Learning Together for Better Public Engagement (Learn4PE)
Learning Together for Better Public Engagement (Learn4PE) was a pilot initiative designed to build public engagement capacity across the Government of Canada. In its first iteration, participants spent five weeks learning together in English and French, both online and by participating in live sessions with experts. While targeted towards federal public servants, registration was open to all, enabling the exchange of relevant ideas and resources.
The Government of Canada has taken a number of steps to enhance open and transparent government, and to share best practices domestically and internationally. As part of these commitments, Canada published Principles of Public Engagement in 2017. The Privy Council Office (PCO), the central agency responsible for overseeing and reporting on consultations, developed a series of resources to build public servant’s engagement capacity for engagement planning and design, in partnership with a government-wide Public Engagement Community of Practice.
PCO partnered with the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) to design and deliver Learning Together for Better Public Engagement (Learn4PE). It was developed as a proof-of-concept collaborative learning experience to make these resources more broadly available, and to scale strengthened capacity. Learn4PE invited participants to join in several activities:
1. Attend interactive, live sessions with guest speakers, including public servants from various Canadian jurisdictions, academics, civil society representatives, etc. Facilitators recorded, transcribed, and posted these sessions. Topics included designing public engagement processes, engagement with Indigenous peoples, relationship-building, data and open policy-making, and self-care for public engagement practitioners. English and French sessions were hosted separately with original content, respecting both Official Languages.
2. Explore curated resources and tools, and exchange views, using a cloud-based learning platform.
3. Participate in weekly group activities relating to various elements of the public engagement process.
Initial objectives included:
1. Learning through collaboration: enabling participants to build their own capacity by working through activities and participating in dialogues with a network of peers
2. Building a shared understanding of meaningful public engagement, based on Canada’s Public Engagement Principles (transparency, relevance, inclusiveness, accountability, adaptability)
3. Sharing resources: Material from the Public Engagement team at PCO and others, allowing teams to engage more efficiently
4. Enabling change agents: Connecting across diverse parts of the government ecosystem (including citizens, partners, stakeholders, etc.) and giving them tools
By partnering to design and deliver Learn4PE, both organizations tested new learning environments for public engagement, used new platforms and tools, and invited a broad group of public servants to participate in a new type of learning activity.
We had both direct and indirect beneficiaries. We targeted Learn4PE towards federal public servants, however given the nature of the subject matter, we opened registration to colleagues in other jurisdictions and the general public. Participation included an invitation to take part in weekly live sessions and engage in group activities via an online platform. By definition, meaningful public engagement means that people affected by a particular government policy, regulation, program, or service can share their views, or participate in the design of government initiatives and, as such, benefit from greater capacity.
PCO will publish an additional series of public engagement resources in early 2020, which could be incorporated into a next iteration of the program. We plan on a continued speaker series on public engagement. Finally, a future version of Learn4PE could build on participant feedback, ideas, and resources shared during the pilot, and lessons learned regarding design, facilitation, and technology.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Learn4PE demonstrates how governments can prototype and openly iterate. It demonstrates innovation in learning and public engagement by:
1. Using a networked learning format whereby, instead of offering pre-defined course material, public servants learned by actively engaging on public engagement tools and practices. Participants shared their knowledge and experience through group activities, interactive live sessions, and by contributing their own experiences, examples and resources.
2. Building capacity across Canada’s federal public service, and including participants from other jurisdictions, such as civil society and the general public, thus supporting a dialogue on a foundational topic to democratic participation.
3. Designing for user’s varied needs and offering multi-channel activities, such that learners could tailor their type and level of participation to their preferences, and connect with others in a similar position.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The prototype version of Learn4PE took place in June and July 2019, with final participant materials being submitted in August. Our evaluation (including participant surveys, a participant dialogue, and ethnographic interviews) is complete.
At present, our activity is concentrated in two areas. We are diffusing lessons learned from our prototype, both in terms of the design and delivery of Learn4PE, how our lessons learned might be applied to networked learning initiatives on other topics, and on what we learned about substantive issues relating to public engagement.
Secondly, we are exploring possible next steps. This includes both revisiting our hypotheses and generating ideas in terms of content and delivery formats, and the extent to which we might refine our initial design and delivery approaches, explore other approaches to networked learning, or pursue something entirely different altogether.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Learn4PE embodies collaboration at every level. It developed as a partnership between two government departments, included speakers from multiple jurisdictions and areas of expertise during the live sessions, and made the learning opportunity available to civil society and the general public. To-date, our English and French live sessions have featured academics, Indigenous engagement experts, civil society leaders, and practitioners from municipal, provincial, and federal governments.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
By strengthening public engagement capacity at the federal level, and in collaborating with other jurisdictions, people benefit by being able to participate more meaningfully on issues they care about. By working together across federal departments, and with provincial and municipal governments, we established relationships and collaboration norms, paving the way to engage in a more citizen-centric manner. Learners could build on their engagement knowledge and strengthen their networks.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
1. We observed significant demand for public engagement capacity building. Our initial goal was 60 participants, and 848 began the course. An average of 294 participants joined each English session, and 25 each French session.
2. Participants connected with one another and learned about their respective public engagement efforts across organizations and jurisdictions. We compiled the resources and tools they shared and made them available to our Public Engagement Community of Practice.
3. We tested new online platforms, specifically Moodle for learning and Evalhalla, an internal AI-based evaluation tool.
4. We surveyed participants at the mid-point and end, and hosted a dialogue on their experiences. In addition, an ethnographer undertook a series of interviews. 77% of survey respondents indicated they learned something useful for their work.
Challenges and Failures
Learn4PE involved a number of challenges:
1. How to create an interactive, collaborative learning experience in both of Canada’s official languages while being accessible to any public servant, working across six time zones.
2. We designed a minimum viable product with the intent to prototype with a small group of 60 participants, and almost 850 individuals began the course. This growth in demand required our small team to find ways to offer learning and technical support for participants, while continuing to facilitate collaboration on the subject matter.
3.Participant interest in our initial live sessions exceeded the capacity of our initial platform. We increased participant spaces fivefold, and posted a recording from the first session.
4. We surveyed participants at both the midpoint and the end to seek their views about their experience. While we intended to treat participants as co-pilots, we also wanted to make sure that the foundational user experiences enabled this.
Conditions for Success
Building system-wide capacity on engaging the public requires is predicated on several conditions:
1. Clear frameworks to guide the collaborative dialogue. In our case, we published Canada’s Principles of Public Engagement in late 2017.
2. The ability to see a need for system-level capacity-building, and the vision to scale initial resources into a comprehensive learning initiative.
3. Leadership with the ability and interest to resource exploratory work, and unblock barriers that can arise when working in new ways.
4. A multi-disciplinary team with expertise (design, facilitation, IT, and policy) to develop the project and iterate throughout the course.
5. An ability to work transparently, inviting participants to co-pilot the process, recognizing that they would iterate the first run as a proof-of-concept with us.
6. Collaboration frameworks to support project governance and information management across organizations, and in the future perhaps across jurisdictions.
We designed Learning Together for Better PE to contribute to the Government of Canada’s capacity to meaningfully engage the public through the policy lifecycle. Both the approach to networked learning, and the content itself, are highly replicable. Planning for 2020 and a possible full second iteration is still under consideration, and ongoing application of lessons learned includes:
1. Sharing resources provided by participants with our Public Engagement Community of Practice
2. Sharing our design process and experiences with colleagues working in partnership to develop other massive open online learning initiatives
3. Identifying additional topics for further live sessions on public engagement to host in 2020-21
4. Publishing course materials and other public engagement resources for widespread use and as part of Canada’s Open Government commitments.
Learn4PE surpassed our expectations as a proof-of-concept in offering excellent learning for future work on both public engagement, and on collaborative learning design as a means to build broad system-level capacity on new topics.
1. Demand for learning about public engagement: Registration numbers significantly exceeded our projections, and confirmed a strong interest in both the topic and format. While we designed Learn4PE as a prototype, future initiatives will need to include planning to operate at a larger scale from the beginning.
2. Participants appreciated the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the federal public service, as well as from other jurisdictions and sectors. Collaboration opportunities of this type help to work across silos.
3. Combining online learning and live sessions offered participants multiple ways to focus in on their specific interest areas. While most learning for Canadian public servants takes place in a classroom, in a self-paced online environment, or through events, Learn4PE highlighted the interest in participating in new kinds of activities.
4. Recognizing higher demand, and an interest in working with new technologies and tools, we would increase resourcing for both project communications and participant support, particularly on the margins of live sessions. To further the idea of networked learning, this could also include pairing participants or pre-establishing groups to undertake activities together.
5. We focused our initial evaluation design on measuring participant collaboration, however we expanded it to include metrics on user experience in order to quickly improve some technical challenges issues, that helped participants focus on collaboration.
6. Learn4PE helped us better understand participant needs in order to support their work on public engagement, as well as how they engage in a unique learning environment.
We would be pleased to talk further with other government colleagues who may wish to pursue a similar initiative.
Accessing the course on Moodle:
Website: https://moodle.nglxp.ca/login/index.php THEN log in as “guest,”, under “Transferable Skills,” “Public Engagement,” and then “Learning Together for Better Public Engagement”