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Weekly Column: Territory or Synergy in Government 2.0

Friday, July 24, 2009

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.