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The Rubber and the Road: A Workbook for Implementing the Codes of Good Practice

3. Moving forward … on policy dialogue

The good practices outlined below are aimed at improving the policy process – not to mention the policies themselves. Take a few minutes to rate yourself, your group or your organization on each of the following good practices – are you doing all you can or are there some areas that need work? Then go down the list and rate the other sector’s performance – is there room for improvement?

Once you’ve completed the assessments, go through the questions below to help identify some of the ways you can move forward. Note that the first set of good practices relates to both sectors; the next two sets of good practices focus on the two sectors separately.

A. Good practices for both sectors
(you can use this chart to assess your practices and those of the “other”)

Couldn't be better
Starting from scratch
Doesn't apply
Engage in open, inclusive and ongoing dialogue through the various stages of the public policy process.        
Identify and allocate resources and time to policy activities.        
Ensure appropriate and significant representation from across the voluntary sector.        
Build policy capacity and knowledge, including an understanding of the other sector’s issues and processes.        
Be aware of the policy implications of what you do and inform the other sector of your conclusions.        
Ensure that assessments take into account the different regional impacts of policies.        

Ask yourself …

  • At what stage of the policy process do you generally interact with the other sector? (See below for an overview of the policy process.)

  • Are you getting what you need from the other sector?

  • Are there opportunities to work together at other stages of the policy process?

  • What are the benefits/challenges to expanding your relationship?

Some tools to work with …

About the policy process
Voluntary sector organizations can contribute at any stage in the public policy process:

  • Issue identification – by helping identify important and emerging issues, either informally or through policy scanning and planning exercises, or serving on advisory groups
  • Agenda-setting – by mapping out a plan for how and when voluntary sector organizations can bring key information to the development of public policy priorities
  • Policy design – by contributing their expertise and experience in research, analysis, drafting and testing models, and developing design options
  • Implementation – by contributing their knowledge and expertise in delivering services and programs, and drawing on their connections to the community
  • Monitoring – by monitoring initiatives and suggesting changes in policy direction
  • Impact assessment – by assessing the impact of policies at the national and local levels and recommending changes

Consider this …

Describe what the policy development process would look like – in a perfect world. Consider, for example:

  • how and to what extent each sector would input at key stages of the process
  • how to involve both marginalized and mainstream groups
  • what methods of consultation/collaboration would be most effective
  • the costs and benefits of your approach (e.g., with respect to timeliness, resources required, getting buy-in)

B. Good practices for the Government of Canada

Couldn't be better
Starting from scratch
Doesn't apply
Consider how new legislation, regulations, policies and programs may affect the sector and individual organizations (i.e., use a “voluntary sector lens”)        
Regularly listen to the concerns of voluntary sector organizations in all their diversity – including grassroots and hard-to-reach organizations        
Use a range of methods to engage the sector in the various stages of policy dialogue        
Make information such as research and policy papers readily available to the sector in useable formats        
Plan and coordinate policy discussions on related topics so organizations aren’t overburdened        
Capture the full spectrum of views, giving special attention to those most likely to be affected by policies        
Build trust and understanding by discussing the rationale for and implications of decisions with the sector        
Inform sector organizations about how the input was used        

Ask yourself …

  • What are you doing now to put these good practices into action?

  • How can you build on these activities?

  • Are there any barriers to moving forward and, if so, what can you do to overcome them?

  • What methods are being used to engage the voluntary sector – for example, meetings, surveys?

  • Are there any other good practices that you can put in place to strengthen the policy relationship with the voluntary sector?

Some tools to work with …

A “Voluntary Sector Lens*”
When developing a policy, program or regulation, ask yourself what impact it will have on the voluntary sector.

For example, would the initiative:

  • enhance or strain the sector’s capacity or long-term viability?
  • preserve or diminish its autonomy?
  • respect the sector’s timing and cycles?
  • provide for agreement on objectives and outcomes?
  • create unhealthy competition within the sector?
  • encourage collaboration between government and the sector?
  • include a process for resolving disputes?
  • permit flexibility and accommodate changing circumstances?

Consider this …

The voluntary sector is a significant social and economic force in the country – for example, it:

  • employs 1.3 million people (9 percent of working Canadians)
  • is supported by the efforts of 6.5 million volunteers who dedicate more than 1 billion hours each year (the equivalent of 580,000 full-time jobs)
  • is made up of approximately 180,000 non-profit organizations (of which 80,000 are registered charities) as well as hundreds of thousands of groups that are not incorporated
  • has annual revenues of $90 billion and assets of $109 billion
  • includes a wide array of groups and organizations – ranging from service clubs and advocacy coalitions to food banks, international aid organizations, symphonies and local sports clubs
Find out more about …
  • the full range of voluntary sector organizations with an interest in/knowledge about specific policy issues
  • the barriers that can prevent voluntary sector organizations from taking part in policy discussions (e.g., lack of resources or knowledge about government processes)
  • how you can make the best use of voluntary sector expertise and experience
  • the most effective ways of communicating with/reaching out to concerned voluntary sector organizations

C. Good practices for the voluntary sector

Couldn't be better
Starting from scratch
Doesn't apply
Develop and strengthen policy capacity in your areas of expertise        
Gain a better understanding of formal and informal policy development processes in the Government of Canada        
Ensure that diverse groups have an opportunity to provide input        
Represent your constituents and articulate their position clearly on issues they consider important
Identify whose views are represented when intermediary bodies express opinions on behalf of parts of the sector        
Build consensus by improving coordination within the sector        
Act as intermediaries by canvassing sector organizations and summarizing their views on various issues        
Identify policy makers and share policy ideas with them        
Bring emerging issues – including local concerns – to the attention of the Government of Canada        

Ask yourself …

  • What are you doing now to put these good practices into action?

  • How can you build on these activities?

  • Are there any barriers to moving forward and, if so, what can you do to overcome them?

  • Are there any other good practices that you can put in place to strengthen the policy dialogue relationship with the Government of Canada?

Some tools to work with …

One of the Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI) joint tables – the Capacity Joint Table (CJT) – has compiled a resource guide with information and tools to help the sector influence public policy. Public Policy Toolbox: A Guide for the Voluntary Sector on Successful Involvement in the Public Policy Dialogue in Canada includes practical and easy-to-understand information on such topics as:

  • how the policy making process works in Canada
  • getting on the government’s “radar screen”
  • making your point effectively
  • working collaboratively

The Toolbox also provides extensive resource listings and links to web-based information.

Consider this …

The following scenario is fictitious but it demonstrates what can happen when a government-voluntary sector relationship isn’t working well:

The policy branch in one large Government of Canada department has developed a new policy outlining the conditions under which older Canadians can receive pension income support. When this new policy was developed, some seniors’ organizations within the voluntary sector were consulted. The policy is now in its final review stage and other seniors’ organizations within the voluntary sector have concerns. In fact, they’re calling their Members of Parliament to protest what they see as unreasonable and unfair restrictions on support. For their part, government officials say that this is the first they’ve heard about a problem.

  • What do you think the government might have done better to involve the voluntary sector in developing this policy?

  • What could the voluntary sector organizations have done to make themselves heard at an earlier stage?

  • How can each sector move forward from where they are now?


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Last Updated: 2019-08-19