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.