Friday, March 23, 2012

Senior Policy and Research Analyst Ontario Trillium Foundation

ntario is at crossroads. The Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service provides Ontario with an opportunity to transform how it serves the public. It can seize this transformative moment to provide excellent service, and

do it more efficiently, or it can flounder, grappling with dire economic and fiscal challenges in the coming years using approaches that are too costly and not nearly efficient enough. Ontario is faced with a budget deficit of $16 billion dollars, growth of 2% compared to the usual 3-3.5% annually and exponentially growing program expenditures. These challenges are daunting. However, the Commission’s report is inspiring. The recommendations offer solutions to these economic and fiscal challenges, but more importantly provide a vision for permanently changing the culture of the public service. The status quo just won’t do any more: public servants are challenged to “relentlessly pursue quality and efficiency in public services.” Bold policy prescriptions, new partnerships with the private sector and a continuing commitment to transformation will be needed to meet this challenge. History shows that simple cost-cutting by governments generates fiscal improvements but only in the short-term. The only way to ensure to get out of deficits and stay out of them is to reform government programs and the way in which they are delivered. Ultimately this is about reinvigorating the sense of excellence and pride that we should all have in our public institutions. What would it take to create an inspiring and transformational public service?

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Be proactive: Shift to foreseeing problems and crisis before they develop Give priority to activities that invest in the future: Higher priority should be given to programs and activities that invest in the future rather than serve the status quo. Make evidence-based decisions: This means making better use of the research capacity internally and collaborating with outside researchers. Programs should be set and evaluated by sound evidence.

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Focus on outcomes: This means measuring the impact and outcome of programs rather than the inputs. Find efficiencies: Don’t let accountability requirements get in the way of getting things done and seek common themes to achieve economies of scale.

A nod to the not-for-profit sector In many ways the not-for-profit sector is already a champion for this vision of excellence and will inevitably continue play a vital role to making the vision come to life. In fact, the report recognizes that the not-for-profit sector is an often overlooked contributor to the economy. It recommends that the government continue to support the sector and that funding be reformed to be more flexible, streamlined, sustainable and accessible. The report also recognizes new approaches to achieve more cost-effective social outcomes, such as undertaking pilot projects using Social Impact Bonds. What does this mean for OTF? OTF has an opportunity to review how it invests in the NFP sector and how it engages the sector, in collaboration with other funders and sectors. The Commission puts out a call to action to be bolder, transformational and to innovate in creating partnership between private and public actors. The Commission signals a time of transformation for the Ontario public service. This is an opportunity for the Ontario Trillium Foundation to carefully consider the way we work, the communities we fund and the services we provide and to meet the Commission’s challenge for excellence. This post was done in collaboration with Stacey McDonald.

Sourcing bright ideas, fresh perspectives and personal opinions on transformational change from Ontario and around the world

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