Monday, April 27, 2009

Round Up: Information from the Inside, Blogs We Like, and We Need Your Input

Information from the Inside

Neat info on the Innovation Challenge c/o CISTI Lab. You can view some of the entries' presentations on slideshare, I would encourage you to check out the winning entry at the very least. Well done!

This report, entitled Profile of the Information Specialist is a great resource for anyone interested in Information Management/Information Technology inside the Government of Canada (c/o Library and Archives Canada with a h/t to @pdesrochers for the link.

Blogs We Like

Peter Smith sums it up nicely with his post, This is What You Are Up Against. I really love Peter's ability to just parse out the information in the exact amount that is needed, there is never any fluff, just solid material.

While David Eaves wrote: What the post-bureaucratic era will mean for the public service.

And Etienne Laliberte (now on Twitter) responded to last week's column (make sure you read the comments), you can read his thoughts here.

We Need Your Input

Have you ever wanted to contribute a task team set up by the Clerk of the Privy Council? Here is your chance. I have been invited to sit on a task team being chaired by a Deputy Minister (at the request of the Clerk). Click here to see more details and how to contribute.

Also, Douglas Bastien would like you to hit up GCPEDIA and fill in some information on how your department is blocking your access to the internet.

Cheers, (and thanks to everyone who posts a comment here or gets me via twitter. Your input is appreciated.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekly Column: New Thoughts from an Early Adopter

The first time I came across the work of Andrew Keen I was watching The Agenda with Steve Paikin. I recently picked up a copy of Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture. Thus far I must say I find it a very interesting read.

However, rather then offering you my own admittedly amateurish review of the book, I will instead point you to what Keen would most likely call an authoritative source (e.g. The New York Times):

Mr. Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

I may not totally agree with everything Keen argues in his book, but I think the conversation he has started is a very important one - one that I think we have yet to have in earnest behind the government firewall. Keen is an admitted elitist and is very concerned with the erosion of professional classes and the mass amateurization of content creation that is only possible given the spread of Web 2.0. Keen’s focus is private enterprise, but some of what he says makes sense within the context of the public sector, and to be honest, his book has me thinking about some new – or at least different - things. Given my tendency for social media evangelization, you may think that,some of these questions may seem totally out of character for me to ask, but I think an essential part of learning is considering more than one side of an argument. To that end, I ask a lot of questions below, and I hope that you can help me find some answers.

Looking Around the Digital Water Cooler

I want to share some quotations from Keen's book and then use them as points of discussion. These are excerpts that made me, wearing my public servant hat, dog-ear the page:

“... we use the Web to confirm our own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies. Bloggers today are forming aggregated communities of like-minded amateur journalists … where they congregate in self-congratulatory clusters. They are the digital equivalent of online gated communities where all the people have identical views and the whole conversation is mirrored in a way that is reassuringly familiar. It's a dangerous form of digital narcissism; the only conversations we want to hear are those with ourselves and those like us.”

As I look around the social media and government digital water cooler I see a lot of familiar faces. Those who are currently involved have both feet wet, or are moving in that direction. However, we are the early adopters, and I think we often forget that. We forget that we really are just on the cusp of this mysterious and ever-evolving confluence of social media and government. Yet we never forget to point to each other’s successes in a somewhat congratulatory fashion, or share the latest and greatest piece of writing that bolsters our position.

Are we investing similar amounts of energy in examining counter-arguments? I will fully admit that I am guilty of not, which begs the question: what are we risking by not engaging in discussions with those who would argue against us? We social media types always focus on the importance of the conversation, but what happens if that conversation is one that is contrary to the very goals of social media? We often spend so much energy convincing people (non-early adopters) to listen to us; perhaps we have forgotten to listen to them?

Professional Classes and GCPEDIA

“Becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a musician, a journalist, or an engineer requires a significant investment of one's life in education and training, countless auditions or entrance and certifying exams, and commitment to a career of hard work and long hours. A professional writer spends years mastering or refining his or her craft in an effort to be recognized by a seasoned universe of editors, agents, critics, and consumers, as someone worth reading and paying attention to. Those in movie industry submit long hours, harried schedules, and insane pressure to create a product that will generate profit in a business in which expenses are high and hits unpredictable. Can the cult of the noble amateur really expect to bypass all this and do a better job?”

The same can be said about public servants – they invest in building their skills similarly, and have traditionally profited from doing so. This is evidenced by the current competency-based group-level classification structure. Those at the top have presumably refined their skills over the long haul to get there.

I never really understood how my fellow public servants could fail to see the value in GCPEDIA until now. Our new found potential for collaboration is truly spectacular, yet I have had many conversations with people who are opposed to integrating GCPEDIA into their business because, they say, they lose control over the process and the product. They are probably right. GCPEDIA represents a huge paradigm shift in how we do business in the government. That is why I think that David Eaves is right to say that:

"This transition - the movement from a public service that is opaque by 21st century standards to one that is transparent is going to be gut-wrenching, challenging and painful, not because it isn't technically possible, but because it is going to require reversing 200 years of culture, values and modes of operation that are embedded within the public service and deeply embedded within the political class. This isn't to say that the transition will erode the power or influence of these groups, it won't. But it will be different, and that in of itself is often scary enough to create resistance and a painful transition."

GCPEDIA challenges those deeply embedded values and modes of operation within the professional class. Note the difference. In the quotation above, Eaves references the political class, but I truly think that one of the key issues moving forward is understanding how GCPEDIA challenges the professional class structure of public servants.

GCPEDIA has awesome collaborative potential, and one of the reasons it has that potential is because it circumvents hierarchical reporting structures and organizational boundaries. Yet, if the professional class structure is being challenged, then so too must be the authority of the subject matter experts whom have built their careers along the “old paradigm”. These are the very same people whose are touted as irreplaceable by their organization, and often targeted by knowledge capture efforts prior to retirement. There is an odd juxtaposition here that I can’t quite put my finger on, a juxtaposition that has me feeling a bit apprehensive.

Thinking Through the Apprehension

Is our current professional classification system analogous to Keen’s description below?

“... to maintain their value, high-end clothing and cars and electronic equipment require not only great design and great engineering, but mystery and scarcity. What [others] call 'participation in design', I argue, lessens the real value of innovation. Are great designs truly that easy to create?”

I am not entirely sure. My intuition tells me that innovation should be fostered at all levels. But, my intuition also tells me that moving from idea to implementation may require something more. It may require the steady hand of a public servant – one who has built their career slowly and determinedly by investing in their skills over time.

If Keen's book has done nothing else for me, it has helped me understand the importance of examining what happens to professional class structure (e.g. occupational groups and levels based on demonstrable competencies) when we start to break down the silos. While we all tend to recognize the need for greater collaboration, I don't think we have a handle on how, or to what degree, new collaborative approaches (e.g. GCPEDIA) will fundamentally change the nature of how we do business.

Maybe it is time we all gave that a little more thought.

Aside about Keen

While I was sitting down to write this column, I asked Keen a question via twitter:

To which he replied:

You can click here if you’re interested in watching the interview he pointed me to.

I also just wanted to say that I followed up my tweet with an email, to which Keen quickly replied. I’d asked him if he had any thoughts on what I was thinking (laid out above). Without reproducing the email exchange, he called my points “fair” and affirmed the importance of giving them more thought in his next book.

Thanks Andrew.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Update Reloaded: Deck from Career Bootcamp 2009 and Thanks for all the Retweets

My Deck

I just wanted to share the deck I used during my talk at Career Bootcamp 2009 with all of you. Here it is below. Keep in mind that some of the slides have animation, etc. So if it looks a touch confusing on slideshare it is because it looks awesome in person.

UPDATE: Here is the audio. Note I couldn't sync up the audio and slides so you will have to navigate them at your own.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

If you were there then you know that I recorded the audio from my talk (as I do w/all my presentations). If there is demand then I can create an audio cast to accompany the slides. Leave me a comment or tweet me to signal interest... I don't think I said anything too controversial.

Did I?

My Thanks

Last week's column - How I use Twitter to be a Better Public Servant - got a fair bit of retweets (RT) on twitter, and a number of retweets outside my initial network (including some other tweets without the RT @nickcharney). I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who read it and found it useful. I think it demonstrated how to create value from twitter even without having an account (by pairing advanced searches and RSS readers to find information). If you haven't read it, scroll down or click here.

Friday, April 17, 2009 Weekly Column: How I Use Twitter to be a Better Public Servant

This afternoon I am speaking at Career Bootcamp 2009 to discuss the use of social media as a means for professional networking. While I delve briefly into the transformative nature of these tools (h/t @Cedgell for pointing out that maybe I should do that), a large part of my discussion revolves around how I use twitter to be a more effective public servant. So in the spirit of avoiding too much duplication, this week's column will cover some of what I am saying in my presentation, less the witty banter that will (hopefully) make it so engaging.

That being said, if you are attending my session, you may want to wait and read this afterwards, otherwise you will spoil the fun.

Connect w/Public Servants

I have been able to use twitter to more easily connect with other public servants outside my department that I might not have otherwise been able to connect with. These are people who work for other departments, often on very different files of my own, but these are also people with whom I share certain commonalities. The most striking for me is that these are people whose default setting is to share.

One of the interesting things about using twitter to interact with other public servants is that the hierarchical norms of groups and levels inherent within the organizational reporting structure simply do not exist. This is just my assessment, but there is something unmistakably genuine about my communications with others using twitter.

Nowhere are you more likely to be heralded as a creative genius, called a spade if you are one, or be completely ignored altogether. Twitter is what you make of it, and it can be more then just short burst instant messages about the random musings in your day. It is a medium where you can share, build relationships across organizations (or their hierarchies) and, in so doing create value for yourself and others without incurring any costs to you or your organization. I am not saying that there isn’t a fair amount of noise on twitter, there is, but it is fairly easy to avoid, don’t follow people who aren’t giving you what you need.

I feel as though the open nature of Twitter is one possible future face of the public service. One that could help dispel a lot of the rumour that makes bureaucracy jokes so fashionable and easy. Any citizen who wanted to see what I was working on could just take a look at my stream.

Connect with Communities of Practice

I have been able to leverage Twitter to connect with knowledge management (KM) communities of practice (KM is my day job). The community is wide-ranging and I am admittedly more of a passive observer than anything. That being said, I have learned a great deal from simply listening to and reading what they are reading and writing about.

How did I find them? I did two simple searches (via an advanced search on (1) knowledge management, and (2) KM. I quickly found a group of people tweeting about it and providing links to resources. I also quickly found their hashtag (#KM). At which point I simply tweeted:

Within minutes of my tweet, I had a number of people contact me with suggestions for people to follow, blogs to visit, journals to read, and a host of other related links. Knowing and using hashtags is so important for filtering information. The great thing about them is that other people are already following them. The #KM community is already listening to people tagging their tweets. Finding the community was never so easy.

Listen for the Retweet (RT)

I mentioned above that I was a more passive observer amongst the #KM community. But that doesn't mean I am not listening attentively. One of the best ways I have found to filter Twitter community chatter is by employing targeted RSS feeds.

For example, I have an RSS feed that delivers me all of the tweets that meet these criteria:

  1. contains the #KM hashtag
  2. contains a link
  3. contains the word "RT" in it (no quotes)

Essentially, this gives me direct access to any link on knowledge management being retweeted (RT) on twitter. Following retweets is an easy way to see what members of the community have determined to be valuable. It’s like a form of peer-review: someone tweets something to their followers, one of those followers determines that the tweet is interesting enough to share (i.e. retweet) with their followers, and so on. If a link isn't worth retweeting, then it may not be worth reading.

The result is that I get the links about knowledge management that float to the top. Sure I might miss a lot, but given the breadth and depth of information out there, who isn't? Furthermore it ensures that I can see what the community is reading, then I simply make the choice to do the reading or not by assessing whether it makes sense given the context of my work. Once I tapped into this community using this method, I stopped doing my own research because the community was doing it for me. As long as they remain active, I can focus my time elsewhere while continuing to collect dividends on their work. Likewise, when I retweet something I am endorsing a piece of information and providing the same service for other people.

Monitor Chatter about my Department (et al)

While I am using my #KM feed as an example, I have a variety of other feeds that I use in this manner; and am always ready to expand (or contract) my feeds (or my follows) as they become more or less useful.

I have RSS feeds in place to monitor anyone tweeting about my department (all three variants: Service Canada, HRSDC and Labour Program). I see all of the complaints and compliments that my department may not be officially monitoring.

I also use RSS feeds to listen in on what people are up to on GCPEDIA, #changecampottawa and other projects I am involved in or couldn't otherwise be personally involved in.

Tweet Now, Read Later

I am essentially using twitter as a form of personal knowledge management (#PKM). I often run into things that I want to read but just don't have the time immediately available. If that info is already in my RSS reader, there isn't a problem because I can get to it eventually. If it isn't I simply tweet the link and its title.

Later on I can simply run a search on my tweets that contain links. When appropriate I hashtag them (e.g. #cpsr = Canadian public service renewal; #gov20 = government 2.0; or #KM = knowledge management) so that I, or anyone else looking at my stream can more easily filter the information, and get a quick understanding of what the link is about.

Twitter is more than

By now I am sure that you have the sense that Twitter is about much more than their flaky (but endearingly simple) looking website.

I rely on RSS feeds to aggregate the wide variety of information I need delivered to a single place (Google Reader). If you aren't already using RSS feeds then this post should have at least turned you on to their potential. (For more information on RSS and how to use it, you could just Google it).

I also use tweetdeck - just one of a number of applications that interface with twitter to allow greater control and flexibility. One of the key reasons I use it is because it allows you to group the people you follow.

Grouping people helps me divide up my attention accordingly. For example, I created a group within Tweetdeck that is only public servants. I pay more attention to this group than any other. I reply to all tweets in this group, I don't hesitate to jump into the conversation, and perhaps most importantly I have come to expect a response when I engage with someone in this group. For those same reasons, two other lists I am building are (1) people who live in Ottawa, and (2) people with whom I have actually engaged in a discussion via twitter or elsewhere.


By now I am certain that you are tired of reading my twitter love in, but I have made it work for me - which is the most important reason to use it. It helps me accomplish what I am seeking to accomplish. If it didn't why would I bother?

Wait was that last statement a rhetorical question, or a cleverly veiled attempt to get you to question why you do things the way you do them now? Probably the latter.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Round Up: Waking Up Canadian, National Inventory of Bridgeable Students, a friend in need, and more!

Let me open with congratulating @RobWiebe on this great usage of social media in government communications. Both my daughter and I thought it was fabulous, but perhaps we were a little biased. I encourage you to watch the video, pass it along and leave a comment on the youtube channel.

Hopefully you don't fall victim to the cruel irony of not being able to view it behind your departmental firewall like I do.

National Inventory of Bridgeable Students now in GCPEDIA

I have created a National Inventory for Bridgeable Students (NIBS) which can be found here on GCPEDIA. The french is most likely deplorable, but it is there. Have a look and feel free to improve the page or add to the discussion. I have no idea if this will work but it is worth a shot.

Did I mention yet that I love the transformative power of GCPEDIA? If I wanted to roll this out government wide prior to GCPEDIA what would I do? Where would I go? Who would I ask ...

... and if I wanted to do it after GCPEDIA? Well I would create the page, in GCPEDIA, and I wouldn't have to ask anyone... oh wait, that is exactly what I did.

A friend in need

Etienne is looking to help out a friend of his who is looking for federal public service managers w/5 years of experience and 20 employees to do a 60 minute phone interview. Go check out his blog post for more details.

Unofficial Musings

Here is an interesting site that that is built on an interesting concept and is well executed. I wonder what the critical reception. I would also kill to see the even the most basic metrics on the site. [h/t to @spaghetti_p]

Canadian government communicators will be interested in this paper on political control of communications entitled Who is Getting the Message? Communications at the Centre of Government [h/t to @canuckflack]

If you are interested in the concept of "Open Government" you may want to check this out.

Ever wonder about that Canada@150 project that we all got screened out of (at least I, and everyone I know did)? Why not check out these videos on youtube. Not sure how "official" these are but they are there nonetheless.

Looking for some disruptive ideas? You may want to check this out, but remember you didn't get the url from me.

I am not sure if this blogger wanted to get noticed or not but here s/he is... although the last post was back on February 9th.

Speaking of random blog posts, I also found this little gem entitled Public Service Renewal, from the makers of MAFs and DPRs

Official Publications (Canadian and Otherwise)

How Canadians' Use of the Internet Affects Social Life and Civic Participation Annual Report c/o Statscan. Statscan also maintains a page on public service renewal that I hadn't seen until recently.

07-08: Public Opinion Research in Government of Canada c/o Public Works.

Australians' use and satisfaction with e-government services—2008 c/o the Australian Department of Finance and Deregulation.

Advanced Learning Institute's Social Media for Government (in Edmonton)

I will be speaking at #ALI's Social Media for Government conference in #YEG in June, details below. If you are in the Edmonton area and wish to attend the conference fire me an email, I have a promo code for you to shave some dough off the sticker price.

My session is entitled, Putting the Social in Social Media: How to Engage Your Employees before you Engage the Public

In that spirit, just a heads up that this week's column is shares how I use twitter to be a better public servants. It attempts to cover some of what I will cover in my presentation at Career Bootcamp 2009 (Sorry I don't have a link for that handy, but search GCPEDIA and you will find it).


Thursday, April 9, 2009 weekly column: Happy Easter and not much more

This being Easter weekend, I’m keeping this one somewhat pointed. Truth be told, I scrapped the column I had planned because it just didn't offer anything valuable to you. In the end I had to make a decision, so I followed Seth's advice.

With that, thanks to everyone who takes the time to visit our site, read us in their RSS.

If you have any questions or would like us to write about an issue, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Moreover if you would like to share your experiences with others in this space we would be happy to help you publish your own column right here on this blog - anonymously or otherwise.

Cheers and Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009 Weekly Column: Career Paths

I had a whirlwind week last week; but one thing that really stuck out for me was a conversation I had with Amanda Parr. Over the course of our discussion Amanda asked me where I saw my future in the public service. It was a question to which I don't yet have a good answer; and truth be told I haven't been aggressively pursuing promotions as of late. In fact I am routinely being screened in only to pass on the opportunity to write the exam because I feel as though my time is often better spent elsewhere.

But what really got me thinking wasn't her question so much as her assessment of where I could be, or what I could do in order to have the largest impact on the public service.

Having had the opportunity to meet and converse with both Don Drummond on the way to Toronto and my Deputy Minister (DM) on the way back to Ottawa, I began to invest more thought into the question of where I saw myself down the line and of the type of impact I would want to make.

But before sharing my thoughts, I just wanted to say how incredibly brilliant these two people are and to thank them (again) for the opportunity to dialogue with them.

I truly believe that senior managers and working-level employees have completely different experiences of their daily work lives within the government. I know that you may think it an obvious point to make, but it is an important one that I never explicitly understood as of yet.

I am not trying to say that one experience is more or less real than another or more or less important - only different. Furthermore, I think that within this difference, public servants draw satisfaction and derive meaning from their work in unique ways.

So where is the best place for someone like me in the public service?

Well I think I am slowly finding it. Understanding exactly where I want to be requires a lot of introspection: getting to know my talents, my shortfalls, my likes and dislikes. All of these things impact my decision on where to go and where to stay within the public service.

During my conversation with my DM she asked me if/why I wanted to be an executive in the public service. The more I thought about the question, the fewer reasons I had to want to be an executive. Essentially what I am trying to say, and what I wish I'd told her, is that right now I am simply not in a place where I could draw personal satisfaction from that experience of work. Furthermore I think that a renewed public service is one that helps people identify how they derive meaning from their work and help them to find the work that can best deliver that meaning. This is a fundamental pillar of any engaged and effective public service.

So for me, for now, I am more then happy trying to engage other public servants within my organization during my day job and engage public servants across the country in my night job. I said in my presentation in Toronto that I firmly believe that you can lead from anywhere in your organization if you are willing to lead from the back. I also said that if your only motivation to lead comes from your desire to be out in front, then you probably aren't going to be a very effective leader.

Personally, I'm not yet ready to lead from the front. I enjoy being where the vast majority of my colleagues are, where all of you are, somewhere in the middle.

What about you? When was the last time you gave an honest thought to where you really want to be in your career?

(Make sure you click that last link - it's a gem, thanks Rick)