CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Too Busy Dodging Alligators to Drain the Swamp?

Friday, November 7, 2008
I have to level with you; I am pretty excited about GCPEDIA, and the tag line, People & Knowledge is a great fit. At the time of drafting this weekly column, there are 688 users and 1,003 articles.

People, Process, and Technology

I sat in on an IT Modernization Workshop this week (completely unrelated to GCPEDIA), and the facilitator said something that really struck me. He said that what we were engaging in wasn’t really a discussion on IT modernization per se, but a discussion on IT enabled business modernization. Below is my adaptation of what he shared with the group.

Organizations that succeed in modernizing their IT solutions are the ones who modernize their business delivery models as well. There are three elements that need to be addressed (in order) when undertaking IT enabled business modernization:

  1. People do the work, so they have to be on board. People can be sticky: they get accustomed to doing things a certain way, and they can be proprietary. Changing old habits is incredibly difficult. Typically, people account for 70% of the problems that arise during IT modernization.
  2. Process is simply the chain of actions that create results. Process usually accounts for 20% of the problems during modernization.
  3. Technology is the enabler. It comes into play once people and process are aligned. Technical solutions typically only accounts for 5% of the problems during modernization projects.

It is no surprise that the sticking point is people. I think convincing people to use and create content for GCPEDIA will be the most difficult part of rolling out this type of initiative.

As Etienne pointed out in one of his more recent posts “[online] user participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., those that read or observe, but don't or very rarely contribute);
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time;
  • 1% of users are active participants and account for the majority of content.

Couple the 90-9-1 rule with public service culture and what do we get? Well only time will tell, but given the potential that I think GCPEDIA has for the future, I think there should be people creating content or facilitating content creation as a part of their full time jobs. I can tell you this much – I am moving my substantive position into an area where I deal primarily with knowledge management. My first order of business is to bring GCPEDIA to the attention of my managers and initiate discussions about how we can leverage it to better manage our own knowledge and share it with our colleagues from outside our department.

A Tremendous Opportunity

Truth be told, I was in the midst of creating my own personal wiki on a USB stick (using portable applications). Once it was completed, I was planning on unveiling it to Senior Management as a better way to manage the transition between Ministers, increase collaboration, and retain corporate knowledge.

However, as I said, I am moving into a new area so those wheels have ground to a halt. In retrospect, given the presence of GCPEDIA, I wonder how departmental initiatives in similar veins would overlap with the admittedly great work that TBS has done with GCPEDIA. I have a lot of questions around how GCPEDIA is impacting, and will continue to impact, internal departmental communications and intranet sites, but those will have to wait for another day. My interim conclusion is that GCPEDIA represents a tremendous opportunity for knowledge sharing across the Public Service. Furthermore, it is an opportunity I encourage you all to take.

Getting the Ball Rolling Part I

Having coordinated my departmental briefing book by email and diskettes (ugh!), I know that a wiki could be a better way of doing business, especially when it comes to internal collaboration. I also know for a fact that every federal department in the country just delivered briefing books to their Ministers. So why don’t we drop all of the (non-secret) notes into GCPEDIA?

If you want to create a central repository for knowledge, GCPEDIA seems to be a good place to start. All the notes have ADM and DM approvals and all of them are available in both official languages. I can’t think of a better way for someone to learn more about another government organization (or even their own) than by centralizing all of this information in GCPEDIA. If I were to do this today, I could easily add over 100 articles to GCPEDIA - an increase in the current article count of 10%!

While this little suggestion seems entirely tangible to me, I think that this type of push is something that needs to come from the central agencies. A collaborative call to open up our briefing books (again, minus the secret material) made by both TBS and PCO could go a long way towards creating useful wiki content, a lot further then this blog’s recommendation anyways.

My only fear about GCPEDIA was summed up nicely at the IT Modernization workshop. When asked about how we were proceeding with IT Modernization, one participant aptly responded: “We will be too busy dodging alligators to drain the swamp”. What he meant to express was his worry about the operational necessity of the day precluding our ability to address the root causes of our knowledge management problems. Given the depth and speed at which information can be made available, it is imperative that we share knowledge more effectively and efficiently both within and across federal government departments, and I think that GCPEDIA represents a tangible means through which we can start to drain that swamp.

Getting the Ball Rolling Part II

True to the 90-9-1 rule, a very small percentage of people have self-identified as “wiki gnomes” - motivated wiki-savvy public servants. That’s not to say, of course, that many public servants are neither motivated, nor wiki-savvy. As above, it could simply be the case that, despite being eager to drain the swamp, dodging alligators simply takes too much time and effort. But in another case, many might have the concern that management may not allow the level of participation that wiki-gnomes might want to engage in. While there is undoubtedly a discussion underway about how participation can be justified from a number of official standpoints, let’s think about it in a different way.

The concern, and the desire for a solid foot to stand on, though valid, may be slightly misplaced. Rather than justify participation to your manager, see if there’s an opportunity to work with your manager to piece together assignments that integrate content generation into your deliverables.