Program Design


We take experienced senior managers out of their hectic offices for a day and a half per month, and place them in the neutral space at the University of Ottawa’s  Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. The Centre for Public Management and Policy itself is housed in historic Odell House, a restored 19th century residence, ideally suited for informal discussion (under the “Chatham House rule” intended to encourage direct and frank conversation and ensure confidentiality).

The Program design involves a variety of approaches and methods:

  • personal contact and candid conversation with outstanding leaders in government, politics, the media, the private sector and academe (see Annex A for examples from the past few years);
  • exercises that challenge the participants to learn and practice new skills and knowledge on their own; 
  • debate and dialogue within the group as participants learn to learn from each other; 
  • travel and first-hand contact with people, cultures and institutions that play an important role in the world around us; 
  • readings on a wide range of topics and exposure to new sources of information;
  • exploration of case studies prepared by participants based on personal career experience and focused on  the management issues raised in the Program; and 
  • the deepening of a personal “leadership practice”  (set of experience, competencies, ethos and energy that defines them as leaders) through coaching and structured self reflection.

Perhaps the most important design feature of the Program is sharing the journey with fellow travelers.  The group dynamics within each cohort contributes enormously to the overall impact of the executive development experience.  The different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives which the participants bring, as well as the diverse organizations from which they come, and their varied management styles and experience within the public service, become critical sources of mutual learning and support.

Participants also gain an invaluable asset in the bonds of trust and open communication that form among a group of colleagues from across the breadth of the system and which will continue long after their graduation to enrich their careers.

Orientation and Base Camp

We have learned that it is important to take care to orient the participants to the program so everyone starts from a common foundation. Thus the Program’s first event in early fall is an Orientation session similar in format to the learning sessions to come. Participants are welcomed, introduced to each other, briefed on the program and invited to reflect on and work with the concept of a personal leadership practice as a means to assess and track their own development.

Because participants come to the Program with widely varying familiarity with the basics of governance and public management in Canada, a four-day “Base Camp” is offered in two 2-day sessions before participants begin. These intensive sessions provide an overview of Parliament, Cabinet, the roles and relations between the federal and provincial/territorial governments, the role of the courts, machinery of government, the policy process, legislation and regulations, setting the fiscal plan, determining expenditure budgets, public accounts and accountability.  The base camp's “back to basics” approach has been well received. This session also provides participants with the opportunity to set inital individual and group development goals for the Program.

Program Content


The Program is organized into two parts, each of which includes at least eight day and a half or two-day sessions.

Part One: Public Sector Management and Governance

  • We start with a synthesis of policy intent and sound practice in the fundamental public management areas of people management, financial management, management of information and technology, operational delivery, values and ethics, and accountability.
  • We then broaden our focus to look at governance, including the political context of democratic governance, relations between political figures and senior public servants, the importance of public trust, the impact of the media and social media, the roles of central agencies, federal-provincial/territorial relations, Aboriginal governance in Canada and comparisons with governance in provinces, private sector corporations and not-for-profit organizations.

Part Two: Canada in the World and Sound Use of Evidence

  • This part probes the state of the world and Canada’s place in it.  We explore the impact of international trends on public management, governance and leadership, looking in turn at Canada’s place in North America, its relations with Asia, Europe and Latin America and its multilateral roles as well as defense, global security, and international development.
  • Through this part we also examine the nature of evidence and the practice of risk management in formulating policy and applying legislation, including the interplay of policy analysis, research, public opinion, and political leadership. Applications in the fields of science and regulation, economic and social policy, and intelligence are explored.

Throughout the two parts we keep coming back to the cross-cutting theme of Personal and Leadership Development. Successful leadership has a critical emotional and interpersonal dimension. Thus we provide individual coaching (up to six hours per participant), which allows participants to concentrate on addressing individual areas for improvement as leaders, and on developing strategies for making progress. An opportunity to participate in group coaching will be offered as well.

We invite outstanding leaders to discuss their views of leadership with the participants; we look at some of the best management literature; and we put the spotlight during regular sessions on widely shared challenges. All of this forms part of the development of participants’ personal leadership practice.

Study Tours

Complementing our sessions at Odell House are three one-week (plus travel time) study tours. The first study tour is a visit to London and another European capital to explore approaches to redesigning public services and the public service in the UK and another European country under conditions of fiscal stress.  The second takes us to Washington and New York City to focus on global issues and institutions, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and to visit world-leading think tanks and centres of expertise. The third study tour is a visit to a Canadian destination. There may also be one or two regular sessions held in locations such as Toronto to facilitate access to exceptional presenters.

Wrap up

The Certificate Program concludes with two final sessions designed to review and consolidate the learnings of the program, from both parts of the program, cross-cutting theme of leadership, the intensive briefings, the coaching, and reflections on the participants’ developing leadership practices.

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