Chapter 4: Achievements and reflections
The work of the Tiger Team is also a story of discovery. The Tiger Team adopted new approaches and new tools to identify problems and design solutions. Through social media and in-person dialogue, as well as surveys, the team journeyed with public servants across the country to unravel internal red tape. At times, the work seemed daunting, as the team had to manage the demand for quick and definitive outcomes when the issues still seemed nebulous and the project deadline was fast approaching. Nevertheless, with support from senior management and public servants, the team was able to stay the course. Along the way, commonly held assumptions were challenged and new insights were gained.
What we achieved
Instead of talking about new and innovative approaches, the Tiger Team adopted design-thinking, an emerging approach, to unravel internal red tape. Rather than engaging public servants through the hierarchies of their organizations, it reached out directly to public servants through GCconnex and in-person meetings. It put public servants at the centre of identifying problems and designing solutions. Thanks to this approach, the team achieved what it set out to do under Destination 2020: 1) to engage public servants, using “a mix of social media and roundtables” to identify the biggest irritants when they have to follow rules and administrative processes; and 2) to work with departments to expose the root causes of and find solutions to some complex red tape problems. Through broad engagement and workshops on three areas, the initiative
- Highlights internal service standards and clear communication, in addition to simplifying processes, as critical to organizational success;
- Emphasizes the value of designing technological solutions with their intended users, testing the solutions with users before rolling them out across the public service;
- Fosters collaboration between “rule followers” and “rule makers” to understand the root causes of red tape irritants and design solutions to address them;
- Exposes root causes of red tape irritants common to the three areas examined in the workshops, which could also be applied to other areas; and
- Provides participants with new tools to tackle their issues in a learning-by-doing manner.
One of the recurring comments throughout the second phase of the initiative was the acknowledgement of the commonality among the issues each faced and the realization that we need to work together. In the workshops in Phase II, the Tiger Team brought individuals who must follow the administrative rules and processes together with those who enforce them. The research tools applied in the workshops, such as process mapping, stakeholder mapping and personas, helped participants gain an appreciation of the complexity of the administrative processes. In doing so, it became possible for the team to take a holistic look at an issue. Furthermore, as participants became aware of current work in progress, it allowed them to leverage existing initiatives in thinking about solutions.
What we learned
Adopting new approaches to a recurring and complex issue such as internal red tape is a challenge in itself. Emerging concepts, such as design-thinking and innovation labs, are becoming better known among federal communities through workshops by lead thinkers and practitioners, including those from Denmark’s Mindlab and the United Kingdom’s Behavioural Insights Team and Nesta. Applying these approaches to a specific issue is not easy. In most cases, there is no set formula, necessitating ongoing adjustment along the course of a project. A number of lessons were learned from this undertaking:
First, the power of stories: while internal red tape has been a common cause of complaints, it is through stories that one is able to clearly see the causes and the impact of these irritants. With over 400 stories, the Tiger Team was able to surface common themes and narratives. It reveals the gap between what public servants consider to be the causes of administrative barriers and the current initiatives to improve business processes.
Second, the value of challenging assumptions: when it comes to red tape, cumbersome process, technology (or a lack thereof) and TB policies often come to mind. Yet, service standards and unclear direction are the common irritants. While technology is often considered a cure for cumbersome process, findings from this initiative suggest that, when not designed with the end users in mind, technology is often the cause of – rather than a solution to – red tape. Through the workshops, it has become clear that, while TB policies need to be simplified and consistent, departmental processes and procedures need to leave room for flexibilities.
Third, the challenge of moving from talk to action: a crucial aspect in design-thinking is to move from ideation to prototype and test. The eight-week workshops helped participants define the problem and ideate solutions. Many, though, would like to see the group move to the prototype and test stage. While the Tiger Team has accomplished its mission, it is hoped that departments and agencies will continue to follow the design-thinking principles and carry their ideas into action.