Transcript: Government of the Future Series: Working Collaboratively with the Public
[The CSPS logo appears onscreen alongside text that reads "Webcast".]
[The screen fades to Melanie Copeland in a video chat panel.]
Melanie Copeland: Good day, everyone. My name is Melanie Copeland, the Manager of the Transformation Accelerator Hub at Employment and Social Development Canada. On behalf of the School, I would like to welcome all participants to this event. I am pleased to introduce today's event, entitled Working Collaboratively with the Public, which is the second in the miniseries on collaboration in the Government of the Future series. The series is a collaboration between the Canada School of Public Service and the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration, and features scholars and practitioners discussing the latest academic research in public administration, allowing us to adopt strategies and practices to meet today's challenges. This event will explore some of the factors and challenges to consider when collaborating effectively with the public. Speakers will present insights on public engagement to address known issues, suggest solutions, and improve public administration. Participants will learn about the most recent practices for collaboration in a government context, when to use them, and strategies to promote inclusive collaboration.
Before going further, I would like to recognize that I am speaking to you from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I want to express my gratitude to generations of Algonquin people past and present as the original caretakers of the space I occupy. I am very grateful to be here.
We have a great discussion planned for you today and we want you to have the best possible experience. Therefore, I have a few housekeeping items to go over. To start with, today's event will be primarily in English. Simultaneous interpretation and the service of CART real-time captioning is available to you, should you need it and want to follow in the language of your choice. You can access these features directly from the Webcast interface or you can refer to the reminder e-mail that was sent to you by the School. We will be taking questions throughout the event via the Collaborate videochat platform. To submit your question, click on the Participate button at the top right hand of your screen. We will try to get to as many as time will permit today. We encourage you to participate heavily and in the language of your choice. To help you experience the event at the fullest possible level, we encourage you to disconnect from your VPN. If you are experiencing any technical issues, it is recommended to relaunch the Webcast link provided to you.
[Anna Kopec, Vince Hopkins, and Jeannie Dempster appear in separate video chat panels.]
So, I'd like to present Anna Kopec of Carleton University, where she is an Assistant Professor in Public Policy and Equality. Her doctoral research examined the effects of public policies on the political agency and participation of individuals experiencing homelessness in Melbourne and Toronto. Welcome. We have Vince Hopkins of the University of Saskatchewan's Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. He's a former public servant, both with the federal government and the Government of British Columbia. He has also served as a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan and is a doctoral fellow at the Canadian Study of Parliament Group. Welcome, Vince. We have also Jeannie Dempster, the Director of the Innovation Lab at Employment and Social Development Canada. The latest stop in a wide career with the federal government, including stops at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Privy Council Office. Welcome, Jeannie.
So, let's kick off our presentations. We're so excited. Let's start off with you, Anna. Can't wait to hear what your research is about and what your insights have been.
Anna Kopec: Thank you for that introduction, Melanie.
Hi, everyone. It's my pleasure to be here with all of you today to speak about a topic that's important, timely, and very related to my work. As Melanie mentioned, my research focuses on homelessness and political participation. I wanted to know how the policies that individuals access influence their political agency, and how and where they engage with government to bring about change. How do experiences applying for housing or social assistance influence how individuals see the government and how they engage with it? The research gave me a unique outlook on citizen engagement from the perspective of a population on the margins, and often discarded by Canadian society. Understanding where and how individuals engage, and also by nature then, where they don't, allows us to think about why policies aren't changing and where some voices are excluded from influencing those changes.
I did over 100 interviews with individuals experiencing homelessness, service providers and policymakers in beautiful Melbourne, Australia, as well as in Toronto, and learned that individuals experiencing homelessness engage with the government in multiple different ways. Their everyday interactions with services are forms of participation and there are also different opportunities for engagement within different venues. The problem then becomes where their engagement is valued and where it isn't, which influences where such opportunities for engagement are provided. Although individuals engage in various ways to bring about change, where they were given opportunities to engage with government and services depended on the policy context. I found that how we design policies then not only influences if individuals want to engage with government, but also where they do so. Our policies create environments that value some forms of engagement over others. There are ways then that we devalue engagement by making policies less visible, which I'm sure we'll talk about later with Vince, by making them less accessible and more exclusionary. These policies not only send messages about who is deserving in our society, but they also create spaces where some engagement is more valued. Engagement then isn't simply an act, it's an environment that we create that interacts with policies and services. It can change them, but also in turn be influenced by policy itself.
The comparison between Melbourne and Toronto was quite significant in my research. I found that in Melbourne, there was more engagement with individuals with a lived experience of homelessness in the development of policy, but also within services. And this went beyond consultation that is oftentimes touted as collaboration but is actually more surface level and tokenistic. That surface level consultation was more common in Toronto. Individuals often spoke of the importance of their lived experience and their desire to engage in ways that can bring changes not only for them, but also for their peers and broader society. They spoke about why policies are failing and how exactly they need to be changed. And so today, I will be sharing some steps we can take for more inclusive engagement that comes from those that I had the immense privilege of speaking with. Individuals often spoke to me about their experiences engaging in different venues. Oftentimes, they felt that their lived experience was undervalued, that they were merely tokens and were not actually heard. Oftentimes, individuals spoke about the importance of government engagement with the population, but for more continued and informed engagement, where governments come from a place of understanding that does not place some experiences second to others. Lived expertise, after all, is a form of policy relevant expertise.
And I'd like to emphasize that collaboration and engagement go beyond consultation, they are long term and ongoing processes. To bring positive changes in policies, we need to share the political space with others, and in a way that is truly inclusive. Relatedly then, to share power, there is need to also build capacity within the community. Engagement is long-term and so building that capacity should be a goal that goes beyond government departments. This can include multiple levels of engagement, resources, and support for those involved. A lot of individuals spoke to me about tokenism and the illusion of inclusion. Engagement cannot include a quest for the token. Undercutting the diversity of the public for our own gain or to make things easier has the opposite effect of the intent of engagement. Engagement with the public has almost always purposefully excluded some. There's a need then, to ensure that engagement is accessible. And I mean this in multiple different ways, which we can unpack maybe later, from location and format, but also compensation, child care, time, ability, considering community norms, among many others.
To strive for engagement, there is a need to go beyond the structured way of doing things and create environments where many can be meaningfully included as well as supported throughout. It is not only engagement then, but meaningful engagement. This means considering why engagement is needed in the first place, and why the public stands to benefit from it. And then, not only going through with the engagement, but also coming back and sharing how the engagement was used and continuing those relationships. I'm sure that many of you can think of various engagements for different strategies and policies that weren't perhaps as fruitful as you'd hoped. This is not only frustrating for you, but also for the public. Bringing meaningful changes in public engagement is not always about starting from scratch. It can start at any point in time by simply bringing changes in how you interact, and building from previous experiences and relationships. Being clear about what the engagement is used for is vital to these relationships. Otherwise, as those I spoke with often pointed to, you leave participants questioning why they engaged in the first place and why that engagement mattered, which has consequences on the public's relationship with the government, as well as other forms of engagement.
And I'll just finish with one last quick point: It's okay to be uncomfortable. We, and I say this in relation to government as well as academia and the public, need to be reflective and consider who we are engaging, and those we are not. Only then can we notice the power imbalances and seek advice from different stakeholders. If we do it carefully, however, and build collaborative environments, then there are many positive consequences of engagement. As my research shows, meaningful engagement can lead to better services, policies, and benefits for individual political agency and autonomy. This is quite an important responsibility and therefore needs to be taken quite seriously.
Thank you again to Melanie and Canada School of Public Service for having me here today. I look forward to the discussion with Vince, Jeannie, and all of you.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Anna. That was really, really impactful, tokenism, the illusion of inclusion. You're speaking my language with collaboration, working directly with users, designing for the edges. For the public servants on the line, please refer to the GC Digital Standards as your guide in adopting effective behaviors for this digital era, but also to meet citizen expectations. Anna, thank you so much for that really great presentation, I really look forward to the discussion. I already have my questions ready to go. Without further ado, let's move on to Vince.
Over to you, Vince.
Vince Hopkins: Thank you so much, Melanie.
Hi, everyone. Bonjour, tout le monde.
So, I'm currently in Saskatoon. That's Treaty 6 Territory. It's also the traditional homeland of the Métis. Later this year, I'll actually be joining the University of British Columbia, which sits on the traditional unceded and ancestral territory of the Musqueam people.
I've kind of lived all over, so I used to work in the feds in Gatineau, and then I worked for a while in the B.C. government, as Melanie said. Now, I'm in the prairies. But I want to talk a bit today about my research on social programs. I want to make the case, like social programs, public services are a key determinant of social outcomes, and this is especially true for people who are living on the margins, who are oppressed, who've been excluded from labour markets. And in this context, I want to talk a bit about low take-up of public services, right? Why do people who might benefit from government programs not apply for them? That's what all my research is about. There are so many Canadian examples. The Canada Learning Bond is kind of a famous one in the feds. About 40% of low-income children receive it. The Disability Tax Credit, another famous example. But it's not just Canada. In the U.S., just about half of eligible Americans apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. About two fifths of eligible families apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. So, low take-up is a defining feature of social programs. I want to make three sort of brief points on that.
First, I want to make the case that public administration is always expensive, and that programs generally split the cost of public administration between citizens and the government. And third, when cost sharing between citizens and the government, when cost sharing is uneven, it's usually marginalized citizens who pay more than their fair share. And that's the context in which I think public collaboration is so important. Not just because it helps us understand the client experience, I hear that a lot, "understand the client experience," but because it helps us identify who bears which cost, and that knowledge of who bears which cost can help us target our internal government resources to increase take-up. There is sort of a puzzle in the academic literature, like why is take-up so low? Government spends a ton of money and a ton of time debating, designing, implementing these programs, and then people don't show up for them. Generally, there are three sort of arguments about why take-up is low. There might be a problem of low awareness; people simply don't know it exists. There might be unclear motivation; people aren't really sure if they want it or not. And there might be weak participation; that is that it's complicated to actually get on to the program.
So, low awareness is very common, right? This could be that we send out an e-mail to people who just don't open it, we send out pamphlets to people, they toss them to recycling. Motivations, whether people want something, that's also not quite straightforward. Language we use can be a big barrier here, a lot of research coming out of the U.S. showing that stigmatizing language is a common feature of social programs and stigmatizing language actually reduces people's interest to enroll in programs like food stamps, (inaudible), like renter's subsidies. But even if people know a program exists and they're like, "Yeah, sign me up, I want the program," participation is sometimes a challenge. Can people actually successfully apply? This might mean navigating to an online form, getting all the paperwork together, completing a long application, maybe there's an intake interview. If there's a mistake, they might have to repeat the whole process.
So, take-up has these three components: awareness, motivation, and participation. And my research unit which I lead, the Behavioural Public Policy Lab, we're a team of six: myself, two full-time researchers, and some awesome grad students. So, we try to tackle all three of these: awareness, motivation, and participation. So, we conduct interviews and we run experiments, try to build awareness, harness motivation, simplify participation, generally for Canadians and for non-Canadians too, to access public services at least here in Canada. A lot of my work, like most of my work involves employment programs. These are people who've lost their job, who are precariously employed, and they might benefit from wage subsidies, skills training, job counseling, but they don't show up for those programs. Last year, for example, I led interviews in Vancouver on the downtown east side, and several virtual interviews across the province, to understand why at-risk youth either do or don't access these sort of support employment services. The interviews are great because we heard a lot about low awareness among youth. They often simply don't know a program is available or they misperceive what the program is all about. They don't think it's for them, even though the program is exactly targeted for their situation. In the fall, we leveraged those interviews into a co-design workshop. So, I worked with community partners on the ground and they're using these new, very cool, very digital tools to increase awareness. So, we try to build some policy learning into this, seeing what's working in community partners, and we invited senior policymakers in the province to come and join that conversation, and they shed light on participation. Why is application so complicated sometimes? Why is the referral process into and between services so tricky? So, right now, we're rolling all of that, the interviews, the co-design workshop, the consultations, to try to address the problem. I'm working with a few provinces and some work with the feds, which I love, that I work with the feds, to increase take-up of employment services. And when I say increase take-up, I mean we're doing large-scale randomized controlled trials to field potential interventions and see what works, help people access training and opportunities so they can thrive in their careers.
So, I started off by saying that public administration is expensive. Programs generally split the costs between citizens and the government. This cost-sharing model is often uneven. Citizens, and especially marginalized citizens, wind up paying more to administer government programs than they should. This might take the form of gathering documentation, waiting on hold, waiting in line. But when we do public collaboration, when we do things like interviews, co-design workshops, and we bring policymakers and community partners into the decision-making process, we can sort of help ensure that these costs are distributed a bit more fairly. And that also, I think, increases the quality of public services. I made the case that mixed methods are especially powerful. We can use interviews to understand the problem, but we can use co-design to craft solutions. But we don't stop at design, we don't stop at research and design. We use field experiments to find out and gather data about what really works. That's not easy, right? Getting citizens and decisionmakers in decision-making rooms, working collaboratively across levels of government, getting other stakeholders involved, definitely not easy. It's complicated, but if anyone can do it, it's the federal public service. And when we do that, we can reduce the overall cost to citizens, and I think increase the equity of our public policies.
Thanks so much.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Vince, for that wonderful presentation. Promoting benefits is one thing but, as you say, once they're eager to opt for a benefit, how can we create that seamless service experience for citizens so they don't have as many hoops to go through? I remember during the start of the pandemic, TikTok was blowing up and some wonderful public health practitioners found their way on there as a means to get to youth and to spread some good tips and advice there. There's a lot of really fun channels we can use. Can't wait to hear about the creative digital solutions you've observed there. Thank you so much, Vince.
Jeannie, over to you.
Jeannie Dempster: Thank you. Merci beaucoup, Melanie.
And thank you Anna and Vince as well. I'm Jeannie Dempster, Director of the Innovation Lab. I am very happy to be here.
And I think it just makes so much sense that I'm going after Anna and Vince who have presented such an important background and backdrop of the kinds of research and the kinds of work that's happening now, and that has been happening in academia.
[A slide is shown with the text "ESDC Innovation Lab At a Glance – Designing Solutions with Canadians, for Canada".]
And so, I'm just mindful of, there could be a rather broad audience out there today across the government.
[A slide appears with the text « Laboratoire d'innovation d'ESDC en un coup d'œil – Concevoir des solutions avec les Canadiens, pour le Canada », a French translation of the previous slide.]
Just a reminder, I am at ESDC, Employment and Social Development Canada. I'm going to draw a bit, I hope, from what Vince and Anna were discussing, in terms of, areas of their research aligned really well with our department. We do deal with socioeconomic policies and programs, we have employment insurance and that responsibility, homelessness that Anna was referring to. And so, the lab in ESDC was formed... it's actually going to be eight years this May that the lab has been around. It's evolved enormously over that amount of time. But at the heart and core of it was this idea around human-centered research. And why is it so important for us to bring that into our body of capabilities in government, in research, in a particular area that's informing our policies and our existing programs, is exactly because of so many of the reasons that Anna and Vince have so eloquently outlined today.
And so, practically speaking, the lab will work with our partners within government, but our end goal is always to improve the lived experiences, the well-being of our clients, if you will, for ESDC, those Canadians. And many of those are in precarious life situations when they are coming to us. So, the lab and the projects that we have worked with our colleagues within ESDC on have covered many of these areas. And the goal has been to use these, as we call them, qualitative research methods, to better reach these populations. Historically, this is something newer to government, we typically will refer, will use other techniques and tools, other methodologies, heavy use of statistics, quantitative methodologies. And we do consult, of course we do. I come from a policy background. Consultation has always been a huge part of policy development, that's not new. It's sort of with whom and how we've done it. And what we're trying to do with lab projects that we're doing is to introduce some different approaches. And similar to some of the projects and research projects that Anna and Vince have done, we've been working and doing some of those internally to government. So, we actually are currently working with some of our colleagues on the Canada Learning Bond, again, to improve those take-up issues and those access issues. We've worked on projects with low-income seniors and interviewed them directly to gain really incredible, valuable insights.
I want to pick up on something I think Vince referenced, mixed methods. What does that mean? Practically speaking, that project with low-income seniors, we had data sets and lists that our program colleagues in the department shared with us. So, we reached out, we connected, and we tested, through behavioral insights, randomized controlled trials using behavioral insights. And what does that mean? It's folks in the lab who come from academia with psychology and social psychology training and backgrounds, and used techniques such as randomized controlled trials that have long been used in in academia, in sociology. These are not new at all, they're just newer to us in government. And so, reached out, but the results were underwhelming. And so, when we say mixed methods, what we then did is we identified a certain number of colleagues of... sorry, colleagues of participants potentially, and then did one-on-one interviews, very in-depth, with them. And based on that, re-did a new set of letters to them to better reach them, with significantly improved results. And that's an example of a mixed methods project.
Now, when we've been doing this, and since I came on as well, there have been a lot of internal conversations, though around, okay, what are the potential risks? Are there any of this in government, of these approaches?
[A slide is shown with the text:
"Working Collaboratively with the Public"
"1) Why human-centered research is relevant to the policies and programs of ESDC
- Socio-economic mandate lends itself to qualitative research methods
- Aligning with academic research practices"
"2) What are the considerations?
- Training employees
- Government reputation
- Ethical challenges"
"3) What are the risk mitigations/solutions?
- Mandatory training; Interviewers – partnering, senior levels
- Adopting TCPS 2; Ethics Charters"
- Ethics Review Boards
And there absolutely are. There's very important considerations as people get... we get excited. This is amazing, we've got improved results, we're getting improved uptake of benefits, we're reaching those harder to reach populations. There are absolutely vital considerations for us to make, and I know that Anna and Vince, you've touched on some. From our perspective internally in government, the training of employees and making sure people are coming with the accreditations, who we hire into the lab at ESDC, they're coming with those backgrounds that I mentioned, often.
In terms of the qualitative researchers, they're coming with sociology backgrounds and quantitative backgrounds, as well in those psychology, social psychology, behavioural insights training. So, building your teams, ensuring that people have the training, the same as we do for all of our other areas. And then those identifications, and particularly at ESDC, and there may be other government departments as well, if you are dealing with particularly vulnerable or hard to reach populations, there are so many other considerations that you must be aware of, and must be aware of around the potential risks of government reputation. What I mean by that is when you're out there, you are representing the Government of Canada, and when you're talking to people, you need to be aware of their situations and scenarios.
So, I think there was reference of the history with Indigenous populations, and if you're looking to better reach our folks across Canada in the country and improve those relations with them, understanding the history, and understanding for example, the word "research" alone is something very sensitive to that population because of historic reasons and historic... how do I put this, historic interactions between government and Indigenous populations in that area in the past, and so thinking about that and having an important plan before you're going out. Also, make sure you're not duplicating efforts. There are a lot of groups in Canada, Indigenous is one, and other populations where they have fed back to us. We've heard from so many different parts of government, and this is a big one for the federal government. Half a dozen different parts of government have come to talk to us. And so, it gets a bit overwhelming to them. And so, we need to really be more coordinated. And even in a large department, especially like our department at ESDC, coordinating those efforts when we are going to reach out, checking and making sure who else has already done some work in this area, is there work that already exists, who is and who has been talking to this particular group, can I reach out to them first, so really taking stock before we go out, before we're engaging with these populations. It's just not the same set of considerations as those in academia. And even I know in academia, they're doing a lot of that as well, and all of that plus. So, it's an add-on with government, so many other considerations.
And the ethical challenges around that, I would say, would lead us to some potential solutions, things that we're considering and that we have already initiated in the lab and at ESDC, making sure that folks have that training. When they do one-on-one interviews, they're always partnered. There's always a more senior person there, and then there's usually a note-taker. We have a draft ethics charter that we developed over four years ago for the lab that basically adopted the TCPS 2 that academia uses for these methods, and we adapted it for the government experience. And latest and greatest, we have, in ESDC, established something that we call Qualnet, and it is a network, a community of practice if you will, of qualitative researchers across our department. They meet regularly, and the latest identification of some issues that they've raised to us, we've created a series of working groups. And one of those working groups, I'm pleased that the lab is leading a working group around ethics challenges and the idea of creating an ethics review board, a research ethics board in our department. Other departments already have these, such as Health Canada. The more traditional science-based departments have them, and I think it's time for more social-based and socioeconomic-based departments to take a page from there.
So, I'll leave it at that. I'm really excited for questions.
I would like to answer your questions in the language of your choice. And thank you again Melanie, Anna and Vince!
Melanie Copeland: Merci beaucoup, Jeannie, thank you so much. I really enjoyed hearing about the lab's mixed methods and hearing of your experiences working, and interviewing directly with vulnerable populations and hard to reach populations.
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us.
Okay, so over to Q&A. A reminder to participants that you can click the Participate button to submit your questions. I've got a few in my back pocket here to get us started.
So, I think an area that we could start chatting about is this idea that not all benefits reach the right individuals. Anna, could you speak to us a little bit more about your observations or your insights, and why that is? And how could we kind of close the gap there in terms of getting the right onboarding for those citizens?
Anna Kopec: Thank you for that question, Melanie, and a very important one that we can all speak to.
A lot of it is related to what I've called policy visibility, and what's actually talked a lot about in academia regarding how visible a policy is, and sometimes in reference to even public servants, as well as those delivering services. But obviously in my case, I'm looking at individuals experiencing homelessness in particular. So, many people that I spoke with were unaware of certain benefits and then would point to that one really great front-line worker that shared all this information that they never heard of before, and this has several implications. Not only is the information not getting to those that need it, but there's also an immense administrative burden placed on front-line staff that is already overburdened, as we know, especially in the homelessness sector. So, then front-line staff are asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting and put together information. And in homelessness in particular, this includes many policy areas, not just one. So, many people are relying on frontline workers doing their own homework and their own research about what services are available, and what's there and what isn't.
So, where policies and services were more visible, though, I found that this included not only better delivery and more uptake, but it was also where policies were more integrated. So, there is a relationship then between how visible a policy was, how it was delivered, and how it collaborated also with other policy areas. It was in these spaces, mostly in Melbourne, where there was also ongoing engagement with individuals accessing those services. So, there's this really great feedback loop of where there is more visibility and more accessible implementation and more collaboration between policy areas, then there is also more uptake of collaboration with those accessing the services, which included committees and advocacy groups as well as various opportunities for engagement with government and co-design work, with peer work. So, I think take-up needs to include more engagement with target populations overall and at many different points in the policy cycle, which Vince also spoke to, as did Jeannie, not only when we make or design policies, but also when they're implemented, and later again when we are evaluating them, which should be an ongoing process.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Anna.
And Vince, you spoke of similar uptake issues and participation issues, including the plain language that we're using to connect with citizens, or the methods of communication we're using for some populations. We might have to go in person, for example, or the language of their choice. You also expanded on, services aren't that easy to follow. It's hard to figure out. Am I still on the Government of Canada website or am I somewhere else? What would be your tips on how the government could begin to reduce those gaps?
Vince Hopkins: Thanks, Melanie.
Yeah, that's a tough one. There's sort of two angles that I see on it. One is, I think it speaks to public collaboration when we invite people into either design, into sort of implementation, formulation. I think we can sort of hear from them how they describe their experiences and how they describe government programs and policies. And so, I think there is, I think, an opportunity to learn from individuals and hear how they describe their own life. And so, we can sort of learn from that. So, in my work, we talk a lot about employment services. And that's a very vague term for people who actually access employment services. They generally think of them more in terms of actual programs: skills training, career counseling. Even terms that might make a lot of sense to people in the know, a program like wage subsidies where the government pays part of a worker's salary or hourly wage might mean nothing to the public, or just be more confusing. So, I think public collaboration can teach us sort of how to talk about what it is we do.
But I think there is also a flipside to that, which is government can sometimes, in my experience, especially on the digital side, really obsess about this stuff, and so get sort of wrapped up in awareness, like measures of e-mail opens or clicks or website visits, and lose sight of sort of the downstream consequences. I remember when I was in the B.C. government, we had a year-end wrap up, and it was like, "What have we done this year?" And it was first year, it was 2020, right during COVID. And someone talked about the number of website visits that they had, and I thought, that's great, that's important, but did that keep people out of the hospital? Did that put vaccines in arms? What was the lived experience of that consequence? So, I think this focus on awareness and on reducing what we would call learning costs for citizens is really important, but to never take the eye off the prize, which is those are simply instrumental in the goal of money in the bank account, vaccines in arms. Whatever it is we're trying to optimize, increase, take above, that's what we've got to keep a very tight focus on.
Melanie Copeland: That's a really good nuance there. It's not just about the uptake but the return for citizens. Are they getting their needs met through that benefit? Really insightful there.
So, I'm not seeing new questions pop up from the audience, so we'll just keep going with this flow. Jeannie, at ESDC there's a lot of work happening across the department to bridge the gap between policy and service delivery, and I'm seeing more and more uptake in terms of working with users and adopting that citizen-centric lens. And I'd like to believe that places like the lab are a really good tool for us to begin to bridge that gap, for us to be more in tune with citizen needs. Can you speak a little bit more about how your team and the way that you're approaching chatting with citizens directly is helping to stay more connected to the population?
Jeannie Dempster: Great question. Thanks, Melanie.
And I would say, absolutely, in our department there is so much potential that the lab and the projects that we do... they're a drop in the bucket. So, one of the other mandates of the lab is to work and try to expand that capacity and build capacity throughout ESDC to enable that, to share through networks the learnings that we have through sessions such as this. So, we don't want hold on too tightly to that knowledge, we want to share it. And as we're sharing it, as I mentioned during my presentation, I want to share also some of the amazing things, but also things we've noticed around those risks and those challenges. Specifically in terms of reaching people that we want to interview with, sometimes it's been very easy, like I mentioned around the GIS and the uptake of the GIS amongst low-income seniors. We had a population, we had data sets. We don't always. And so, by learning in the midst of our projects, we have, for example, fairly recently done some research and connected to external organizations who have great data sets and lists. We've had to do some important considerations around the privacy and security of data issues in that regard, the reliability, the viability of some of those organizations, and that we've identified, and we've got currently, for example, a really good working relationship with an external organization. That's also helped with issues, and I know that they were raised earlier by Anna and Vince, around the time that we're asking of populations, and especially those who are particularly... perhaps they don't have all that time in the world, 60 to 90 minutes for an in-depth interview.
One piece I would mention around compensation, it is important to have good compensation policies and approaches. Every department is going to have their own approaches, and I believe as well there is a general consistent approach that we will need in the Government of Canada. So, that's one thing. And then very practically speaking, just this fall, one of our projects we've been working on with lower income, or perhaps less affluent, families there, they're working all day. And so, we had to adjust when we interviewed them. We are all virtual, we have been virtual since the beginning of the pandemic. We were doing in-person before, where we would go to them physically and we would travel and reach them right at their homes, which is also why it's so important to have at least two people there, for safety and security reasons, but in terms of being adaptable to their timelines. And so, we would have... our researchers, would conduct their interviews, for example, sometimes six, seven o'clock at night, virtually. But those are just some practical examples of how we need to adapt and try some new and different ways.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Jeannie.
So, we've got questions coming up now from the audience. Fantastic.
So, Vince, let's go back to you. The issuing of CERB was really interesting. You could tell that the government was opting for a risk-tolerant approach. You knew very well that some citizens would receive CERB but weren't fully eligible to receive those benefits. But at the end of the day, it was crucial that those most vulnerable had that benefit; those that were making ends meet and really needed to rely on that money. And so, in your experience in witnessing all of that, uptake was certainly not an issue. What would have been the similarities, differences with some other benefits that you would have observed in your studies? What was it about CERB that worked well? What are some lessons learned for other departments wanting to issue similar benefits?
Vince Hopkins: Yeah, I mean I think we need a book on CERB, because there's so... like, it comes up every time we have this kind of conversation. I mean, we normally talk about low take-up as a problem, but here's a case where low take-up actually probably is not the problem. We can be even more precise. I think actually, usually the problem is about targeting take-up on people who need it the most. So, let me give you an example from my own research and then I'll come back to CERB.
So, three years ago, when COVID hit, there was this massive increase in EI, in employment insurance applications. People lose their job, right? Two million Canadians out of work in an eight-week period, unemployment's at 14%, and I worked with the B.C. government to run a large field experiment to sort of test different messages to see what would drive enrollment in provincial training programs. And this makes a lot of sense because we know that employment services work best during times of recession, right? I'm out of the labour market, there's no jobs for me, now is a great time to take on that new training program to get that dental hygienist upgrade or that computer skills certificate. So, it's kind of a really important problem. We randomly assigned people to different messages, a classic field experiment like what Jeannie was talking about, and when we looked at the results, we saw really big, what we would call, treatment effects. One message really outperformed the other. And that was important because that means we could scale it up and help thousands of more people.
But when we dug deeper into the data, it was a more complicated story. What we'd really done was increased take-up among people who had college degrees, and sometimes that's exactly what you want. In this case though, I think there's an argument, given sort of scarce resources, getting people with two PhDs or whatever into free skills training is not really what we wanted. And so, I think targeting is really, really important. A big lesson for me, and I think this relates to CERB and probably for a lot of government programs, is that we need to build the infrastructure for experimentation now, like today. Like, you should have conversations today with your IT folks. When the next crisis hits, it's too late to build that kind of platform. And the kind of interviews that Jeannie was talking about, that I do as well, extremely valuable. They're slow, they take a long time, especially if you're going to put ethics first and foremost, and they don't provide really clear evidence about what works at scale. And that's important when the stakes are really high.
So, in the case of CERB, the government clearly said we don't need to target too much, everyone who wants to apply for CERB will apply, and we'll figure out the details later. And that worked, and I think there's a good argument from what I read, that that saved the economy. But I think the lesson is, now is a time to be building the experimentation platforms, the data collection platforms, the data governance and privacy procedures that allow us to do the kind of high throughput, high frequency experiments that citizens more and more expect governments to be doing. So, my big takeaway from CERB is we need to get better at targeting and we need to get faster at running experiments.
Melanie Copeland: Very well said, very well said.
Alright, let's move on to another question. Jeannie, this is a really good one for you.
What training do you recommend for employees who prepare and conduct public consultations?
So, what training might you recommend to fellow public servants that are responsible for consultations with the public?
Jeannie Dempster: Thank you! That is a very good question in regards to the different types of training available. There are quite a few. What I would say is that it depends on how long you think you would be engaged, in other words, the depth of your projects. There are one-day, two-day, or week-long courses, for example, in the area of "user experience" or "client experience", certificates that provide the basic knowledge and foundation needed. In addition, there are academic programs at the university level, bachelor's and master's degrees, and even higher. So, it depends.
There's a trajectory there from a few days of courses to get a certificate, all the way through to diplomas and degrees. In particular, if you're looking at areas like OCAD for design, that gives you a great background and training on design thinking, and they do teach. And then if you're in a university area, sociology, social psychology, you might want to take a look at areas specific to behaviour, behavioural insights, behavioural economics. It just rounds out the quantitative with the qualitative. So, just to repeat in English what I said in French there, I hope that answers. But I would do a bit of research and I would form it against what your work needs are.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Jeannie.
Anna, Vince, any additional training that might benefit public servants just to feel comfortable engaging with the public? There's various techniques out there as well. And Anna, I'm thinking of you because you went ahead and engaged directly, so did you, Vince, but you went ahead and engaged directly with a hundred folks that identified as homeless. What kind of skills did you require in order to feel comfortable doing that? And what were the soft skills as well, I'm really curious, in terms of listening skills and empathy, and so on.
Go ahead Anna.
Anna Kopec: Thank you, Melanie. Great question.
I teach qualitative research methods to students, so I often always start with, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I said it in my presentation, I'll probably say it again. I think that is important. I also think there's a lot of research out there, and often researchers, and I'm part of this problem as well, we don't often reflect on our time in the field. And so, I think that this is something we need to do more often, and something I'm doing with my work, in order to not only inform other researchers but also others that are engaging with populations too. So, I think that going through and looking at previous research that's been done on various difficult topics in various different contexts that we can maybe borrow from. I found myself reading a lot of research conducted by ethnographers with hard-to-reach populations. Sometimes it included reading reflections from researchers that were doing research in conflict zones or with Indigenous populations and hard-to-reach populations as well. Unfortunately though, like I said, academia is still slow on doing this. And so, I think this is a problem as well within academia that we need to kind of also rectify. And hopefully, that will also build some partnerships with government too.
And I also think that the soft skills, there's many I think to talk about here. But I guess I'll focus more so on the empathy aspect, because I did... COVID kind of hit just as I was doing my field work in Toronto, and so I did move to online Zoom interviews where possible or phone interviews with participants that were currently in shelters during the pandemic or were in COVID isolation hotels. And I noticed very quickly how important my body language, and eye contact, and that empathy, face-to-face interaction was, also to me, but also to participants. And so, I think there is something to be said about physically being able to be there with someone. That also comes with a lot of challenges, both ethically as well as access, and thinking about the gatekeepers to various different populations. It also means that it takes more time, which I know isn't always a good thing, but it does take time to build those relationships and gain trust and also have participants feel comfortable. I also did some things a little bit differently. I didn't always record interviews. I worked with participants to help me write the interview notes. And so, participants would slow down and I would take notes with them collaboratively, because I found that recording was sometimes obstructing that trust, and that relationship. So, I could keep going but I'll just stop there and if there's other questions I can follow up after.
Melanie Copeland: That was really interesting.
Vince, have you explored similar challenges relating to COVID in terms of getting data for your research. I'm curious to hear if there's any other creative spins that you could add on top of what Anna just provided?
Vince Hopkins: Yeah, I think when I was doing user research in government before COVID, I always had to make a pitch for online. I think there was a real preference for in-person interviews, to fly a government team out to some rural community or remote community and do face-to-face interviews. I think the move towards online really helped. But I think there's a broader sort of lesson here, which is that I think that we can start to move away from this. People might be familiar on the call with the phrase "waterfall" or "agile," this idea of, we do this enormous build-up to a big product release and it's like going off a waterfall, and it's about as terrifying. We do research in the same way, right? We think, we'll be doing interviews in two months, so let's spend two months, go to the ethics board, and we'll involve academic researchers, and we'll circulate questions, and we'll come up with compensation. I think we can just move to a much more continuous kind of research approach where we're interviewing one person a week. That's a total shift in how we currently do user research and public policy, and I think it's enormously positive. So, the move towards online Zoom-based interviews also opens up the field away from this laborious, high-cost, high-risk public collaboration to one which is really just... it's sort of how we do business. Every week, we talk to someone, and we bake it into how we go about, and by the end of the year, we've done dozens of interviews. And we can supplement that with the still sort of big waterfall approach. But I think, Anna, your point about moving towards Zoom and online, I think it just opens up so many opportunities for government.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Vince.
Jeannie, I think you wanted to add on to the conversation. Go ahead.
Jeannie Dempster: Well, first I'd like to amplify what Anna and Vince said, just completely, completely agree. And empathy, those other... I don't like the word "soft skills". I think they're so important and the word "soft" demeans it in some way for me. That's just my own pet peeve. But empathy, bringing so much more than just your skills, your hard skills, your core training, it's a big, big part of, of course, what we're doing in our department, and I know other departments as well. But those other skills regardless, even if you're in a more economic-based department, if you're working with industry, maybe DND, other departments, it's bringing your abilities. Take a look, and maybe this comes back to the question about training, look at negotiations in training, look at diplomacy, look at conflict resolution, there is so much in there, and I'm sure it's part of a lot of the programs too that are taught academically and worked into your curriculum.
I want to suggest, too, something that I haven't heard and it might be a question in some folks' mind related to how to reach some of these individuals. We also look at community-based organizations. Where are the relationships already there? Who already has a trust relationship built there? Because trust is such an important part of any kind of this type of engagement and research. And we know, we've seen there's research as well in the areas of around how trust in government has been eroding. And so, all of that, so much that has to sort of be in the back of our minds when we're going to this. And the other massive, massive piece, and I do want to amplify, and I did mention a bit earlier, but the concept of privacy, so critically important. And we do have our processes and rules around privacy in ESDC, and I know other departments do as well. We work very closely with our privacy colleagues on every single project that we do. We've developed something a few years back that we call a privacy protocol. And then, we add on to that for... every project gets its own unique piece as well, an add-on relating to that particular set of individuals that we might be wanting to work with. So, I just wanted to amplify and just add on to that. So, thanks.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Jeannie, and we'll stay with you a little bit longer. I've got a question here for you.
So, we heard from Anna and Vince about the idea of continuous engagement and co-design with citizens or communities affected by our programs and policies. From your position, what are some of the challenges within government to continuous engagement or co-design, rather than one-time consultation? What is it that is providing some challenges there to keep the conversation going?
Jeannie Dempster: I'd say there's two or three big things. First and foremost, time commitment. For us, we've done some projects where we would have loved to keep going and then new work comes in the door, we work with them. So, we're right in the midst of having some conversations about that. We do have some project partners that we've worked with in the past, and then they've come back to us. So, we do rely a little bit on our colleagues coming back to us for additional feedback and work and engagement. And it's just resourcing and capacity. I wish we could do more in the lab, but it circles back a bit to building that capacity into the teams. And so, if you can build that in, then you're going to have those perspectives baked into those teams that are doing it, because we just can't do that. We can't do all that. And no team, no innovation team can or should. It's really about sharing and helping to build that capacity.
The other thing that I would say in terms of that continuous engagement is having willing folks who really want to be part of that. It's nice for us to show up with flowers and say, we really, really like you, I really want to work with you, will you keep working with us, and the love is maybe not always reciprocated. And so, you have to make sure that you choose and find those partners, and build that trust. I think those are the big ones for me. I know there's more, but I don't want to take up too much time.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you, Jeannie.
Okay, so a little bit of a story time for those on the line. So, in Estonia, when a child is born, the parents get a wonderful little text message that says, "Congratulations on the birth of your child. Here are the benefits you are eligible for, deposited right in your bank account. Have a great day. Hopefully you get some sleep." Now, Anna, you provided examples of policies that are not accessible, and I remember speaking at length with my team about, what if we just did automatic enrollment? But I think there are some challenges there in addition to the personal right to kind of select a benefit or opt for a benefit. So, how can the government improve, first of all, making sure that policies are accessible and that we make a good case for making enrollment easy? How can we make enrollment easier or less difficult, especially if we consider we should have the ability to decide whether or not we enroll?
Anna Kopec: Thank you. That's a great question, and thank you for that story.
Melanie Copeland: (laughs)
Anna Kopec: Very important story to add here, because I did speak a lot with individuals who are accessing multiple different policies, which is why homelessness is such an important policy area, right? Because it interacts with so many different policy areas at once. And so, a lot of the discussions I had with individuals, obviously in the Toronto context, was around Ontario Works, which is the social assistance program, and the disability support as well, ODSP, in this Ontario context here. And individuals talked about having to go to an OW office, in and of itself, having to go to that office, whereas in Melbourne, there were social assistance officers that would travel to crisis accommodation centres and help individuals with their applications there in that space that they were already in, and that they were comfortable in. And individuals spoke to how important that was, that they didn't have to actually go, whereas in Toronto, individuals talked to me about sitting across from someone, bulletproof glass in between, and just even that interaction, how disarming it can be. So, I think the environments that we're also asking people to be in, although of course you can do a lot of this online, thinking about accessibility here in relation to where they would go to do that, and then, again, where the burden falls. If someone is within a shelter or a drop-in centre, using a computer to apply for programs, and they're unsure of how to do it, then it's front-line staff at shelters that are already overburdened, that are being asked to help as well there, so thinking through some of these accessibility concerns in relation to that.
And then also, even I spoke to people that were applying for ODSP, which is the disability support social assistance, and people talked about having to go to numerous doctors and have to justify an illness or get all of the paperwork, where individuals experiencing homelessness aren't walking around with their health portfolio, and having to collect all those papers is an immense administrative burden for anyone, especially someone who is precariously housed. So, I think that integration element is key here, especially coming from the homelessness context. In particular, where in Melbourne there were somewhat... there was a centre where not only was there emergency housing but there was a dentist, a podiatrist, a nutritionist, a psychologist, and then social assistance workers, all within one place, and that this idea of integration, which we talk a lot about but we often don't see really good examples of it especially in relation to homelessness, thinking about what that could do for accessibility and visibility. I'll stop there.
Melanie Copeland: Wow, there's a lot to unpack there for sure, and I love that you're exploring this area of work, really beneficial for us and the way that we approach our work, and learning from you.
Speaking of burden, Vince, you were speaking a lot about the cost of public administration, how the burden is shifted, sometimes inadequately or unequitably, I'm not sure what word to use here, unevenly to the citizen. What are your thoughts on making policies more accessible, making it easier or less costly for the citizen to obtain their benefits?
Vince Hopkins: Thank you, yeah, and I love your example.
So, in the Canadian case, it's unhoused individuals who pay the costs of public administration. In the Australian case, it's the government. That's a really clear example of someone has to pay the cost. There's sort of a values-based choice about who actually does. I think the one thing that makes it more complicated in our context than maybe Estonia is that we're a federation. So, obviously in federal states, this sort of awkward division of power comes with an awkward sharing of data. So, principles like the "just tell us once" policy where people tell the government, here's my name, here's my birthday, here's my information, my tax filing, you go sort out all the other stuff, that's hard to do in a federal state because people wind up telling their municipality, the province, and the federal government all kinds of different things. But my answer is use the data we already collect. We collect a ton of it, and in my experience, data linkage is sort of an imagined risk. Most of the time, data linkage is possible. It's a matter of force vision, will, bribing, cajoling, doing whatever you can to get the data linkages to happen. That's a really powerful way to actually make, to simplify and reduce the costs on citizens.
That's separate from the sort of the distinction of program design or even policy that Anna was talking about, where at a high level, someone has made a choice, okay, it's our social workers, it's our government staff that are going to go out and proactively seek people out. So, there's sort of a choice here. Do we want to make this... do we want to reduce the cost upstream, in which case you're going to involve sort of some senior policymakers, some senior leaders, or downstream, is it a part of the feature package that you're designing for a program, in which case maybe you can do with the existing data linkages. I would say those are sort of my two solutions for that problem.
Melanie Copeland: Thanks so much for that, Vince.
Jeannie, we're going to go over to you. Another question from the audience here: You have all discussed public collaboration in the context of social programs and benefits. Could you talk about the principles and ideas or how the principles and ideas might be different in the case of other forms of government services or government collaboration? Would there be any important differences?
Jeannie Dempster: Yes is the short answer, I think. You've benefited from hearing that our backgrounds are all very heavily based in socioeconomic policies and programs here. And one thing we haven't really talked a ton about is the service delivery side. And departments are delivering services across all sorts of different areas. I'm thinking in particular of a couple. So, one thing I would say is, as many of you may already be aware, you may be participating in this from coming from another department's lab. There are a lot of different labs that have come up over the last number of years. I think there's probably some that I haven't even got a ton of familiarity with and would love to learn more. But for example, one of the things that has really struck me to this point is no two labs are alike. And they really have focused around the mandate. So, when I've been talking about human-centered approaches, I'm literally talking about we deliver services to individuals living in Canada, and all of the work and all the experiences and examples I'm showing you and talking to you about are based on that. Many different departments are more heavily service-focused. My Service Canada colleagues within the ESDC but on the Service Canada side are very focused particularly around that front-line service experience. I know IRCC has a lab and a lot of their service offerings have historically been just around that accessibility to services piece that we've heard about today.
But I actually almost have more of a question back and want to hear more, because when we talk about human-centered, the skills that we're using, design-thinking is the big one. If you look up through OCAD to get more information around those programs, you can do various degrees at various levels. And I think a lot of the same skills that are focused on client experience, user experience, I must admit when you're asking the question, what do you do? I guess I can hear colleagues at ECC or NRCan saying, what do you do when your end user isn't necessarily a human? Is it a plant or an animal or a rock? And I think that there are absolutely... and I'm sure that you have examples and I would love to hear. But I think that the principles and ideas are still going to be the same around just bringing those qualitative skills that might help to round out what you already have in your core quantitative more statistical research. It's about maximizing the access to the different kinds of research that might be available that is going to help you in your department build the best... develop the best policies, improve your programs, and improve your service delivery. So, it's about having that that mindset. And those skills and approaches might change department to department, they might change over time. And don't get me started on systems thinking and systems design because I think that's the next great area that I'd love to see government go into. But that's a whole other session, I think.
Melanie Copeland: Thanks, Jeannie, and there's my cat, right on cue.
Yeah, it all depends on what you're putting at the centre of your decisions, right? I heard Anna talk about putting the human being at the centre of all decisions, and the important part of working with your user and mapping their experience and hearing directly from them, building that relationship and empathy so that you really know what it's like to be in their shoes, the environmental circumstances and so on.
We've got a really fun question in the chat. So, the CRA posted some fun memes on Valentine's Day, they were wicked, that got a lot of attention. What are some of the creative digital solutions like that, or being on TikTok, that we as a public service need to tap into? Anna, you spoke about inviting your interviewee to write up your notes with you. I'd say that's a really meaningful way of engaging them in the process and helping them to onboard and explore with you how these services could benefit them. Any exploration of other ways to reach especially those vulnerable populations? They might not necessarily be on digital, we might have to go in person, for example.
Anna Kopec: Yeah, I think there's a lot that could be done, and probably way more creative people out there than me would answer this question better than I will. But I think that exploring these different venues is important. And I do think that there are many assumptions that are made, that individuals experiencing homelessness don't have access to certain things when there are many that do have access to phones, but not necessarily good internet connection, so maybe within drop-in centres having some sort of platform there where as individuals are coming to get services, they're also accessing this. I always think of this in relation to elections because my previous research looked at voting, and a lot of individuals experiencing homelessness don't know that they can vote and what the process is like. And a lot of service providers told me that they get huge pamphlets from Elections Canada or... so, maybe even before the service user, having different platforms to even engage with front-line workers to make that information easier to process and maybe decrease those administrative burdens would be great. But when I think of various online kind of venues, I think of what we could be doing during elections to even ensure precariously housed individuals are aware of their fundamental right to vote that so many are unaware of, that I found in my research. But yeah, I think I'll let the other two answer.
Melanie Copeland: That was a really good answer, Anna, way to go.
Vince, Jeannie, any observations, any suggestions about how the government could step it up to get creative or to plain language, how we can communicate, yes, you are entitled to these benefits, I'm talking to you here, teenager. Any suggestions there about how we can improve our comms there.
Jeannie Dempster: Yes.
Melanie Copeland: Go ahead, Jeannie.
Jeannie Dempster: Sorry, I just jumped in. I saw those memes and I loved them. So, if anyone from CRA is on, well done. That said, for everybody else, CRA's been in this game a lot longer. They've been around, I think, even longer than the ESDC lab. They've been working in this area and testing and trying different things. Using humour, as many of you probably know in government, it's risky because if it doesn't work, we hear about it very quickly. And in terms of approvals for those sort of things, there's a lot of risk aversion to doing anything more creative. It's safer to do the tried and true. And that untested, unknown, using these kinds of approaches while we're really trying to... in this case, CRA needs people to pay their taxes. That's their mandate. So, they're working very focused on that goal. I think it really depends on what's the goal of your department. And we know, and it's been a while but I have seen some things that didn't go as well, this is why it's so important to have some internal review process. That's why I think it's really important that ESDC is looking into this. We know that other departments have this. So, you may think that something's really great, but have somebody else maybe test it out for you. We've even gone to other departments when we were partway through certain of our bigger projects, we actually took one to Health Canada, thank you, a few years back and had them give us some feedback on it, on where we were at, and give us some suggestions. And I think that just testing it internally and sharing amongst each other before we go public was the point I just would like to make there. Thanks.
Melanie Copeland: Yeah, go ahead, Vince. Go ahead.
Vince Hopkins: One really quick follow-up. Yeah, I mean, I love that, and I think CRA's extremely important given how many programs are flowed through tax credits. So, the CRA's a sort of big... I won't say an elephant in the room, but elephants are awesome, but they're a major player here. I also think that when we come up with clever viral marketing strategies, we want to test them internally, like Jeannie said. But I also think we should test them externally. We need to know that these things work, they actually increase the number of tax filings among people that earn below a certain income threshold, or they increase tax filings among newcomers to Canada. So, when we port over from... like, I think about Spotify Wrapped, an awesome service that's become sort of a classic viral marketing campaign. But Spotify also A/B tests, every day, dozens or hundreds of features. So, I don't think we should just port over the most visible, most high-profile parts of digital tech products. We also need to be doing the day-to-day grind of experimentally testing different features and seeing what works, actually increase tax filings, applications, enrollments, bank deposits, what have you. So, internal testing? Yes. External testing? Love it.
Melanie Copeland: What a great example of iterating frequently. Fantastic.
I was going to say, I don't know how my husband would have felt if I gave him a Valentine's Day card that said, "I want to have eligible dependents with you." But anyway, maybe he's into that.
Okay, Q7, question seven. Vince, Anna, based on your research consultations, to what degree, if any, is government distrust a factor in uptake for services or programs? Vince, you just talked about Spotify. I have no issue as a citizen giving all of my personal information to satisfy if it means I'm going to get the services I want to get. It's not the same feeling signing up for government benefits. So, maybe I'll go right back to you Vince, and then to Anna next.
Vince Hopkins: Sure. I mean, there's a basic trade-off that governments have, especially on really important issues. The more we talk about an issue, the greater the risk of media attention. The greater the risk of media attention, the more likely that it will affect trust. It might politicize or might become a topic of sort of division in society. Think about vaccines, CERB, here in western Canada right now, safe injection sites. So, I think there's actually sort of what we would call an endogenous... there's this sort of weird, complicated relationship. As we increase take-up by increasing awareness, we also risk turning people off of the project itself. One great example from the U.S. that was shown was that Republicans were less likely to enroll in Obamacare than in the Affordable Care for America Insurance Plan. So, when governments make something really salient, it can actually turn people off. And yet, we need salience to increase awareness. So, there's a real trade-off that governments have. They have to tread very carefully between media coverage and widespread public awareness.
Melanie Copeland: Thanks so much.
Anna, over to you.
Anna Kopec: Yes, I love this question, and I think it's an important one, especially in relation to homelessness. I get the question a lot from political scientists, and in thinking about trust in government in particular. And I think there's a lot more nuance there, right? I mean, we're talking about individuals who have literally been failed by multiple government services repeatedly. And so, yes, trust is a factor. But if you already are in this situation, and then you go to access a shelter and you experience even more barriers, and then you go to try to apply for benefits and you experience more barriers, and by the way, there are no clinics that you can access that would be specific to your needs, then it's this constant cycle of, you may already feel a certain way towards the government, and then on top of it, all of these policies and services that we have are further creating this distrust, and this disengagement in some ways. But on that note too, I think it's important to think about that there might be a distrust there, but distrust doesn't always equal disengagement. And so, although these individuals on the margins are pushed away from government in some ways, they are still trying to bring changes in many different ways, and expressing themselves. It's just whether or not the government hears it and has venues for them to speak. So, I think it's a bit of a cycle in relation to trust, but how we design policies... and I think I'll always say this, how we design policies is key in that relationship there. So, the government does have, I think, a lot of power in relation to that, particularly when we're talking about marginalized populations.
Melanie Copeland: Yes, how we design the policies. I'm reminded of Singapore where they design policies in the open with citizens, so something to explore there for our listeners on the line.
Okay, our last question before we wrap up. We'll go to everyone, we'll start with Jeannie. A question for the panel: What could be the potential pitfalls and challenges in trying to ensure engaging broadly and inclusively when working on tech-related projects such as implementing new technologies and identity management, for example. How can we ensure we're reaching marginalized populations so that they are not only included in the research, so that they're included throughout the project? So, a loaded question there, curiosity about tech-related projects like tech identity. How can we go about engaging broadly, and then how do we make sure our marginalized populations are well included in those conversations and that design? Jeannie, do you want to take a stab?
Jeannie Dempster: Sure.
Melanie Copeland: Go ahead.
Jeannie Dempster: I'm going to just pick one thing and I'll let Vince and Anna tackle some stuff. Because one thing I would like to say that I haven't spoken to before is around inclusion. And I would say it's not just inclusion for your end users, but in those who are working on the projects. Even if you're doing more traditional consultation, who are your teams and how are they representing? So, this is something we are all working on very hard in government, and I think we need to keep going and do more there. It's something I'm very conscious of and have tried to continue, to build teams, our lab team, to hire into the lab a variety of experiences and backgrounds and perspectives. Because when you're designing the projects that are going to reach out to those populations that you want to make sure, if maybe they're marginalized, how can you have those who are designing the projects actually have that representation, I think that's also a big, big thing for all of us to be doing in government, regardless of department.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you for adding that, Jeannie. That's really powerful.
Vince, Anna. Thoughts. Closing thoughts.
Vince Hopkins: Very quickly, I would argue that there is no such thing as an edge case. You can design from your edge cases inward, and the insights that you learn from what we would think of as edge or corner cases probably will increase the overall accessibility of your program. So, I would suggest sort of shifting our thinking and our values. Instead of designing for the majority of users, design for what you might think of as a slim minority of users. And I think we can derive a lot of benefits for everyone like that.
Melanie Copeland: Spot on.
Anna, you've got the last word.
Anna Kopec: Thank you. I've been nodding along generously because I agree, and I realize I'm on video, so maybe I shouldn't nod like that.
But yes, I agree and just want to echo what was already said. I think including individuals with various lived experiences from the very beginning of a project as well as designing for the margins, I think that's a great thing to add. And also, to think a little bit more as we're talking about the margins, that, Jeannie said this earlier, there's also already networks established. There's communities out there that we can tap into. There's various networks out there. There are people that do this work every day. And so, reaching out to them and talking to them about this and including them in the work, but also starting there, starting from the ground and thinking through what this would mean for them, and also being sure that what you're asking for various populations to engage in is something that's needed from their perspective as well, right? So, instead of coming in with, hey, I want to do this, maybe it's, what do you need, and then maybe we design backwards from there.
Melanie Copeland: Thank you so much, Anna.
Okay, folks, this concludes today's event. On behalf of the School, I'd really, really like to thank our speakers today and all of you across the country for being part of today's conversation. Your feedback is important to us. Therefore, I encourage you to complete the evaluation for today's event that will be sent to you in the coming days by e-mail. The School has more events to offer. I encourage you to visit our website to keep up to date and register for all future learning opportunities. Stay tuned for the next in this series, the Government of the Future, which will be back this winter.
Thanks very much. Take care.
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