Friday, December 12, 2008

CPSRenewal Weekly: Scheming Virtuously

Fellow Public Servants,

Mike and I have been working on producing a paper that reaches beyond the typical weekly column. We started back in September and have finally concluded. In this, our last weekly column before the holiday season, we would like to share it with you and ask you to share it with others.

The paper, entitled, Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants is meant to help public servants find ways to get involved and be innovative within the public service – to build a culture of stewardship within the public service. In short, it is another tool for those of us looking for or working towards renewal.

This publication is prefaced with a mandatory disclaimer, which for clarity I will reiterate explicitly here prior to linking to the document:

“Yes, we are federal public servants; however this paper is not sponsored or endorsed by the Public Service of Canada.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of the Public Service of Canada, its Departments and/or Agencies, or their employees.

We have put this guide together in the spirit of the Clerk of the Privy Council’s call to get involved in Public Service renewal, and our own struggles with figuring out how we can actually do it.

In the spirit of what we’re presenting here, this paper is the result of our own virtuous scheming. This document has been a long work in progress, made even longer by the fact that, strictly speaking, the production of this paper doesn’t form any part of our actual work duties.

For the record, this document routinely took a backseat to our substantive work, and never the other way around.”

That being said, you can download the PDF here (easier for printing and circulating via email) or, more interestingly, you can read and edit the document on GCPEDIA here.

We would like to encourage you all to read the document and supplement the “Hints” subsections within the GCPEDIA article. We are specifically looking for more concrete ways to build renewal from the ground up.

Well that's it for us here at until the new year. We are looking forward to your feedback about SV, and as always, feel free to drop us a line any time.

One last note, while there may not be anymore posts until the new year, keep an eye on my twitter stream, I will use it to share links that may be of interest over the holidays.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Round Up: December 9th

Suggested Reading

1. David Eaves blogged a great piece on why StatCan is (or could be) like Google. Here is a taste:

The other week I gave a talk on Gen Y, Gen X, Technology and the Future of the Public Service at StatCan’s manager’s meeting. The speaker before me apparently told the gathering that they “should be more like Google” if they want to recruit young talent. During his Q&A one of the managers asked how a government agency be like Google (a legitimate question I thought) and the speaker didn’t have much to say. Frustrating, no?


But I think there is a good case. While the idea of StatCan emulating one of the best performing, young, hottest companies in Silicon Valley may sound far fetched, it needn’t. StatCan can be like Google. In fact, it already is.

2. The President of the National Council of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service gave the following address linking public service renewal and employment equity. It is very interesting (to me at least!) given my passion for renewal and the fact that my first job in government was in the area responsible for the Employment Equity Act.

3.Why You Need to Be a Happier Manager c/o Harvard Business Publishing.

Comments on this Blog

First we got a comment from mgifford:

Would be treat to see more acknowledgment about the use of MediaWiki for this collaboration mechanism. I posted the following earlier this week.
The post mgifford links to in the comment above highlights the fact that in creating gcpedia/nrcan wiki the government has deployed an open source technology and that this fact is a very important and oft overlooked one. Go ahead and take a look, there are some other articles of interest there as well (In fact, just added their RSS to my Google Reader).

We also got a comment from KP who opined:

Nick/Mike, I say GET ON WITH IT...what are you waiting for? I find that, as usual, you tend to put your obstacles at the feet of the senior management (i.e. we are not that bright or adept when it comes to WEB 2.0) rather than forge ahead on your own. I'm a DG and I launched into GCPEDIA the day it was announced! Check out my page under users, Katherine Parker, and under projects, Prospectors and Developers Association....this is an inter-departmental wiki site for several departments at the senior management level. So no more excuses okay?

I have several thoughts. First, let me assure you that we are indeed doing our best to "get on with it" and "forg[ing] ahead". Both Mike and I have user pages on GCPEDIA (we even have permalinks to them on the right hand bar of the main page); and we are planning something for this Friday takes our unofficial contributions to the renewal fora to a new level.

Second, the purpose of the column we wrote last week was to try to shed light on the types of conversations that are now occuring around the GoC in light of GCPEDIA's launch. I have been working hard in my own official role to push towards incorporating GCPEDIA and have been met with many challenges along the way. I know that may seem vague, and I am not trying to skirt the issue but this blog is simply not the platform for me to comment on my official GoC duties.

Finally, there are a lot of contributing factors that allow (or restrict) public servants from making contributions to GCPEDIA. For example, being a DG or working at NRCan may provide you with a greater level of freedom then people at other levels or in other departments. Maybe it affords you less, I don't know. The point is that it is typically easier said then done. Colloquially speaking, I had a DG ask what Wikipedia was the other day, the variance in experiences and acceptance across the GoC is a major hindrance to GCPEDIA, which is why we advocated some high level communication encouraging people to check it out and engage.

Again, stay tuned for Friday's column.

Friday, December 5, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Running the IT/IM and Work Culture Gamut

Some of this may sound familiar, but it is a discussion that is happening all over the public service right now. The first part is a mix between new information and some recycled content from a previous weekly, so bear with me if some of this seems repetitive.

The Speech from the Throne

When it comes to information and knowledge management, many departments face a number of interconnected challenges surrounding human resources, information technology, siloed activities and siloed culture.

I mentioned in passing last week that I found it encouraging that the recent Speech from the Throne (SFT) offers public servants the opportunity to implement measures that will allow them to work more effectively and streamline the way they do business. More specifically:

Part of a solid economic and fiscal foundation is the sound management of government. To make Canada’s national government more effective, our Government is committed to reform and streamline the way it does business.

Our Government will pursue innovative reforms to the administration of programs and services, drawing on the successful experiences of other governments around the world. It will build partnerships with third parties and the private sector to deliver better services at a lower overall cost.

I think that these statements are the most important ones from the SFT for anyone in the field of Information Management (IM), Information Technology (IT) or at their confluence (IM/IT). It may also be the most important statements for Gen Y public servants or anyone looking at recruitment, retention and renewal strategies.

The Challenges

As a member of Gen Y, I can attest to the fact that we have grown alongside IT. We remember when the web was entirely text-based, what it was like to wait more than a few seconds to download a single still image, and a time when ‘Google’ wasn’t a verb. We have seen the exponentially increasing rate at which information can be found, managed, packaged, repackaged and shared. We have also seen the similar growth in the breadth and depth of the tools and services with which we manipulate this information. For us, ubiquitous access to information is now the norm.

Herein lies the challenge: the IM/IT infrastructure of our workplaces simply cannot satiate our technological customs. Outside of the workplace, we continue to live our entire lives being able to appropriate new technologies as they emerge. We organize our lives in such a way that technology blends seamlessly into it. Yet, at work we are forced to do things the way we used to do them 5 to 10 years ago.

We are stuck using outdated operating systems; using antiquated tailor-made applications and unintuitive interfaces; we can’t install our own software applications; we lack the physical capacity to view streaming media; and we are routinely frustrated by filters that limit our access to legitimate information.

In short, our use of technology at work is completely counter-intuitive to our use of it everywhere else. I can’t help but wonder how much of the problem stems from an inability to provide the physical capacity and how much of it stems from an inability to trust the end user to act responsibly with their IT resources.

New Hope – But Questions Abound

There are a number of us out there in the public service working towards better practices in IT/IM across departments. One only needs to look at the Government 2.0 Best Practices Wiki to find out exactly who these people are, and what they are doing.

I know that we have written extensively on GCPEDIA already but it represents one of these new hopes. Yet, it also raises a very big question – one that came out in a number of conversations I recently engaged in at a wiki-workshop at NRCan. Namely, if Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) already built this, should we build our own, or simply leverage what is already there?

To that I say two things. The first is that I am pleased that we are no longer stuck on the question of if we should do it, but rather have progressed to the question on how we should do it. The second is that your choice of how to proceed is really based on the depth of your vision and your evaluation of the risk.

For example, if departments choose to implement their own wikis they are working to break the siloed culture within their own departments, but if they choose to leverage GCPEDIA then they are showing others that they are ready to blow not only their internal silos, but also interdepartmental silos, out of the water. Obviously, my preferred option is the latter, whereby public servants mobilize across all departments and allow the maximum amount of participation while minimizing the duplication.

The Lack of an Official Communication

People I speak with are also worried about how they will be perceived for using GCPEDIA. Given that TBS is not actively marketing the use of GCPEDIA, many public servants don’t even know it exists, so people who do know don’t feel safe using it. Instead they fear being scolded for ‘playing around’ on the internet when what they are actually doing is working with a legitimate work tool provided by a central agency (as long as they are using the tool properly).

So what are the departmental policies around using GCPEDIA? What? Aside from those set out by TBS itself, no department has any? (At least to my knowledge – correct me if I am wrong)

Alright … but do they need any?

Do I need an approval to engage in GCPEDIA? Do I need an approval for every article I create there?

Well if we put the question on its head, we could see that since anyone across the government could edit and contribute to the content, having the approval of a senior manager in one department really doesn’t accomplish much other then perhaps ensuring that the content is relevant and that commas are in the right places (in their own view). I think that the preferable option is to have senior managers encourage their staff to engage in GCPEDIA more broadly. An interesting caveat may be to challenge a manager to change the content themselves and offer them the support they need to do so.

For this reason, I believe that some sort of communication needs to be made about the legitimacy of GCPEDIA and its viable uses as a transformative work tool. I understand the need for organic growth and the process of self selection (FYI, Mike and I have self-selected and are planning on inputting something into GCPEDIA in the near future) but there needs to be a high level endorsement of some sort to communicate to senior managers across the public service that this is the future of collaboration and information management within the public service (if that is, in fact, the long term goal of GCPEDIA).

Final Remark

As one of those people who have self-selected to take the (for now) ‘calculated risk’ of engaging in GCPEDIA I can always justify my actions by arguing that the simple fact that TBS has provided this tool for us to use makes its very use legitimate.

Besides, I don’t know about you but I have never asked permission or for approvals to use an application installed on my desktop – Word, Power Point, Outlook, etc – or use the departmental intranet? Nor do I need approvals for documents that are still in draft status – the same status that GCPEDIA affords its articles. If we want a collaborative work culture across the GoC, then we need to start creating a culture where turning to and engaging in GCPEDIA is the norm.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Round Up: December 3

Here are a couple of things that may be of interest:

  1. Federal employees earn more then private workers
  2. PS hiring under fire
  3. Audit finds fault with 14% of top bureaucratic appointments
  4. Failure to Accept Responsibility is a Failure to Lead c/o Havard Business Publishing
Also you may notice that we have added some new ways to get in touch with us on the right hand side of the page, we now have links to both our GCPEDIA and facebook profiles. You can also now follow me on twitter. I am trying to deepen our use of social media to foster discussion on public service renewal. In addition to this, Mike and I would like to do some podcasting or even set up a youtube channel, but we really don't have the time right now.

Cheers... and keep your eye on the Governor General. Interesting times ahead.