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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Why live the pracademic life?

By Tracey O’Reilly

Three things you need to know about pracademia...

  1. Pracademics do not operate in both worlds because they do not excel at either academia or practice; in fact, it is the opposite.  Some of the most innovative thinkers out there fall into the “pracademic” category.  Understanding theory and systems is inevitably complimented by a range of skills that only active public servants can develop.  Understanding how to problem-solve within complex systems is critical for success.

  2. As the culture of pracademia and interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration increases, innovation will follow.  The world’s problems will not be solved by ivory tower thinking, but by complex collaborations across various fields of discipline and across borders.

  3. Pracademics make great teachers because they know how theory and practice collide in the real world and can understand the consequences and trade-offs of public policy making beyond the textbook.

Three myths about pracademia...

Myth #1: My public service duties have no bearing on my academic life.

The Reality: As a political science instructor I am often able to connect my real work experience to the textbook material.  I try to bring the theories to life by explaining that processes are not always smooth, and by giving examples where policies have been successful and the ones who have failed.  Pracademics see the world through a complex set of filters.  We see problems from a variety of perspectives, and not necessarily confined to the perspective of our field of study.  Public servants view problems through the lens of political science, economics, philosophy, and business and this multi-dimensional view transcends to the classroom.

Myth #2: My academic life has no bearing on my public service duties.

The Reality: Teaching has helped me prosper as a public servant in several ways. Teaching has also given me greater abilities to juggle multiple priorities, communicate effectively and deal with people.  More importantly, teaching and research helps me see the world, and its problems, anew.  It may be cliché to say it, but I do learn from my students and from time to time those conversations in the classroom give me a new perspective on an old problem or re-invigorate me to try something new.

Myth # 3: Pracademics don’t fit in anywhere.

The Reality: There will always be folks in the academic world who don’t see practioners as intellectual heavy weights, and on the other side, public servants who think that academia is nothing but an Ivory Tower.  However, most see us as valuable.  Straddling the worlds of public service and academia is important if we are to build good citizens, and address issues from a multidimensional perspective, but above all, being a “pracademic” is a privilege.

Want to continue the discussion?  Join Jared Wesley as he asks "What is pracademia?" and Maria-David Evans as she asks "Who are pracademics?"

Are you a pracademic?  IPAC Edmonton is building a stronger pracademic network and culture in Canada through initiatives like this blog.  Share your story by commenting below, and join in the discussion!

Tracey O’Reilly joined the Alberta Public Service in 2002, and has worked in in the ministries of Advanced Education, Executive Council, Aboriginal Relations, and International and Intergovernmental Relations, where she is a currently Managing Director of the Alberta Abroad Externship Program.  She has been nominated twice by the Government of Alberta for a national award sponsored by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) for leadership in public policy.  Since 2007, Tracey has also been a part-time instructor political science part-time at Grant MacEwan University.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Is there a place for lawyers in government?

by Esther de Vos

Three things you need to know about being a lawyer in government…

1.  Lawyers can serve in a wide variety of roles within governmentSome positions exist specifically for lawyers, working on behalf government client departments or drafting legislation.  However, the skills you learn as a lawyer are applicable to many roles in government, including policy development.

2.  There are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in government.  If you work as a legal counsel, working for government means you get to work for one of the largest law firms in the country.  More importantly, you are exposed to the various and diverse aspects of issues beyond just the legal perspective.  If you are not working as legal counsel, the knowledge gained through law school and the practice of law about legislation and process are invaluable in a government context.

3.  Your legal training is highly valued.  Whether working as a lawyer or in another capacity, the legal training you have as a lawyer is prized by government.  The manner in which lawyers are taught to identify and evaluate issues, characterize possible solutions, and mitigate risks supports the work of government in the policy development process or in delivering programs.

Three myths about being a lawyer in government…

Myth #1: You are constrained in the type of work you can do.

Reality: Even for those lawyers who work as a legal officer there is diversity in work.  Many lawyers are not limited to only providing legal advice or representing their client departments in court.  They are involved in giving strategic and policy advice as well.  For those lawyers who do not work in a legal officer role, there is a breadth of roles in both policy development and program or service delivery.  Aside from the variety of roles, there are also opportunities to get involved in cross ministry work and larger government strategic pieces.

Myth #2: Advancement within the government is limited.

Reality: Working for government allows you to move within subject matters or areas of expertise while building your skills and knowledge.  Advancement within the legal officer stream is available where you become senior counsel and supervise teams of lawyers.  As a non-legal officer, there are vast opportunities available to move your career forward in many different ways.  Many lawyers move into the policy stream and lead teams working on key policy initiatives and deliverables.

Myth #3: There is no ability to affect real change in government.

Reality: The opportunities for lawyers in government often relate to making change in government.  While lawyers outside of government are involved in the court system and making case law, lawyers in government, either in the more traditional role or non-traditional role can get involved in shaping the direction of laws and providing recommendations to decision makers about government policy.

Esther de Vos is the Executive Director, Policy and Planning Services for the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General.  She joined the Government of Alberta as a policy analyst after working for a couple of years as a lawyer.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Alberta and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Victoria.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Is there a place for nurses in government?

by Jamie Shaw

Three things you need to know about nursing in government…
  1. Nurses can serve in a wide variety of roles within government.  Some positions exist specifically for health care practitioners, for example Nurse Consultants in the Communicable Diseases Unit or Immunization. However, there are also some great non-traditional roles for nurses, like mine. To see what kind of work you can do in government, search “Health” on the Governments of Canada and Alberta websites.
  2. There are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in government.  If you have a more traditional nursing role in government, there are opportunities to learn how those policies that you use daily are developed and implemented.  If you have a less traditional role you can learn about aspects of the healthcare system that you never even considered before.

  3. Work-life balance does exist.  These may be things that many government workers take for granted, but perks that nurses will appreciate include more than two weekends off per month, spending every Christmas Day with your family, and no night shifts.  

    Three myths about nursing in government…

    Myth #1: Working in government means that you are no longer a real nurse.

    Reality: Your clinical knowledge and practical experience in the health care system is valued in government and can be applied on a daily basis.  Also, you do not have to give up your nursing license when you work in government, even if your job does not absolutely require registration.  You can work with your supervisor to ensure that your continuing competence program activities mesh with your government performance plan.  Also, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta encourages nurses to engage in policy work.

    Myth #2: Government bureaucrats don’t know anything about how the health care system really works.

    Reality: The majority of the people I work with are not health practitioners.  I am a part of a team that has a physician, a social worker, many people with Master’s degrees and PhDs in various health fields, and people without any letters behind their names, but a wealth of knowledge and experience in Alberta’s health care system. While nurses have valuable information about how things work on the ground, nurses also see only pieces of the whole health care system and can benefit from listening to other perspectives.  

    Myth #3: There is no ability to affect real change in government.

    Reality: After working in fast-paced clinical environments, this feels true, because government change tends to happen much slower than in a hospital or clinic.  You also do not get the satisfaction of seeing the effects of your changes in patient interactions.   However, changes made in government have the potential to impact all Albertans as opposed to just the few patients that you can see in clinical practice,  and it is an opportunity to fix those systemic problems that health care providers often complain about.  So, if you, like many of my nursing friends, have ever caught yourself saying “Why doesn't the government just…” – then government work might be for you!

    Jamie Shaw serves as a Policy Analyst in the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Health, working on health care provider compensation.  Prior to joining government, she worked as a registered nurse in a variety of acute care units in Calgary and Winnipeg, including surgical oncology, cardiac surgery and intensive care.  She earned her BA (History) from the University of Alberta and Bachelor of Nursing (BN) after degree from the University of Calgary

    Thursday, 5 December 2013

    What can behavioural research teach us about transforming government?

    By Andrew Galley

    The Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto's recent paper, Public Service Transformed: Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Insights, outlines some simple steps to increasing the effectiveness of the public service in four key areas: collaboration, transparency, innovation and a focus on results.

    Three things to know about behavioural insights and public sector reform:
    1. All the structures and processes we face, whether in life or at work, make certain choices easy and others hard. By understanding both the way people think and how the choices presented to them make a difference in how they act, it is possible to present choices in such a way as to guide human behaviour.
    2. Governments around the world are using these insights to drive change in citizen behaviour. For example, because people have a natural tendency to take the path of least resistance, changing the default option on retirement contributions to 'opt-out' drives up enrollment rates.
    3. By turning this lens inward on the public sector workforce, governments can simply and effectively create a more dynamic and creative work environment for public servants.

    Three myths about behavioural insights and public sector reform:

    Myth #1: Public sector reform must be expensive, since deep structural changes are required.

    The Reality: Sometimes, positive change can come simply from thinking carefully about how choices are presented to public servants in their work environment. Efficiencies can flow from simple and inexpensive changes in that process.

    Myth #2: Increasing efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector requires down-sizing.

    The Reality: Public service reform should recognize that public servants are key assets and use behavioural insights to maximize their contributions and effectiveness.

    Myth #3: Behavioural insights are manipulative and rob people of their freedom of action.

    The Reality: Existing work cultures already shape how public servants behave. Behavioural insights are simply intended to encourage people to behave differently, in ways that reinforce a positive work environment. 

    Andrew Galley is a co-author of the Public Service Transformed: Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Insights report and a Policy Associate at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto.