informal discussions and meetings with departments and agencies across the public service. Many departments are also using the tools provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage to make their own presentations to employees.
Many of the federal government’s awareness-building initiatives have focussed on practical ways of making the Codes of Good Practice play out in the day-to-day relationship between the federal government and the voluntary sector. In addition to developing resources, such as the video, workbook and presentation, the federal government has canvassed departments and agencies to submit their best practices for implementing the Accord and Codes. Planning is under way to distribute best practices widely across the public service so that departments can benefit from each other’s experience.
One of the federal government’s priorities over the past year has been to put in place a system for monitoring and reporting on its progress in implementing the Accord and Codes of Good Practice.
A reporting framework
The Department of Canadian Heritage took the lead in developing a governmentwide approach to reporting. One of the main challenges was to meet the diverse needs of departments and agencies responsible for implementing the Accord, while also ensuring that the results could be aggregated consistently for reporting to Canadians.
With these goals in mind, 19 federal departments and agencies took part in workshops to develop a framework and performance indicators for reporting on progress. Several important principles helped to guide the process: keep the data collection process simple; put the focus on quality rather than quantity; provide a menu of response choices for participating departments; and focus on progress rather than performance. There was also broad-based agreement that data collection should be organized around the five key activities/outputs identified in the Accord.
Data collection started in mid-July 2003, with questionnaires distributed to 57 departments and agencies. By October 1st, 49 departments (86%) had responded to the questionnaire. Staff at the Department of Canadian Heritage analyzed the data later that month, submitting the findings for incorporation into the first annual report to Canadians.
Implementation is at an early stage
Most federal government activity has focussed on raising awareness, for example, ensuring that senior management and staff are aware of the Accord and Codes; writing articles in departmental newsletters; putting in place implementation structures; and developing action plans for the coming year.
A broad range of initiatives are under way
The activities reported by government departments include conducting extensive reviews of financial terms and conditions to improve efficiency and effectiveness; initiating projects to engage nontraditional and diverse groups in the policy-making process; and implementing programs to build capacity in voluntary sector organizations.
Some departments are further ahead than others
While a majority of departments have developed an implementation plan and begun awareness-raising activities, a few have also begun implementation measures, such as developing detailed strategies, gathering baseline data, or circulating good practices within the department. Still others, although they acknowledge the importance of the voluntary sector to their mandate, have yet to develop an implementation plan.
Greater collaboration is needed
One of the recurring messages from departments was the need for enhanced collaboration, information sharing and joint activities with the voluntary sector. These kinds of challenges are often associated with broad-scale horizontal initiatives.
Preparations are under way for the first meeting of the Ministerial Consultative Committee and members of the Voluntary Sector Forum. Planned for 2004, the meeting will give leaders from both sectors the opportunity to review the progress described in Taking the Accord Forward, and to consider the priorities established for the coming year.