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The Service Canada Initiative

Achievement of the Integration Contract
The timeframe was short — scarcely two years — and there were big problems. At the outset, two major challenges were identified. Both were related to the culture prevalent within the government. First was the concept of "One size fits all". Team members were convinced that a universal solution would be incapable of meeting the needs of all Canadians, even though they knew some countries such as Australia had successfully adopted that approach. In their view, the nature of the geographic, linguistic and cultural differences in Canada made it necessary to offer integrated yet customized service that takes into account the specific needs of all Canadians, particularly those in outlying and rural areas. The team’s second challenge was convincing the various departments and agencies to work together. The idea of integrated government services was alien to the idea held by numerous departments and agencies that their services belonged to them, that they could manage them in keeping with their specific needs and that they did not have to submit to common rules. Also, some departments had developed an internal culture focused on services for citizens while others had done little along these lines.

It was not a matter of creating a new program for service delivery, but rather of exploring ways of developing existing structures into a new approach. Even with its very broad mandate, the project team was small and its resources limited; the project did not have a very high profile, particularly politically, which hampered it somewhat. While some partners wanted a precise, firm orientation, the project team defined itself more as a support group, and sought to stimulate rather than initiate projects. The pilot project took the form of a request to all. Diversity and personalized responses were encouraged. But this broad leeway given to the partners complicated matters slightly because the partners were looking for a clearly defined direction and more precise objectives. Service Canada was acting somewhat like a franchiser with its partners: it set the standards (accessibility, bilingualism, security) while making the partners responsible for service delivery. The result was a certain degree of dissociation between strategy and operations.

Despite the odd misunderstanding and inconsistency, the project quickly won the approval of numerous backers; they liked the idea of customized services and many regions across Canada viewed it as a genuine effort by Ottawa to get closer to the people and meet their specific needs. In scarcely two years, the team developed the integration concept and actively participated in establishing 122 access centres across the country. It did this by negotiating and signing 21 memoranda of understanding (MOU) with 13 federal partners. The Government of Canada website was completely reorganized and provided support for the information officers in access centres as well as people accessing it directly. Lastly, the group convinced Public Works to redesign its database for the 1-800 service and make it accessible to non-government personnel working in the access centres.