Ontario has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, and projections indicate that this change will continue well into the future. The province already has one of Canada's most diverse populations. In fact, its diversity attracts diversity: 1.85 million Ontarians self-identify as having a disability and 2.7 million self-identify as a visible minority.
In this context, it is important that government policies, programs and services are inclusive, equitable and barrier-free.
To help the approximately 67,000 employees of the Ontario Public Service (OPS) respond to the needs of this ever-changing population, the OPS through its Diversity Office has developed a unique and innovative tool.
The OPS Inclusion Lens is a user-friendly, accessible, online tool that helps OPS employees to: become more knowledgeable about diversity, inclusion and accessibility; identify barriers within the policy, program or service development processes; and think through strategies to remove or mitigate barriers.
The Inclusion Lens places the OPS at the leading edge of change with its originality, uniqueness and value.
Using a range of scenarios, the Lens helps users to see what the world might look like from a perspective other than their own, and find effective solutions that address barriers to inclusion. The Lens provides information on 17 different dimensions of diversity: everything from ethnicity, ability and sexual orientation, to care-giving responsibilities and socio-economic status.
Designed to be applied in the development, implementation or review of virtually any policy, program or service, the tool delivers "just-in-time" interactive learning, quickly and conveniently, at the user's level of knowledge.
The Inclusion Lens also outlines the many barriers Ontarians face - whether physical, communication or systemic - and provides guidelines to address them.
An analytical and educational tool, the Lens is built around the business cycles of policy and program development, as well as service delivery. Using the Lens as a guide, staff can select from any of nine stages that may apply to their own initiative's cycle, such as undertaking research, planning communications, holding consultations or developing recommendations.
Noelle Richardson, Ontario's Chief Diversity Officer, believes that developing a tool to build capacity for organizational behaviour and cultural transformation puts the OPS among North America's leading organizations.
"The Lens will help us to ask the right questions so we can get the right results. I believe that as the Lens gains traction across the organization, we will be better able to demonstrate the OPS values of diversity, excellence, efficiency and responsiveness in all our policies, programs and services. It drives the understanding that in today's environment, good policies, programs and services are inclusive policies, programs and services," she said.
The Inclusion Lens is quickly becoming a game changer in how the OPS does business.
By helping to create a better understanding of the intersection between race, disabilities, gender and many other dimensions of diversity, the Lens is helping embed inclusion and diversity considerations into all our business activities and decision-making processes.
Launched OPS-wide at a major event in January 2011, online training is now available for staff in all 29 ministries. The OPS Diversity Office is working closely with four of those ministries to apply the Lens - from start to finish - on key policy and service initiatives as part of a plan to monitor outcomes and continuously improve the tool.
HROntario, the corporate body responsible for the human resource function within the OPS, is also using the Lens to improve the recruitment process for executive positions.
Inclusion is a top priority of the Ontario government, and the Lens is demonstrating the commitment of Canada's largest provincial public sector organization to becoming more inclusive, diverse, accessible and responsive.
As the OPS finds success with this tool, there is growing interest from the broader public sector, private and not-for-profit sectors that are looking at the Inclusion Lens to help their own organizations become more inclusive and responsive to the needs of Ontario's diverse population.
Shamira Madhany is Assistant Deputy Minister, OPS Diversity.