4. Policy Community of Practice

Networks and Communities: Building knowledge and relationships across organizational boundaries to improve policy work


Over the years across the public sector, several large and small communities of practice (CoP) have assembled to discuss topics ranging from performance management to policy work – meeting in places as formal as board rooms and as informal as pubs. The Policy CoP has been a fairly long-standing group that is recognized by many as a success. It was first launched in 2003, chaired by Joy Illington, who at the time was working as a Deputy Cabinet Secretary.


Policy analysts across government were isolated and had little interaction. As well, with government downsizing, it made sense to reduce duplication and share resources to be more efficient. There was also an identified need for analysts to increase their experiential learning. As one interviewee said:

 “There is only so much that formal educational programs can teach you about policy work. You need to learn from others who have done the job before.”

It was also clear that Cabinet and the deputy ministers expected more consistency in cabinet submissions and that cooperation amongst policy staff was needed.

The Practice

To launch the CoP, all ministry policy units were sent an invitation to attend. It was recognized that whether an analyst was working on childcare or fish policy, he or she shared basic skills with other analysts. It was also recognized that there were common tools and approaches that could be shared to improve policy work across government.

The group met in various venues and worked to set a tone of empowerment. There was space for each person to speak about his or her interests and opportunities to find issues that spanned multiple ministries. Said Joy Illington:

“It didn’t matter if you were an ADM or a junior policy analyst; we worked to reduce those traditional hierarchies – because often those hierarchies are an impediment to innovation and learning.”

The CoP is still active in its sixth year partly because of a recognized need to rotate the convener role among interested volunteers. This has helped to keep meeting agendas fresh as the community engages in learning and problem-solving around topics including consultation strategies and legislation development. It meets on a regular basis and has an active SharePoint site for members to access. The membership now includes more junior level analysts than when it first began, but as one member put it:

 “This is excellent, the group has changed to address an identified need.”