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Audits and Evaluations

Formative Evaluation of the Strategic Choices Framework

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4.0 Evaluation findings

4.1 Design of the Strategic Choices Initiative

Observations

The Strategic Choices Initiative forms a part of the LAC overall strategy setting process which began with the "Transformation" and "Directions for change" initiatives. Its purpose was to position the institution to better deliver on its mandate. Given the broad nature of LAC's mandate and the limited resources available (inherited from the former NL and NA) the institution had to focus and prioritize its goals strategically. The process used to define the five strategic choices, which form the core of the Framework, was aimed at ensuring that the priorities set for the institution were consistent with the strategic issues facing LAC and that their impact on key LAC business lines was taken into consideration. What was valuable about the design approach according to key informants was that it managed to: narrow down and made the delivery of the mandate and reorganization of services more specific; provided a way for people to see how they contributed to the achievement of the mandate; provided a vision for LAC that went beyond "the next 6 months". In addition it was considered the right approach in the context of Transformation and the first real exercise to address issues horizontally.

Based on the documentation review of the design process it was observed that the preliminary analysis of the strategic issues working groups focused primarily on the areas of activities where the institution should expand its involvement; however there is not enough evidence to suggest that they explored the areas of activities that the institution should withdraw from or in which it should have limited involvement. It was conveyed by interviewees that the preliminary analysis was somewhat rushed and that some working groups had difficulty reaching consensus. In addition the environmental analysis conducted by the groups focused on current trends and did not explore the possible impacts of future developments on LAC's strategic direction. Furthermore the analysis did not provide argumentation as to why certain proposed options/directions for LAC were better than others, whether they were feasible or what was their added value for the institution. Only one of the working groups noted in its report that further analysis and consultation were needed to ensure sustainable implementation of its proposed recommendations.

There is no evidence in the documentation on the design of the initiative that formal risk analysis was conducted or considered. As a result an opportunity was missed to define what were the risks associated with the initiative, to identify respective mitigation measures and determine what the acceptable degree of risk was. Such an analysis could have also helped identify dependencies between the strategic choices and the results associated with each as well as the areas in need of immediate attention.

Since no logic model was developed the assumptions of the Strategic Choices Framework were not tested and hence an opportunity was missed to improve the design and implementation. As a result important elements were overlooked such as the need for a feedback and reporting mechanisms, the role of organizational culture as a catalyst or barrier to change and the need for more efficient integrated planning.

4.2 Implementation of the Strategic Choices Initiative

Observations

Interviewees emphasised that considerable efforts were devoted to the implementation of the Strategic Choices Framework. The Sectors had different approaches to the realization of the results established under each of the five strategic objectives in the Framework which partially explains why implementation progress was uneven. Other contributing factors were the complexity and interdependency of the expected deliverables and the state of the internal culture in the respective sectors. For example the Documentary Heritage Collection (DHC) Sector was heavily dependent on Information Technology Branch (ITB) since most of its deliverables involved digital projects. As a result they transferred most of their resources to ITB. Certain deliverables such as the AMICAN system however required additional resources which were secured through a submission to Treasury Board Secretariat. At the same time ITB was faced with its own internal pressures i.e. lack of human resources and as a result progress on technology dependent DHC deliverables was slow. Government Records Branch was the sector the most advanced in the implementation of its Strategic Choices deliverables. They attribute their success to the following factors:

  • their senior leadership was committed to the strategic objectives set for their sector under the Strategic Choices initiative;
  • their leadership was able to establish a clear link between the priorities and the operations of the sector;
  • activities and processes that were not directly linked to the priorities were eliminated;
  • strong and dynamic management team and a good mix of staff competencies;
  • the priorities were clear and did not change;
  • availability of additional funding.

A considerable barrier to the implementation of the Strategic Choices Framework according to interviewees was the lack of financial resources. Management Board was the sole decision-making body with regards to the reallocation of resources. A number of costing options for the implementation of the Strategic Choices Initiative were proposed to MB by Strategic Office and the DGs working group. The option chosen by MB was the use of a common reserve fund on a yearly basis to which the Sectors were required to contribute 5% of their (historical) budget. The reserve fund however was used to finance a number of different activities not all of which were related to the implementation of the Strategic Choices Framework. It was maintained by interviewees that actual reallocation of resources did not take place and that the new business model did not drive decision making. Examination of financial data, presented in the table below, however revealed that significant reallocation did in fact occur.

The table below shows the number of full-time equivalent and operational expenses for the sectors over the 2007-2009 period. There was a total increase in the number of FTEs at LAC equal to 26 FTEs, the Government Record Branch gained 29 FTEs, or 3 more than the overall total for the institution. Documentary Heritage Sector lost 7 FTEs and Program and Services Sector lost 5 FTEs. The operational expenses are exhibiting the same trend: GRB spent 68% more resources over the two years were DHC and PSS spent 21% and 23% more respectively.

Table 1. Sector operational expenses and full-time equivalent
  FY 2006-07 FY 2007-08 FY 2008-09
PAA 1.1- Government Information Management $6,0M $8,8M $10,1M
% increase since 2006-2007   46.6% 68.0%
FTEs and increase since 2006-2007     +29 FTEs or +22%
PAA 1.2 - Documentary Heritage Collection $38,2M $45,6M $46,3M
% increase since 2006-2007   19.5% 21.2%
FTEs and increase since 2006-2007     -7 FTEs or -1%
PAA 1.3 - Making DH known and accessible $19,8M $22,5M $24,4M
% increase since 2006-2007   13.3% 23.1%
FTEs and increase since 2006-2007     -5 FTEs or -2%
Total $64,0M $76,9M $80,8M
% increase since 2006-2007   20.1% 26.2%
FTEs and % increase since 2006-2007     +26 FTEs or +2%

Source: Financial Planning and Resource Management group; special report based on the LAC's DPR and public accounts; the primary source of the data was the 2009 Strategic Review exercise.

Departmental reports (RPP and DPR) for 2007-2009 constitute the only known progress reports on the Strategic Choices Framework. In subsequent years, however the importance of the initiative seemed to disappear slowly from the reports, although no new priorities for LAC were identified. This could be attributed to the fact that no formal accountability, monitoring and reporting mechanisms for the implementation of the initiative were established. Progress on delivery of results that were the responsibility of Strategic Office, Communication Office and Information Technology Branch could not be confirmed because the departmental reports reported mainly on LAC program and operations.

In addition it was noted that only two members of Management Board had included in their 2007-2008 performance agreements some of the strategic choices results for which they were responsible. These findings further illustrate the loss of momentum and lack of commitment to the implementation of the initiative noted by interviewees.

There was perception among interviewees that sticking to strategic priorities was challenging for MB and that the operational response was to continue with traditional business activities. In addition respondents indicated that there was a lack of consensus within the organization with respect to the results expressed in the Strategic Choices Framework and their implementation; however, the sectors had to deliver them just the same.

Governance of Strategic Choices

Because no formal governance structure for the Strategic Choices Initiative was defined, it was Management Board that was the oversight entity responsible for its implementation. It was expected that the DG of Strategic Office (also a member of the MB), as the head of the entity responsible for developing the Strategic Choices Initiative, was to keep MB informed on the state of implementation and to raise the subject when necessary at MB meetings. However SO did not have the capacity to provide extensive monitoring. Attempts were made to use the institution's planning network resources to follow up on the implementation progress but were unsuccessful as those resources were dedicated to other activities on a priority basis. As a result early on in the implementation process the idea of monitoring was abandoned. A contributing factor was the inability of sector management to provide the requested information.

There is little evidence in the documentation that MB held comprehensive discussions on the Strategic Choices Initiative with regards to its implementation progress, funding and other challenges or the need to readjust the priorities. Elements of the Strategic Choices Framework were discussed on a case-by-case basis and usually in response to a major problem. Over time, countless new projects were added to the list of those already defined. According to interviewees there was an absence of direction and of proper communication on the part of MB with regards to the implementation of the Strategic Choices Framework.

4.3 Success of the Strategic Choices Initiative

In order to determine the success-to-date of the initiative data was gathered on the progress of the short and medium-term results specified against each of the five strategic objectives defined in the Strategic Choices Framework. Respondents were asked to rate whether or not the results were achieved and what was the likelihood of achieving them within the timeframe (2006-2011) set for the initiative. Not all interviewees were able to provide rating to the entire questionnaire. The total number of completed questionnaires was nine and an average of seven interviewees was able to provide a rating for all 54 questions. This indicates that apart from the results for which they were directly responsible interviewees lacked knowledge on the implementation progress of the Strategic Choices Framework in its entirety. Based on stakeholder's responses, more than 60% of the tasks were completed over the period 2007-2009 and 55% of the results expected to be completed in 2010-2011 are likely to be achieved. The questionnaire used is provided in detail in appendix D.

The table below provides the average results on a five-point scale for each of the five strategic choices and their associated tasks and results. The Strategic Choices Framework contained 29 tasks and 34 results (for the full list, please refer to appendix E).

Table 2: Average for short-term and medium-term results and number of respondents per strategic choice
  Key Sectors Responsible Tasks Results Number of Responses
SC #1 — Adapt to the needs of the digital information environment 7 tasks and 10 results Documentary Heritage Collection (DHC), Programs and Services Sector (PSS), Information Technology Branch (ITB) 2.7 2.7 6
SC #2 — Increase the relevance and accessibility of collections and expertise to all Canadians 6 tasks and 5 results PSS, ITB, SO and DHC 3.2 3.2 3
SC #3 — Role in GoC information management, development of effective record keeping 4 tasks and 8 results Government Information Management, DHC, and PSS 4.0 3.8 6
SC #4 — Make systematic use of collaborative arrangements to deliver on its mandate through or with others 5 tasks and 6 results SO, DHC and PSS 3.2 3.4 5
SC #5 — Make decisions based on citizen/client research and evaluation results 7 tasks and 66 results Communication, PSS and SO 3.5 2.6 3

Strategic Choice #1, adapting and making use of the digital information environment, was the spearhead for LAC's success in the digital environment and, in the view of most interviewees results thus far are the least advanced of all the strategic choices. Delays in the realization of this strategic choice were due to: the lack of resources, difficulties related to information technology as well as the number and scope of new priorities vested in the sector. Sector management further indicated that the implementation timetable for Strategic Choice #1 was too ambitious.

Strategic Choice #2, increasing the relevance and accessibility of LAC collections and expertise to Canadians outside the National Capital Region, contains elements that have been met with considerable success and acclaim both internally and externally: the genealogy program and Web services. An unintended outcome of the rationalization of services has been the creation of a much stronger and broader-based committee on services that groups all LAC users.

Strategic Choice #3, development of effective record keeping, shows the best score in terms of both short-term and medium-term results: average score of 4 and 3.8 out of 5 respectively. Most stakeholders were familiar with the activities for this strategic choice and recognized the success with which it has been met. Furthermore Strategic choice #3 had proportionally more tasks within their control or in partnership with outside organizations. A contributing factor was the availability of considerable additional financial and human resources as shown in table 1 (p.18).

Strategic Choice #4, making systematic use of collaborative arrangements, and Strategic Choice #5, build-in citizen/client research and evaluation results into management decision-making, unfolded with some success until the funds or efforts needed to move forward began to fail.

Critical Success Factors

The Strategic Choices Framework included two critical success factors: 1. Changing LAC management and operational practices to be reflective of LAC commitment to collaborative arrangements both internal and external; and 2. Systematic review and re-engineering of LAC business practices and reallocation of resources to support implementation of the Strategic Framework. Interviewees did not refer to them unless prompted and did not appear to consider them as a central focus of their approaches to the implementation of the Framework. However interviewees appeared to be in agreement that the critical success factors, as the underlying principles of the Framework and the new business model, were not attained. The documentation review and data analysis further support this conclusion. Interviewees attribute that fact to the lack of internal collaboration and consensus on the operationalization of the Strategic Choices Framework. As a result, in their view, LAC embarked on the implementation of the Framework without actually changing its operational approaches or aiming at changing the business model.

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