On Tri-Sectoral Athletes

Friday, May 6, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Two week's ago at the Driving Innovation: Positive Policies, Instruments and Experimentation armchair discussion at the Canada School moderator Ailish Campbell spoke about the need for a more permeable membrane between the civil service and other sectors; the premise being that we need a diverse set of skills and perspectives if we are to make progress against societies wicked problems. Its an issue that her and I have spoken about in the past, and while its one that's both near to her heart (See: Government from Outside-In) and mine (See: Are Public Servants Interchangeable?) it's also something I haven't heard being discussed much in the current context of overlapping venn diagram that is policy innovation, experimentation and results (deliverology). While I wholeheartedly agree that we need the right talent mix, training and transfers (See Ailish's Lessons from Cross-Sector Experiences) we also need a culture that values -- or perhaps even puts a premium on -- experience outside the civil service.

Enter Tri-Sector Athletes

Back in 2013 Harvard Business Review ran a couple of articles the importance "tri-sector athletes", people who can bridge the chasms of culture, incentives, and purpose that separate the three sectors (See: Triple Strength Leadership and Why the World Needs Tri-Sector Leaders). The articles argued that cross sector mobility promoted the development of a number of specific skills (i.e. balancing competing motives, acquiring transferable skills, developing contextual intelligence, forging a common intellectual thread, building integrated networks, and maintaining a prepared mind) and advocated lowering cultural and structural barriers that inhibit cross-sector mobility for early, mid and senior career professionals. The articles seem to have come out of the work of the Intersector Project which tries to bring together the three different sectors to solve problems that no single sector can do alone; which to me sounds a lot like where good governance meets wicked problems (See: On Wicked Problems).

Rather than rehash any of whats covered in the above, I'd like to share a snippet from a speech given by the Honourable Michael Wilson's in 2011 at the Richard Ivey School of Business (at Western).The speech, entitled The Tri-Athlete: The importance of Private, Public and Not-for-Profit Sector speaks more directly to the issue with a conviction of experience that I can only hope to accumulate:

"There is a concept discussed in the Harvard Business Review called ‘Shared Value’ wherein business decisions serve the public and shareholder interest alike. One major global company in India reduced its demands on the public water supply. This forced itself to be creative in its production process which saved the company money, sustained output and lessened demand on limited natural resources of the country. The result, shared value for the country, the community and the company.

Governments must conduct policies in a way, which takes into account the interests of the private sector. Tax policy must not be overbearing and must provide incentives where possible. Private sector delivery of government services should be used if this does not conflict with the public interest. Regulations must find the right balance between protecting the public interest while not interfering excessively with the operations and natural strengths of the private sector.

It is in this world that tri-athletes become very important. People with knowledge, sensitivity and a broader sense of values that comes from deep engagement on both sides of the private/public divide and experience in the not-for-profit world can make a more substantial contribution to the broad public good.

Now, have I forgotten about the part that the not-for-profit sector would play in this world? Not at all. In many ways, not-for-profit leaders are the conduit or even the glue between the private and public sectors. This is particularly the case in healthcare, social issues, research activities, education and the delivery of services that are typically a government responsibility. The public/private partnership model is a primary example of this as it relates to hospitals, highways, correction centres, and others.

But I think the most important outcome of the broad concept of the tri-athlete is the softening of the edges among the three sectors. With broader and deeper engagement comes greater understanding. That greater understanding leads to a more sensitive and broader set of values in all three sectors that breeds a stronger sense of community within the country."

The key takeaway: the success of each of the sectors is tied directly to the health of relationships between them. Moreover, understanding these relationships in a visceral way is an asset when you are looking to engage with a broader community. And, if you haven't noticed, engagement is the new normal.

Enter Digital

The role of social media in this respect (engagement) was also discussed at the armchair. For those of us who have been operating in that space for some time now the conversation wasn't new. To wit, a friend of my sent me a private message on Twitter that questioned an organizational culture that allots scarce resources to what could otherwise be considered transient communications (e.g. DM approval for a single tweet). Their point was clear: institutionally we have more important things to worry about in an age of complexity and wicked problems. We ought to be more concerned with creating shared/public value than 140 character phraseology. For example, by now we've all read a lot about how our Westminster system of parliament is under tremendous pressure in the digital era, that "government no longer has the monopoly" on advice and/or service. I myself have said as much on stage, in front of a couple hundred public servants in Ontario (See: The Future of Policy Work).

However, the more I think about it the less I'm inclined to agree wholeheartedly. I actually think that government continues to enjoy is nodality (i.e. being at the centre of a network of actors or information) but hasn't been able to wield it as effectively in the digital era as it did in the analogue era. This may be a small nuance, but its an incredibly important one. After all, government's convening power is still rooted in the fundamental idea that government is the ultimate societal back stop, that its our last line of defense when things really go sideways. If you agree -- the nuance that government continues to enjoy nodality but cannot always wield it effectively in the digital era -- then you might logically be interested in building capacity where digital technologies are meeting governance issues (e.g. sharing economy). But in order to do that effectively you need a workforce that can see the issues from all of the perspectives (i.e. sharing economy is an incredibly complex societal issue that has implications for actors all three sectors) but also one that have quickly engage in these broader networks. Hitting the ground running likely means proficiency with social media. It means being able to quickly identify key players, make contact and set up more in depth and detailed exchanges. I can appreciate that there's a palpable feeling in town that the civil service is making gains on this but we haven't really blown that door wide open yet.

Truthfully, there is still a lot of apprehension at the working level (i.e. where managers and working level people meet) about networking across sectors and even more about connecting in open online fora. One only need to look at Kent's post earlier this week (See: Bursting the Filter Bubble) -- where he detailed his reticence to claim even a loose affiliation to his official duties online and even more importantly participate in an event as a representative of the government -- to find evidence of this. If I had to put money down I'd say that the reticence he felt is both lingering and pervasive in the system right now; this is troubling, especially given that Kent's risk tolerance is likely greater than most (i.e. he has been writing publicly on these issues for some time now). In the absence of distinct and clear government wide positive policy statements we are relying on some amalgam of the risk tolerance of individuals (who's perception of risk was forged under the previous administration) and trickle down effects of the subsequent change in political tone. Both of which are unevenly distributed across the system and cannot be relied upon to address our larger culture issues (See: On Risk, Fearless Advice and Loyal Implementation).

Enter Personal Anecdote(s)

Now, my evidence may be anecdotal but I've entertained a number of conversations recently with new public servants who are coming into very junior positions despite a wealth of experience outside government (i.e. not recent graduates). These are bright folks who's employment history began well before they accepted their letter of offer. Their entrance into the fray however is stymied in part by the widespread -- but not overt or malicious -- cultural practice of discounting non-government experience and a reticence (perceived and self-imposed or explicit and imposed) to "allow" them to reach out beyond the internal workings of government; effectively cutting them off from the networks they had prior to joining, networks that Wilson (above) argued were so important. In other words, not only are we discounting their work experience but also asking them to cut ties with the players with whom they did it. This runs counter-intuitive to the entire notion of tri-sector athletes. But really how pervasive is it?

Its hard to say for certain but you can look at some indicators that may hint and/or reinforce the culture. For example, I pulled a random posting for a government job and flipped through it. Notice that it narrowly defines an experiential requirement as "providing advice to senior management at the Director-General level or higher on ...". My question: what if someone has significant experience performing similar work but their organization doesn't have "Directors General"? I doubt it would be difficult to find someone who was otherwise qualified but who was screened out based on a similar technicality alone (in fact I've spoke to a few in similar situations) Conversely, if we took a random sample of resumés from civil servants I wonder how many would include experience outside the civil service? Probably not many, or at least not as many as we'd like if we are sympathetic to the importance of tri-sector athletes. I don't want to dwell on this too much but am generally of the view that the cultural practice of discounting problematic and that it manifests both as a demand side (e.g. in job posters) and supply side (e.g. resumés) issue.

I'm as guilty as the next on this front (at least on the supply side). With the exception of the two-year interchange I just completed with the Institute on Governance, I've left off any experience that precedes my government experience off my resumé, despite having worked for a good 8 years in front line service delivery positions in the hospitality industry for premium brands (e.g. Fairmont and the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club) working directly with the organizations' most important corporate clients. Along the way I dealt with a number of challenging relationships and had the opportunity to manage people, budgets, and facility operations. Yet, I've purposefully left that experience off my resumé because it doesn't necessarily show my "public policy chops". However if you pause and think about it, the experience is inherently valuable if you want to better understand how the public policy rubber meets the deliver(olog)y road. I remember being in an interview a while back trying to explain to a Director General why I had written that I was a mid-career professional on my resumé when I only had 8 years of government experience. They simply didn't value the 10 years I worked prior to joining government, nor did it matter that I was able to work full time while pursuing my academic degrees and starting my family (but that's besides the point).

While I may have omitted the experience from my resumé and -- to be perfectly honest -- no longer describe myself as mid-career, the truth of the matter is that those cumulative work experiences were formative. They were when I first started, and they remain as such even today. I remember a very early conversation I had with a friend and colleague about public service renewal back when Kevin Lynch was the Clerk of Privy Council. I was trying to explain that one of the things that I felt was missing in the public service was the empowerment culture and sense agency that was so critical to success in the service industry. My sense at the time was that folks in government just didn't feel empowered or able to act without first seeking permission. That difference very much became a source of inspiration for my work, my foray into the online world (e.g. this blog) and ultimately informed the advice in Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants. To discount it simply because it happened before my time in government would be to discount all the positive that has become of it is since I joined government, and that is something that I am unwilling to do.

I'm also of the opinion that my experience on interchange -- leaving the public service for two years, then coming back -- was also invaluable. Not only was I able to pursue interests that I wouldn't have been able to pursue inside the civil service but I was also able to better appreciate the cultural distance the civil service traveled as an institution while I was away than I would have been if I stayed. While on interchange I got a better sense of what government relations work is like, learned how to work with different institutional players and expanded my network in ways that would have otherwise not been possible. I was also able to shift much of my attention from immediate operational requirements to bigger picture questions about the future of governance in Canada. That said, I feel as though I was literally frozen in time while I was away. There was little to no contact with my department when I was away and no re-integration plan. We (myself and the two organizations involved) definitely could have definitely levered the opportunity better, but we didn't. If I didn't find an opportunity to come back to a different job my own I would have slid right back into the job I left two years prior. If that's not a strong signal of how the system sees outside experience (and/or reintegration), I'm not sure what is.

NB: I'm not complaining and there's no sour grapes. I'm pretty happy about how it all shook out, my point is that maybe we shouldn't rely on luck and serendipity that as a strategy. You might also be interested in reading Emerging Models of Leadership: PBOs and Tri-Sector Leaders.

Bursting the Filter Bubble

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Let’s start with a Twitter essay from Matt Bailey, DC’s former Director of Tech Innovation who just left for the White House:

(1/n) ..There are so many great people in DC government who want to hear from you. Sometimes they don't know how to find you. Seek them out.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(2/n) ..There are a *lot* of times when public input really makes a difference in the decisions that get made. More voices are needed.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(3a/n) ..A lot of govfolks have no idea that the public cares about they do - they think it's too nerdy, too esoteric, etc..
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(3b/n) .. and the pure joy on their faces when they find out the contrary is a thing to see <3 <3 <3
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(12/n) ..The old model of limiting public interactions to senior and communications officials is deeply broken.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(12a/n) ..Government needs to remunerate/incentivize employees to attend after hours public events.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

(12b/n) ..People deserve to be paid for their time and this is a core competency of government.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016

I caught that string of tweets on the train back to Ottawa from Toronto. I had facilitated a lunch workshop for the Government of Canada’s next open government plan, latching onto the National Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy Summit who graciously included us in the event.

The weird thing is that I’m slightly uncomfortable pressing “Publish” on that last paragraph. I’m hesitant about the idea that I was there representing the Government of Canada. But there’s no two ways about it, as far as the participants were concerned. I was. And a lot of us represent the government, directly or indirectly, on a daily basis.

And we have to get used to it. I agree with Matt Bailey about the value of public servants interacting with the public. For the Summit I could have left after lunch, but I chose to get the latest train possible back to Ottawa (rolling in around midnight) so I could spend more time with the participants. Here’s the breakdown of my afternoon, after my "official" duties were done:

  • I think I corrected a lot of misconceptions about how far along government was. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in gov that’s well-known to public servants and completely opaque to the public.
  • I had a string of “3b/n” moment (I’m very lucky to have them regularly). Indelicately put: hearing from people who genuinely care about the work that you’re doing in gov really, really makes you want to work your ass off.
  • I had opportunities to get clarity on what the stakeholders of my program really need and care about.
  • I met some fascinating people who could turn into future collaborators.
  • I’d like to think I helped people understand the ways in which they can influence government, and provided some reassurance that government is actually influenceable.
  • ...and that government is, well, human.
That is, it was positive to the point where I’m actually legit worried about what we’re not at. Where our presence is missing and our voices are absent. How much opportunity for understanding, collaboration, and inspiration are we missing?

On that note. Thinking about the public service/public relationship, here’s a couple recent articles. First, a TVO piece summing up a point that former Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters has been making lately:

"Sometimes we send the strangest signals to the people who work in the public service. In the best of all worlds, here’s what we want from them: We want them to be brilliant. We want them to be much less bureaucratic and much more creative. We want them to serve us better, find solutions to our problems, and explore new ideas that could help save us money. But woe betide a single one of them if they ever experiment with a new idea that goes south, then costs the taxpayers money. In that case, we’ll be the first to string them up in the town square and shame them from here to eternity."

And this, on public servants becoming increasingly public:

"Does it in fact matter if civil service leaders become more public figures than they have previously? I argue that the reason these changes matter is because the traditional anonymity of civil servants is linked in important ways to the impartiality of the civil service. To dispense with the former is to endanger the latter in ways that re-shape the core role of civil service leaders in a Westminster system."

...At which point I'm going to let the post hang, and I welcome your thoughts. 

Doing good in the world of deliverology

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

In February we read and reflected on a book called How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don't Go Crazy. which essentially lays out a playbook for governments to follow up on their priorities and ensure that concrete actions are being taken, by everyone who needs to take them. It's about goal-setting, measurement, tracking, and clearing obstacles to maintain forward momentum.

The book was making the rounds in political and public service circles, but I said I'd wait to see if and when it influenced our organizations. It would seem I was overly skeptical - the results focus and delivery language is here.

With that in mind, a quick thought on measuring, well, anything:

There's a Venn diagram of things that sound good and things that are good. For organizations that are incredibly good at goal-setting, choosing key performance indicators, and measurement, these two circles will overlap reasonably closely. But they'll never match perfectly*.

For the working level, this means you have to think not only in terms of results but also in how those results might be proved, and what audiences are in the stands. It means aiming for the overlap, or trying to make the overlap bigger: that is, changing the narrative so that actions in the things that are good circle start to sound better and better.

For executives, this means recognizing the difference between measurability and genuine impact, triangulating your understanding of the program from multiple sources, and asking the meta-level question: "How do we know our measurements are accurate and valuable?"

*We could go into a much longer discussion about the limits of metrics, and I suspect at least one commenter will.

The Most Important Takeaway from the #gc2020 Innovation Fair

Friday, April 22, 2016

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I managed to pop into the second annual Blueprint 2020 Innovation Fair earlier this week for about 90 minutes. The space was jammed, there were people everywhere, and energy was high. If you are interested in a summary. there's one over at The Public Servant. If you are interested in my key takeaway, read on, it's brief -- and to be perfectly honest, not even my insight.

I was joking around with a longtime friend, colleague and trusted source of advice who replied to a half-joke I made about the fact that "there's a whole bunch of people here doing a whole bunch of things I've never heard about" -- which as an aside, if you step back is also likely one of the reasons to have the fair in the first place, broader socialization and connection between actors -- with: "Isn't that precisely what we want? To get past the point where any single actor can keep track of the players and innovations moving around the system."

Fair point.

Great insight.

If tipping points exist, and if scale is an early indicator of whats to come, then surely the success of the fair is an indication that we are moving further and further down the innovation / adoption curves. Now, obviously, that doesn't mean the work is done -- in fact it may mean that for many the work is about to begin -- but it also may mean that there's more receptivity to it then there has been previously.

Kudos to the Blueprint team for a job well done.

What is open government?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Note: if you've never noticed it, now might be a good time to briefly divert your gaze to the disclaimer on the right.

I've probably answered that question - What is open government? - a thousand times in the last couple years. With varying degrees of clarity and convincingness.

This is an attempt at a more universal, albeit less concise, version.

First, some competing definitions

It's an occasionally murky concept, and gets defined differently in different countries, by different people:

"Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight."

"[Government that is] sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive."
[Open Government Partnership]

My go-to today might be something like this: open government is a commitment to making data and information about government operations and decisions open to citizens, and creating opportunities for people to engage in public decisions that interest or impact them.

But that still doesn't really connect the dots between the ideas that make up open government, so I'm proposing another lens.

The government-citizen relationship

Let's think about information flows between government and stakeholders.

Actually, that's a bit unwieldy. Let's collapse the left side into a simpler ecosystem, while recognizing that there's a lot going on in there. 

There have always been information flows. There was never a point where government was completely closed then suddenly became open. In the 1800s Canada conducted the census to get information from Canadians, created awareness campaigns to encourage people to move west, kept parliamentary records in Hansard, and published changes to laws in the Canada Gazette.

None of which we'd consider "open government" today. But it's part of the ecosystem of information flows on which we're building.

Really, anything that was once "open government" over time eventually just gets called "government." Which is why we'll skip right past huge advances like Access to Information laws to get to 2012-ish. The modern push for open government might look something like this:

Since the digital age, governments have provided far more information about programs, policies, and services. This could be web content, emails, or publications. However, the ability for digital communication also created demand, so governments have started releasing the raw data behind research and statements, collecting more public feedback on policy, and posting documents for the sake of transparency, like expense reports.

However, while there are new formats and documents to release, there are also just fundamentally different types of information. For example, consider data on water levels and invasive aquatic species, the first line in the following diagram. It's been available to citizens for a few years. 

But, while people outside government can use that data, more people can use that data better with a few other links made between Country and Government. In this case, a group called Aquahacking was able to express their needs to government (Environment and Climate Change Canada), who showed up to present and provide context and clarifying information about how the data was collected. To close the loop, the Water Rangers system can now provide reliable measurements back into the data collection process, by enabling kayakers and beach-goers to do citizen science.

There have always been information flows. Open government is about adding more flows, to more people, in more ways that are more appropriate to needs (see: Innovation is Information). This is both about government releasing information, as well as creating new opportunities for citizens to provide ideas, concerns, and expertise into public decisions.

On that note, there's another expansion to the model that's taking place. The information flows were once largely between small groups in those two circles, Country and Government: lobbyists, the well-connected, and bigger businesses and NGOs for the former and parliamentarians, communications shops, and top executives for the latter. Now those circles look more like this, with many more information flows between many more nodes throughout the ecosystem.

But we'll collapse the model again for simplicity, and end on this: dense, layered, multi-channel information flows between country and government. For a given policy issue, it could be something like this:

Open government really describes a period of acceleration. It's a term than connects these information flows and expresses a commitment to adding more while strengthening the ones that exist. Not just data and information, but more abstract concepts like context, reliability, rationale, understanding, lived experience, trust, and simplicity. Going both ways and back-and-forth.

Which means the question isn't "How do we open government?" but perhaps: "What do we actually need?" "What can we do better?" "What do we open next?"