Archived - Evaluation of the Consultations and Communications Branch

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Final Report
Prepared by:
Internal Audit and Evaluation
Department of Finance Canada

Approved by the Deputy Minister of Finance on the recommendation of the Audit and Evaluation Committee on March 1, 2013

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

1. Background

2. Evaluation Objective and Scope

3.0 Methodology

4. Evaluation Findings

5.0 Conclusion

Appendix A: Recommendations

Appendix B: Branch Logic Model

Appendix C: Management Response and Action Plan


Executive Summary 

This report presents the results of the evaluation of the Consultations and Communications Branch (C&C) of the Department of Finance Canada. The evaluation was conducted by the Department’s Internal Audit and Evaluation Group between July 2012 and December 2012.

C&C provides strategic communications advice, services and products to assist other branches, the Deputy Minister’s Office and the Minister’s Office in developing and implementing policy initiatives, including, but not limited to, the Annual Financial Report, the Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections and, most importantly, the federal budget. It also coordinates Finance Canada’s parliamentary activities, organizes ministerial and departmental consultations, manages a range of information and public affairs activities, including media relations and ministerial correspondence, and provides related communications services, such as editing, web communications and publishing, public opinion polling and advertising.

The overall objective of this evaluation was to assess the Branch’s relevance and performance, including efficiency and economy of its key activities and operations. It also examined the Branch’s organizational structure to assess how well it is positioned to optimize its service delivery. The evaluation used five lines of evidence — document reviews, interviews, case studies, a client satisfaction survey and a compliance audit — and covered the Branch’s activities over the past five years. The information collected through this evaluation is intended to inform the decision-making process by providing an objective and evidence-based assessment of Branch relevance and performance, as well as identifying potential opportunities for improvement.

Based on the analysis of the information gathered, the following conclusions were reached.

Relevance

The Branch’s activities and objectives are relevant to current needs and are aligned with the mandate of the Department and key priorities of the Government of Canada. They also conform to the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

Performance

The quality and timeliness of Branch activities, services and products have been described as very good. The Branch was found to conduct its activities and deliver its services with an increased focus on improving the efficiency and economy of its operations. Although the Branch’s current organizational structure, resources and internal processes have been generally found to serve its needs, there are some opportunities for improvement and realignment.

Notwithstanding the above findings, the following recommendations are provided in the spirit of continuous improvement:

Recommendation 1: The Branch should consider re-examining its organizational and reporting structure in order to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations.

Recommendation 2: The Branch should consider assigning dedicated resources to internal (corporate) communications.

Recommendation 3: The Branch should consider formalizing and expanding an approach to staff development to allow interested and qualified staff to be considered, where there is a departmental need, to work and gain experience in other areas of interest.

Recommendation 4: The Branch should consider re-examining the current approach to allocating its training budgets.

Recommendation 5: The Branch should consider finding a permanent solution for the chronic shortfall of its salary envelope.

1. Background

1.1 Introduction

This report presents the results of the Evaluation of the C&C Branch of the Department of Finance Canada. The evaluation was conducted by the Department’s Internal Audit and Evaluation between July 2012 and December 2012.

The evaluation was authorized by the Deputy Minister on May 29, 2012, as part of the approval of an amendment to the Department’s Five-Year Evaluation Plan.[1] This Plan was developed in accordance with the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation, which requires departments to evaluate 100 per cent of their direct program spending, including the administrative aspects of all major statutory spending at least once every five years.

1.2 Program Profile

C&C provides strategic communications advice, services and products to assist other branches, the Deputy Minister’s Office and the Minister’s Office in developing and implementing policy initiatives, including, but not limited to, the Annual Financial Report, the Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections and, most importantly, the federal budget. It also coordinates Finance Canada’s parliamentary activities, organizes ministerial and departmental consultations, manages a range of information and public affairs activities, including media relations and ministerial correspondence, and provides related communications services, such as editing, web communications and publishing, public opinion polling and advertising.

The Branch consists of three divisions: Communications Policy and Strategy, Public Affairs and Operations, and Parliamentary Affairs.

The Communications Policy and Strategy Division is responsible for developing communications plans and strategies and for providing communications advice to the Department’s policy branches, the Deputy Minister’s Office and the Minister’s Office, as well as drafting communications products such as speeches, press releases, backgrounders, questions and answers, and other communications documents, including for those related to the federal budget. The Division is also responsible for monitoring and analyzing media coverage and for developing and managing public opinion research and advertising.

The Public Affairs and Operations Division is responsible for the Department’s external and internal websites, as well as its publishing program, including for the federal budget. It also manages media relations that includes the function of departmental spokesperson, as well as overseeing and planning news conferences and photo opportunities. The Division also maintains contact lists of business groups, labour organizations, individuals, and other stakeholder organizations. It assists branches, the Deputy Minister’s and the Minister’s Offices in the on- and off-site management of consultative exercises, conferences and meetings, including visits by foreign dignitaries and officials, as well as providing other protocol services. The Division also provides specialized editing and translation services for departmental publications and communications products and, through the Departmental Correspondence Unit, manages and coordinates ministerial correspondence.

The Parliamentary Relations Division provides advice to the policy branches, the Deputy Minister’s Office and the Minister’s Office to advance and support the Department’s legislative agenda in order to facilitate the passing of bills before Parliament. It is also responsible for the processing of parliamentary appointments, the tabling of annual reports, and the responses to parliamentarians’ written questions, petitions, and motions for the production of papers.

1.3 Resources 

Table 1.
Branch Resources for Fiscal Years 2007-08 to 2011-12
  Actual Spending  
 
 
Fiscal Year Salary ($000’s) G&S ($000’s) Total ($) Number of FTEs*
2011-12 5,861 10,467 16,328 70
2010-11 6,366 7,007 13,373 72
2009-10 6,163 21,400 27,563 69
2008-09 5,522 14,070 19,592 60
2007-08 4,562 2,945 7,507 56
*FTEs: Full-time equivalents

2. Evaluation Objective and Scope

In line with the government’s direction, the overall objective of this evaluation was to assess the relevance and performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy) of the Branch. The evaluation covered Branch activities over the past five years (2007-08 to 2011-12). The evaluation also examined the Branch’s organizational structure to assess how well it is positioned to optimize its service delivery. The information collected through this evaluation is intended to inform the decision-making process by providing an objective and evidence-based assessment of the Branch’s relevance and performance, as well as identifying potential opportunities for improvement.

3.0 Methodology 

3.1 Evaluation Approach 

The methodological approach for this evaluation was designed to address two key evaluation issues: 1) relevance, which is an assessment of the continued need for the services provided by the Branch and their consistency with government and departmental priorities, roles and responsibilities; and 2) performance, which is an assessment of the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of the Branch’s operations.

Assessment of the Branch performance focused on the extent to which the Branch was able to deliver timely and high-quality communications services, as well as the efficiency and economy of its operations. As part of this, the evaluation assessed the level of satisfaction of a sample of the Branch’s internal and external clients and stakeholders with its key services and outputs.

The evaluation also endeavoured to examine the extent to which the Branch’s organizational structure and work environment were conducive to providing timely and efficient communications services.

The evaluation approach incorporated elements of organizational assessment inspired by the balanced scorecard methodology, which assesses the organization in relation with 1) its clients and stakeholders; 2) the appropriateness of its organizational structure and internal processes; and the adequacy of its 3) financial; and 4) human resources. This aspect of the overall methodology was based on the premise that for an organization to cost-effectively achieve its goals, the needs of clients and stakeholders should be well understood and employees should have the required skills and resources to implement appropriate processes to meet client and stakeholder needs in a manner that reflects effective stewardship of the organization’s financial resources.

3.2 Evaluation Issues 

This section provides issues and questions that were addressed by the evaluation, along with the related performance indicators. To ensure the rigour of the evaluation, a combination of quantitative and qualitative information was used. Quantitative information was collected through analysis of historic financial and FTE data for the Branch, as were the results of a client satisfaction survey and the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey. Qualitative information was collected through document reviews, key informant interviews, case studies and a Financial Administration Act (FAA) Section 34 compliance audit.

Table 2.
Evaluation Issues, Questions and Lines of Evidence[2]
      Lines of Evidence  
     
 
Evaluation Issue Evaluation Questions Performance Indicators Document Review Interviews Case Studies Survey Audit
Demonstrable need and alignment with government priorities, roles and responsibilities R1: In what way, and to what extent, do the activities and objectives of the Branch meet the needs of the Department, and align with the roles, responsibilities and priorities of the federal government? Evidence and assessment of alignment between Branch activities and objectives with:
  • Departmental strategic outcomes;
  • Federal government priorities;
  • Federal government roles and responsibilities; and
  • The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.
X X      
Program design and implementation P1: To what extent do the existing organizational structure, work environment and internal processes support the effective execution of the Branch’s role and achievement of its objectives? Evidence and assessment of appropriateness of organizational structure, including clarity of roles and responsibilities, reporting structure, and effective information sharing within the Branch.

Evidence and assessment of effective Branch leadership (clarity of objectives, performance expectations, feedback).

Evidence and assessment of effectiveness of monitoring, quality control, learning processes.
X X X   X
Human resources P2: To what extent do HR processes effectively support the recruitment, development and retention of highly skilled staff? Evidence and assessment of the adequacy of Branch resources (both human and budgetary).

Evidence and assessment of the adequacy and effectiveness of existing HR processes, including recruitment, training, networking and performance monitoring.

Assessment of Public Service Employee Survey results and actions taken by management, taking into consideration the Branch, Department and government trends.

Comparison with other government communications organizations.
X X      
Achievement of expected outcomes P3: To what extent has the Branch been able to contribute to the achievement of its objectives and expected outcomes? Evidence and assessment of the extent to which the Branch has been able to fulfill its mandate (provide strategic communications advice and products).

Evidence of client and stakeholder satisfaction with Branch products and services.
X X X X  
Efficiency and economy P4: To what extent has the Branch conducted its operations efficiently and economically? Assessment of the trends over time in the Branch’s operational resources (financial and FTE) compared with the trend of its outputs or activities.

Description and assessment of measures that have been taken by the Branch over the past five years to improve its efficiency and economy.

Evidence and assessment of any additional cost-effective ways of achieving the Branch’s objectives and delivering on its activities. Evidence and assessment of duplication or overlap of Branch activities with those of other branches or organizations.

Evidence and assessment as to whether there are more cost-effective alternative ways of achieving Branch objectives and delivering its services.
X X   X  
"X" indicates that the line of evidence was used in addressing that particular question or issue.

3.3 Data Collection Methods 

Document reviews: Document reviews provided evaluators with a better understanding of the context of the Branch’s operations and activities, as well as the theory and structures of other similar functions across government. As such, planning and performance documents related to the Branch’s activities, outputs, outcomes and risks were reviewed, along with other internal documents, including administrative and operational files, such as procedures, organizational charts, and budget and other financial documents. Relevant external documents and literature, including audits, evaluations and benchmarking studies of other communications functions across the federal government, and Public Service Employee Survey results were also identified and reviewed.

Interviews: Key informant interviews were conducted with Branch management and staff, as well as with clients and stakeholders in other departments and the media. Other external informants, such as senior counterparts in other comparable communications organizations were also interviewed to examine comparative models of organization. Interviews were conducted to yield information from individual perspectives on aspects of Branch operations, from executing its activities to producing its outputs and achieving its outcomes. To the extent possible, care was taken to allow for a wide range of perspectives from different functional areas within the Branch and from diverse clients and stakeholders.

Case studies: Two case studies were carried out to complement information collected through other methods: 1) Department Correspondence Tracking System; and 2) Web Communications and Publishing. The case studies focused on exploring the state of the departmental correspondence tracking system and web publishing in other departments in order to stay abreast and take advantage of new developments in these areas and to identify lessons learned for the purpose of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the current systems and practices in the Branch.

Survey: A client satisfaction survey was administered to a sample of Branch internal and external clients and stakeholders, including a selected number of departmental senior executives. The purpose of the survey was to obtain the clients’ perspective on the level of importance and degree of satisfaction with key Branch activities and services. Survey results were meant to inform the overall assessment of Branch performance, and assist the Branch to ensure that its resources are adequately allocated to key services and that these services meet clients’ needs.

Audit: An FAA Section 34 compliance audit of a sample of Branch contract-related invoices was conducted to obtain reasonable assurance that the manager signing the contract invoices had the proper delegation of authority, and that the goods and services were received prior to approval of payments as required by the FAA.

Table 3.
Interviews by Category and Number
Category Number
Internal  
  Branch management 12
  Branch staff 14
External  
  Other departments 10
  Other service users (Press Gallery members) 10
Total 46

3.4 Methodology Limitations 

The main limitation of this study was the trade-off that was made between depth and breadth in evaluation scope. Due to time and resource constraints, the scope of the case studies and the survey were limited to small sample sizes. However, given the independent nature of the case study subjects, the limitation of its scope did not have an impact on the evaluation’s overall findings and conclusions.

To mitigate the impacts of the relatively small number of survey participants on the overall evaluation findings, efforts were made to diversify the survey participants to the extent possible.

Notwithstanding the limitations stated above, the conclusions of this evaluation were based on multiple lines of evidence; the weight of the evidence with respect to the key issues was strong enough to establish reliable conclusions and recommendations.

4. Evaluation Findings 

4.1 Relevance 

This section examines the continued relevance of the Branch’s activities and the extent to which these activities are consistent with government and departmental priorities, roles and responsibilities.

Key Findings

Branch activities and objectives are relevant to the needs and are aligned with the mandate of the Department and key priorities of the Government of Canada. They also conform to the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

Established under the Financial Administration Act, the Department of Finance provides advice and support to the Government of Canada on all matters pertaining to the Canadian economic and fiscal policy framework, including the development and oversight of the Economic Action Plan. The Department’s overarching priority is to support economic growth and job creation while managing the return to balanced budgets.

The departmental Program Alignment Architecture (PAA) provides an overview of how each program activity and sub-activity contributes to the achievement of the Department’s strategic outcome. There are four PAAs: Economic and Fiscal Policy Framework, Transfer and Taxation Payment Programs, Treasury and Financial Affairs and Internal Services. The C&C Branch falls under the Internal Services program activity, which contributes to the achievement of the Department’s strategic objective by supporting each program activity within the PAA.

The C&C Branch supports other program activities in various ways, including its involvement in the preparation, communication and dissemination of the federal budget, which is one of the most important responsibilities of the Department, as well as through the production and dissemination of documents such as the fall Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections, and by providing responses to media and public enquiries. By working with other branches of the Department of Finance, C&C ensures that government priorities are consistently reflected in all departmental messaging. In doing so, the Branch plays a clear, distinct and value-added role in support of achieving the Department’s strategic objectives. It also helps the Department adhere to the main thrust of the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada that requires government institutions to “provide the public with timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete information about its policies, programs, services and initiatives.”[3] In that regard, and given that communications are integral to the “work and management of the Government of Canada,” the current roles and responsibilities of the Branch are consistent with the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada and are in alignment with government priorities.

4.2 Performance 

This section assesses the extent to which C&C was effective in achieving its objectives and delivering its outputs efficiently and economically. It begins with an assessment of the adequacy and appropriateness of the Branch’s organizational structure, resources and internal processes in support of delivering its services and achieving its objectives.

4.2.1 Design and Implementation 

Key Findings

C&C’s current organizational structure, resources and internal processes were generally found to serve its needs. Going forward, there are opportunities that could further improve internal processes, as well as the efficiency and realignment of the Branch’s organizational structure.

The quality and timeliness of the Branch’s activities, services and products were described as very good.

The Branch was found to conduct its activities and deliver its services with an increased focus on improving the efficiency and economy of its operations.

Organizational Structure

The Branch’s current organizational structure has a functional basis, with each of its divisions dedicated predominantly to operational, strategic and parliamentary-related issues. The two larger divisions, the Public Affairs and Operations Division and the Communications Policy and Strategy Division, are subdivided into smaller sections on the basis of the type of communications-related services provided.

Although each section provides distinct services, almost all services provided by the Branch cut across divisional and sectional lines of responsibilities, albeit in some cases more than others. For example, the Media Relations section of the Public Affairs and Operations Division, which is responsible for responding to reporters’ calls on a broad range of departmental issues, relies on the work of the Research and Analysis section of the Communications Policy and Strategy Division to find out to what extent its messages and the information provided have been accurately reflected in the media. Likewise, the Parliamentary Affairs Division, which is responsible for processing parliamentary appointments, tabling annual reports, and developing responses to parliamentarians such as written questions, petitions and motions for the production of papers relies on speechwriters and communications strategists in the Communications Policy and Strategy Division. This is also the case with the speechwriters and strategists, whose products are be edited and translated by Language Services, which is part of the Public Affairs and Operations Division.

Providing any of these services requires ongoing and effective cooperation and collaboration among and within the divisions and sections. The evaluation assessed the extent to which the existing organizational structure and internal processes facilitate the level of collaboration, cooperation and communications required in the timely provision of these joint deliverables and services.

Although it has gone through some modifications in recent years, for the most part the Branch’s overall structure has remained the same for the past decade. One of the characteristics of the Branch’s current organizational structure is a significant imbalance in the size and reporting structures of its two main divisions. Although the Public Affairs and Operations Division consists of five relatively large sections with 46 FTEs, the Communications Policy and Strategy Division consists of three sections with only 17 FTEs.[4] The Branch has established some formal and informal processes, including weekly management meetings and their subsequent divisional and sectional staff meetings, to instill an effective collaboration and exchange of information culture. For the most part, these efforts have been successful, and the flow of information and level of collaboration among various groups were found to be effective.

The current organizational structure has worked well enough to allow the Branch to fulfill its mandate and to achieve its objectives. However, the landscape for providing communications services has gone through some profound changes in recent years. With the growing dominance of the web and social media, communication has become a 24/7 process.[5] These factors, combined with the current environment of fiscal restraint, suggest that a review of the branch’s organizational structure is advisable.

The absence of dedicated full-time resources for internal communications in the C&C’s organizational structure was noted. This, among other things, has limited the Branch’s ability to support the Deputy Minister and other departmental clients in delivering a coherent and sustained internal communications program through a variety of channels. For instance, the potential of the departmental internal website (Infosite) is currently not being maximized. It requires up-to-date and compelling editorial content to make it an important planning and internal communications tool. In a client satisfaction survey that was administered as part of this evaluation, the Infosite received a lower level of satisfaction than the other Branch services or products.[6]

A review of the organizational structures of various large and medium-sized communications branches in the federal government, including central agencies, indicated that most of these departments assign dedicated resources to internal communications. For example, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) has a group of 5 FTEs (out of a total of 80 FTEs) dedicated to internal communications. Given this, and the Department’s upcoming move to a new building, as well as the ongoing issues with its dual network system, regular communications with departmental employees is and will remain important. As such, the Branch should consider dedicating full-time resources specifically to internal communications.

The above discussion supports two opportunities for improvement. First, there is a need for the Branch to re-examine its organizational and reporting structure in order to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. Any structural changes and reporting realignment should be supplemented with putting in place processes to further improve the level and extent of interactions and communications among different units, particularly among those whose outputs have an impact on the work of other units. Second, the Department in general and its Infosite in particular can benefit from dedicated full-time resources.

Recommendation 1: The Branch should consider re-examining its organizational and reporting structure in order to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations.

Recommendation 2: The Branch should consider assigning dedicated resources to internal (corporate) communications.

Branch Leadership, Work Environment and Internal Processes

The Branch’s work environment was found to be conducive to providing timely and high- quality communications products, services and advice. Roles and responsibilities of both individuals and sections were clearly defined and communicated, although not necessarily in writing. Branch leadership was described as being accessible and as exercising an open door policy, as well as setting high standards and a respectful tone that is closely adhered to by the management team and appreciated by staff. Communications and feedback channels between staff and management were considered to be effective. The level and clarity of these communications has improved in recent years. Although some of the interviewees questioned aspects of the current employee performance assessment regime, including the process for setting performance objectives for individual employees and the lack of established rewards for those employees who perform above expectations, the majority found the process to be very useful, as it provides managers and staff with an opportunity to have a frank discussion on their goals, plans and performance.  

Work-life balance was mostly described as good. However, maintaining a healthy level of work-life balance during busy periods, particularly for certain groups, was found to be a challenge. This was also the case with the workload level. Although for the most part, workloads were described as manageable, there was a general understanding and acceptance that, because of the somewhat cyclical nature of the Branch’s activities, workloads were expected to be heavier during certain periods.

All of the interviewees found the Branch to be a good place to work. This was attributed to the interesting nature of the work and management’s efforts in being understanding, respectful and accessible. In addition, the majority of the interviewees expressed their satisfaction with management’s approach and flexibilities in accommodating staff’s work-life balance issues, including compensation for overtime. These sentiments were also reflected in the Branch’s high retention rate[7] and in the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey, in which Branch participants expressed a higher level of satisfaction with the state of affairs in almost all categories than the Department and public service as a whole.[8]

Table 4. 2011 Public Service Employee Survey: Summary Results for the C&C Branch
Category C&C Department
of Finance
Public Service
of Canada
Having support at work to balance work and personal life 75% 71% 75%
Being able to claim overtime compensation 82% 39% 62%
Liking my job 90% 82% 82%
Getting a sense of satisfaction from my work 84% 77% 76%
Receiving meaningful recognition for work well done 72% 69% 59%
Having support at work to provide a high level of service 84% 77% 73%
Being able to use the official language of my choice 91% 85% 87%
Receiving useful feedback from my immediate supervisor on my job performance 82% 74% 70%
Having opportunities for promotion within my department 55% 59% 44%
Knowing how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s goals 78% 84% 80%
This table presents comparative summary results for selected categories from the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey. The figures are averages of the percentages of positive responses to questions asked under corresponding survey categories.

With respect to the adequacy of internal processes for staff recruitment, training and development, the staffing process was described having improved in recent years, mostly as a result of changes implemented by the Corporate Services Branch. Still, the staffing process was found to be long and laborious. The Branch did not seem to be having difficulties in attracting and retaining highly skilled staff. Although the absence of enough opportunities for promotion from within was identified as an issue in the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey, a review of the outcome of some of the staffing processes in recent years indicated that some opportunities for advancement and mobility do exist.

Nevertheless, the Branch does not have a formal employee professional development program. But there is an ad hoc process in place that allows interested staff to work in other areas. There was strong support by both management and staff to expand and formalize this process to allow interested staff to work and gain experience in other areas of interest, provided that the interested staff possess the appropriate qualifications for available opportunities in the Branch and the Department. Although the majority of the Branch employees are classified as ISs, a staff development program should take, to the extent possible, the needs and aspirations of non-IS employees into consideration so that they also have similar opportunities for professional development.

Recommendation 3: The Branch should consider formalizing and expanding an approach to staff development to allow interested and qualified staff to be considered, where there is a departmental need, to work and gain experience in other areas of interest.

Training is an area where an opportunity for improvement was noted both by management and staff. Currently, staff is required to identify their training and professional development needs as part of the annual performance review exercise. Each Division is allocated a certain amount of funding for training purposes that is kept in a pool to be drawn on as needed. But there seemed to be various real or perceived issues that hindered staff’s ability to pursue their training objectives. Some C&C staff identified the absence of high-quality communications-related training courses as one of the problems. Timing was also raised as an issue. Since the majority of the training courses seem to be offered during time periods that are considered very busy for the Branch, staff feels that it is not appropriate to request it, nor does management feel that it can afford to grant permission for training during those periods. In addition, some employees were under the impression that, due to lack of funding, they should not actively pursue the implementation of their training plans. Given this misperception and the fact that over the past five years the Branch has not been spending all of its training budgets (see Figure 1), the evaluation is recommending that the Branch consider re-examining its approach to the allocation of its training budget.

Recommendation 4: The Branch should consider re-examining the current approach to allocating its training budgets.

Figure 1. Branch Training Expenditure

For details, see previous paragraph.

Assessment of Compliance with Section 34 of the FAA

Since C&C is responsible for managing the Department of Finance’s marketing related activities, including advertising and public opinion research, and given that the bulk of these activities are done through third-party service providers, this evaluation included an assessment of the extent to which the Branch complies with the requirements of Section 34 of the FAA for these expenditures.

The FAA provides legislative requirements for the financial administration of the Government of Canada. Section 34 provides the authority to certify that goods were received or services were rendered in accordance with contractual requirements. Within the Department of Finance, signing authorities pursuant to the FAA are delegated to departmental officials through the Delegation of Financial Signing Authorities instrument. Accordingly, departmental officials who have delegated authority are granted only those authorities related to the delivery and administration of their approved programs and are permitted to exercise financial authorities only once they have received delegation for these authorities as established under sections 32 and 34 of the FAA (note that section 32 of the FAA relates to having authorities to commit funds).

The assessment of a random sample of 10 contract invoices from 2011-12 provided reasonable assurance that:

  • The Branch has appropriate processes in place;
  • The manager signing the contract invoices had the proper delegation of authority; and,
  • Goods and services were received prior to approval of payments as required by the contracting practices with Section 34 of the FAA.

Assessment of the Adequacy of Branch Resources

With 70 FTEs and a budget of $16 million ($6 million for salaries and $10 million for goods and services), C&C provides communications services to a department with over 800 employees. As such, C&C is considered a medium-sized communications branch in the federal government.

Figure 2. Branch Resources Over the Past Five Years ($ Million)

For details, see following link.

[Figure 2 - Text Version]

The total number of the C&C’s FTEs was found to be lower than average, but the composition of its staff (proportion of employees classified as ISs, ASs, EXs. etc.) was in line with similar medium-sized communications branches in other departments. The Branch’s current overall resource levels were described as adequate for delivering its services and conducting its activities. However, it was stated that any reductions in the Branch’s current FTE level, without similar adjustment in its workload, may adversely impact the Branch’s ability to fully meet its future commitments. It was also noted that some products and services expected of a modern, medium-sized communications organization are currently not offered due to a lack of stable and appropriate funding levels. Examples of this are dedicated resources for internal communications (as previously noted), as well as social media monitoring.

Over the past several years, the Branch has been facing a chronic shortfall in its salary budget. Due to increased workloads and the addition of new responsibilities, the Branch’s FTE numbers have grown over the years while its salary envelope has remained the same. This has resulted in an annual salary deficit of approximately $300,000. To compensate, the Branch has been converting funds from its goods and services to salaries every year. Finding a permanent solution, such as requesting a permanent transfer of goods and services to salary, will address this recurring administrative irritant.

Recommendation 5: The Branch should consider finding a permanent solution for the chronic shortfall of its salary envelope.

4.2.2 Effectiveness 

This section examines the extent to which the Branch achieved its objectives, which is considered a measure of its organizational effectiveness. As indicated in the Branch logic model (Appendix B), the main objective of the C&C Branch is “to contribute to the achievement of departmental ongoing and operational priorities by ensuring that the Minister, Deputy Minister and other senior departmental officials have timely access to advice, recommendations, strategies, services and products on how best to communicate with the public on key policy issues being considered by the Government.”

Evidence collected through interviews, document reviews and a client satisfaction survey indicated that the C&C Branch has made an important contribution to achieving its objectives. As a service branch, C&C contributed to achieving these objectives by providing high-quality and timely communications-related services. For example, over the past five years, the Branch successfully coordinated the production, publication and communication of at least six budget plans, the same number of Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections and other important departmental or other governmental reports. In addition, it prepared hundreds of speeches and other communications products such as press releases, communication plans and strategies; it processed and responded to thousands pieces of correspondence, media and public inquiries; and it organized hundreds of conferences, visits and other events.

In the course of the interviews, it was highlighted by both management and staff that the Department of Finance has a reputation for having a solid communication function and providing good communication services. This claim was tested by interviewing 10 members of the Press Gallery, as well as through the administration of a client satisfaction survey of 48 internal and external service users and clients. In the case of Press Gallery members, 9 out of 10 expressed high degree of satisfaction with the services they received from the media relations function of the Department and categorized the function as professional, responsive and one of the best in the government.

Testimonies From Press Gallery Members

As part of this evaluation a series of brief telephone interviews was conducted with various media organizations to get their assessment and impression of working with the Media Relations section of the Department of Finance Canada. To ensure comprehensiveness, balance and representation, the interviewees were selected from all English and French media, including radio, television, news wires, newspapers and magazines (daily, weekly and online). In addition, to see if there were any qualitative differences between the quality and level of services provided to large as opposed to small organizations, the sample included both well-known and lesser known media, including some freelance journalists. Although the interviewees were chosen randomly, in most cases, we were referred by the media organizations, particularly larger ones, to either their bureau chiefs or the person who had the most interactions with the Branch’s Media Relations section. Here is a sample of the testimonies:

  • “They are responsive, professional and timely. They understand our needs and try to accommodate us to the best of their abilities. I have nothing negative to say about their performance.”
  • “They are professional, helpful and get back to us on a timely basis. Most of them are former journalists. As such, they are familiar with our business and needs.”
  • “They usually don’t provide the requested information on a timely basis and/or don’t provide us with the exact information that we request. We would like to see more analysis and authentic background information rather than just a cut and paste of their news releases. “
  • “They are very good and have a good understanding of our line of work. They are responsive and do their best to provide us with the information we want, although at times, there isn’t enough depth in what they provide us with.”
  • “In comparison with other departments, they are one of the best. The shop seems to be well run. They are very accessible and get back to us on a timely manner.”

The client satisfaction survey asked the service users to rate their level of satisfaction with 12 key services and products provided by the Branch and the extent to which they find these services and products important. A rating scale of 1 to 5 was used, where 1 represented “Not at all Important/Very Dissatisfied” and 5 represented “Very Important/Very Satisfied.” As illustrated in Figure 3, the survey results indicated that all respondents found the services provided by the Branch to be very important and that they are highly satisfied with the quality and timeliness of the services they have received (the overall response rate was 44 per cent).

Figure 3. Summary of Results

For details, see previous paragraph.

Figure 4 magnifies the information provided in Figure 3 in order to identify the specific positioning of each product and services.

Figure 4. Results Product by Product

For details, see following link.

[Figure 4 - Text Version]

Legend

1. Communication plans strategies and advice
2. Communication products (e.g., speeches)
3. Web publications
4. Specialized editing and translation
5. Media relations and spokesperson’s role
6. Parliamentary affairs
7. Media monitoring and analysis
8. Ministerial correspondence
9. Management of conferences and events
10. Departmental external website
11. Departmental Infosite
12. Public opinion research and advertising

These findings clearly indicate that the Branch is performing well and that there is a high level of satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of the services it provides.

4.2.2 Efficiency and Economy 

This section examines the efficiency and economy of the C&C Branch’s operations. The topic is addressed through analysis of information collected through interviews and review of financial and other resources-related information.

The Branch was found to conduct its business with an increased focus on improving the efficiency and economy of its operations. Although the Branch’s FTE level remained relatively stable over the past five years, an analysis of its workload trends indicates an increase both in the level of demand for the services provided and in the outputs produced (see Table 5). For example, over the past year, there was a significant increase in terms of the number of legislative speeches and press releases written. The Access to Information Assessment (ATIA) related workload during the first 8 months of the current fiscal year stood at 589 requests, which represents a 63 per cent increase from the 2011-12 figure. In addition, factors such as the increased use of social media, including the expanded use of Twitter for the Department of Finance Canada; the increased effort for compliance and website adaptation to the government’s new technical and design standards, including web accessibility; and the implementation of a mobile version of the federal budget resulted in hundreds of hours of work per year that did not exist previously.

Table 5.
C&C Work Trends
  Year
 
Product/Service Type
(Number)
2009-10 2010-11 2011-12
Speeches written 85 74 133
ATIA related workload (Assessments and consultations) 284 310 361
Press releases prepared 136 164 191
Visits, conferences and consultations organized 57 91 60
Total 562 639 745
ATIA: Access to Information Act

These increases in workload levels, combined with shortened timelines, required a more efficient utilization of the available resources, particularly human resources. The Branch was able to meet the increased workload and other demands through internal reallocation of its resources and realization of better synergies. For example, print and web publishing used to be two separate functions. Given the recent trends in the publishing environment that resulted in decreased demand for traditional print publications, these functions were merged to increase efficiency. This was also the case with the consultations and media relations function, where the roles and responsibilities of media relations officers were combined with those of consultations officers.

The Branch’s total expenditure, after reaching its highest level in 2009-10, decreased by $11 million or 40 per cent in 2011-12. As shown in Figure 5, during the same period (2009-10 to 2011-12), the Branch’s travel expenditure declined by 61 per cent, temporary help by 100 per cent, other professional services by 93 per cent and expenditure on material and supplies by 45 per cent. There was, however, a 5 per cent increase in its training expenditure.

Figure 5. C&C Expenditures Over the Past Five Years

For details, see previous paragraph.

In addition to these efficiencies, C&C also took a number of other measures to reduce the overall cost of its operations. For example, in the area of media monitoring, it stopped collecting paper clippings of news articles, which resulted in eliminating or reducing the need for hard copy subscriptions and photocopying; it also reduced the number of days that electronic clipping packages are produced from 7 to 6 days a week. It reduced the number of staff required to attend out-of-town ministerial events and conferences. It became more selective in sending communications strategists to certain international events, including meetings related to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The Branch also undertook various in-house innovations, including the use of Microsoft Word as publishing software, to improve the web publishing practices in the Department and to reduce the use of the print shop. It streamlined the budget production processes to reduce the need for overtime. It increased the use of videoconferencing (tele-presence) to reduce travelling costs to out-of-town meetings and consultations. The Branch introduced some flexibility in the compensation of overtime by encouraging staff to take time off in lieu of cash payments. Finally, as part of a government-wide initiative, the Branch coordinated its advertising-related activities with other departments such as the Canada Revenue Agency, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Natural Resources Canada to reduce the marketing and advertising costs through bulk buying.

The interviewees identified several additional measures that could potentially result in further efficiency gains for the Branch. For example, it was mentioned that in addition to recent reductions in travel costs, more efficiencies could be found. As such, it was suggested that the Branch could further strengthen its coordination with the appropriate stakeholders (for example, the Minister’s Office) to plan events and arrange certain trips earlier, which could result in some savings. As another example, there are currently 12,000 hard copies of the federal budget plan being printed annually at a cost of approximately $250,000. Given the increased popularity in accessing this and similar documents on the website and on mobile devices, it was suggested that the Branch should re-examine the need for printing this many copies.

Going forward, the Branch is encouraged to solidify recent gains in increasing the efficiency and economy of its operations.

Case Study No. 1: Departmental Correspondence Tracking System

The Departmental Correspondence Unit processes between 20,000 and 30,000 pieces of ministerial correspondence annually (about 70 per cent of this is email and, apart from a small number of inquiries coming through the Department’s public enquiries telephone line, the rest comes by mail). By all standards, this is considered a high volume, and its management poses various challenges, the most important of which is meeting the prescribed turnaround timelines. Although the Consultations and Communications Branch has implemented several measures over the past few years to improve the state of ministerial correspondence, in particular, turnaround times, and has in fact been able to reduce the number of overdue dockets significantly, the existence of several hundred overdue dockets indicates the need for further improvement in this area. While DCU manages the correspondence process, the challenge of overdue dockets requires action from the policy branches responsible for the content of these responses.

It has been argued that having a modern correspondence tracking system with an appropriate level of functionality, such as the ability to scan and attach correspondence to an electronic file, as well as the ability to move dockets around electronically, would improve the management of ministerial correspondence. However, it is not clear to what extent this upgrade would improve turnaround times. The correspondence tracking system (WebCIMS) used by the Department lacks these important functionalities and, as a result, these activities must be done manually. As part of the Branch’s evaluation, a case study was undertaken to compare the automated correspondence tracking system used by the Department of Finance with those used by correspondence units in other departments in order to identify lessons learned for the purpose of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the current system and practices in the Department.

With the exception of Privy Council Office and to some extent the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, all other departments that were contacted as part of this Study process significantly fewer pieces of correspondence than the Department of Finance. WebCIMS and ccmMercury, followed by the Ministerial and Executive Correspondence Tracking System, are the most common tracking systems used by these departments. They are all using a more up-to-date version of the tracking system than the one that is currently used by the Department of Finance. Although in most cases the tracking systems used had to be configured in-house in order to enhance their functionalities, all of them seem to be capable of performing the above-mentioned functions. Those capabilities have been described to be very important to the efficient day-to-day operations of a correspondence unit. Having said that, to improve turnaround timelines additional important functionalities are required.

Two of the most important functionalities that are lacking in most correspondence tracking systems are the ability to integrate with a searchable document management and repository system, as well as being interoperable with other systems. To address these issues and to find a government-wide solution, a TBS-led initiative is currently underway. This is part of a wider initiative to modernize and develop enterprise information management solutions for several information management administrative systems, including correspondence management. Accordingly, a set of mandatory requirements that all tracking systems must possess has been developed. This is in line with the recent trend for having a web-based tracking system (enterprise version). Web-based tracking systems have been described, in addition to possessing all the above-mentioned functionalities, to be faster, more reliable and to have a longer lifespan. Currently, Department of Fisheries and Oceans through a Request for Proposal is purchasing and piloting a new system.

Case Study No. 2: Web Publishing 

The Government of Canada views the Internet as an “important tool for providing information and services to the public.” As such, it requires federal institutions to “maintain an active presence on the Internet to enable 24-hour electronic access to public programs, services and information.” These institutions are also required to “maintain a capacity for innovation and stay current with developments in communications practice and technology.”[9] Given these requirements and the important role that the Branch plays in the production, publication and communication of some of the most important government documents, including its annual budget, having a state-of-the-art web publishing function is deemed to be mission-critical. As such, a case study was undertaken as part of the Branch’s evaluation to assess the state of web publishing and technologies used in the Department. The main purpose of the study was to highlight some of the new developments in this area and identify potential lessons learned.

The publication and communication of government policy documents, including the federal budget, are increasingly shifting from a print-driven process to a web publishing one. For example, although the level of demand for paper copies of budget plans has diminished significantly in recent years, the number of visits to the Department of Finance’s budget website has increased significantly.

To meet this increasing demand level, the Department has established a Web Communications and Publishing Unit that has been able to deliver high-quality products under very tight timelines and other challenging circumstances. However, the publishing framework that is used by the Department and the absence of a reliable web content management system have been identified as issues that may negatively impact the performance of the unit and the Department’s website. Mitigation efforts are regularly put in place to reduce the risk significantly, but a permanent solution would be a more efficient use of resources.

The web publishing framework that is currently used in the Department consists of a legacy application that was built in-house over 10 years ago known as the “Toolkit.” The Toolkit has been described as poorly documented and prone to reliability issues, and is based on outdated technology and software that produces programming code that is non-compliant with TBS and international standards. Manual processes are required to then make this code compliant.

The web content management system also lacks documentation and the capacity for leaving audit trails and versioning. It is difficult to operate and fix due to its age, highly customized nature and the absence of any external support. It causes the Departmental website to crash upon a large number of simultaneous visits. In addition, identifying and removing obsolete materials must be performed manually because the system does not have the capacity to detect these automatically. Although to date it has served the needs of the Department relatively well, its reliance on old infrastructure and technology has become increasingly difficult to maintain and operate.

Although some government institutions have been able to find interim solutions, this problem is not unique to the Department of Finance but is a government-wide issue. According to an analysis conducted by the Chief Information Officer Branch of TBS, the majority of web content management platforms used by government departments are dated and do not have “the modern publishing capabilities that are required to support initiatives such as open government.”[10] For this reason, web publishing has been identified as an important IT area for modernization. It is anticipated that this will result in government-wide standardization, consolidation and re-engineering of the web publishing function in the government. As part of this and in an attempt to find a comprehensive solution, TBS is leading the development of a “whole-of-government” web content management solution. Accordingly, all government departments will be expected to migrate to the standardized enterprise model when it becomes available. In the interim, TBS has developed a temporary solution for departments that need to invest in web content management solutions that are available to all government departments. These are Drupal or Autonomy TeamSite.[11]

  • Drupal is a leading open source web content management system. It is currently being used by several government departments, including Natural Resources Canada, National Research Council Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.
  • Autonomy TeamSite is currently being used by some of the larger departments such as National Defence and the Canada Revenue Agency.

These options (Drupal and Autonomy TeamSite) may present the Branch with opportunities to meet its short-term needs in improving its web content management system.

5.0 Conclusion 

The evaluation found that C&C is a high-performing Branch. C&C has developed a reputation for providing high-quality products and services under tight deadlines. Key challenges for the Branch going forward relate to sustainability of current strengths, in particular delivering the same level of services at a time of fiscal restraint.

Table 6: Analysis of C&C Branch’s Strengths, Limitations, Opportunities and Risks

STRENGTHS
  • Respectful leadership and understanding management team.
  • Highly motivated and skilled staff.
  • Good information flow from senior management.
  • Effective working relationships with key partners and stakeholders.
  • High level of clients’ satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of Branch activities, services and products.
  • High retention rate.
  • Increased organizational focus on efficiency and economy of its operations.
LIMITATIONS
  • Technology constraints (including, limited access to open Internet, social media; reliance on aging web content management and correspondence tracking systems).
  • Availability of high quality training and staff development programs.
  • High level of externally (i.e., outside of the Branch) driven demands.
  • Being responsible for managing the correspondence process, while relying on the action of the policy branches that are responsible for the content of these responses to address overdue dockets.
OPPORTUNITIES
  • Creating a more effective organizational structure (Recommendation 1).
  • Creating corporate communication (through assigning dedicated resources to internal communications) (Recommendation 2).
  • Expanding the staff development program (Recommendation 3).
  • Upgrading the web content management system.
THREATS (RISKS)
  • Risks posed by the existing web content management system due to lack of documentation, audit trails and external support.
  • Inability to meet future commitments due to increasing demands and tightening timelines on one hand and shrinking resources on the other hand.
  • Chronic shortfall of salary envelope (Recommendation 5).

Appendix A: Recommendations 

Recommendation 1: The Branch should consider re-examining its organizational and reporting structure in order to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations.

Recommendation 2: The Branch should consider assigning dedicated resources to internal (corporate) communications.

Recommendation 3: The Branch should consider formalizing and expanding an approach to staff development to allow interested and qualified staff to be considered, where there is a departmental need, to work and gain experience in other areas of interest.

Recommendation 4 The Branch should consider re-examining the current approach to allocating its training budgets.

Recommendation 5: The Branch should consider finding a permanent solution for the chronic shortfall of its salary envelope.

Annex B: Branch Logic Model 

Annex B: Branch Logic Model

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Appendix C: Management Response and Action Plan 

Appendix C: Management Response and Action Plan
Recommendation Management Response Planned Action Lead Target Date
Recommendation 1: The Branch should consider re-examining its organizational and reporting structure in order to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. Agree

A management committee will be formed shortly to propose concrete options for the ADM’s consideration.

General Director with Directors

June 2013

Recommendation 2: The Branch should consider assigning dedicated resources to internal (corporate) communications. Agree
  1. Temporary funding for 1 FTE has been identified and a department-wide competitive process has resulted in one individual being assigned to corporate / internal communication for a one-year period, effective February 20;
  2. Longer term options to close the funding gap will be developed in partnership with Corporate Services Branch.
General Director
  1. February 2013
  2. October 2013
Recommendation 3: The Branch should consider formalizing and expanding an approach to staff development to allow interested and qualified staff to be considered, where there is a departmental need, to work and gain experience in other areas of interest. Agree

A management committee will be formed shortly to propose concrete options for the ADM’s consideration. These options will feature a process to allow interested, qualified staff to be considered for opportunities to work and gain experience in other areas of interest if and when there is a need.  

General Director with Directors

September 2013

Recommendation 4: The Branch should consider re-examining the current approach to allocating its training budgets. Agree
  1. In conjunction with  the Communications Community Office and the Canada School of Public Service, the Branch will systematically identify relevant and high quality training opportunities for interested employees;
  2. The Branch will develop an organizational learning plan drawing together all planned learning activities and share it among employees, including available funding levels.
C&C Management Team

June 2013

Recommendation 5: The Branch should consider finding a permanent solution for the chronic shortfall of its salary envelope. Agree

The Branch with work with the Corporate Services Branch to find the most appropriate option available.  

ADM

April 2013


[1] The C&C evaluation was originally planned for 2014-15 in Finance Canada’s Five-Year Evaluation Plan. However, the evaluation plan was amended to defer the evaluation of a program that was undergoing an internal review. This resulted in carrying out the C&C evaluation this year.

[2] “X” indicates that the line of evidence was used in addressing that particular question or issue.

[3] Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

[4] Note that FTE numbers do not include vacant positions.

[5] Trends in Government of Canada Communications and Organizational Design (2011). p. 2.

[6] Note that, as will be described in section 4.2.2, all products and services provided by the Branch received a high level of satisfaction. Within that context, the Infosite’s rating was lower than others.

[7] According to the information provided by the Corporate Services Branch, the C&C Branch’s projected turnover rate for fiscal year 2011-12 was 1.55 per cent. This rate for the Department as a whole is 12.37 per cent.

[8] As exhibited in Table 4, the only categories that the Branch scored lower than the Department as a whole are “having opportunities for promotion within my department” and “knowing how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s goals.”

[9] Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

[10] Chief Information Officer – GTEC 2011 Keynote Speech.

[11] Enterprise IM-Solutions/Web-Content Management Systems (WCMS) Tiger Team, GCPedia.