The Proposal Process

(a short presentation to the PhD Seminar, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria)

May you have an interesting, interdisciplinary research topic. – Kai Lung

I’ve been asked to speak to the group about the dissertation proposal process, perhaps because I’ve been at it for such a long time and thus have accumulated significant experience points (using gamers’ parlance) and must be approaching the level of Guild Master. I was tempted to title this “The Never-Ending Story” but have decided against that because I think that may have been taken already, and it does sound a tad defeatist or cynical or less-than-inspiring.

But the fact that it has taken me a long time already and I have not yet successfully presented a proposal to my committee (let alone the fact that I do not have a committee – though that is another, albeit not-unrelated, issue) should probably disqualify me from being able to offer any advice to this group that’s worth taking. Or perhaps the best I can do is offer an anti-model, as in: “see what I’ve done? Don’t do that.”

But if there is a more precise – hopefully helpful – message I would like to convey, it relates to the particular challenge of developing a proposal in an interdisciplinary context which, if you find yourself in this position (and, more likely than not, a phd in public admin will entail navigating through interdisciplinary space to some degree), will call upon you skills as a translator and mediator and will require you to develop the skill of what I’ll call active non-listening.

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Dissertation Proposal Outline – Revised Discussion Draft

Gov2.0 and Collaborative Policy Formulation in the British Columbia Government

Problem Statement: How are Gov2.0 technology and methods affecting collaborative policy formulation in the British Columbia government?


I am proposing to investigate how individuals and policy units within the government of the province of British Columbia are using Gov2.0 technologies and methods in the policy formulation process, as applied both to within-government bureaucratic interaction and outwards through citizen-engagement activities, with reference to the ongoing challenge of horizontal, collaborative policy management. My aim is to develop a theory of Gov2.0-supported collaborative policy formulation, tentatively labelled Policy-Formulation2.0.

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Briefing Note Template

I’ve had several people ask me over the years for a briefing note template, so I’ve made this one available on Google Docs:

This template is modeled on a standard template used by the British Columbia Government, and additional commentary is based on the work produced by my firm, published in a White Paper titled “The Briefing Process in British Columbia”  written by Colleen Cunningham.  The full Google Docs version contains comments that guide you through the completion of the document. (The preview does not show the guide comments). Further reference to work on the briefing note can be found in another White Paper titled “Communication in the Policy Process”.

For some thoughts on writing the “Proposed Options” section of the briefing note, see this post on the topic. For an example of a briefing note ‘for decision’ in the Canadian federal government, see this post.