Do Governments have a Program Management Problem?

2 minute read

According to the World Economic Forum the principal challenge of governments in the 21stCentury is the challenge to remain relevant. This observation comes at a time when constant change defines the lives of citizens, businesses and governments. Much of this change has been for the good – think about technology and the “appification” of just about everything. Yet just under the surface profound changes in society and economy that are causing governments to find more innovative ways of responding to citizens wants and needs.

With legislation, programs have been among the choice instruments of governments as they strive to deliver on the public good. However, this approach has had its difficulties of late. Longstanding programs have had to adapt to the twin pressures of fiscal restraint and evolving citizen demands for service delivery. And a number of recent program failures have prompted studies and reports that raise important questions about governments’ capacity to manage programs of increasing complexity.

Both issues call for a new approach to public sector program management. This new approach centers on developing leadership capacity in program managers that leverages a set of tools, skills, and competencies to assure integrated management of all facets of their programs. The program leader has an appreciation of both the vertical (minster and department) and horizontal (department-wide and whole of government) perspectives on their program and its mission. As program leader, they leverage data to act on the the levers at their disposal to adjust, change and transform their programs to improve performance with a client-centric focus. This new approach is entirely consistent with the call for governments to demonstrate results and achieve outcomes that is at the heart of the science of deliverology.

Moving from program management to program leadership is not a choice, but a necessity. The pressures and challenges pressed on governments are not going away and will only get more urgent as society and economy changes. The challenge of remaining relevant in the 21stCentury starts with rethinking program delivery.

If this challenge interests you, check out the IOGs Certificate in Program Leadership. We offer Canada’s only course leading to a professional designed to meet the professional requirements of public sector executives, senior and middle level program managers and senior officers for the skills and tools needed to deliver program results in a changing government environment.

About the authors

Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill

Senior Director

Michael A. O’Neill brings a blend of professional experience in the public sector and scholarly experience in post-secondary education to his position of Senior Learning Advisor at the Institute on Governance. In September 2016 Michael returned to Canada following an 18-month mandate with the OECD where he managed and made substantive contributions to public governance and capacity building projects in the Eurasia, European, and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions.  This appointment followed a succession of senior policy positions with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Justice Canada, Health Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade over a 22-year career with Canada’s government.

In these roles Michael provided expert advice to ministers, senior officials, and national and international government representatives on a variety of public policy and public governance issues and developed project-related international and national networks of experts and officials.  Michael’s areas of practice are public sector governance, citizen engagement and democratization, and public sector accountability and transparency.

Michael previously joined the IOG between 2010 and 2012 through Interchange Canada to manage projects on public sector governance, NGO governance, performance measurement and evaluation.

Since 1997 Michael has taught and researched in the fields of Canadian and international politics and public administration at the University of Ottawa and the École nationale d’administration publique.  He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and policy papers on public sector governance, social policy and professional training pedagogy.  Michael has also contributed his expertise to the design and delivery of professional training programmes and capacity building sessions for audiences of national and international public officials.

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