Anticipate Explore Experiment: The Journey of Policy Horizons Canada

Authors: Policy Horizons Canada
Document Type: Other
Published Date: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 5:00am
ISBN number:

Blueprint 2020 Report 2015

Policy Horizons Canada (Horizons) anticipates emerging policy issues by exploring the future, and through this future focus, helps build a more innovative, collaborative and high-performing public service. Horizons uses strategic foresight to identify possible disruptions across a range of policy areas, contributing to more robust policy making. We collaborate extensively with public servants and global experts to generate insights, build capacity for long-term thinking and support policy discussions and linkages that would not otherwise occur. We experiment with new policy approaches (behavioural insights), techniques (design thinking) and workplace tools (including telepresence robots!) to improve the creation and sharing of ideas. The current era is characterized by an unparalleled level of global change and complexity. Navigating these times will require ongoing commitment to the spirit of rapid innovation, fluid collaboration and continuous improvement that Blueprint 2020 embodies and inspires.

Horizons is proud to be part of a dynamic network of innovators across the public service contributing to the Blueprint 2020 vision.

Our roots

1996 - The Policy Research Secretariat was created in the Privy Council Office (PCO).

2000 - The Policy Research Secretariat became known as the Policy Research Initiative (PRI). The organization was an innovative approach to fostering policy dialogue and collaboration across the public service on key issues.

2008 - At the request of the Clerk (PCO), PRI ran the canada@150 projectthat used foresight methods to surface a vision of the public service in 2017.

2011 - PRI transformed to become Policy Horizons Canada, a centralized foresight organization in the public service. Horizons published the first MetaScan on Exploring Four Global Forces Shaping Our Future

2012 - Horizons’ foresight studies concentrated on exploring the next economy and the shifting policy terrain and produced MetaScan 2: Building Resilience in the Transition to a Digital Economy and a Networked Society. Horizons also worked with PCO and CSPS to explore the future of the public service.

2013 - Horizons took a deeper dive to explore the impacts of emerging technologies and published its findings in MetaScan 3: Emerging Technologies.

2014 - Horizons moved into a new space and launched the first innovation lab within the Government of Canada. Horizons collaborated with a range of federal organizations on a foresight study to explore the increasing importance of Asia and its impact on Canada.

2015 - Horizons completed a foresight study on Asia: MetaScan 4: The Future of Asia and its Implications for Canada.

Tomorrow - Horizons is scanning on key domains relevant to the future of Canada.

About Horizons

Horizons is a strategic foresight organization within the Government of Canada that is governed by a steering committee of deputy ministers. We use systematic scanningto identify signals of potential change in the domestic and international environments that could have significant implications for government policy and programs over the next 10-15 years. Horizons has also demonstrated leadership in behavioural insights, innovative policy tools, and methods to assist decision-makers to think beyond the existing policy toolbox, since ‘wicked problems’ may be resistant to traditional policy solutions.

Horizons is committed to building scanning and strategic foresight literacy and capacity across the federal government to help meet the future needs of departments and agencies. The team bridges people and ideas to co-create knowledge across government and other sectors both in Canada and internationally.

What is foresight?

Foresight begins with scanning for changes in the domestic and international environments that could have surprising and significant implications for government policy and programs. Foresight methods are then used to explore how these changes may evolve and interact to create unexpected policy challenges and opportunities. Foresight does not predict the future, but rather explores the range of plausible futures that may emerge. This information can be used by federal organizations to develop policies and strategies that mitigate threats and take advantage of opportunities.

What are behavioural insights?

Horizons is innovating by exploring the use of behavioural insights to help the public service improve on communication, collaboration, and policy development to address complexity. Behavioural insights use a combination of social and behavioural sciences (e.g., psychology, economics, and sociology) to systematically analyze human behaviour through observations and scientific experimentation. An in-depth understanding of how people really think and behave is helping governments worldwide develop and implement more effective and cost-efficient policies and programs.

Living the vision - The future starts now

"We need to be bolder and imagine new ways of working. We need to take intelligent risks and manage them well, learn from our mistakes and; apply innovation to the design of policy and programs." - Janice Charette (Twenty-Second Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada)

Janice Charette
Twenty-Second Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada

1. Innovation and continuous improvement

Horizons’ vision at its inception in 2011 was to create an innovative workspace that provides employees room to think and work differently, while maintaining rigorous processes and methodologies. Horizons was the first established innovation lab within the federal public service and has contributed to the policy, program and science-related toolkits of public servants using innovative learning-by-doing approaches. Horizons’ staff has demonstrated leadership in helping public servants use innovative techniques and methods for co-creating ideas and solutions.

In March 2014, Horizons moved to a new innovation lab where participants and staff have the space to learn and think big. Horizons’ employees have access to a variety of technologies to enhance their workdays (for example, office wifi!). Each employee has a work station equipped with a laptop, docking station, and a height adjustable stand-up desk allowing them mobility and flexibility. Employees have smaller personal workspaces to make room for more collaborative work areas that facilitate collective thinking. A fun and very useful addition to the workplace is writeable wall space. The majority of Horizons’ walls are covered with a wall paint that allows the walls to be used like white boards. We are also able to seamlessly accommodate virtual workers with the use of the latest video conferencing equipment and telepresence robots. The telepresence robot permits remote workers to have a physical presence in the office that allows them to actively engage with the office and function as a member of the team.

Over the past year, Horizons has dived further into the area of behavioural insights. Horizons held the first government-wide discussion on behavioural economics back in 2011 and recognizes the importance of continuing the exploration. Horizons is exploring how behavioural insights can be used to address ‘wicked problems’ at the organizational and systems level. Another addition to the experimental toolkit, has been a foray into serious games. Serious games provide an efficient and effective platform to engage people and motivate them to change behaviours, learn new things, develop useful skills and even solve major problems. They have been widely applied in the private sector and are increasingly used in government and public sector organizations.

  • Horizons Foresight Method

  • Experiential Futures

  • Behavioural Insights

  • Serious Games

  • Innovation Lab

2. Nimble and agile

Facilitation and engagement play essential roles in the successful delivery of Horizons’ foresight findings. Strong engagement and communications practices help to maximize the quality and efficiency of Horizons’ work. The organization develops and maintains communities of practice with experts within and outside the public service, and is increasingly recognized for its innovation and efficiency in designing and facilitating policy discussions. Horizons received over 100 engagement requests last year. The senior management team handles each request individually and customizes the engagement approach to each requestor to maximize value for effort. Horizons also has a mandate to continuously seek out opportunities to introduce innovative ideas or approaches to different groups across the public service.

Horizons isn’t Horizons without its people. The organization makes it a priority to invest in its staff. All employees are highly encouraged to continuously learn and build new competencies and skills. Last year for example, Horizons offered an organization-wide course on facilitation to help the staff strengthen their skills in this area.

3. Open and collaborative

Horizons is highly collaborative in how it works day-to-day within the organization as well as how it engages interdepartmentally. The organization operates in a matrix-like structure that allows employees to work on various project teams simultaneously. This style of collaboration allows for a greater reach of internal expertise and experience.

Over the past year, Horizons co-created, with a range of federal organizations, a foresight study to explore the increasing importance of Asia and its impact on Canada. This was one of Horizons’ largest foresight engagement exercises, with twin goals to learn from interdepartmental participants while teaching the Horizons Foresight Method. In contrast to traditional desk research, the project demonstrated Horizons’ dialogue-based approach. Through the use of participatory foresight activities, Horizons engaged knowledgeable participants in exploring alternative plausible futures and their potential implications. The experience allowed participants to explore the forces of change taking shape in Asia and their potential implications for Canada. Over the years, Horizons has influenced the long-term thinking of policy leaders and executive committees of numerous departments by convening and engaging them through collaborative activities around Horizons’ key findings.

Finally, Horizons has been working hard on strengthening its GCpedia and GCconnex (internal to government platform) presence with blogs, photos, and engagement summaries. In addition, Horizons uses its Web 2.0 platform as an internal and external collaboration tool to reach across the public service and engage with international groups. For example, the platform was used to collaborate on a joint foresight study with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia.

4. High-performing

Horizons has built a solid, rigorous method to produce high-quality foresight results. The team regularly consults with experts internal and external to the federal public service throughout each foresight study. As a learning organization, employees have fully embraced the concept of design-thinking and have integrated the method into daily project work and engagement activities. This is reflected in the collaborative work spaces. It is standard practice for employees to cover a wall with brainstormed ideas, whether drawing a system map on a wall with dry-erase markers or using sticky notes on a glass window. To ensure a high-performing team, Horizons has incorporated different staffing mechanisms into its hiring practices to ensure that diverse talent is available for each study.

What does the Blueprint 2020 vision mean to us?

Horizons is proud to move the vision of Blueprint 2020 forward and beyond. Status quo is no longer an option for the federal public service. As highlighted in one of Horizons’ recent foresight studies, MetaScan 3: Emerging Technologies, work as we currently understand it is changing and will look significantly different 10 years from now. Is your organization prepared for these changes? Horizons will continue to work with federal organizations and external experts to anticipate emerging issues. These collaborative processes will help federal organizations reframe and redesign policies to be more robust against change and uncertainty.

Emerging challenges and opportunities for Canada 2015-2030

Foresight can make a contribution to policy by testing current assumptions about the expected future and identifying emerging issues. During the summer of 2015, Horizons started to explore a number of policy domains and identified emerging issues that the country could confront over the next decade.

A few of the areas that Horizons is exploring are:

  • An Emerging Global Digital Economy

  • The Changing Nature of Work

  • An Evolving Energy System

  • A Shifting Geopolitical Landscape

  • Emerging Governance Issues

Results will be made available on the Horizons web site.