“What is it like to be a federal public servant and blog about work?”
Etienne and CPSRenewal.ca have decided to simultaneously post a column on our respective blogs and answer the question.
Check out Etienne's post and ours (below), and post your comments on either blog.
If memory and several megabytes of archived emails serve me correctly, Nick and I launched cpsrenewal.ca in February 2008. At the outset, we’d decided that we want to accomplish two things: one, create an information resource for people interested in the goings-on of the public service with a particular focus on public service renewal, and two, open up a dialogue with those inside and outside the public service about the public service.
The first part, providing useful or at least interesting information is something that cpsrenewal.ca has done since the very beginning, and I think, continues to do fairly well. The second part, opening up a dialogue with our readers, has proven to be a bit more challenging but is an area in which we are gaining a bit of ground with the advent of the weekly opinion columns.
The good, the bad, and…
Part of me wonders if there’s a way I could somehow get paid to blog about and explore public service and public service renewal issues from a less-than-official standpoint. While blogging about the public service from outside any official purview has a number of benefits, it is not without its pitfalls.
Firstly, because we operate outside of the public service, cpsrenewal.ca is our project – and yours. There’s no screening of comments (other than filtering out spam), no strict guidelines around content, no approval processes, and no one telling us what kind of information we can or can’t disseminate or comment on. For the most part (and I’ll get to the rest in a second), we’re free to post what we want, and so are you.
Cpsrenewal.ca has purposefully left the door open for people to post comments completely anonymously. If you have something to comment on, a controversial idea, or even a legitimate gripe, we don’t believe that you should have to hold it back for fear of some kind of reprisal.
But there is of course the issue of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service, which I don’t really want to get into. You can talk to Etienne about his experience with Values and Ethics and An Inconvenient Renewal if you’re really interested. I will say that even though the forum is available, I think we (both us the writers, and you the readers) refrain from rocking the boat too much because we have to comply with Values and Ethics even outside of our cubes. Even my email rant to Nick a little while ago was something I hesitated to let him publish, but ultimately decided that the powers that be wouldn’t raise too much of a stink about it – which brings me to my next point, legitimacy.
Again, operating outside of official lines means we don’t need to comply with many official processes, regulations, and what have you. On the other hand, not being a legitimate (i.e. sanctioned) piece of the renewal puzzle makes it hard for the initiative to be taken seriously in official circles. I suppose that, like anything, a mix of reactions is to be expected. We’ve received everything from “outstanding initiative, the public service needs more people like you doing things like that” to “oh cool, one of those blog things… so anyway…”.
We’re not necessarily striving for legitimacy, but we do want to be taken seriously. The blog isn’t the end in itself, the format is merely the means to catalyze discussion, and then action. The private sector already knows this, corporate blogs are being used as a means for enhancing customer service and relations. Official government circles are just beginning to adopt blogs publicly and within their own departments. Though there is some irony in the fact that we have a blog posted on our Intranet, yet almost all other blogs are right up there with facebook and youtube as the enemies of productivity.
...and the paradox
Ultimately, being a public servant blogging about the public service, without the official sanction of public service is both frustrating and rewarding. Frustrating in that our two biggest issues, are big issues – as long as we continue to operate outside of official lines, we will always struggle with one, legitimacy and two, the values and ethics code.
The legitimacy issue is a complicated one. We want this initiative to be perceived as a legitimate means to effect change in the public service. But what happens if we become official? We might get more buy-in but if cpsrenewal.ca ever becomes a sanctioned federal government blog, it will no doubt become embroiled in the standard operating procedures (ie. the bureaucracy) and regulatory frameworks of most other government programs – precisely the sort of thing that we’re more than glad to avoid.
Secondly, not rocking the Values and Ethics boat means carrying on sailing in the same direction, with the same oars, and the same crew - something Public Service Renewal (the official version) itself wants to change. So the official word is that the boat needs rocking, and we’re more than happy to help. But even then, while we might tend to depart from a potentially controversial starting point, we eventually water down the delivery and try to avoid stirring things up too much. We would, after all, like to keep our jobs.
Despite those frustrations, the reward is also great. We’re engaged in public service renewal. We’re showing that others are engaged in public service renewal. We’ve connected directly with people making similar efforts. We are seeking to make the public service a better institution and a better employer for Canadians, and I daresay we are enjoying doing it. In the six to seven months since we launched cpsrenewal.ca, we have had over 7,500 page loads and 4,400 unique visitors (which further breaks down into approximately 3,100 first time visitors and 1,300 return visitors). Considering the traffic by quarter we also see that we have been steadily picking up steam, and expect this quarter to be our busiest to date. I can only presume that those stats mean that others are interested and engaged at some level with what we’re doing and therefore share the interest and passion for improving Canada’s Public Service.
And that is very encouraging.