Archived - Audit of the Bilingual Weather and Environmental Services Provided on the Environment Canada Automated Telephone Network – Follow-up

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October 2010

In October 2008, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages published its audit report on bilingual weather and environmental services provided on the Environment Canada automated telephone network. This report includes eight recommendations to help Environment Canada and the Meteorological Service of Canada better meet their obligations under Part IV of the Official Languages Act.

The recommendations focus primarily on:

  • updating Environment Canada's official languages action plan and accountability framework, and establishing clear guidelines regarding active offer and delivery of bilingual services on its automated telephone network;
  • raising awareness among all Environment Canada and Meteorological Service of Canada personnel of their responsibilities and obligations in terms of active offer and delivery of bilingual services;
  • integrating specific official-languages objectives into the performance evaluations of all Meteorological Service of Canada personnel whose responsibilities involve delivering weather services in both official languages via the automated telephone network;
  • implementing measures to ensure active offer and delivery of services in both official languages as well as equitable provision of information via the Meteorological Service of Canada's automated telephone network; and
  • establishing effective structured monitoring mechanisms in order to ensure the availability and quality of weather services in both official languages on the automated telephone network of the Meteorological Service of Canada at designated bilingual points of service.

In June 2010, the Office of the Commissioner conducted a follow-up to assess the implementation of the recommendations and measure the progress made in providing automated telephone network services in both official languages.

Analysis of the progress report submitted by Environment Canada revealed the following:

  • The accountability framework describes responsibilities stemming from various linguistic obligations, including those related to disseminating weather information via the automated telephone network. While there were delays for a number of operational reasons, this framework was implemented in October 2009.
  • A departmental directive on active offer and delivery of bilingual services mentions the Meteorological Service of Canada. The Human Resources Branch is responsible for monitoring the application of this directive and has developed a monitoring tool. The Branch conducted its first quarterly evaluation in May 2010.
  • The 2009–2011 official languages action plan includes measures to meet Environment Canada's various obligations under the Official Languages Act. It also includes specific measures to deliver bilingual weather services.
  • The Human Resources Branch is responsible for monitoring implementation of the action plan and for reporting regularly to the Executive Management Committee. As the action plan is in its first year of implementation, it has not yet been evaluated nor has a report on the plan been submitted to the Executive Management Committee. Environment Canada indicates that it will be reviewing the action plan and that an annual report will soon be submitted to the Executive Management Committee. We believe it is vital to regularly monitor activities included in the action plan. Weaknesses can thus be detected quickly and the action plan modified to ensure objectives are met. Senior management commitment is also essential in implementing the action plan, and regular reports to the Executive Management Committee are an effective method of communication. We encourage Environment Canada to make the necessary efforts to ensure effective and timely monitoring of its official languages action plan.
  • The 2009–2012 communications strategy supports the action plan and aims to raise awareness among employees and managers of their obligations under the Official Languages Act. The strategy was posted on the Department's intranet site in August 2009 and comprises three parts: service to the public, language of work and challenges. Various communications tools, including a recent HR Horizons article and a PowerPoint presentation called "Let's Talk", are also available. Reminders about official languages were also sent to employees through the Human Resources Branch and the Meteorological Service of Canada. To be effective, the communications strategy must take into account the evaluation results of the action plan.
  • Specific commitments related to the official languages action plan or to providing service in both official languages are included in the performance agreement of Meteorological Service of Canada executives.
  • Although the 511 telephone service project is still under review, Environment Canada told us that this service, which would provide free access to weather information on the automated telephone network across Canada, will not be offered at this time. The Meteorological Service of Canada has upgraded the existing automated telephone network in order to ensure equal distribution of information in English and French in most parts of Canada. In certain regions, however, users will still have to call long-distance to obtain information in English and French.
  • To ensure active offer and delivery of weather services in both official languages, the Meteorological Service of Canada consolidated management of the network on a national level. It also integrated the official languages responsibilities and obligations into the ISO 9001 quality management system for automated telephone services and designated them as bilingual service access points.
  • The Meteorological Service of Canada completed its assessment and review of the 49,000 words recorded in its vocabulary in order to ensure that the words and sentences are available in both official languages and that the same glossary is used in each office. The vocabulary revision was completed in June 2010. A change management process was also developed to ensure that glossaries used in regional offices are always consistent and up to date.
  • In 2009, the Meteorological Service of Canada conducted a pilot project to validate and improve the content and structure of the service menu for the automated telephone answering devices. Changes were made to provide acceptable standardized service in both official languages. Since March 2010, the Meteorological Service of Canada has been converting all of the system's answering devices and plans to be finished by April 2011.
  • We did observe, however, that for the automated telephone answering devices targeted during our initial audit, the 2010 results are roughly the same as the 2007 results. Environment Canada has therefore failed to implement effective interim measures to correct the existing problems. The Meteorological Service of Canada's solution to ensure acceptable service delivery involves a systematic and orderly conversion that follows a specific schedule. Based on our recent observations, all answering devices in the pilot projects as well as those already converted provide active offer and service in both official languages in a standardized and acceptable manner.
  • The monitoring tool for active offer and delivery of bilingual services developed by the Human Resources Branch constitutes the Department's main monitoring mechanism. The tool, based on in-person and telephone observations as well as Web site reviews, evaluates active offer and service delivery in both official languages at designated bilingual points of service. Environment Canada indicates that when the results of this evaluation are available, they will be forwarded to the senior executives of the appropriate branch, who will then follow up with their managers to implement the necessary corrective measures and prepare a progress report within specified timelines.
  • The first evaluation using the tool developed by the Human Resources Branch was conducted in May 2010 and targeted 25 Meteorological Service of Canada telephone numbers. The results were not available at the time of writing of this report; therefore, we cannot evaluate the effectiveness of the process. However, we encourage Environment Canada to evaluate and improve it as needed.
  • The document entitled MANTEL describes procedures that help ensure proper operation of the Meteorological Service of Canada's automated telephone answering devices network. This ISO 9001 document was discussed during teleconferences with employees involved in the technical support of the automated telephone answering devices. The document does not, however, contain any control or monitoring process. The Meteorological Service of Canada states that it relies on users to alert it to potential problems. Currently, the National Inquiry Response Team Dissemination is responsible for receiving and forwarding users' reports of problems. The Meteorological Service of Canada points out that hiring students to conduct regular, systematic monitoring is subject to current financial constraints. The organization might find it useful to integrate monitoring mechanisms into MANTEL to regularly monitor compliance of its automated telephone system with the Official Languages Act and to permanently allocate the necessary resources.

Conclusion

Environment Canada and the Meteorological Service of Canada have made significant efforts to follow up on the recommendations arising from the audit. They have shown determination to improve the existing telephone system despite certain financial limitations.

Environment Canada has modified its accountability framework, its directive on active offer and service delivery, and its official languages action plan. The Department is developing an official languages action plan communications strategy to raise awareness among employees and managers of their obligations under the Official Languages Act.

The 2009–2011 official languages action plan includes a tool for evaluating compliance with the Official Languages Act. This tool, based on in-person or telephone observations and on Web site reviews, evaluates active offer and service delivery in both official languages at designated bilingual points of service. The results of the first evaluation in May 2010 were not available at the time of writing of this report; therefore, we cannot determine the effectiveness of the evaluation process. However, Environment Canada indicates that it will be reviewing the action plan and will soon submit an annual report to the Executive Management Committee. We believe that senior management commitment and regular monitoring of action plan activities are essential to proper implementation of the action plan. Regular reports to the Executive Management Committee are an effective method of communication. We encourage Environment Canada to make the necessary efforts to ensure effective and timely monitoring of its official languages action plan.

The Meteorological Service of Canada has evaluated its automated telephone system and has developed a solution that enables service to be provided in both official languages at all designated bilingual points of service in Canada. Furthermore, the bilingual designation of all telephone numbers on the automated telephone network is an important factor in ensuring that information is distributed equitably.

The Meteorological Service of Canada has rebuilt its automated telephone network and developed procedures that meet the ISO 9001 standard. It has consolidated network management on a national level and incorporated specific official-languages objectives in the performance agreements of its executives. The conversion of all automated telephone answering devices is in progress and the Meteorological Service of Canada aims to have the whole network compliant by the end of March 2011.

Although the Human Resources Branch has a monitoring tool, the Meteorological Service of Canada has not yet developed a structured mechanism to monitor the quality of bilingual weather services provided by the automated telephone system. The Meteorological Service of Canada prefers a reactive approach based on problems brought to its attention by users. Structured monitoring mechanisms that enable regular and timely monitoring of the automated telephone network's compliance with the Official Languages Act are essential, given the importance of the Meteorological Service of Canada's mandate for all Canadians. The Meteorological Service of Canada might find it beneficial to integrate these kinds of mechanisms into its procedures and assign the necessary resources on a permanent basis.

In summary, the Commissioner of Official Languages is generally satisfied with the measures taken to follow up on the audit recommendations. Environment Canada is on the right track and has partially or fully implemented all the recommendations. The Commissioner is confident that the changes made will help ensure the availability and quality of weather services in both official languages on the automated telephone network.

There is still work to do, however, on the formal monitoring mechanisms, particularly at the Meteorological Service of Canada. The Commissioner encourages Environment Canada to complete the implementation of all the recommendations, to evaluate and revise the official languages action plan, and to include effective structured monitoring mechanisms for the automated telephone network in the Meteorological Service of Canada's procedures.

The Office of the Commissioner will follow the progress of the measures related to the monitoring mechanisms, as well as the activities associated with the implementation of the Official Languages Act, through the senior analyst assigned to Environment Canada.