Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekly Column: On Leadership

Let me just start by saying that I highly recommend you watch the TED talk by Seth Godin embedded above, either before or immediately after reading this column. His talk frames this entire reflection on leadership, and his delivery far better than my own.

I must confess that I have been trying to wrap my head around something for a while now, something that has really been bothering me. I have discussed it repeatedly with colleagues (friends, really), and recently one of those friends suggested that I blog about it.

So here goes.

Much of what I am doing in this column is relating Godin's talk to my own experience in the public service. Compared to his talk, this column may also be the most inarticulate thing I have ever penned - but that being said, it is no less genuine.

I am Not a Leader…

Recently a lot of people have been calling me “a leader”, and I have no clue how to react. Mostly because I don't feel like a leader, at least not in the traditional sense: I am not a senior public servant, I have no staff, no budget, no decision-making power. I have nothing that makes leadership tangible in the traditional public service model. By hierarchical bureaucratic standards, I am not a leader. Though I have always tried to be one of those “good people to know” and pride myself on my ability to connect with other people.

…or Am I?

Maybe. Maybe by Godin's interpretation.

My own initial experience in government is a story I only share in person, and a lot has changed since then. I could have walked away and in fact, I almost did.

In the end I chose to stay, but that decision hinged on my unwillingness to accept the status quo anymore. I won't lie, I am a live wire, I speak my mind, I challenge others, and I call things how I see them. At the start, I felt underutilized but I refused to waste away and, by extension I refused to allow those around me to wither away and die the slow death of a thousand bureaucratic (paper and red tape) cuts.

Among the other things that I was doing within my department, I decided to go a bit bigger: I started this blog and I wrote scheming virtuously, both supported by a friend and talented editor from another department.

I enjoy writing this blog, but you should also know that it also adds a lot to my plate. Everything written here receives a lot of thought, and a lot of time – nothing is haphazard, and we never sacrifice quality for timeliness. But I think that dedication gives us credibility. It is precisely why you come here to read it. One of the most important things that this blog, delivering talks, and connecting with others via social media (or in real time!) does is that it allows me to connect with all of you.

The more of you I connect with, the more I realize that we are all looking for similar things but have so much trouble finding each other – we are buried somewhere in different departmental org charts that can often undervalue our ability to contribute, or that throw up roadblocks to our collaborative efforts.

I think this may be one of the reasons why people are pointing that leadership finger at me. But the only thing I am doing is stepping up and challenging a little bit. If something doesn’t make sense, I will say it. If I see value by adding something (or by taking it away) then I will say it.

I think another reason is that I spend a lot of time connecting people. But the happy irony here is that once connected, these people just take off and run with the connection. Perhaps the even happier irony is that these people are already engaged and interested in public service renewal (and all of the related issues). All I am really doing is helping brilliant and passionate people organize around a common story and purpose.

I am a Leader…

Simply put, I tell a story to people who want to hear it; I connect people who, deep down, want to connect with others; I help encourage a movement; and I help make change so that we can all start telling a new and different story.

If doing these things makes me a leader of a movement, then “leading” it (rather, being one of many people leading it concurrently in somewhat divergent directions with the same underlying principles) has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career in public service. I think that this is something we are all after, and this shared desire is one of the principle reasons why you read this blog, why you connect with me via social media, and why you want to share your own experiences with me.

…Are You?

I took this graphic out of Godin’s presentation; I was originally intention was to put my headshot in the middle to try to help illustrate what I think I’m doing and why people are looking to me for leadership. Instead, I opted to put leave the middle empty – because, well, I need your help. I need you at the centre.

You know the key people, you know the issues, and you know what needs to be done better than I do. So with that in mind, I want to leave you with one last point from Godin's TED talk. According to Godin, leaders share certain things in common. Leaders:

  • Challenge status quo;
  • Build a culture; they are curious; they ask questions and connect people; and
  • Commit to the people they lead, not the mechanics of the project.

So, please come join the movement and help make a change.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Update: New Look and Comment System

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to solicit your feedback on the new look of the site. It isn't too much different in terms of functionality but I feel like it looks much better.

I also installed a new comment system that looks like it will be a huge improvement over the standard blogger comment system.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think and what you think could be improved, I can't guarantee that I will agree or even be able to make the change (I code the html myself...)


Ps - This week's column is about leadership.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekly Column: The Opportunity for Enterprise

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to participate on a "one person task team" run by the President of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Mme Monique Collette (who btw is an absolutely wonderful woman). Essentially, Mme Collette was asked by the soon to retire Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, to travel across the country collecting best practices in three areas: diversity, official languages, and communication.

As you might expect, I was invited to participate explicitly because of this blog. The session was very well run, with some pleasant surprises, unexpected fun, and most importantly, great ideas being exchanged.

Early in our conversation, someone raised a fair point: the conversations we were having about fostering bilingualism, capturing diversity, and opening up communications had already happened, a number of times, in a number of places. So how do we move beyond them? Ironically, her point was one that had also been raised repeatedly.

Being the “blogger/social media evangelist/new collaboration preacher” in the room, I’m not sure if Mme Collette was just keenly aware of who was in the room, or if it was just ridiculously apparent by my face that I wanted to jump into the conversation. Either way (though it was probably a bit of both), she quickly gave me the floor.

Naturally, I brought up GCPEDIA and its enormous collaborative potential, and made a couple of points worth sharing.

First, I pleaded (begged really) for Mme Collette to make the findings of her task team available in GCPEDIA, and even volunteered to put them there myself (to which they were quick to oblige).

Second, I drew attention to a statement made by the Clerk in his latest report. Specifically, when he states that:

The business of government has become markedly more complex than in the past. Today, almost every department and agency must deal with global challenges, using new tools and asking people to work in new ways - in integrated teams, often across organizational boundaries.

Great statement, right? Anyone looking to build a business case for the adoption of new tools (e.g. social media tools) should be quoting the Clerk on the first page. That being said, I think the Clerk could have been a bit more specific, something like this perhaps:

The business of government has become markedly more complex than in the past. Today, almost every department and agency must deal with global challenges, using new tools and asking people to work in new ways - in integrated teams, often across organizational boundaries. That is why a tool like GCPEDIA is so important. GCPEDIA is the first of a series of small but deliberate steps to address enterprise-wide problems in a more systematic way.

Those extra two sentences would have been a boon to the project; I need not even explain why. The more I reflect on public service renewal the more I feel like enterprise-wide (i.e. federal government-wide) technical solutions are necessary. They are important because they do something that has thus far seemed to elude the public service for too long: they show us the need to think about our business as an integrated whole, and more importantly, give us a proven and tangible means to act as an integrated whole.

Quite often I run into people who say they are frustrated by “the bureaucracy”, but what they are really frustrated by is people’s unwillingness to share, their unwillingness to adapt or embrace change, and their unwillingness to let go of what they think is theirs. They are not frustrated by some abstract or amorphous entity, but by a lack of vision around what it means to be, and act as a single enterprise, while creating tremendous value by sharing, trusting and challenging within it.

I will be honest, I have a whole lot more to say about this and leadership under these circumstances(things that I have been reflecting on a lot lately), but for now I bite my tongue.

Maybe next time, but until then your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Round Up: Opportunity to Participate, Leadership, Survey Data, News and More

Opportunity to Participate

PPX (Public Policy Forum's new program that aims tackle issues of the future in an intergenerational world) is holding a quarterly social seeking to stimulate big-picture thinking.

May 21, 2009
5:30 to 8pm
ARC Lounge
140 Slater Street

Dubbed the SILOBUSTER, this quarterly social that brings together young professionals from public service, business, and not-for-profit sectors to network, share ideas, build bridges, and talk about a hot public issue, including:
  • The economic downturn of course;
  • Petro-Canada and Suncor merged;
  • GM and Chrysler have been "nationalized";
  • Ontario became a have-not province;
  • first blue and white - now "green collar" jobs;
  • talk of a possible Fall election...
This is a good opportunity to meet other professionals; I have made arrangements to attend, let me know if you are coming so we can share a pint and a great convo.


If you don't have time to read Seth Godin's Tribes, you can get pretty much all of it via this talk at TED.

Survey Data

By now you should have been advised via the official channels that the 2008 Public Service Employee Survey Results are now available. I am poking around a little bit seeing if we could open up the data in this survey so we could do some analysis of our own. Let me know if you think you'd be interested and I will keep you informed as to my progress (or lack thereof).

In the News

Apparently the Federal government language tests may have been leaked, and as a result the government is recreating brand new tests and a federal watchdog is homing in on temporary government workers.

Meanwhile, a the Government of Canada has a new Chief Information Officer. You can find a little more info here.

There are a couple of articles worth reading in this month's Canadian Government Executive Magazine, one about the Clerk's campaign for cultural change and an interview with the Deputy Minister of NRCan, Cassie Doyle.

Things Coming Out of PCO

Public Service Renewal Action Plan 2008-2009 is now online. I haven't read it yet but it is on my radar...

Blogs we Like

Peter Cowan blogged about the use of blogs at NRCan on the GTEC blog. This quick read is well worth it. In fact, at the request of a colleague who also read it, I turned his post into a two page deck to illustrate viable business functions of blogs within my department.

Out in Vancouver, David Eaves has been doing some great work to help move the City of Vancouver into an era of open. Read about it on his blog, here and here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Weekly Column: National Public Service Week: It Starts With You! (or does it?)

Well, National Public Service Week (NPSW) is quickly approaching and is undoubtedly worth mentioning in this space.

First let me point you to the official Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) web page for NPSW.

Then, let me draw your attention to the theme: It starts with you!

If NPSW starts with me, then why can’t I help plan some activities here (in GCPEDIA)? The external TBS page is scant on the details and if I want to help out, it seems that I have to fire off an email to one of the coordinators.

Correct me if I am wrong here but isn't GCPEDIA the only cross-departmental collaborative tool that we have inside the Government of Canada?

Isn't it supposed to help us move away from collaboration via email?

The kicker is that the official NPSW page is being hosted by TBS.

So why a webpage and not a community inside GCPEDIA? Or why not both? The TBS webpage can be the point of contact for people outside the federal public service while GCPEDIA is the coordination takes place.

In my opinion this could be a win-win situation. NPSW benefits from better collaboration, greater involvement in the planning phases, huge reductions in email to regional coordinators, better transparency and less duplication across regions. At the same time, GCPEDIA benefits by gaining new users, new communities, and better exposure nationally. Imagine the Clerk coming out in praise of the collaborative efforts in organizing these events enabled by the use of GCPEDIA.

Whatever the reasons are for not rolling NPSW event coordination inside GCPEDIA, the only tangible one I can think of is that it may or may not involve partners from provincial governments, who sadly don't (yet) have access.

Maybe we should just start something up ourselves... of course we can invite the regional coordinators to the space. Hmmm… there is an idea. I am going to email the regional coordinators (all of them) and ask them to use GCPEDIA to plan their activities.

Holy Cra… Craig Sellars!

No sooner did I type out the last paragraph did I receive an email from Craig Sellars. Craig, the man behind the NPSW page in GCPEDIA sent out an email (in both official languages) to every contact person for NPSW across the country.

Kudos Craig, you beat me to the punch! Here is Craig’s email (reproduced w/permission):


Bonjour tout le monde,

J’espère tout va bien. Veuillez pardonner mon français modeste.

Je m'appelle Craig Sellars et je travaille avec le Comité Semaine Nationale de la Fonction Publique (SNFP) dans Alberta. J'ai localisé vos noms sur le site Web de SNFP en tant que les coordonnateurs régionaux et contacts départementaux. Si vous n'êtes plus le contact, transfères de cet email au nouveau contact, si vous plait, et réponse ainsi je peux vous enlever de ma liste.

Je cours un concours national pour SNFP 2009 pour la Meilleure Nouveau Page 2009 de Usager de GCPEDIA. C'est une excellente occasion d'examiner les possibilités de collaboration de GCPEDIA. Je créai une page pour le concours:

Un exemple, C'est mon page de usager de GCPEDIA:

GCPEDIA est un outil qui fournit le potentiel pour la collaboration derrière du pare-feu du Gouvernement du Canada, indépendamment d'endroit. J'ai également créé une page générale de NPSW GCPEDIA pour que vous employiez pour montrer et partager des événements nationalement:

J'ai inclus des connexions aux GCPEDIA pages régionales que vous pouvez éditer librement. Si vous avez un événement ou l'ordre du jour de SNFP que vous voudriez partager, satisfaire ajoutez-le vous-même, si vous plait, ou expédiez aux détails moi le***.

***Note: Je publierai seulement des événements/ordres du jour de SNFP dans la version finale et de finition. Ils doivent être dans un format téléchargeable (Word, Excel, PDF etc.) ou facilement copié et publia sur la page de GCPEDIA. J'exécuterai seulement le formatage mineur pour nettoyer les pages. Je travaille tout seul.

Nous explorerons que Web 2.0 et GCPEDIA peut faire pour la collaboration dans le Gouvernement du Canada. Sentez-vous SVP libre pour inclure les liens ci-dessus dans vos communications de SNFP 2009.

Merci de votre temps et ayez un jour spectaculaire.

Craig Sellars.


Hello everyone,

I hope your day is well.

My name is Craig Sellars and I am working with the National Public Service Week 2009 (NPSW) Committee in Alberta. I located your names on the NPSW website as Regional Coordinators and Departmental Contacts. If you are no longer the contact, please forward this email to the new contact and reply so I can remove you from my list.

I am running a national contest for NPSW 2009 for the Best New GCPEDIA User Page 2009. This is an excellent opportunity to test GCPEDIA’s collaborative capabilities. I created a page for the contest:

An example is my GCPEDIA user page:

GCPEDIA allows for collaboration behind the Government of Canada firewall, regardless of location. I also created a general NPSW GCPEDIA page for you to display and share events nationally:

I included links to regional pages you can edit freely. If you have an NPSW event or agenda you would like to share, please add it yourself or forward the details to me***.

***Note: I will only post NPSW events/agendas in the final, finished version. They must either be in a downloadable format (Word, Excel, PDF etc.) or easily copied and pasted onto the GCPEDIA page. I will only perform minor formatting to clean up the pages. I am a one man show.

This is an exciting opportunity to explore what Web 2.0 and GCPEDIA can do for collaboration in the Government of Canada. Please feel free to include the above links in your NPSW 2009 communications.

Thank you for your time and have a spectacular day.

Craig Sellars.


If you are interested why not help out, and contact a coordinator yourself? After all NPSW starts with you - or does it? I suppose that choice is yours.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Update: Lack of Round-Ups

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to apologize about the lack of round ups recently but I am suffering from a bit of information overload and just haven't had the time given some of the other things on my plate.

That being said, if for some reason you don't know, Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch is retiring and being replaced by current Secretary of the Treasury Board Wayne Wouters.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Weekly Column: A New Adventure

Sometimes I get so caught up in the speed and utility of social media that I forget the basics.
I’ve been a bit concerned lately, that perhaps the focus of this blog was shifting too far away from its roots. I took some time and flipped back through some of the weekly columns. So far the writings here have run the gamut from recent gems like how to use Twitter to be a better public servant to some more basic reflections about renewal.

I think the reason it is so easy to get swept away in the tide of social media is because the type of communication it facilitates feels so natural (at least for me). Moreover the social media mantra of "share!" is something so simple that, in my opinion, cannot be shouted enough from the soapboxes of "open bureaucrats". Finally, if renewal is truly a conversation, then all these posts, varied in topics as they are, are simply a small part of the renewal conversation.

Unfortunately despite the ease of use and utility of social media, it can't do or be everything. It can't, for example, help me plan my career or advise me on what the best next steps are for me; even when my use of it undoubtedly had something to do with the opportunities before me.

You see, to be perfectly honest, I am facing a bit of a dilemma and I don't know what to do.

Pen and Paper

I guess step one is to, as my wife suggested, sit down with a pad and a pencil and write out the dreaded 5 year plan, then the 10 year, 15 year, etc. Yet, despite providing similar advice in my scheming virtuously presentations, I am much more of a create-it–on-the-fly-and-see-what-happens kind of guy. So sitting down to do "the plan" is not really my style. The other piece of advice she offered me, one that I am more likely to heed closely, was to break out my ‘lessons learned the hard way’ file and see if they can help to provide any insight into where I do and don't see myself going in my career.

People often say that being in demand is a good problem to have. While they are probably right, the difficulties in making decisions are heavily nuanced, especially given that the options being considered are similar in some respects but very different in others - like apples and oranges.

Without getting into the details of my particular situation, I do want to share some of the things I am considering in hopes of expanding both that which you consider to be relevant, as well as providing you with an opportunity to alert me to anything I have missed. Note that the order below is not deliberately prioritized but is in the order I originally wrote them out, which may in fact say something about how I prioritize them.)


  • tasks, responsibilities and opportunity to lead
  • trust/freedom to create my own space
  • prospects for making an impact
  • manager and direct colleagues
  • work-life integration
  • classification (and thus salary)
  • layers of approval
  • location (geographic, proximity to home and commute time in relation to current)

All of the above peppered with ongoing advice and experience of others (in no particular order) including @dbhume, @pcollin, @mcmphotography, @ContrarilyYours, @dbast to name but a small few...

So what did I miss?

After writing this, I feel like I should write down a pros and cons list to help me through my decision…oh wait I did; and technically I didn’t use a pad and a paper, but GCPEDIA.


Mike told me that he felt this column was incomplete, and you know what? I agree.

This week has been mentally exhausting. Personal circumstances and juggling career decisions has taken its toll.

But I think it is important that I am willing to admit it.

In essence, I wanted to do three things. The first was to take a step back from all the social media talk; the second was to show how difficult it can be to make career choices in the public service. The third was to try to learn something from all of your experiences.

So in closing, while I may have already made my decision to embark on the next challenge (I started this column unsure and finished it having confirmed my intent to move on), I would encourage you all to leave me a comment, or drop me a line and let me know what you think.

What are some of your biggest considerations when considering your next steps?

I think that it is an important conversation for public servants.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Weekly Column: Online Namespaces, Twitter and #Swineflu

I was strapped for a good idea for a column this week so I put out the question on twitter:

To which I got this reply (and others):

In my presentation a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the need for government departments to at least lay claim to their departmental twitter accounts, even if they weren't ready to use them. Essentially, my argument at the time was that government departments need to circumvent the problem of cybersquatting (or in this case twitter squatting) and the potential for harm to one's brand that could arise there from.

Just how easy is it for someone to lay claim to your department or agency's online namespace? About this easy.

Point proven, right? (Hint, PCO doesn't own that twitter space ...)

Ok so let’s move on to a more in-depth conversation within the context of the twitter-fuelled swine flu panic, which will provide for a more interesting discussion.

A Case Study: Swine Flu Spread by Twitter

While it is obvious that you cannot catch swine flu from Twitter, what you can catch is a greater understanding of the importance of Twitter's ability to spread information quickly, and the subsequent need for government departments and agencies to use Twitter to help shape that spread.

As Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York puts it:

Here is a tough question to communication experts out there: how do we reach the digital natives out there, especially those who are only accessible via Facebook and Twitter feeds? The problem is that while thousands of concerned and misinformed individuals took to Twitter to ventilate their fears, government and its agencies were still painfully missing from the social media space; the Twitter of account of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was posting updates once in a few hours -- and that was probably the only really trustworthy source people could turn to online.


Before I proceed I want to be clear that what follows is by no means intended to be a criticism of PHAC or their handling of the Swine Flu situation. I am simply putting on a citizen engagement via social media observer hat and doing some preliminary and hypothetical analysis.

A Closer Look at PHAC on Twitter

Interestingly, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is already on Twitter. Even more interesting is that PHAC's Twitter account was actually created back in September 18, 2008:

Second, it would seem that their first tweet didn't occur until April 28th:

I can only speculate that the decision to start actively using twitter (rather then just idling the account) has something to do with the perceived demand/need to provide more reliable information on the swine flu via twitter.

Morozov again has some insight:

... In an ideal world, [government organizations] would have established ownership of most online conversations from the very beginning, posting updates as often as they can. Instead, they are now faced with the prospect of thousands of really fearful citizens, all armed with their own mini-platforms to broadcast their fears -- which may cost it dearly in the long term.

The question of whether we need to somehow alter our global information flows during global pandemics is not a trivial one. A recent New York Times piece highlighted how a growing number of corporations like Starbucks, Dell, and Whole Foods are turning to Twitter to monitor and partially shape conversation about particular brands or products. What the piece failed to mention was that conversations about more serious topics (like pandemics- and their tragic consequences) could be shaped as well.

I think that there are three interrelated things worth discussing within the context of PHAC's use of Twitter to disseminate information about Swine Flu, they are (1) frequency, (2) conversation, and (3) trending.


PHAC's timeline at the time of writing this column contains seven (7) tweets - all linking to their website. My assumption is that PHAC is only using (or has only approved the use of) Twitter to drive people to press releases. Yet, given the amount of the discussion on Twitter about Swine Flu, a low number of tweets severely limits the agency's exposure and reduces their overall ability to shape the conversation.


While writing this column I started to wonder if they would respond to someone who tweeted at them (e.g. engage in two way communication), so I threw them a softy:

4 hours later I have yet to receive a response. In fact they have not responded to any of the tweets directed at them or referencing them.

Truth is that I wasn't expecting a response, because I know how difficult it is to know how to respond to an inquiry via Twitter "as a government organization".

But the truth of the matter is this: the proliferation and expectation of instant communication as facilitated by services such as Twitter and the multi-layered communication approval hierarchies of government just don't mix. One of these things is going to collapse, and my guess is that it will be the latter. Until then, rigid communication policies will ultimately hamstring departments and agencies looking to engage citizens via social media.


The last thing I think we can learn from PHAC has to do with trending. Let's again examine PHAC's timeline. Looking at PHAC's 7 tweets we see that:
  • 4 mention "Swine Influenza"
  • 2 mention "swine flu"
  • 1 fails to mention swine flu in any variant
These slight variations are important because the majority of people on Twitter are not talking about "Swine Influenza" - they are talking about "swine flu" and "#swineflu" (the latter are both trending topics, while the former is not). The result is that 70% of their tweets are left out of the larger conversation, thus impeding their ability to contribute and shape it.


You may be asking yourself: when my department or agency is facing a communications crisis of pandemic proportions, will it be able to wield social tools with confidence and efficiency in order to engage citizens and shape the conversation?

I think the better question is: Why wait for a crisis to find out?

If you are interested in further reading, Chris Brogan has some great tips for businesses looking to use Twitter, I am confident that they apply to government departments and agencies as well.

And please, at the very least secure your organization's online namespaces before someone less forgiving/honest than I do it for you.