Research has become a “Dirty Word” in the Federal Government

One of the most important responsibilities of a government is to ensure that tax payers get value for money. So it came as a big surprise to find out that “federal departments are heading into the latest round of spending review without the information to help them make informed decisions about what to cut according to the Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. According to Fraser departments haven’t been evaluating their programs and services to determine what is working or not.”

The government has taken many stabs over 40 years to make evaluations routine. Evaluations are touted as key tools for departments to determine whether programs are working. Done well, they can be used to develop policy, implement or revamp programs, improve spending, write cabinet submissions and report to Parliament.

“But Fraser argues that when governments are looking for savings, evaluations are indispensable in providing “objective” assessment of whether programs are working. Fraser based her concerns on an audit she did last year on the evaluations of six departments — She found they were doing a poor job and evaluations covered only a fraction of the money they spend — between five and 13 per cent. Of the evaluations done, most had “inadequate data.” Source

Without information, parliamentarians and bureaucrats fly blind when approving legislation or deciding what programs work.

“Research is a dirty word in Ottawa right now, “said Frank Graves of Ekos Research Associates.”It’s not being done when the country is going through a period of turbulent change and enormous challenges.”

The public service used to be the research and evaluation powerhouse for policymakers, but that has changed when the Mulroney government disbanded the Economic Council of Canada. In the 1990s, policy research took a hit when the Chrétien Liberals hollowed out departmental evaluation and internal audit shops to help wipe out the deficit without cutting services. Then, as one long-time bureaucrat said, “came the Conservatives with their mania for secrecy and they cut off access.”After the cuts, the public service has never rebuilt its policy research capacity.

David Zussman, Jarislowsky chair in public management at the University of Ottawa, says “uninterested parliamentarians, who don’t demand information, free deputy ministers to cut research when reining in spending. Nor, he says, is the government asking bureaucrats for information.” This government has an agenda. … It already knows the answer so they aren’t collecting information,” Zussman said. (In other words don’t confuse me with the facts I have made up my mind)

Spending on public opinion research, for example — which includes polling and surveys often used for evaluations — has tumbled since 2007 to $7 million a year from $31 million a year. Graves at EKOS has worked 30 years for departments under governments of all stripes, but says he has never seen “such a collapse of interest in knowledge and evidence especially for what the public thinks.” He states that we have a policy community operating without evidence and empirical guidance. Every major debate from national unity, free trade, health care, bank reform should have extensive public opinion research to see what the public thinks.”

Finding evaluators has also been a problem. The auditor general found that 90 per cent of evaluations she examined were done by contractors, taking their expertise and knowledge with them at job’s end. Treasury Board says the government is recruiting evaluators and has a pool of 1,500 with more than 500 working in government now. However, Zussman said “rebuilding evaluation capacity in departments could take years and questioned how many departments would plow money into it when faced with budget freezes and strategic reviews.”It could well take five to 10 years to rebuild capacity. You can’t just turn it on and off.” Source

This is a very sad commentary on the public service here in Ottawa. It is hard to believe that in this day and age a government who spends billions of tax payers’ dollars on programs and services can’t evaluate their effectiveness and performance measurement has become as rare as a “ham sandwich at a Jewish picnic.” Can you imagine the private sector operating this way? Most corporations would go bankrupt!

For public sector marketers and communicators this is a major challenge as marketing and communications decisions are normally based on public opinion and marketing research. So what we are finding is that marketers and communicators in the federal government are flying by the “seat of their pants” making marketing and communications decisions based on secondary research OR ,based on my experience, personal opinions, or worst the personal opinions of political staff.

Hypocrites on the hill

While we are on the topic of accountability … another dirty word in Government, Members of Parliament are refusing to let Auditor-General Sheila Fraser examine their expenses, saying she has no right to look at their books – and they don’t plan to give her one. At a time when all federal departments are cutting programs and squeezing budgets to reduce the deficit, MP’s officially rejected Ms. Fraser’s suggestion that her office could help find further savings in the way Parliament spends more than $500-million a year. “Following careful consideration, the Auditor-General will not be invited to conduct a performance audit of the House of Commons,” reads a statement released Thursday afternoon as many MP’s and Senators headed for the airport to get a jump-start on a one-week recess. Source

And you wonder why there is such cynicism in the country on what goes on here in Ottawa.


MARCOM Professional Development, taking place June 10 & 11 at the Hilton Lac-Leamy.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the program  or review the speaker roster , then I strongly encourage you and your colleagues to review the great line-up, make it part of the training plan and register before April 16.

Here are our key-note speakers:

Mitch Joel: President, Twist Image

He is a marketing and communications visionary, interactive expert, community leader, Blogger and Podcaster. In 2008, Mitch Joel was named Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media. Mitch joins MARCOM to deliver the Opening Keynote on June 10th.

Terry O”Reilly: Age of Persuasion Host CBC Radio.

O’Reilly looks at what animates creativity and how the art of persuasion informs our culture. He delights both general audiences and advertising veterans, pointing to trends and dispatching timeless lessons. O’Reilly is an ad man in love with the promise of advertising but not blind to its shortcomings. Attendees of MARCOM 2010 will hear Terry deliver a keynote on June 11th.

I will be Giving the Following Workshop at MARCOM:

June 9, 2010 – Workshop 09:00 – 16:30 Social Marketing Planning – Implementing an Effective Campaign: Jim Mintz | Director, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing

One of the biggest challenges in Social Marketing Planning is the Implementation stage. Many organizations develop great plans, but poor execution leaves them wondering why they didn’t achieve the desired results. In previous editions of MARCOM, Jim Mintz has taken participants through a proven process for developing their social marketing strategy and plan. At MARCOM 2010, you will learn how to transform Strategies into Action! Jim will briefly review the social marketing plan process and then move into detailed discussions surrounding how to successfully implement your strategy. In this tough economy it’s important to ensure maximum impact for marketing dollars; especially when you are moving from planning into implementation where the majority of your budget will be allocated.

You will learn 7 key areas for social marketing plan implementation:

  1. What questions to ask when working with marketing and communications suppliers;
  2. How to develop a creative brief to ensure your communications agencies remain on strategy;
  3. The Do’s and Don’ts for smooth supplier relationships;
  4. Innovative ideas to fully leverage a limited budget;
  5. How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  6. How to approach and capitalize on strategic alliances;
  7. How to evaluate your campaign progress and success.

Hope to see you there.

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