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Annex 1: How the project was done

Unravelling red rape with design-thinking

The methodology of the internal red tape reduction project was centred around using design-thinking principles in order to have user experiences to help departments across the federal public service solve red tape issues being encountered in their day-to-day jobs. In recent years, governments around the world have been turning to design-thinking to simplify burdensome processes, prototype solutions and engage public servants and citizens to bring change to large-scale complex systems.

Design-thinking is often applied to issues that are not well defined at the outset. Central to the design-thinking process is developing solutions with, rather than for, end users. While conventional consultations often begin with a well-researched diagnostic, a large part of the design-thinking process is dedicated to understanding the problem from the users’ point of view. It starts by identifying the issue along with end users in order to develop solutions collaboratively. It challenges assumptions and the mental models of those involved in the process. Consequently, it often leads to breakthroughs and alternative ways of solving the same problem.” While internal red tape was raised during the Blueprint 2020 engagement exercise, the comments were too general to really identify the specific problems. Hence, a design-thinking approach was most appropriate to achieving the objectives of the initiative.

The two phases of the project

The project was broken down into two phases: Phase I – the engagement phase – set out to explore, examine and expose user experiences with red tape; and Phase II focused on examining irritants that were exposed during the first phase and establishing interdepartmental working groups to take a deep dive into the causes of red tape and to co-design better business solutions to those problems.

Broad Engagement

Phase I of the project began in November 2014 and ran for six months, ending in May 2015. During this time, the Tiger Team put together a strong engagement strategy to gather personal red tape stories. To that end, the team employed various methods of engagement, such as leveraging the online community with the use of GC 2.0 tools and conducting workshops, presentations and anonymous surveys.

Explore: The engagement plan was structured using the heartbeat model, which meant that collaboration had to mimic the beat of a heart or a pulse to ensure that conversation was ongoing and lively, both online and in person.

Under the name “Blueprint 2020: Reducing Internal Red Tape Initiative,” the team started by first building rapport and trust with public servants on GCconnex. It introduced the team, as well as the project and its approach. The engagement plan for Phase I began with the Tiger Team posting weekly open-ended “Freaky Friday” questions on non-work-related topics that gave the community a platform to actively share something about themselves and build trust within the group. The team then proceeded to invite public servants to share their stories of dealing with administrative rules and processes in their day-to-day jobs.

Meanwhile, the team was conducting outreach via presentations and workshops to various departments and communities of practice to discuss red tape encountered in day-to-day work and encouraged employees to come forward and share their red tape stories, either on GCconnex or by filling out an anonymous online survey. Through user participation in presentations and workshops, the Tiger Team was able to gather stories and build a repository of red tape irritants.

The team used the themes that were emerging from workshops and presentations and fed them back to the GCconnex community, by blogging about the facts that had been presented, and asked the community to share their experiences or points of view. By following this pattern, the team was able to post biogs twice per week, which drew in a very collaborative and engaged audience.

The heartbeat model of engagement therefore resulted in the most active GCconnex group, averaging eight interactions per day (e.g., comments, likes and blog posts in response) and posting 800 comments in total. The end of the engagement phase yielded 2,000 engaged public servants, 400 stories collected through 62 workshops/presentations and 105 anonymous surveys.

Examine: The examine portion of the engagement phase focused on looking at the irritants that were most frequently mentioned and shared across multiple departments. The findings from this phase will ultimately form the basis for the following phase.

The red tape stories from the broad-based consultations were examined by housing the content into MAXQDA, a software used to code qualitative data. The stories were analyzed and coded based on tasks: what public servants reported to be tasks that were difficult to conduct; the barrier(s) preventing them from getting their tasks accomplished; and, lastly, the consequences that emerged from not being able to accomplish the tasks. Those 400 stories were ultimately broken down into twelve different areas, based on the number of times a particular task was mentioned, along with five barriers, also based on the number of mentions.

The qualitative data was aggregated into a graph called “The DNA of Internal Red Tape,” which shows the magnitude of how each barrier affects a single task. (See The DNA of Internal Red Tape in Chapter 2.)

Expose: The objective is to expose the root causes of “pain” in order to determine whether it is due to rules, processes or policies. Through GCconnex blog postings, the team was able to share the results of the stories captured with the online community via “The DNA of Red Tape.” Both the online community and senior leaders were surprised with the results.

Sharing the results at the national level: a webcast was held at the Canada School of Public Service on April 15, 2015. The Secretary of the Treasury Board presented the Tiger Team’s work and results and engaged with public servants across Canada. The webcast included elements of audience interaction, where individuals participating in-house and online were encouraged to fill out a survey asking them to rank a list of tasks given to them. The Tiger Team used the results in deciding where to focus their attention and to take a “deep dive.”

Focused Engagement

The end of the engagement phase yielded concrete results and derived a focused area in which a “deep dive” into problem identification could be taken.

Examine: The project team focused on the irritants most frequently mentioned and shared across multiple departments. Working with functional communities, end users traced their “red tape” journey to isolate the “pain points” and envision alternative outcomes.

Introducing the Design-Thinking Process

A Forum on July 7, 2015 marked the beginning of the Phase. The Tiger Team held a Forum gathering public servants from across the public service. Seventy-two participants from 26 departments and agencies attended the Forum, including policy specialists, rule followers and rule makers. The purpose of the Forum was to bring together representatives from various departments who were currently working on process simplification projects in staffing, procurement and grants and contributions. The analysis of over 170 departmental initiatives under way (See the Departmental Initiatives on Reducing Internal Red Tape in Chapter 2) suggested that many departments were already working on streamlining processes in the three topic areas identified in the webcast: staffing, procurement and grants and contributions. The Forum was an opportunity for participants to learn from one another’s experience, share best practices and explore different approaches to problem solving. It helped participants learn about what aspects of topics their colleagues were working on within their respective departments. Participants were then able to connect with colleagues with whom they felt there could be a beneficial connection with their own work.

The core of the day’s activities had participants working together to address common challenges. As part of the process, to help participants think more broadly about how to reduce internal red tape, a panel of design practitioners and experts shared their experiences with various parts of the design process, including problem identification, stakeholder mapping and implementation.

Following the panel discussions, participants applied some of the design-thinking tools in small groups through a facilitated exercise on addressing red tape in procurement, staffing and grants and contributions, respectively. In small groups, participants identified issues to be addressed, ideated value propositions, and designed stakeholder engagement plans and strategies for implementation. The user-centred approach, having the client as the dominant voice, was considered an advantage when discussing stakeholders in each of the business cases. There was also a common theme that saw the need for stakeholders from across government departments to work together toward finding solutions. Proposals included empowering the HR advisor to take on a more strategic role by working in partnership with the manager, finding ways to provide flexibility in low dollar value procurement, and standardizing processes within grants and contributions.

The purpose of this exercise was to have participants actively engage with one another and ideate strong value propositions enabling them to think strategically on solving a pain point in order to gain senior management buy-in. All proposals were then presented to a panel of ADMs for feedback. The overall reaction from the ADMs was very positive and candid; they were impressed with the quality of the pitches, which had been developed in such a short time. In these proposals, participants also indicated how the Tiger Team could help them move their respective projects forward by applying the design-thinking approach.

Leading Interdepartmental Workshops

Following the Forum, the Tiger Team assembled three working groups consisting of representatives from departments participating in the Forum, some of whom already attended the event. Each working group took part in an eight-week workshop series led by the Tiger Team to identify root causes and ideate solutions in low dollar value procurement, staffing and internal grants and contributions processes, respectively.

Establish: The workshop series had the twin purpose of exposing the root causes of the pain points, or irritants, identified by public servants in Phase I from a user-centred design perspective, and leveraging streamlining activities already under way in participating departments. Leveraging networks from the Forum, the Tiger Team was able to create three working groups with participants from an array of departments (see Chapter 3 for a list of participating departments and agencies). Each team was comprised of individuals who have experience in service design and access to support from functional experts, as well as related business data and research.

From November to December 2015, the three interdepartmental working groups tackled their respective topics. Although the specific strategy applied worked well for the working groups, the Tiger Team also tailored its approaches to the needs, resources and goals of each specific group. Regardless of the various needs of the groups, each stream consisted of two stages: 1) visioning and scoping; and 2) ideation. Moreover, all of the data gathered from the workshops was validated by other sources, including literary reviews, service audits and user interviews.

The following passages describe the tools used in each stage. For a more detailed explanation of each tool, a link is also provided.

Visioning and scoping


The goal was to gain a clear understanding of the nature of the issue being examined and the goals of the project.

Future backwards

Entails understanding the current status of the project and envisioning its potential destination (both best and worst case scenarios). The end results combine the participants’ efforts to scope out the project, identify key indicators that would lead them toward success, and surface some of their own assumptions around the project and its outcomes.

More information on the “Future Backwards” workshop is available at:

Process mapping

Once the group envisioned and scoped out the project and brainstormed what success and failure looked like, they started creating a process – or service – map. Essentially, the group’s main task was to visualize all of the tasks and touchpoints that a user would encounter while trying to achieve their desired outcome.

Process mapping sticky notes
A set of Post-It notes on a table, with various actors written on them in Sharpie.
Process mapping refinement
Post-It notes laid out on a large piece of paper, with arrows pointing from one to another and sometimes back again in small loops.
Stakeholder mapping

After gaining an understanding of the process, the objective was then to scope out the current status of the process by identifying all of the players or stakeholders involved in making their system work.

Task decomposition

Once the foundation of the process was built, each team proceeded to assign tasks/roles to each step and stakeholder identified in the system.

Root cause analysis

Following the task decomposition, participants in the staffing stream moved on to identify the root causes of each of the challenges found within the most painful tasks/steps. The objective was to uncover the causes of each of the major challenges that were previously identified.

User interviews

All groups conducted interviews with users. The objective was to capture the overall experience that users have had with the associated process and the elements surrounding the ongoing research. Working with the project sponsor, each group identified users who had a varying range of familiarity with the process or service within its scope. In preparation for the interviews, each group created a user interview guide by reviewing all the questions that surfaced from all the previous steps.

Journey mapping

Some groups also used a “journey mapping” workshop to capture the user’s experience.


Based on an understanding of the process, stakeholders, root causes and users, the goal was to design solutions to improve the process in question. This was done by analyzing interview results, building personas and exploring options.

Interview analysis

The group reviewed all the data from the interviews and/or journey mapping exercises and conducted an analysis to extract potential insights with a view to refining their existing research.


Some of the working groups developed solutions with the help of a persona.

In addition, two groups (LDV procurement and staffing) applied the following tools to explore solutions types:

Six hats

The group on LDV procurement applied this tool to think through various perspectives. The objective was to take one topic and look at it from six different perspectives. This steered the group toward a structured and objective conversation.

Innovation flow chart

With the help of personas, the group on staffing completed an “innovation flowchart” exercise. This tool helped participants unpack the necessary factors for success before fleshing out a plan of action.

Tiger Team members and workshop participants

Phase I Tiger Team

Phase II Tiger Team

Webcast Moderator and Todd-Cast Sessions

Interdepartmental Working Group participants

Low Dollar Value Procurement
Grants and Contributions