NS Initiative History

The NS Initiative History

Since 2006, the NS Initiative has undertaken several phases of exploration.  This short history describes the evolution of NS World over the past decade.

The Research Phase (2006-2008)

The story of the New Synthesis Initiative began in 2006 when the Honorable Jocelyne Bourgon delivered the Braibant Lecture at the International Institute of Administrative Sciences in Brussels. Entitled “Responsive, Responsible and Respected Government: Towards a New Public Administration Theory,” the lecture laid bare the discrepancy between the classical model of public administration and the changing reality faced by public service practitioners. Mrs Bourgon identified two related sets of problems: the disconnect between academics and practitioners, and the lagging capacity of public institutions to fulfil their mission in today’s complex and multifaceted world. These growing gaps called for a renewed and innovative approach to public administration.

An exploration of alternative viewpoints and approaches began in 2007. With the support of the Canada School of Public Service, the Privy Council Office, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and the University of Waterloo, a small but dedicated team pioneered an initial research program. This ‘research’ phase explored ideas from disciplines not traditionally associated with public administration to enrich our understanding of potential ways to build government capacity to anticipate and respond to the complex challenges of our time. This preliminary phase highlighted several of the key concepts that now form the basis of the NS Framework, including: resilience, emergence, citizen engagement, social innovation and collective insight.

The Mobilisation Phase (2009-2011)

In 2009, the NS Initiative invited six countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Singapore) to participate in an international collaborative network aimed at furthering current research. Termed the NS6 network, this phase brought together approximately 200 officials, scholars and experts from 24 organisations in participating countries to explore practical examples of challenges and reforms undertaken by NS6 countries.

Throughout 2010, the NS6 network worked to develop a program of research that collected and profiled dozens of case studies from around the world. A series of international roundtables brought together world renowned experts and senior practitioners to further develop the NS Framework.

Collaborative efforts by the NS6 network led to the publication of A New Synthesis of Public Administration: Serving in the 21st Century in 2011. The book encapsulated the progress of the NS Initiative to date and highlighted the need for a deeper examination of how governments, practitioners and scholars from diverse backgrounds can combine their insights to improve governance performance.

The NS World Phase (2012-ongoing)

In 2012, the NS Team populated the NS Framework with practical examples of public sector reform from over 40 countries. Termed “NS World”, this phase involved building an inventory of international reforms to examine the applicability of the NS Framework in a variety of international contexts. Interactions with partners and new opportunities also led to the development of several new templates, tools, and teaching guides to aid practitioners in their exploration of the New Synthesis Framework.

This phase is ongoing. The NS Initiative is committed to learning from new international examples and continues use many of the tools, templates and examples developed during the NS World phase in our NS Laboratories.

Phase Four: NS Laboratories 2013

In 2013, the NS Project embarked on a new phase aimed at testing the applicability of the NS framework in practice. Designed as a tool to help practitioners explore a broader range of possible solutions to policy challenges, the NS Framework encourages practitioners to re-think, re-frame, re-engage, and re-form their challenges in efforts to generate better results for society.

The Project Leader brought the NS Framework to practitioners in three distinct versions of the NS Lab program: the NS Master Class for general practitioners, NS Workshop for Managers, and NS Workshop for Senior Leaders. Each version engages practitioners at different levels of government. Given that public servants, managers, and senior leaders have distinct yet complementary purposes, the NS Labs aim to build individual, organizational, and institutional capacities.

The NS Labs served as exploratory conversations and emphasized interaction-based learning adapted to local contexts, using the NS Framework as the basis for exploring the individual challenges faced by participants. Findings from the NS Labs in Singapore have shown that the NS Framework is a powerful tool for practitioners serving in the post-industrial era and is relevant in a variety of domains of practice.

The NS Laboratories Phase (2013-ongoing)

From 2013, the NS Initiative began developing a series of “Laboratories” to test the applicability of the NS framework in practice. There are two main types of NS Laboratories.

  • The first are designed in collaboration with a partner country to tackle issues of great significance to them. These Laboratories use content and examples specifically developed for the host country. The NS Framework is used to guide participants through an exploratory process.
  • The second type of NS Laboratory is used to disseminate and test NS findings in practice. These NS Laboratories provide participants with an introduction to the NS Framework, and use interactive sessions to encourage practitioners to apply their learning to an individual challenge they face in practice.

To date, NS Laboratories have been used in a number of countries. NS Lab participants have come from a diverse range of government departments and agencies with experience ranging from managers to the most senior executives. Findings have shown that the NS Framework is a powerful tool for practitioners leading public transformation in a variety of domains of practice.


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