Given that we've been busy, we planned on cheating a little bit with this week's column. We were planning on sharing responses to some questions we put to TBS about GCPEDIA, but have yet to receive them back.
So here goes Plan B
I was watching the Agenda with Steve Paikin on Monday and Darin Barney made a great comment about technology and the mobilization of people in the context of the Barack Obama presidential campaign. I have cut specific references about Obama and the US so it fits within the context of public service renewal.
It is important to keep in mind that [it] used emerging technologies to great effect but it didn't succeed in mobilizing an unprecedented number of young [people] because it used facebook and youtube. It succeeded, I think because it offered young [people] something they haven't had for a long time ... substantial positions they could be enthusiastic about, a sense of tremendous stakes and opportunity... a chance to say something real about the kind of country they wanted to live in. It’s this that moved them, not facebook and youtube, even though that may have been the means for communicating that message... I think it is very important to understand that we may be selling young people short if we think we can engage them simply by connecting with them via the new technologies they happen to use.
At it’s core, Barney’s statement emphasises the importance of how technology is used over the simple fact that technology is used. Facebook, youtube, and social media are all just vehicles. The message, and what people do with it, is still paramount.
It has been widely documented, and should be fairly obvious by now, that young people are mobilized electronically more than ever before. Facebook, youtube, blogs… web 2.0 is simply a fact of life for young people. Barney is correct when he asserts that thinking that any entity can engage the interests of young people simply by having a presence on these sites is selling them short.
I fear that government departments may be too eager to deploy web 2.0 solutions to show potential recruits that government ‘gets it’: they’re innovative, ready to communicate and to work with you on your terms. But therein lies the oversight that Barney points out. Simply putting up a page or an ad on facebook or an ad on youtube without the means to actively engage them is unlikely to have any substantial effect.
Even something as simple as an interactive webcast with a Deputy Minister on PS renewal, followed up by an dedicated intranet forum on and an invitation to explore ways to get involved within my own department has, last I checked, been met with very little uptake.
I can’t help but feel for people like Etienne who have made incredible efforts in terms of bringing something to people in a method that they can engage in it. Truth be told, I am as guilty as others are in terms of consuming the knowledge he is sharing without actively contributing to it. I think his frustration is understandable and warranted, but I also think that one of his original premises – bottom-up renewal – is as valid today as the day that he first employed it.
Deploying the technology is simple (recall the people, process, technology problem), mobilizing people is the truly difficult part). The web (and thus web 2.0 technologies) allow us (those interested) to share information across the public service, but I think (at least my experience has led me to think) that the most effective place that public servants can make organizational and cultural change is in their own department (at least for now)… again I think this is where something like GCPEDIA can play an enormous role. Moreover, those of us working in areas of Knowledge Management, Planning and Exchange (did I mention I have a new job now, guess in what area?) have a responsibility to start actively collaborating better and facilitating the collaboration of others.
I am really interested in what you all think about this? What do you think about the relationship between technology and engagement? Is the public service too caught up in an if you build it they will come approach to web 2.0 technologies?
We are interested in hearing comments from users, implementers, practitioners and target group members (or anyone else we may have missed).