Policy Innovation Platform: A Year in Review

By Jesse Darling and Heather Russek
May 7, 2018

By Jesse Darling and Heather Russek
May 7, 2018

Last year we embarked on an exciting partnership with the Ontario Cabinet Office’s Policy Innovation Hub to test the application of design tools and methodologies in the policy development process. We were thrilled by the opportunity to blend theory and practice and work with diverse partners, collaborators and citizens to co-design better policies, programs and services. To better understand how design-based methods could be used in the policy development process we got right to work.

Between April 2017 and March 2018 the Policy Innovation Platform designed and delivered eight engagements with the Policy Innovation Hub and other partners within the Ontario Government. Our work focused on testing tools and approaches within the realm of Design for Policy and Service Design. Most of our engagements applied tools from the human-centred design toolkit including empathy, co-design and collaboration, journey mapping and persona development.

It’s interesting to note that the human-centred design approach has much in common with and closely marries the traditional policy development process with one exception: citizens and/or end-users must be treated as co-designers of government policies, regulations and services. This marks an important movement away from developing policy for people to designing policy with people. Below is a high-level summary of each of our engagements and the approaches we used.

AI + Public Policy Conference

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has benefited from a number of recent technological advances. This transformative technology has the potential to fundamentally alter our society and how our public institutions operate. To begin to develop a shared understanding of the core technical concepts, historical contexts, threats and opportunities of AI we brought together policymakers, technologists, entrepreneurs, academics at a one-day conference. The conference was designed to provide foundational knowledge and better understand the cross-cutting implications of AI using custom case studies and an AI + Public Policy canvas.

Student Pathways Challenge

Given the changing nature of the workforce, youth today face higher—and more diverse—skills and experience requirements than ever before. It’s hardly surprising that only 44 percent of youth feel adequately prepared for the workforce. To help high school students better understand available career opportunities and the pathways to get there, we worked with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to design and deliver the Student Pathways Challenge. By releasing over 30 data sets, user research and capacity building tools, we empowered participants to conduct their own citizen-led service design project.

Scale-Up Regional Consultation

In recent years, Toronto has made strides in innovation and entrepreneurship, but companies still face barriers to scaling and growing. To better understand the key barriers to scaling, the root causes to these challenges and resources and supports that would be most helpful to overcoming these, we hosted a regional consultation on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Development + Growth that used design-thinking tools to inform the development of an Ontario Scale-Up Strategy.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

As our Scale-Up Consultation revealed, growing a business is challenging work for all entrepreneurs and business owners. Nevertheless, we know that it is particularly difficult for some groups more than others. The benefits of having more women-led high growth companies in Canada and in Ontario are substantial, and yet so are the hurdles women must jump over for their businesses to succeed at scaling. To identify areas for targeted intervention we conducted a design-led process that engaged policymakers across government, service providers and women entrepreneurs. The result was a Call for Proposals that allocated dedicated resources to support projects that would provide direct supports for women entrepreneurs.

Transforming the Ontario Public Service of the Future

The pace of change that the Ontario Public Service is undergoing is unprecedented. Multi-sectoral stakeholders and citizens are expressing a greater desire to participate in government decision-making, there is increased global competition for talent and specialized skills, shifting demographics and rapidly changing technology. To identify ways the Ontario Public Service could collaborate with individuals and organizations outside of the Public Service we co-hosted a consultation with Treasury Board. This engagement session used design-thinking tools to get public service allies and collaborators to ideate, brainstorm and then prioritize principles that would be most transformative.

Budget Talks

We were excited by the opportunity to build on some of the ideas we heard at the Transforming Public Service engagement and work with the Ontario Digital Service to better understand how technology can bring citizens closer to the policymaking process. Budget Talks began in 2014 as an experiment in using digital tools to engage citizens. Budget Talks: Then, Now, Next draws insights from mixed methods – including qualitative and qualitative research – to examine the evolution of Budget Talks and possible scenarios for its future.

Anti-Racism Youth Engagement

One of Ontario’s greatest strengths is diversity. Yet, systemic racism is a prevalent issue in Ontario despite the abundance of diverse backgrounds and cultures in local cities and communities. Research has revealed that youth experience or witness racism more often than people aged 55 years or older. Recognizing that youth required a different approach to discussing systemic racism, the Anti -Racism Directorate (ARD) set out to consult and engage youth through a series of public engagement initiatives. The ARD engaged us to help design, facilitate and execute a youth-led engagement session. To design and facilitate an effective and inclusive engagement session, we drew from a number of design methods including human-centred design and co-design.

Exploring the Policy Innovation Landscape

The irony is not lost on us that there lacks a shared definition and understanding of “policy innovation”. To begin to gain insight into the policy innovation landscape in Canada we conducted preliminary analysis to better understanding the tools, techniques and approaches used at three levels of government. Exploring Policy Innovation identifies the challenges and opportunities that lie before public sector innovators and highlights future areas of research, which we hope to advance in the coming months.

We have learned a lot over the last year and look forward to sharing our policy innovation lessons learned in a follow-up piece.

We want to thank the Policy Innovation Hub for their support and confidence in our work over the past year. Without their leadership, this work would have not been possible. We also want to thank all the Ministries and partners we’ve worked with. We thank you for your tireless and fearless commitment to continuously trying to raise the bar to deliver excellent public services, programs and policies for the people of Ontario.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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