Friday, December 18, 2009

Video Column: Jingle Bells, Gov 1 Smells

Hey Everybody - this will be my last post until the new year. I thought I would share this little rendition of jingle bells I threw together. I hope you like it.

I posted the lyrics after the video embed, and for the record this was my first and only take. Looking forward to your comments.

Cheers and Happy Holidays.


Jingle bells,
Gov 1 smells,
Gov 2's here to stay,
old ideals lost their appeal,
and our citizens pave the way,

cutting through red tape,
in an open and transparent way,
engaging our citizens every day,
(w00t! w00t! w00t!)
our champions are rising,
fighting the good fight,
What fun it is to laugh and sing a gov 2 song tonight,


Jingle bells,
Gov 1 smells,
Gov 2's here to stay,
old ideals lost their appeal,
and our citizens pave the way.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Column: Expect Casualties

I have undertaken a number of one-on-one conversations with people who work on web 2.0 initiatives in government and although our conversations were never exactly the same, some common themes emerged.

The feeling that we are experiencing a slow down of the viral growth of grassroots support is more widespread than we tend to admit publicly. Don’t get me wrong, we have champions working on a number of fronts, but we are still technically the early adopters of social media in government and securing mainstream support is difficult. Previously new faces are not so new anymore; they are more weathered and their stories take a more realist than idealist approach. At the very least I, and others, have noticed this change in behavior in my own dealings.

It tends to be the same players around the same tables, the digital watercooler has never felt more insular. I am going to come out here and make what I consider a bold statement - one that you will probably disagree with - but I believe that we may have reached the upper limit of the viral growth that web 2.0 initiatives in the public service have wrongly relied on. Our engagement strategy, if you can call it that, has been "if you build it they will come" and to some extent people have come. But my experience is that once the majority of people show up they have no idea what they are supposed to do so they slide back into their old routines.

I previously wrote about some of the difficulties of measuring the value of social media in government but in so doing maybe I jumped the gun. A discussion on measurement would require us to know how these technologies apply to our business and the more I look around, the more I see a deep lack of understanding as to how to employ these technologies outside the realm of external communications. My fear is that we are so focused on communicating with Canadians that we forget to pay attention to improving how we communicate with each other. In typical bureaucratic form, we are mired in a discussion about the potential of these tools to change the way we work rather than actively changing the way we work.

In an environment defined by tapered resource growth and increased demand for expertise we risk stretching our champions too far. I for one am severely over-committed and have had to pull back on a number of fronts. But as I look around at some of the other people who have been pulling this machine along, I sense that they too are tired and that their fatigue is slowly boiling into frustration, which is in turn causing them to begin to question why they continue to put in great efforts for little reward.

Trying to change the system means that none of your work is positively reinforced by those who adhere to its existing mindset. This puts some of our greatest champions, thinkers, and innovators, at risk of burnout. Being innovative is hard work, especially when the system is designed to slow you down and to push you to your limit in order to ensure maximum effectiveness while limiting liability and the misappropriation of resources. Finally, I think that public servants and Canadians alike are risking a lot here by relying on a very small community for big change and without leadership from the very top. The bureaucracy after all is built around hierarchy, and forging ahead without it makes it incredibly difficult to reintegrate our work when it comes time to actually take action, because it is never clear who should take action, or who should shoulder the risk. Given this set of conditions, I think it would be short-sighted to assume that everyone working on social media in government is going to make it through okay, and I think it would be naive if we didn't expect casualties.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Column: A Microcosm of the Public Service

I walked into the kitchen at work this week to make some popcorn (it was a pretty good day at the office) when something caught my eye on the very top shelf.

Sitting there, completely out of reach was a coffee maker with a note on it reading "Won't turn on".

For some reason, somewhere along the way that coffee maker just stopped working. The reason why isn't really discernible at first glance.

Everyone either knows it can't be repaired or isn't willing to try, but no one wanted to be the one to throw it out.

It could sit there in perpetuity, never producing anything of value, just occupying office space, it's duties already taken over by another.

How many times have you run into that coffee maker?

What, if anything, did you do about it?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update: 1-2-3

Hey all, I just wanted to share 1 innovative piece of work, 2 new blogs, and 3 books worth reading.

One Innovation

For those of on twitter you may have seen frustrations being expressed by public servants who wanted a GEDS directory that displayed properly on a mobile device. Well Shawn Hooper has taken a couple of hours to build it himself. Keep in mind it's beta and not endorsed but I have bookmarked the site on both my blackberries. Oh and it is available in both languages.

Kudos and thank you to Shawn!

Two Blogs

There are a couple of new public servant blogs on the block worth looking into:

Public Service of the Future by Colin Hoult and Serving Canadians by Kim Burnett.

Three Books

(1)Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Being someone who works with and generally loves the web I was pretty excited to read this book. After reading it I wasn't disappointed. Brogan and Smith named a lot of things that I was already doing in my role in the public service and gave me some new insights that I hadn't thought of yet. Think of Trust Agents as Scheming Virtuously in a non-public service web-based environment. That being said there were numerous times where I drew an easy parallel between Brogan and Smith's private sector examples and how we operate in the government of Canada. Looking back, one of the my favourite quotations (because of its implications) is this:

Look at this way: there's a tidal wave coming, and it's made of people. Some will run some and some will ignore it, but others will be ready and find a way to roll with it. Those who win are the ones who are always prepared; while some of people are hiding their heads in the sand, the winners are anticipating change and finding a ton of opportunities. You can be one of them. (p. 184)

I know first hand that being prepared and embracing that human tidal wave can lead to tremendous opportunity in government. Doing so makes you an instant leader in a culture where the majority of people still bury their heads in the sand.

(2)What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis

I must say that as someone who is interested in innovation this book completely blew my mind. There are tons of great examples that reinforced my belief that the public service could accomplish so much more if we shifted our culture away from one that was based on controlling scarcity to managing abundance (a core tenet of what Google does according to Jarvis). I have a couple (three actually) of awesome quotations that I want to share:

“When people can openly talk with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy.” (p. 102)

“They lost their destinies because they wanted to save their pasts. Protection is not a strategy for the future.” (p. 110)

(Note: in this final quotation Jarvis was speaking about students and education but I have edited the quotation in order to make it more directly applicable to the public service. Edits are denoted with “[]” brackets.)

“What if we told [public servants] that, like Google engineers, they should take one day a week for one course in term or one year [to] create something … [The public service] could act as an incubato, advising, pushing, nurturing their ideas and efforts. What would come of it? Great things and mediocre things. But it would for [public servants] to take greater responsibility for what they do and to break out of the straitjacket of uniformity. It would make them ask questions before they are told answers. It would reveal to them their own talents and needs. The skeptic will say that not every student is responsible enough to be a self starter. Perhaps. But how will we know [public servants'] capabilities to put them in a position to try? And why structure [the public service] for everyone around the lowest common denominator of a few?” (p. 212)

Nuff said.

(3)If We Can Put a Man on the Moon... Getting Big Things Done in Government by D. Eggers and John O'Leary

I just started this book but I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. The real life (American) examples hammer home the points with sufficient impact. I can already tell that this book is not about abstractions but rather about how to actually implement something to achieve an impact. I am only a few dozen pages in but just wanted to share this quote with you:

“Government and its work are more complicated than in the past as well. One hundred years ago, the cutting-edge innovation was the bureaucracy. The bureaucratic model of government served rather well for a long time, but as tasks and technology changed, so did the systems of government used to do its work. As public officials are discovering, approaches such as public-private partnerships and governing by network are far more complicated, from a systems perspective, than traditional bureaucratic operations. Our understanding of these increasingly complex arrangements hasn't kept pace with the reality of modern governance.”

If this book can help me in any way deal with these issues, and I have a feeling it will, it's will be well worth the read. If you are interested you might want to check out the interview the authors did with Adriel Hampton on Government 2.0 Radio.

I must also say that despite not having finished Man on the Moon yet (on about page 75) the synergy between the three books is incredibly interesting. Now they are by no means the same but I can see my thought processes building and interconnecting the ideas from all three of the books.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Update: Putting the Social in Social Media

Hi All - I just wanted to share the feedback I received from my presentation at the Advanced Learning Institute's Social Media in Government (SMGOV) conference here in Ottawa. The conference took place back in September. If you are interested, I posted the presentation here on my blog.

Moreover, I will be opening the next SMGOV Ottawa with an updated version of the my Putting the Social in Social Media talk. It has, in my mind become a much tighter presentation over time and I am looking forward to delivering the new one on March 2. Sadly I was also supposed to go out to do the same talk at SMGOV Edmonton but it looks like I no longer have the budget to do it, so if you are planning on attending the conference you have my sincerest apologies. There are however some great presentations on the lineup including friends of mine from the city of Edmonton, the province of Alberta and of course from the federal family.

All of that being said, what I am really interested is your reaction to the comments below, especially the one about my use of profanity. You may recall that I purposely dropped one f-bomb in a positive context about how much I love my job. Even despite the f-bomb my talk was rated a 4.86 out of 5 (not bad!) which put me tops on the list of presenters. Kudos everyone who rounded out the top 5, they were all great presentations.


(click to enlarge the scan - note you might have to click again to zoom in once you get to the picture)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Column: The Hierarchy - Innovation Trade-off Continued

Last week I shared a rudimentary model that illustrated what I perceived to be a trade-off between hierarchy and innovation during the progression of one’s career in the public service. The post elicited numerous insightful comments and initiated a couple of conversations offline. The model is something I am keeping in development for now, so your continued feedback is always appreciated, as too were your comments on the original model. In retrospect I should have explained my thought process a bit more clearly as there are a number of other related variables that could have been overlaid onto the diagram.

Risk varies along the distribution

I was having a conversation with my friend and fellow public servant Ralph Mercer this week, the discussion covered a lot of ground but we did discuss the model in some detail. One of the points he raised was about the variance of risk along the distribution. He was not the only one to bring it up. In fact one comment articulated it as follows:

[T]he constraint at the top is not hierarchy/operations, it is risk (risks of public perception, risks of safety/security/natural disasters/riots/economy), and since the stakes are so high, the degrees of freedom are fewer. At the lower levels, the risks of screwing up are lower and generally more tolerable.

I agree completely with both Ralph and DGTweets on this one. The risks at the top are greater than those at the bottom or even at the middle. Furthermore those risks become readily apparent when you see our most senior leaders go before parliamentary committees. In particular, the Clerk of the Privy Council’s recent appearance before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates provides an insightful example of how high-level risks (such as those pointed out in the comment) can impact one’s ability to be innovative. I for one used to half-joke about being the Clerk someday, but given what he had to go through in front of the committee, I am more likely to settle somewhere in the Pareto zone where I can enjoy a good balance of freedom to innovate and the authority to implement that innovation so long as my interests and what the organization asks of me continue to be in alignment. If this relationship is true then we can hypothesize that many public servants may choose to settle in similarly. Colloquial evidence of this already exists in my experience. In fact many of my contemporaries have already decided that they don’t want to move past the Pareto zone. Even if they haven’t invoked the analogy directly, my sense is that some of these considerations are coming to bare.

All of this of course begs the question of how to affect the overall distribution of the curve if people don't want to progress through the hierarchy for the reasons I have articulated above

If the risks are different based on relative hierarchy, so too must be the challenges

The same comment I quoted above goes on to argue that:

Hierarchy is not a thing, it is a behaviour. And this behaviour can be demonstrated at any level of the organization. I can assure you that the admin staff in a department has a definite hierarchy depending on who they support. Hierarchy is not perpetuated by level but by people who have a need for some command and control. I've seen leadership and innovation at the very top of the organization regardless of the pressures of running a country, regardless of their place in the “hierarchy”.

While I do agree with the underlying notion that innovation can take place anywhere in the organization, I believe that one’s relative position within the hierarchy determines the types of challenges public servants face when attempting to be innovative. For example public servants below the Pareto zone have incredible freedom (even if they don't recognize it) to try new things because their feet are not as readily held to the fire. However in order to innovate they require consensus because they lack authority for unilateral decision-making. On the other end, public servants after the zone have the authority to make decisions but are more bogged down in operations, stuck in daily high-level meetings, conducting ministerial briefings and generally face greater scrutiny for failures.

Given the variance in risk and challenges, how can we enable innovation from the top?

Again during my conversation with Ralph he mentioned something that caught my attention, he called it the culture of the blind eye. What I drew out of that conversation is that considerable innovation (and the development of leadership) can happen when those at the top of the organization purposely turn a blind eye to certain on-goings lower in the organization, on-goings that break or bend the rules, but that do so in the spirit of scheming virtuously. Scheming virtuously at the lowest levels of the organization grow through consensus and start to develop, gaining momentum while making their way through the system.

How can we enable innovation in the middle?

As ChristopherHyne points out, despite the greatest potential for innovation being in the Pareto zone it also seems to be the choke point for communication within organizations. I think that one of the reasons the Pareto zone is a choke point is because positions within that zone often require managing both upwards and downwards, balancing operational requirements, and taking on new responsibilities (innovation isn't innovation without action) usually without any new resources to dedicate thereto. The result of which is many competing priorities and finite resources within which to manage them. This is the primary reason why I think investing in our enterprise is so important. If we can find greater efficiencies, then we can free up time and resources to purposefully allot them to innovation at the middle level.

How can we enable innovation at the bottom?

Try to reshape the culture that teaches others to hoard unnecessarily, that over-classifies documents as secret, and that saves documents to closed departmental records and document management systems never to be opened again. Take advantage of the blind eye, purposeful or otherwise, scheme virtuously and embrace the ethos of open and the tools that help enable it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Column: The Hierarchy - Innovation Trade-off

[Update Nov. 23: Given some of the commentary I just wanted to reiterate a couple of points:

  • The model below is by no means an absolute.
  • You can in fact be innovative regardless of where you are on this career arc.
  • Pareto zone is meant to show where the greatest potential for innovation is, not where the innovation is.
Please read the comments, there is a great conversation happening]

--Original Column--

The diagram below is essentially a career arc for public servants that I have charted, overlaid onto a Pareto distribution. The y-axis represents a public servant's position within the hierarchical structure (and its typical underpinnings such as decision-making authority, time eaten up by operational requirements, and constraints on behaviour imposed by those requirements). The x-axis represents a public servant's ability to be innovative (and its typical underpinnings such as the need for consensus, safe time and space, and the freedom to act in those spaces. (Click the diagram for a full-size version)

I don't think I need to spend a whole lot of time here verbalizing the diagram (that's what makes diagrams so useful). What I will say is that the Pareto zone is by far the most advantageous place to be in given that you are closest to the Pareto optimum point where you have the freedom to be innovative and the authority to implement it. If you drift too far to the left you have the power but are so constrained by operational requirements that innovation becomes impossible; drift too far to the right and you have everything you need to be innovative except for the decision-making authority to actualize that innovation.

I strongly encourage you to not only leave comments, but to disagree. By no means is this meant to be an absolute model, just a reflection based on my experience in government thus far. On a side note you may want to read this post in which I also spoke about career progression in the public service.

Below is an editorial note from Mike that I wanted to share to start the flow of conversation:

On a somewhat related tangent, the diagram could also be a representation on the level of influence one has on government policy (and other things). For example the best zone in which to operate seems to be at the senior levels where the primary deliverable is advice and not the operational in nature. Moreover, to some extent The higher you move up the chain the greater your ability to dictate the agenda to some extent, but all are still largely working from the recommendations given by the senior analysts in their departments.

All that to say is, I’m not sure I completely agree with your diagram, though I don’t disagree with anything specifically – but I do find it interesting that it could in theory reflect the ability for public servants to influence their work.

---- Oh and for those not familiar with the jargon:

The progression on the diagram (from right to left)

Working Level
Middle Manager
Director General
Assistant Deputy Minister
Deputy Minister
Clerk of the Privy Council

Please let me know what you think!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Column: Lest We Forget

Given that Remembrance Day was this week, I just wanted to dedicate this column to those who risk more than any of us so that we can enjoy the freedoms many of us often take for granted.

To those brave men and women in uniform, I say thank you.

I say thank you because I care, and I say thank you because you've earned it.

To the public servants out there reading this column, I say this:
Given everything they have done and continue to do for us, I see no reason not to give 100% every day when we come in to work.

In fact, I would argue that anything less would be doing them disservice.

Lest we forget their sacrifices.

Lest we forget that those sacrifices are not owed to us.

Lest we forget we ought to earn them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Update: Busy Week, Lots to Do

Hey Everybody, there are a lot of great things going on this month that I just wanted to quickly draw your attention to.

First, in the month of "Movember" men everywhere take the opportunity to grow out their moustaches to help raise awareness (and money) to fight prostate cancer. To this end I have joined a team of my fellow public servants, cleverly titled Her Mo-jesty's Loyal Public Service. It is a great group of public servants and friends, one of whom - my brother Rumon - is even chronicling the month with daily photos. If you wish to make a donation it would be greatly appreciated. Now, if you have seen me recently you may have noticed that I have yet to convert to the "Mo", but I promise I will do it by the end of this week. For more on Movember feel free to have a gander at this video:

Second, Ignite is coming to Ottawa on Thursday, November 12. If I were you I would register immediately, show up promptly, and clap hella loud for my presentation: Public Service Renewal in 5 Minutes (Note: This will also be your last opportunity to see me prior to converting to the moustache for the rest of the month).

Third, I will be attending the 2nd Ottawa Timeraiser on Saturday, November 14th at the National Gallery of Canada. It is an innovative project that centres around a silent auction where people bid volunteer hours for local organizations. Great cause - I hope to see you there. There is a video below with more information.

Fourth, just a friendly reminder of that the 1st Case Study Jam is Thursday, November 19. Be there or be square.

Note: We just confirmed that the Canada@150 project will be sharing some of their findings about the use of new collaborative social media technologies within the public sector. It is going to be an awesome blend of some statistical analysis and user experience stories.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Column: From Practice to Practitioner

It is funny that a friend and colleague just blogged that she finished reading Bob Chartier's book, Bureaucratically Incorrect: Letters to a Young Public Servant.

You see, I met Bob about a year ago and, although we haven't been in direct communication much, we always get along smashingly - which is one of the reasons why I was very excited to open for him on the last day of the 2009 Alberta Managers' Learning and Development Forum in Calgary a couple of weeks ago. The other reason I was glad to speak ahead of him is that he is an impossible act to follow. If you have ever seen him speak, you know what I am talking about. In short, he is awesome and I consider it an honour to be able to speak on the same bill as him. What really did it for me was when he suggested (to the crowd) that he and I should embark on a speaking tour, which he affectionately dubbed "The Geezer and the Grasshopper".

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of the wisdom that Bob shared with the group in Calgary, blended with some of my own thoughts.

Moving from 10% to %100

At one point, Bob asked us to envision a public service where we each devoted only 10% of our time to "do our practice", whatever that practice is. We all have varying interests and skills, many of which are lost when we simply do what our job requires us to do. He asked what we thought the public service would look like if we all embraced our practice as an integral part of doing our job? If my interest is public service renewal, then shouldn’t I be encouraged to make contributions to it when I can? If your interest/expertise is in alternative dispute resolution, but you are an auditor (the example Bob used), you should be able to take some time to participate in the communities that practice your practice, that practice your passion. There are a lot of spectacular learning opportunities for public servants right here at home - within the public service - but the dominant mental model isn't one that recognizes the opportunity as an opportunity but rather paints the opportunity as a cost: the cost of not doing one's job for that period of time.

Bob went on to explain that if we were all able to move from investing 10% of our time in our practice to 100%, we would become practitioners. In doing so, we would all become more connected with our work. We would be more passionate about it. We would be at the place that David Irvine describes as the "sweet spot" - where our interests and our responsibilities to the organization overlap (Side note: I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking after David Irvine at the Alberta Human Resources Conference in Red Deer a couple of weeks ago). This is exactly what I mean when I show this picture in my presentations and tell people that this is how I feel about my job.

Career Evolution

Looking at the evolution of my career in the public service thus far, I can say with great certitude, that I have made the shift from practice to practitioner, I have found the sweet spot that Irvine refers to and I have to tell you it wasn't easy, but being there now is pretty f***ing awesome. The other thing I can say with certitude is that the time I have invested in my practice (prior to becoming a practitioner) has done at least as much, if not more, for my career than my substantive work. My practice delivered new opportunities that would otherwise be outside the purview of my substantive role. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that I haven’t learned anything on the job, because I have. What I am saying is that the daily tasks of one’s substantive position are generally more static and (so the theory goes) you have already demonstrated that you can do them (by winning a competition based on the skill set/expertise to actually do the work). Practice on the other hand is considerably more dynamic and has no preordained areas of responsibility. Practice can shift with your interests and as you discover other things, people and passions through the serendipitous nature of that discovery.

But making the transition from practice to practitioner is difficult (it took me over 3 years), but the work is worth the reward. In order to achieve that transformation, the first thing you need to do is realize that your practice is in fact not a cost but a contribution, a contribution that, in some non-traditional or currently immeasurable way helps improve your organization. The second thing you need to do is start to convince others of this very same thing. Start a conversation with your manager. Ask them how you can better align your passions with what the organization asks of you. Public servants, Bob says, are not only dying for this conversation, but also for the more genuine relationships that this conversation engenders. I think that this is why Bob sees communities of practice as the most powerful/transformational tool at the disposal of the public service. He sees them as a tool that grows sustainable leadership within the public service.

Why We Do What We Do

This is why I think that you are so important - that the community that has formed around this blog and the blogs of my fellow public servants, on twitter, LinkedIn, Govloop, GCPEDIA or GCConnex are so important.

What we are doing with all of these social media tools is having the conversations we were dying to have; connecting communities looking to forge better relationships and in so doing, growing more sustainable leadership.

What we need to do now is rally more people into these conversations, increase the number and quality of these relationships, and uncover more of the leaders buried under the weight of the bureaucracy.

Are you with me?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Column: A Personal Story of Renewal

Below you will find the audio/slide capture of a presentation I did in Vancouver at the Governexx Conference and again in Ottawa at PWGSC's National Youth Network Annual Forum. First I want to thank both groups for the invitation, it is always a pleasure to meet other public servants.

The presentation below is just over twenty (20) minutes and chronicles my personal story of renewal, explaining the challenges I faced when I entered, how I almost left the public service after one year, my decision to get more involved in my organization and in public service renewal more generally, and finally my call to action directed at others (leveraging that personal story), because "we" can do so much more than "me" ever could.

Feel free to watch the embedded video below, or grab it at the source. My apologies about the poor quality of the audio/video, but it is the best I have.

Warning: Viewer discretion is advised.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Update: Case Study Jam: What the Doers are Doing

Hey Everybody,

I just wanted to drop you all a quick note regarding a great opportunity for those of you interested in social media in Ottawa. On Thursday November 19th at 6pm the first Case Study Jam will take place at La Roma Restaurant (430 Preston).

[Proactive Disclosure: I am a very small part, of a great team heading up the Case Study Jam.]

The Jam is a free event inspired in part by a session held at ChangeCamp Ottawa by my friend and all around good guy Joe Boughner. Joe is the man behind the Association of Canadian Financial Officers (ACFO) use of social media to communicate more effectively with its members. You may recall that we did an interview with Joe about the unions efforts back in January.

So what is a Case Study Jam?

Case Study Jam is a place for communications practitioners to come together and share their stories – successes and failures. How are on-the-ground, front-line folks using social media and, more importantly, how are they integrating these tools into overall communications strategies and practices?

You can find more information about the Jam here.

Come'on out to the Jam and find out what the doers are doing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Column: The Three Laws of Open Public Servants

  1. If you don't act, you don't exist
  2. If you don't share, you can't engage
  3. If you can't act or share, you can't empower
Act, share and empower. That's what we want, and that is what public service renewal is at it's core.

(Note: This post was prompted by some great work done by David Eaves, namely the three laws of open government piece.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Column: False Assumptions About Working Openly

One of the cruelest ironies of the public service is that public servants are reticent to share while simultaneously pointing to poor communication and/or incomplete information as the biggest hindrance to their work. I hear about this irony almost daily, be it in anecdotal discourse with colleagues or appearing in more structured ways such as employee opinion surveys. What is most unfortunate about this cruel irony is that it makes certain web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, a difficult sell to many public servants, public servants who would otherwise have a lot to gain by using them. Sadly, and I don’t want to dissuade you here, but if David Eaves’ assessment of the hype cycle is correct, then it’s about to become a much harder sell.

The Push Back

Whenever I explain public service wikis to public servants the push-back is usually immediate: people are very much opposed to opening up their work in a manner that would make it readable by any other federal public servant (in the case of GCPEDIA) let alone editable.

The False Assumptions

However, I think that there are a number of false assumptions that people have about working in a more open manner. I say they are false assumptions because they are generally offered up by people who aren't working openly. With all due respect, who knows more about working in an open manner - those working in that manner, or those making excuses not to? Here are the assumptions:

  • Assumption #1: People are interested in your work enough to search for it
  • Assumption #2: Once they find it they will take the time to read it
  • Assumption #3: Once they read it they will likely decide to edit it
  • Assumption #4: Whatever edits/contributions they make will decrease the quality of your work

The Facts

Regarding the first assumption, my experience has been quite different. I am unfamiliar with the majority of the work going on inside GCPEDIA, as are most users, I suspect. What people are familiar with however is what they have either interest or expertise in. The messy nature of the wiki and the vast amount of information therein means that one can really only get to something that they are actively looking for.

As for the rest of the assumptions above, consider these statistics about the wiki version of Scheming Virtuously:

  • Created on December 9, 2008
  • 35th most viewed page in GCPEDIA (2,014 views)
  • Edited 5 times (I personally know each of the people who edited the page)
  • Less than 5 comments on the discussion page (again all from people I know)

The edits were as follows:
  • Categorized the page
  • Added a link
  • Fixed a grammatical error
  • Contributed two sentences of content
  • Recoded the entire document to make it more accessible for people using assistive technologies
Despite my best efforts to make Scheming a dynamic page that was envisioned to solicit input from other public servants it is essentially static. So, while people are viewing it, very few have decided to edit it, and those who did added substantial value to it.

The Relationship to Open Data

This little exercise got me thinking, is the reluctance faced by the open data movement built on similar assumptions, is the experience from practitioners as contradictory to those assumptions as in the case above?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Update: I was on Gov20Radio

Hey Everybody,

I am finally back in Ottawa after a week on the road. The road trip culminated in a guest spot on Gov20Radio with Adriel Hampton. The segment was entitled "Breaking the Boundaries of the Public Service".

We discussed my role in the Canadian Public Service, this blog (and some of its more popular posts), the Gov20 hype cycle, and Govloop North.

Feel free to have a listen and let me know what you think.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Column: Video from WiredCamp, but first...


I have been on the road this week and haven't been able to write anything. My talks went well and I am fortunate to have met many new, interesting and excited people. For those of you who listened to me this week, thanks so much for taking the time to connect. I also wanted to especially thank those who watched me struggle through my talk in Vancouver (I lost my voice by that point, it wasn't pretty). I know I talked about a lot of different things, so here are some links that you may find interesting:

Video from WiredCamp

Two weeks ago I shared my deck/speaking notes from my presentation at WiredCamp. Both of which pale in comparison to actually seeing the presentation delivered, thanks to Doug Bastien for the capture of this. (note if you are having trouble with the embedded video, try this link)

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Friday, October 2, 2009

Column: Putting the Social in Social Media

Here is the deck I used for my presentation at the Advanced Learning Institute's Social Media in Government conference. You can find out more about my presentation include a snapshot of the live tweeting about it by clicking here. Enjoy!

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

If you don't have the 30 minutes to watch it now you can always download the presentation and watch it later (redirects you a the site where you can download the AVI file); I have also made it available on Govloop if your firewall blocks (like mine does).

Last update, big h/t to @georgewenzel who macgyvered up a download link that should work.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Column: What I Learned at WiredCamp

This week I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in #wiredcamp, an event hosted by some of my friends in the Ontario Public Service. The event was styled as an unconference after the changecamp model (which I helped facilitate here in Ottawa and which Mike helped to document), and was aimed at:

[bringing] public servants of all stripes to together [to] answer the following questions:

  • How do we re-imagine government and public service in the age of participation?
  • What we can do to help make government more open and responsive?

To my knowledge it was the first of its kind to take place within the public service. Looking back on the day, I must say that it was a tremendous success. The participants were energized and the conversations engaging. I was happy to be afforded the opportunity to both meet some great people like Lisa Torjman, and see the likes of Mark Kuznicki and Elena Yunusov both of whom I hadn't seen since ChangeCamp Ottawa.

One of the things I really enjoyed was how the day began with four ignite-style presentations. Here is the lineup and my key takeaway from each:

  • Mark Kuznicki: Leaders are no longer command-and-control type people but those who thrive within communities; they are facilitators, they are enablers.
  • Lisa Torjman: The world is now driven by people. Enable them and they will carry your brand/message further than you ever could.
  • Nick Charney: Get your hands dirty and be creative. Stop focusing on how to stop things from happening and focus on how to make them happen.
  • David Tallan: When it comes to innovation, start small - under the radar. Make it seem harmless, then scale up to keep pace with success.
For those of you who don't know, ignite presentations are extremely challenging. They are 5 minute presentations where speakers have 20 slides, each automatically advancing every 15 seconds. This was the first I’ve ever done. I embedded my deck below and have attached my speaking notes as well. I wanted to capture the audio but didn't want to lose the momentum that Mark and Lisa had built up already. Doug told me he captured the video, and I will share the link if/when it finds its way onto the Internet.

If you are interested in knowing more about Wiredcamp or what was discussed in the breakout sessions please visit Most of what we did that day is captured there. In fact, the only thing that isn't is all the tremendous value we created simply by meeting with one another, serendipitously finding allies, and vowing to carry something out of the room with us.

Speaking of Action Items

At Wiredcamp I committed to taking the next step in establishing something akin to a Govloop North. This is something I have been working on quietly with some great people on the West Coast. We aren't exactly sure what that means or how it will come to fruition yet, but interest is building and our friends at Govloop have agreed to help in whatever way they can – awesome.

If you are interested in knowing more/participating in this endeavour please visit and contribute to the Govloop North group I have created over at Govloop.

My Presentation

Here is a PDF of my speaking notes for my presentation, which is embedded below.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the Road Again

Hey everyone, just wanted to give you a heads up regarding where I will be for the next month or so as I am fairly busy traveling and speaking. If you happen to be in the area and want to attend any of these sessions let me know and I will point you in the right direction. Similarly, if you wanted to discuss something while I am in your neck of the woods, please drop me a line. I am always happy to meet others with similar interests.

Upcoming Discussions:

  1. Public Servant Renewed (an Ignite-Style presentation), at WiredCamp, hosted by the Ontario Public Service, Toronto, September 22. (done now!)
  2. Putting the Social in Social Media, at the Social Media in Government Conference hosted by the Advanced Learning Institute in Ottawa, September 30.
  3. Scheming Virtuously, hosted by YMAGIN / HRSDC in Edmonton, October 5.
  4. Scheming Virtuously, hosted by the Alberta HR Community in Red Deer, October 7.
  5. Enabling the Web 2.0 Worker, hosted by the Alberta HR Community in Red Deer, October 7.
  6. Schemed Virtuously: A Personal Story of Public Service Renewal, at the 2009 Governexx Conference in Vancouver, October 8.
  7. Scheming Virtuously, hosted by PWGSC in Ottawa, October 19 (tentative).
  8. Enabling the Web 2.0 Worker, hosted by the National Managers Community in Calgary, October 21.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Update: No Column This Week


I will not be writing anything this week. My father lost his brother this week after a prolonged battle with cancer. I will be traveling with him to Windsor for the funeral.

Thank you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Column: Tactics Around the Table

Do you do enough to prepare for important meetings? Sure you may read the required reading and make sure you get there on time, make sure you know who else is coming, but how much effort do you really put into setting yourself up to be the person leading the charge coming out of the meeting?

You know the person I am talking about - the one who gets pulled into other related fora because the puller can sense her grit and determination; the one who people stick around to talk to after the meeting.

I'll be honest, if you don't want to be that person, this column may not be for you. If, however, you do want to be that person and want to take your game to the next level, then you may find some of what I am about to share useful. Furthermore, I know that this kind of preparatory work isn't warranted for every meeting you go to - it's up to you to decide which ones you should be putting the extra work into.

A word of caution: some of the language here is colloquial but as always, I am sharing this in the spirit of scheming virtuously. I know there is a lot at stake here, and I wouldn't want you to misconstrue my attempt to make this column entertaining as a gross simplification of what could be some very important lessons regarding tactics around the table.

Pre-Meeting Reconnaissance

As with anything, your preparatory work should start before you step into the meeting room. Of course you should read whatever documents are being presented, discussed, etc., but you should also be taking the time to figure out who all the players are around the table - who wrote what, what circles they run in, what they have influence over, how they relate to the other people around the table, and anything about their work history that may be helpful.

I am generally pretty good with keeping most of that type of information in the back of my head, but I am not afraid to bring it in writing to a meeting should I need to verify or contextualize something on the fly. If you choose to come prepared with these types of background materials it should probably look akin to a cheat sheet: small, cryptic, and not easily decipherable by a passerby.

Approach on Arrival

Whether or not you realize it, the dynamic of the meeting is always influenced by the physical arrangement of the meeting space and how people choose to make use of that space. You should aim to use both to your advantage whenever possible. There are a number of ways to do this, but my approach is to be one of the first to arrive. This provides me the opportunity to survey the space, talk to people as they arrive, and determine where I should sit based on how the room is filling up. This is a delicate balance because you don't want to get squeezed out.

You need to make some determinations about who you want to be able to see clearly around the table, who you want to be able to make eye contact with.

This may also give you an opportunity to defuse potentially adversarial situations by adopting a position next to the person you figure may take a contrary position (based on the work you’ve already done about who does what, etc.), or break up teams that are likely to have differences of opinions. Both of these actions can considerably shift the power dynamic away from the table, which easily lends itself to adversarial positions when looking across the table.

Likewise, if you are calling on allies, then you may want to position yourself in a way that calls them in from around the room. This provides people with a sense that your position is well supported around the table. The same amount of support, geographically concentrated at one spot around the table, is much easier to dismiss than support of equal magnitude that comes from all directions.

Mapping the Room

Sit down, draw the table, label the players and map out the interactions. Observe the people as much as the discussion, start to pay attention to body language because writing down exactly what people say is often far less important than writing down a key point and knowing who nodded in quiet agreement, who shook their heads in disagreement, who wrote down notes, and who didn’t.

Over time, these observations can paint a very detailed picture of how business proceeds (or doesn't proceed) around the table, and can provide tremendous insight in to how to maneuver within the relationships (amicable or adversarial) in a way that best ensures that your voice is heard and your opinions considered.

Making a Contribution

Make it good, use everything you have learned to your full advantage, and anticipate the responses of others.

Linger Afterwards

Make sure you are one of the last ones out of the room. Stall if you have to - gather your things slowly, check your blackberry - and allow people to come to you should they desire. Don't be afraid to time your elevator ride down to squeeze in a couple of words with a key person around the table. Often the meeting after the meeting is more important than the meeting itself.

Seek Feedback from Those You Trust

Don't be afraid to ask those you trust how you performed in the meeting: what you could work on, what worked, what didn't. They may be able to provide you with some useful feedback to help you streamline your approach or give you additional intelligence that will inform your actions at future meetings.

Rinse and Repeat

Remember this is an ongoing and iterative process, don't stop learning, applying that knowledge, and scheming virtuously.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Update: Gone Fishing, You Wanna Come?

Hey Everyone - just a quick heads up, today is my Birthday, and in honor thereof, I have decided to not publish anything this week (that and Mike is gone on vacation!)

Instead I would like to take the time to invite you out to raise a glass with me, this Friday, September 4th. Details can be found here.

Hope to see you there.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Column: Measuring the Value of Social Media in Government

The more time I spend examining the use of social media within government, the more I think that measuring the value it brings is a near impossible task.

I didn't think that way at first, rather, I thought that its value simply defied quantification. But the more I reflect on the situation the more I realize that we can’t quantify the value because we still rely heavily on traditional empirical standards. Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating doing away with empirical approaches but rather simply stating that social media is still so new to government that it would be premature to expect to accurately capture its value in a spreadsheet.

I am not really sure how to approach this line of reasoning, so please bear with me while I think a couple of examples through out loud.

For example, how does one measure the value that the single Government of Canada-wide wiki (GCPEDIA) created when I switched departments? Two important things happened while I was in that awkward position of awaiting transfer papers to be completed – you probably know the spot, the place where your new boss is anxious to get you rolling and your old boss is either trying to squeeze every last drop out of you or is otherwise ignoring you completely. First, since I had already fully integrated the wiki into how I was working, I was able to seamlessly carry over all of my ongoing research. This was incredibly valuable to both myself and my new department because I was working on similar issues (e.g. use of collaborative technologies in government). Second, I was able to physically start pulling the pieces together for my new role given that my predecessor had also fully integrated his work into the wiki.

So here is the dilemma: how does one articulate the value created by GCPEDIA in this example? It can never be a line item on a spreadsheet because, first, there is no easy way to attribute a dollar value to it, and second, because there is confusion over whose spreadsheet it should go on. Do we assign it to my previous employer who realized the benefits of me not having to spend as much time managing my departure and thus was able to continue to work right up until my last day? Do we assign it to my new department? Do we assign it to Treasury Board, who provided the tool that facilitated the creation of this value? All, in my opinion, very good questions.

A second (related) example: How do we measure the value of the National Inventory for Bridgeable Students, in the last 30 days, the most popular landing page within GCPEDIA? Again, this is something that simply could not have happened without GCPEDIA. So who does this inventory generate value for? Students? Hiring managers? In what department? Is it quantifiable?

I’ve got a little scheme, I hope you are interested

Like I said above, I am simply not comfortable with trying to quantify the value of social media within government yet, that being said, I am willing to qualify it. So in the spirit of purposeful story telling I would like to pull together as many of our stories as possible into a small package (which I will make available on GCPEDIA) that we can share with others so that they might better understand what we have accomplished and what we hope to continue to accomplish in the future. Moreover, if you have tried to use social media within the government and have found your effort fall flat, I would like to hear about that experience as well because there may be an opportunity there to do some learning.

I am looking forward to hearing form you.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Column: Enabling the Web 2.0 Worker

I am working on a presentation that, among other things, provides managers with strategic advice on how to enable Web 2.0 workers. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you. I would also like you to leave me your comments, given that you are Web 2.0 workers, around what would better enable you to do your job that I didn’t outline below?

Trust your employees with your IT resources

Provide your employees with unfiltered access to the Internet. If you want them to take full advantage of the richness of information available to them on the web, they need to be able to immerse themselves in the content. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to access something for work, only to be blocked by the firewall.

Once you have opened the door though, don’t let them wander the halls aimlessly. Have conversations about how we can make better use of the Internet, and in doing so, build a common understanding of what is appropriate and inappropriate use. Whatever you do, don’t misunderstand “common understanding” to mean “your understanding,” the learning here should flow both ways. Challenge them, and allow yourself to be challenged, because things are changing.

For example, think about the implications of this interesting statistic:

No one would dare tell someone they can’t go for a smoke, but people are told daily not to participate in social networking. Yes the two are different activities, but they can share certain social elements. Now I don’t want to get bogged down into an odd discussion about smoking versus social networking, but in my mind if you are allowing one and banning the other, you need to be able to articulate the differences because the truth of the matter is that social networking is far more popular (not to mention healthier!) than smoking

Make time to learn about social media / web 2.0 (and everything else that gets pulled in) with your employees

Social media offers new ways of working collaboratively, and that will take some getting used to. These types of tools are still new in the government and there is a lot of learning ahead.

You may initially feel that figuring out exactly how to interact with others and manage relationships in a virtual environment is challenging. Be open with one another and discuss issues with your colleagues as they arise. Remember that these tools offer tremendous opportunities to share with each other, break down silos, better engage our colleagues and to change our work culture for the better.

Moreover, unless you work specifically in the area, most of us likely don’t have a thorough understanding of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP), Official Languages (OL), Public Service Values and Ethics, Accessibility, etc. So why are we so quick to point our fingers at new collaborative technologies and declare that they will never work under these frameworks? I think that it is unfair to place the burden for that lack of understanding on the tools themselves because the tools don’t cause the problems; they only bring the problems to the forefront where they become considerably more prevalent. So discuss the implications of all of these frameworks when considering, designing, implementing and using new collaborative technologies, and be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, if there isn’t a zone of agreement between the two, that perhaps it is the frameworks that need modernizing not the tools that need antiquing (Oh and then don’t be afraid to step up and start working on updating whatever you have found to be in need of an update).

Give them the tools internally where it is safe to experiment

Behind the firewall is a lot safer than outside it. Inside there is coaching, learning and room to wiggle whereas outside there is media, public perception, and little room to maneuver. My advice to you is wherever possible, create conditions which are more likely to foster successful outcomes because if space behind the firewall isn’t provided people will ultimately venture outside it.

So provide the tools internally and encourage colleagues to learn how to use and appropriate the technologies to their work within the work context, and encourage them to be open and innovative in their approaches. Furthermore, don't punish them for failed attempts. There was probably a great deal of learning that lead to that failure, learning that may help you avoid mistakes in the future, and more importantly avoid them outside the firewall.

If someone in your organization proposes to implement a new or complimentary tool, encourage them to articulate their argument, to document it and champion it. This does a couple of things. The first is that it teaches the proponents about the processes involved in seeing something through while also (hopefully) building up their tenacity and resilience. It also provides everything you need when approaching senior managers for support. But in so doing make sure you take care in your approach because you want to be a virtuous schemer not a block in the system.

Finally when implementing, try to find a way to deploy quickly and at low cost, don't make them wait and don't spend millions, the technology changes too fast.

The truth of the matter is that what I am suggesting is by no means a novel approach, but simply taking full advantage of the opportunity that lies in using an established process to try to bring in something new.

If you make this a war, it will be a war of attrition, one where everyone loses

Focus on the attitudes you want to foster within the workplace without getting caught up in generalizations based on generations or you risk alienating people. The last thing the public service needs is more alienation.

Your Thoughts?

Again, please leave me your thoughts; they will ultimately help me provide better advice to others. Thanks in advance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Update: Come Check Me Out August 26 in the NCR (Part II)

Hey Everyone,

For those of you who got in contact with me about the Scheming Virtuously presentation on Aug 26 in the NCR thanks for your interest. The presentation will be going ahead, it is taking place at 11:00 am at Place du Portage in Gatineau. Only one small problem, the room only accommodates 10 people, and I have more than 10 RSVPs.


I will contact you each individually to let you know if you will be able to attend or not. For those of you whom I have to say no to I apologize and would encourage you to keep your eyes on the blog for a second opportunity. I have also arranged to get a video recording of the presentation, so if everything goes well you will be able to view it (and share it) right here on the blog.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Column: Sometimes You Strike Out

This is more of an unfinished thought than a full out post, and given the context, perhaps that is more fitting.

One thing that I’ve learned repeatedly during my time in government is that you can't always knock it out of the park, especially come summertime.

Vacations, on top of vacations, on top of vacations make it incredibly difficult to hit that home run. Generally speaking, one of two things happen: either the people you need to work with aren't around when you need to work with them (which includes yourself) or you get swamped because you're expected to cover off other people's work during what is supposed to be the "slow period".

I have experienced both this summer. First, I've been caught in the out of office loop. You know what I'm talking about, you send an e-mail to someone in your department whose out of office reply points you to another person, whose out of office reply then points to another person, whose out of office reply points back to the first person you sent the e-mail to. Second, I have been asked to cover off work that I didn't anticipate and that took away from the time I needed to be able to do my own work.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming anyone for taking vacation, nor am I complaining about having to do some additional work. What I am saying is that it can sometimes make things more difficult, and that perhaps we need to do a better job of collectively managing and scheduling our vacation time while making better use of summer students who are sometimes, but not always, underworked.

I wish I had some good pieces of advice to share but the truth is sometimes you strike out, and despite being ready to stand and deliver, for me this is just one of those times.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Update: Come Check Me Out August 26 in the NCR

Hey Everybody - just a heads up that I will be doing my Scheming Virtuously presentation for HRSDC on August 26 in Gatineau (Ottawa / National Capital Region). When discussing the logistics I asked that they provide the opportunity for people outside the department to participate as well.

So, if you are so inclined to come, please let me know. I would love for you to take in the presentation, share your thoughts and insights, and have a conversation about how we can all scheme a little more virtuously.

So, send me an email, leave me a comment, or send me a tweet indicating your interest. I need to build a list of people who plan on attending and provide it to the organizer. Please signal your interest to me before Wednesday August 19.

Once I have a complete list and the details re:time/location I will share them here and via email and twitter.

(If you have already let me know via one of these mechanisms consider yourself on the list)


Friday, August 7, 2009

Weekly Column: The Evolution Will Be Social-ized

This column was inspired by Gil Scott-Heron's famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. I have embedded a video below and you can get the official lyrics here. What you will find below the video is my rendition, which I lovingly call, The Evolution Will Be Social-ized.

The Evolution Will Be Social-ized

You will not be able to maintain the status quo
You will not be able to unplug, turn off, or silo up
You will not be able to lose touch with your citizens
Nor keep your approaches rooted in aging norms
Because the evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will be social-ized
The evolution will not be brought to you by procurement
Out of the box can't fix outside the box
True solutions lie not with the companies
Making profits from the sales of technologies
While the tools change from day to day
Underlying behaviours are here to stay
The evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will not be handed to you by the
Deputy Minister, the Assistant, or the Secretariat
Although we hope they play a role
The evolution will help us collaborate
The evolution will help us communicate
The evolution will position you in the global marketplace
For talent, because the evolution will be social-ized

There will be plenty of pictures of you and other champions
Spreading the word at every turn, employing the soft talk or rant
Or celebrating the small victories that are so damned important
Remember that telling these stories is essential
To release our social potential
Because the evolution will be social-ized

There will be no pictures of the obstacles
Getting in our way.
There will be no pictures of the obstacles
Getting in our way.
There will be no pictures of those who breed division
Nor those who take the time to speak but not listen.
There will be no slowing us down now
Soon you will run out of time to learn how
To engage in this new world, stop hesitating
Things are almost in full swing

Hierarchies, closed communications, and knowledge
As power will no longer be so damned relevant, and
We can work together without the need for territory
While fear of reprisal ceases to be obligatory
Not to mention good ideas dead in the water
Closed systems, formerly leading them to slaughter
The evolution will be social-ized

There will be no more clockwatching from 9-5
The rules change, and now it is the open who survive
Bureaucracy can no longer be blamed for our woes
We are starting to see what is right before our nose
The paradigm has shifted, continued relevance
Is simply not something we can leave to chance
The evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will not, die, fizzle or fade
Real people, real outcomes, not a game to be played
Stakeholders on all sides, inside and out
Changes so fundamental from within and without
The evolution will loosen a tight grip
The evolution will enable new leadership
The evolution will put the onus on us all

The evolution will be social-ized, will be social-ized
will be social-ized, will be social-ized
The evolution is no longer the frontier
The evolution is here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekly Column: Purposeful Story Telling

A couple of weeks ago I posted a link on twitter to a blog entry entitled "A Good Way to Change the Corporate Culture" written by Peter Bregman over at

The essence of the article is that if you want to change the culture of an organization, you need to start changing its stories. I urge you to read it because the more I reflected on the article within the context of the public service the more I thought that its core message was bang on.

Defining Our Culture

The article linked to above reminded me of something so fundamental about the formation of culture; something I have known for a long time yet only hinted at in my previous writings (as opposed to being the explicit subject thereof).

That something is this: the culture of the public service is not defined by the rules, the hierarchy, or the paperwork but by how we have interacted, and continue to interact, with these (and other) things. More specifically, culture is defined by how we and others talk about our dealings with these things. Once we realize this we understand that we actually have a tremendous amount of power over our surroundings.

Changing the Work Culture

If you want to work in a different type of culture, then share the stories that reinforce that type of culture and refuse to repeat the ones that work against it. Be more aware of your interactions with others and their implications when taken in the aggregate.

Take this blog for example, it and everything I think it represents (grassroots participation in Canadian Public Service Renewal) has taken on a meme of its own, but how did you find out about it?

Chances are you didn't find it in a search (less than 5% of our total traffic comes from search engines). Either someone you know told you about it, or another site you read/trust referred you here. Culture, and our ability to influence it, works in much the same way.

Culture grows organically and CPSRenewal, which includes both its writer, editor, and readers, is simply another contributing factor to the growth of that culture. I need only to look back at the discussion that followed our last post for evidence that it is stimulating genuine dialogue among interested and engaged public servants.

Call to Action

I have a small favour to ask each and every one of you. In the coming week, think about a story you want to share, one that reinforces the culture you want to work in, and share it with someone else (and while you are at it, leave it as a comment on this post).

But please, if you can, share it with someone who is still on the fence, help them come down, because if we want to shape the way we work and relate to one another within the public service - if we want to shape the culture - then we must be more purposeful when we tell the stories that promote the one we want to work in.

[Aside: If you don't think you are ready to be more purposeful in your story telling, simply share the link to this site with them, maybe we can convince them.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekly Column: Territory or Synergy in Government 2.0

These last couple of weeks have been interesting ones for me. I won't bore you with the more mundane details, but suffice it to say that the conversations that have been taking place have covered the full spectrum of issues around collaborative technologies, governance, and culture, and have included people from all classifications, levels, and subject areas.

The sum of these conversations has made one thing abundantly clear. It informed last week's column, and this week’s column endeavours to flesh it out in more detail. It is this:

As we embark on this journey towards Government 2.0, public servants who have built, who are building, and who will attempt to build their careers by staking out their territory and defending it vehemently (‘territorialists’) will ultimately clash with those who have built, who are building and who will build their careers by seeking out synergies and capitalizing on opportunities, irrespective of those territorial boundaries (‘synergists’).

I won’t call it a culture war. That analogy doesn't sit right with me because rarely does it add value. It is much more apt to promote division (real or otherwise) than anything else. Besides, there are way better analogies and/or pop culture references out there. We don't have a war raging, what we've got here is a failure to communicate.

Furthermore, both sides are responsible for this communication breakdown as neither side is communicating effectively with one another. Truth be told, I would actually argue that the two sides don't even speak the same language.

I myself have run into a couple of situations recently where I could do nothing else but walk out shaking my head. I am physically incapable of truly understanding why someone would defend their territory so vehemently to the point of misconstruing my offer to help as a threat to their continued relevance. Personally, I have so much on my plate on a daily basis that I welcome whatever help I can get.

From where I sit (admittedly, firmly in the synergist camp) I think that, ultimately, those who orient themselves and their careers towards opportunities irrespective of territory will eventually "win out" over those who focus on territory irrespective of opportunity. What started as a slow shift in the underlying public service culture is now being sped up exponentially by the powerful accelerant we call web 2.0 (social media and collaborative technologies). In this kind of environment, it is incredibly difficult to build a fence around something.

The logical conclusion for me is that, as this evolution continues, the ground will continue to shift in new and unexpected ways. Those who are going to be successful in this world will be those with the broadest base of transferable skills, those willing to move around and try new things, those who are connected to the larger issues that transcend functional or jurisdictional areas. In short, the rules of the game are changing and synergy is the new territory; and most importantly it is a territory that no one can build a fence around.