Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays! Now Watch This!

Work tends to slow down around this time of year as fewer and fewer people are in the office. If you find yourself with some downtime at your work station I suggest you make some popcorn, assemble a few of your colleagues and watch this video entitled "Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work". Who knows with everyone gone you may actually have the bandwidth to stream it from your otherwise archaic government workstation.

Thanks everyone for your ongoing support, see you in the new year.


- Nick

This column was originally published to by Nick Charney.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Think IDEO, but for government

This entry may be last before the new year, and to be honest, has been a long time coming. You see, I've got this thought in my head and it seems to have taken up residence. I'm not sure how much you know about me, or how much you care to know, but I've spent the last four years in the public sector. I could bore you with all of the details but let's just say that I've experienced both the best and the worst this sector has to offer.

My initial experience was so abhorrent that I've made it my mission to try to make it better for others; I look to my father for inspiration and to my children for lessons in collaboration. I like to think that I have helped inspire public servants to be courageous, to rethink old mental models, and to alert them to the art of the possible.

I've met many great people, inspiring thinkers and doers, and for that I am incredibly fortunate. Many think I am living the dream, that I am one of the few who have come as close as you possibly can to an entrepreneur in the public sector.

There was a time when I agreed with them, but that time has passed.

We are ready for so much more

I was on the bus on my way to work yesterday and overheard three public servants speaking. One of them was talking about her son who was working as a student two days a week for a federal agency. He was doing so well that they wanted to bridge him in full time, only he didn't want that. In fact, "It is the last thing he wants, he is looking for something where he can be entrepreneurial."

It's not surprising, despite the best efforts of some of our best and brightest, even the most well-intentioned attempt at public sector innovation is suffocated by the traditionally bureaucratic: committees, policies, and briefing notes.

Perhaps it’s time for a complete redesign.

Or at least I am

I want to spend the next leg of my professional career working on all facets of public sector redesign. I've said before that:

Never before has technology allowed us to paint such a clear picture of what is informing decision-making, policy, and program delivery. Embracing a more open ethos and grabbing hold of enabling technology will do more for our public services than we could possibly imagine. It starts with a simple switch: connecting what we used to write in the margins of our paper based notebooks on the web.

In short, I want to focus on designing and implementing open systems for the public sector in virtual, intellectual and physical space. I want to help ensure that the most innovative ideas, practices and people are no longer lost, ignored or marginalized.

I have ideas on how this can be done both within existing public sector organizations, and as a private firm. I'm open to discussing this with anyone who gets me even one inch closer to being able to pull this together.

Think IDEO, but for government.

This column was originally published to by Nick Charney.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Long Tail of Internal Communications

I assume you are already familiar with the long tail; if so proceed directly to flipping through my slides below, if not it might be worth reading the Wikipedia article, the book by Chris Anderson, or watching this video by Clay Shirky, as the long tail forms the basis of my entire line of reasoning below.

The Tail

The bulk of communication within the organization - perhaps its very life blood - is informal. If you look at the examples I've charted you begin to understand how the long tail grows as new communication tools emerge.

No one would ever think of trying to enforce an approvals process on face to face peer-to-peer communication. If someone told you had to pre-screen your phone calls or emails through communications you'd probably laugh. Yet the tone is rather different when we approach the confluence of corporate intranets and enterprise wikis. At the epicenter, where formal and informal collide, there is great confusion. A confusion that paralyzes staff, creates division and sucks productivity.

My hope is that visualizing internal communications along the long tail helps people understand that internal communications happens along a continuum, and that continuum shifts as the tool set grows. Once we understand that, we understand that the role of communications shouldn't be simply to maintain the integrity of formal communication channels but to also ensure that people are communicating effectively within the organizations informal channels as well.

The Emerging Role for Communicators

I see three very specific roles for which modern communicators: (1) provide guidance and strategic direction; (2) steward modernization ; and (3) employee engagement Moreover these three roles occur at very specific parts of the organization: (1) policy; (2) culture; and (3) collaborative technologies. Essentially, this is the emerging role for communicators:

BTW - if anyone is interested, I have developed a 3 hour training session around this conceptual framework for internal communicators.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lean On Me

I've taken the last two days off to spend with a good friend who needed someone to lean on, when was the last time you did the same? After all, we all need someone to lean on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gov T-Shirts! Get Your Gov T-Shirts Here!

So I finally got around to setting up an online store for the T-Shirt Designs I pulled together. Thanks to all for the interest, here is the link:

There are two designs and both are available in mens and womans versions. Hopefully more to come in the future. Please note that I haven't actually received my own yet, so it is hard to tell you about how the look/feel offline.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Unproductive Meetings? There Should Be an App For That

"In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes" - Benjamin Franklin

Old Ben was pretty close, but he forgot one crucial element: meetings. We all attend them, we often loath them, we often wonder in hindsight if they were actually worth the time. I'm not trying to say that meetings can't be useful, just that they often aren't, at least in my experience. In fact the more time I spend around the boardroom table, the more I think that there must be a better way to manage meetings within the organization.

Why do we need to rethink meetings?

I can't say for certain if this phenomenon is universal or simply ubiquitous across my own experience, but people tend to think of meetings as just another part of their job; few think of meetings in terms of their costs to either them personally or their organization, happily meandering through directionless meetings.

How do we need to rethink meetings?

Meetings, even internal meetings, aren't free. There is always a cost associated with meeting. Why not build an app that could show participants what the true cost is? Here's a rough outline:
  • Meetings could be created by the person setting the agenda.
  • Info can be attached to the invitation
  • Attendees would check in to the meeting when they accept the meeting
  • Their salaries are automatically drawn out of their enterprise employment records (but not divulged to others in the room)
  • The convener starts the meeting and projects a running tally of the cost of the meeting as it is being conducted kind of like a taxi meter
  • Next to the cost of the meeting is the deliverable cost (e.g. say the meeting is to decide how to allocate a 25k contract)
  • Each participants mobile device can concurrently display their own dollar tally as well as a percentage of the total meeting cost.
  • The app would also give each participant ongoing cumulative data on how much of their own salary they have eaten up in meetings.
  • This data could also be used by the organization as a catalyst for better information sharing (to circumvent or improve the culture of meetings)
  • All in all the app is designed to shift thinking around the costs of meetings and inform better decision-making when it comes to meetings.

What can we do to rethink meetings?

This app is just a sketch on a whiteboard, but if you are interested in helping me build it, let me know. I'd love to get this one out the door.

Oh an yes I know that it probably will never make money, may actually contradict the science of motivation, but I can think of no other more immediate way to show people that (for hypothetical example) spending 150k in salary dollars determining how to best allocate an under 25k contract may not make sense.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Open Gov West Recap: Change, Connect, Contribute

This week I took some time off and headed out to Victoria British Columbia so I could be a part of Open Gov West BC.

It was an absolutely amazing experience

I had the privilege of sharing the opening keynote with friend Walter Schwabe. Walter and I have an excellent rapport and wanted to shake things up a little bit, we wanted to try something different, we wanted to inspire immediate action. We didn't just sit at the front of the room and talk down to audience from the riser. We walked among the crowd, armed with microphones, iPads, and a surprise.

Under the cover of darkness a few nights before the conference we created a group blog and invited everyone in the room, and those watching remotely to engage right now by changing, connecting, and contributing. We drove the theme home by telling everyone why we thought these things we so incredibly important.


When I first joined the public service I was struck by how closed it was, the system has a hard time surfacing talent and ideas. Moreover, it is being constantly reinforced by a culture of playing your cards really close to your chest. After a year circling the drain in a closed system I decided to approach things from an ethos of open. But it wasn't a fluke, I recall a conversation with a senior manager:

"Just because that's how everyone else acts, doesn't mean you have to do it too."

It was such a simple statement, but made at an opportune time. It completely changed my perspective. Since then I've come to better understand some of the challenges facing the public sector: impending retirements, out migration of knowledge and expertise, budgetary constraints, and the lack of sustainable engagement. Through hard fought experience I've come to the realization that openness isn't a panacea, but it is without question part of the answer. Often people just need to be told that change is in fact possible, I certainly did.


With this in mind, the single most important thing that people can start doing is narrating their work. So much of what we do as public servants gets locked away on proprietary drives, closed records and document management systems, or email. We need to start readily sharing not only the information we currently have on lockdown but also how we are making sense of that information, and how we are contextualizing it within our work.

Never before has technology allowed us to paint such a clear picture of what is informing decision-making, policy, and program delivery. Embracing a more open ethos and grabbing hold of enabling technology will do more for our public services than we could possibly imagine. It starts with a simple switch: connecting what we used to write in the margins of our paper based notebooks on the web.


This was the thinking behind the communal blog. We wanted to not only drive the message home but make participation as easy as possible. In addition to unleashing the blog, Walter purposefully walked participants through other low risk ways to be a part of the online conversation. We wanted to show them the path, and make it as easy as possible to walk down.

In the end, all we asked of participants was 100 words.

What we got was so much more

By about noon the traffic to the blog actually crashed the site. Participants weren't scribbling way in their individual notebooks, they were creating one communal one online and in real time. Participants had taken the message to heart, they changed, connected and contributed both in the room and online, which tells me that the event was an incredible success.

Kudos to everyone who participated.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Shift in Thinking on Enterprise Wikis

Whenever I explain why someone should use a wiki I usually come back to this graphic created by NASA:

Wikis, according to NASA, are designed (or at least deployed) to help mitigate the problems associated with document coordination via email. Whenever I show people this image, they immediately identify with the problems associated with document coordination and coauthoring via email.

Herein lies my question: if wikis are meant to help mitigate the email problem, why is it that when it comes to policy compliance we treat them like websites and not like email?

Because they’re web-based?

True, wikis are web based. But then again, so is email. In my opinion, what we are really talking about here is browser based versus client-based communication; think MediaWiki versus Outlook. This is most likely a nuance that is lost on many, taken for granted or considered unimportant. But the more I think about this, the more I think that these small differences are playing out in some major ways.

My Hunch on Policy

I have a hunch that many of the problems with deploying enterprise wikis are linked to the fact that we have trouble with them from both a policy and a cultural perspective because we try to treat them more like an intranet than like email. From a policy standpoint, we look at wikis and think about all of the interrelated policy frameworks (e.g. Official Languages Act; Access to Information Act; Privacy Act; Policy on Information Management; etc) and how they apply to government websites. I can see why we have gravitated in that direction, but have a feeling that it may be hindering adoption in a significant way. I would argue that public servants already understand their policy obligations when communicating via email. The only evidence I offer is the fact that email essentially runs the enterprise, and has for quite some time now.

Explaining wikis as websites that anyone can edit (standard practice, of which I am guilty) rather than a means of complementing email means that public servants are no longer familiar with their policy obligations. I’ve written on this matter before – about how push-button publication is changing the relationship between accountability and responsibility – but only connected the dots recently.

Why we might want to shift our thinking

Thinking about wikis as websites is creating confusion and complication, it disconnects us with what we are familiar with (email) and puts many outside of their comfort zone. We may overcome some of the barriers to adoption by refocusing on the fact that wikis can compliment email, and thus can be governed by a similar set of rules and norms. We look at email and understand how we craft it depends on the circumstances: intent, publisher, audience and the corporate (or non corporate) nature of the communication, etc. If we simply applied the same logic we might have higher levels of comfort around the use of wikis within the enterprise.

Wikis aren't new, they are new to government

I know I sound like a broken record when I bring it back to Clay Shirky’s statement about the transformative nature of technology, but I think it is incredibly important:

"These tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn't when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It's when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we're all in this together." – Clay Shirky, TED Talk

Dulling the Luster

Perhaps giving everyone in the enterprise “control over their own website” is simply far too interesting, while extending their (boring) old email system is far less so. Moving forward I’m considering purposely dulling the shine of enterprise wikis by explaining them more like this:

“Think of wikis as just an extension of email. They make it easier to circulate those enormous attachments or collate people’s input on a document. All in all they aren’t so much shiny, new or interesting as they are ruthlessly utilitarian.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Open Gov in Canada: Now It's Political

While I agree that open data and open government shouldn't be a partisan issue, it may very well become one (note the collision of the #opengov, #cdnpoli and #lpc hashtags in the tweet below):

#Opengov in action: read the #LPC initiative: Ask @m_ignatieff a question on any topic: #cdnpoliless than a minute ago via web

My question is what does this mean for those of us that have been engaged in this conversation online for some time now?

I think it is an incredibly important question.

Its also one I don't have an answer for.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lessons in Collaboration

When we speak of collaboration we often talk about the benefits of serendipity or emerging leadership, but within the confines of the current public institution, complete with Ministerial accountability, perhaps we speak about it too much. My underlying worry is that proponents of collaboration do themselves a disservice by failing to engage in a debate around how to be directive within a collaborative effort, to demonstrate how exactly collaboration is different from the status quo, and what are the inherent benefits of this new approach. The conversation around collaboration to date is far too Utopian for my liking; it conjures 1960s imagery of peace and love. Collaboration, it would seem, is a real righteous groove, and those who oppose it are just squares in need of a good melvin.

This attitude makes me uneasy. I think it is problematic, and the reason I think we are stuck there is that we don't know how to be directive within collaboration. We seem to think that collaboration is an open arrangement that, through a mystical and undefined process, reaches an outcome. What we are missing is discourse on how we move from open process to outcome. We need to unpack the elusive magic between the two. In order to do this, I want to first lay out a conceptual frameworks and then move to an example to illustrate my thinking.

The "Why", "How", and "What" of collaboration

"Leaders hold a position of power or authority. But those who lead inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it's those who start with "why" that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them." - Simon Sinek, "How great leaders inspire action" TEDx Puget Sound (full video embedded below)

My view is that being directive within a collaboration largely means inspiring action:

One of the problems is that we tend to inverse Sinek's golden circle (as explained by Sinek in the TEDx talk above), focusing too much on what it is that we do. How many of us would describe our work starting with why we have chosen to undertake it?

The proof is in the collaborative pudding

Last week a small group of public servants held a free collaboration-themed conference for 200 of their colleagues (called the Collaborative Culture Camp, or C3). While there are a number of things about the conference worth mentioning, I will try to limit my comments to the context of directive collaboration.

Why collaborative culture?

The idea to focus on the cultural elements of collaboration came from Richard Akerman. I was facilitating a session on the future of GCPEDIA and was lucky enough to have Richard sitting in my group. I noticed him slightly behind me going over something in his head. When pressed, Richard shared this gem (paraphrased):

"We, as web practitioners proceed to a discussion about the platform upon which collaboration happens because we recognize the inherent value of collaboration over the status quo. If others don't recognize that value then they don't understand why they should ever pick up a collaborative tool in the first place. Perhaps what we need to do is show people the value of collaboration."

The intervention itself was brilliant, timely and right on target. It provided a ‘why’ around which people could mobilize, a ‘what’ and finally a ‘how’. In short, his leadership inspired action. Now what I find fascinating is that Richard himself wasn't a part of the organizing committee (at least in a formal sense). He was present, but on the periphery. It would seem to me that the person who issues the direction (leadership inspiring action) doesn't need to be physically present if the direction is compelling enough to inspire the "how" discussion.

How to build a collaborative culture

The organizing committee also had to engage in a discussion of how the group itself would work, assign tasks, report back etc. This was incredibly challenging. However agreement on why we were initiating the work provided some common ground upon which to build out the details of how we would go about doing it. But even here we needed direction. We were friends, colleagues, and professional public servants, yet we were also reticent to step up and be directive (at least in my view).

We eventually settled on a model for decided quorum, assigning leads, and delegating the authority to those leads to make any decision they faced along their critical path. For example, at one point I was in charge of booking the venue and was delegated the authority to enter into agreement with a provider should the space have met our needs. Trust then seems to be a critical element and is only possible when there is agreement as to why a particular thing is undertaken. The “why”, it would seem provides a common ground upon which how and subsequently what can be built.

What to do? Host a Collaborative Culture Camp

Having ironed out the “how” the group could finally focus in on the what. We settled on a dual track unconference model that allowed multiple ways for people to participate. You could lead a session, you could take in a fireside chat, if you weren’t interested in a given topic you could move into another session that was more to your liking.

In some cases, organizing and operationalizing the “what” was detailed and tedious. For example someone had to step up and handle the registration emails, the responses, the wait list, etc. The only explanation as to why someone would take on this work is that they believed in the why and in turn accepted the responsibilities. If we had simply asked someone to take care of that for us I doubt they would have been as committed as Tariq was.

Looking back before looking forward

The goal of the conference was to help teach people about the value of collaboration. Looking back, I think the organizing committee not only taught others the value of collaboration, but also learned a great deal about it during the process, and demonstrated that learning the day the conference took place. That being said, my reflections on what happened that day will have to wait until next week. Thanks for reading, and congratulations to everyone who raised a hand and got involved with the conference.

Kudos on a job well done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Government Road Warrior T-Shirt

In addition to the (Canadian version) of the Govloop Government Rockstar T-shirt that I put together last week. I wanted to design one for those of us who travel often - the Government Road Warriors.

Ideally it would be really cool if you could put the year on the back and the cities you were in on the dates you were in them (similar to shirts you buy at rock concerts)

Anyway, here's the early proof. I'm not sure I like the army green.
It is modeled after this image from Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior):

Let me know what you think.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Go West (Again)

I've had a really interesting week last week. I spent time in Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria.

In Edmonton, I delivered social media training at the Affects Symposium hosted by the Alberta Federal Council. I ran three separate workshops on social media: (1) Putting the Social in Social Media; (2) Social Media 101 for Personal Development and (3) Social Media 101 for Organizational Objectives. I also hosted three roundtable Q and A-style discussions on social media in general. My key takeaway from Edmonton was that there is still a significant demand (and need) for social media 101 training.

In Vancouver I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with two people for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect: Etienne Laliberté and David Eaves. This panel was a long time coming. These men helped shape my career. The conversation was incredibly satisfying and we touched on a number of salient points. The most important of which was an intervention by David where he argued that, 10 years ago this panel couldn't have existed because the three of us would have never been able to connect, share and publicize our ideas to the extent that we have. David went as far to hypothesize that perhaps the three of us would have chosen completely different paths. I can't speak for Etienne and David but I can say that without them I would have surely left the public service a long time ago. While I am grateful for the help, encouragement and brotherly advice the two have given me over the last few years, I am even more grateful to count them among my friends.

In Victoria I attended a planning session for the upcoming Open Gov West BC conference being held at the University of Victoria on November 10. My sense is that the event will be a unique mashup of my experience at ChangeCamp Ottawa, WiredCamp Toronto, Open City Edmonton, and GovCamp. As a speaker for the event, my objective is simple. I want to rally people around a single idea:
We are the future of open government, open data and public sector innovation. We are here learning our trade, stretching the organization, and building the platform for the next generation of government. We are the public servants that the web built.
I'm going to do that by sitting down with my friend Walter Schwabe and share some stories about the importance of openness, the transformative nature of the web and how those things relate to government. I want to share specific examples and help connect the audience to other people in the larger community in hopes that they will continue the conversation after the event.

In short, I'm hoping to inspire people, and I'm hoping to make a case for open government. But most importantly, I'm hoping you will join us in Victoria on November 10.

See you there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Public Servants That The Web Built

There is no way to speak about this without sounding completely self-absorbed so I apologize in advance, but during times of self-reflection one can't help but speak about themselves a little bit.

I have had the good fortune of speaking to public servants across the country, to share my story with them, to inspire them and be inspired by them. Many of the people I have met have told me in passing that my story is something special, or that I am somehow a different breed because I have been able to find success through adversity where others have failed.

But I respectfully disagree.

My path is not an anomaly; it's the new norm.

Look around. People who have used the web to their advantage are having success in many different sectors. I personally have encountered many of them. None of those people think my success is all that strange. In fact to the majority of the people with whom I work on a regular basis and within the communities of which I am a part, I am pretty much old news.

When I first started finding my groove writing this blog I expected people to read what I was writing but I've given that up a long time ago. I gave it up when I found myself surrounded by a community (W2P) enabled by a tool (Twitter) to rapidly share information, rally resources, and produce outcomes. These people understand that the web is transformative; they understand that if we are to maintain our relevance as a public institution, they must actively search out answers to problems that may not even exist yet.

This group of public servants, and there are many of them out there, at all levels of government, may not have explained how the web is revolutionizing the social order; or how online video is driving global innovation; or articulate just how compelling data can be. But, we have made a contribution that is, to my mind, no less important.

One that should not go unnoticed.

We blog, twitter, watch online video, link data and ideas.

Not only are we starting to govern by network, but are also fast becoming a hyperlinked public service.

We are the future of open government, open data and public sector innovation.

We are here learning our trade, stretching the organization, and building the platform for the next generation of the public service.

We are the public servant that the web built.

[image credit: JPhilipson]

(ps - the winner of the tickets to see Dan Heath is Dana Cooper. Please send me an email and we can coordinate how to best get the tickets to you.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gov't Rock Star T-shirt (Canadian Version)

Hey All,

I've been rocking my green Govloop t-shirt for a while now (especially during presentations) and casual Fridays around the office.

It's a great conversation piece, but I wanted one that was a little more Canadian. Nothing against our cousins to the south, but I wanted one that rung a little more "true north, strong and free" if you catch my drift.

This is the prototype I put together, it's not perfect but I think it's fairly slick.

I'm looking for a Canadian t-shirt maker/distributor.
Any recommendations?

Also, please let me know if you are interested in grabbing one of these shirts. I'm on point for producing/distributing them here in Canada for my friends from Govloop.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Event: United Way Speaker Series:Dan Heath

The United Way Ottawa is hosting an event featuring Dan Heath, co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (which, coincidentally, I am currently reading).

It just so happens that I have a pair of tickets to give away. If you are interested, please leave a comment on this blog post. I will randomly select one person to receive the tickets and post the winner to the blog this Friday.

The event takes place on Oct 14, 2010 from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM at the Shenkman Arts Centre 245 Centrum Boulevard, Ottawa, Ontario. K1E3X9.

If you'd rather secure your seat now, I would strongly encourage you to register, tickets are $65 and the money goes to help support the United Way.

See you there.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Machiavellian Social Media

Niccolo Machiavelli is probably most well known for The Prince, but I wonder what advice he might have for organizations in the era of social media. Maybe it would look something like this ...

People and Tactics
  • Make sure you have the right people running your social media efforts;
  • Give those people robust rules of engagement;
  • If you can't afford to actively manage the presence, at the very least defend your name against squatters;
  • Deal with dissenters quickly;
  • Whenever possible build your organization's own capacity, prior to borrowing resources from others or hiring outside talent;
  • Study the successes and failures of others; and
  • Be diligent during quiet periods so you are ready when/if the shit hits the fan.

  • Number of followers/friends/subscribers is less important than loyalty;
  • Loyalty is strongest when it is earned over time; and
  • Underdogs who fight the status quo have a hard time moving up but enjoy greater respect if/when they are successful.

Change Management
  • Using social media to address organizational change is one of the most difficult things to do because people are naturally resistant to change;
  • Those who benefited most under the old system will be your biggest resistors to change; and
  • It is impossible for anyone to live up to everybody's expectations; disappointment is inevitable, so the mission must be compelling enough to rally supporters when they are wavering.

  • It won't always be good news. While you should avoid things that contribute to a negative reputation, ultimately you should pursue whatever is most beneficial given the circumstances of the day; but
  • Don't break your word unnecessarily. It will cost you.

  • Sharing is great but be cognizant not to overwhelm your stakeholders with your message; and
  • It is desirable to be both true to the organization's mission and be popular in the space; the former is more important than the latter.

  • Pursue organizational goals by engaging and you will earn respect, sit on the fence and you will lose it.

Avoid Ego Tripping

  • Don't only discuss your organization's efforts with yes-men, have a core group of trusted advisers who will always give it to you straight.

Luck (Fortune)
  • Luck is at most half the battle, every other inch requires effort, follow-through, and a relentless drive to be the best.

I particularly like the last one, you?

[h/t to Chelsea and Mary Beth for inspiring this post]
[image credit: anonymous9000]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Event: Collaborative Culture Camp

**English follows**

C'est enfin le moment!
Le Camp sur la culture de collaboration (C3) aura lieu à Bibliothèque et Archives Canada le 15 octobre 2010, de 8:30 à 16:30.

  • Organisée de manière bénévole par des fonctionnaires passionés par le renouvellement de la fonction publique, le C3 sera une activité hautement interactive qui vous permettra d'apprendre et de partager votre savoir au sujet de pratiques exemplaires pour travailler de manière collaborative au sein du gouvernement.
  • L'activité fera appel à des conférenciers d’expérience et des études de cas d’exemples exceptionnels de collaboration, ainsi que des séances de forum ouvert dirigées par les participants qui seront axées sur les pratiques exemplaires et des leçons concrètes que vous pourrez ensuite appliquer à divers contextes de travail.
  • Wayne G. Wouters, Greffier du Conseil privé et Secrétaire du Cabinet, sera notre conférencier d'honneur.
  • L'inscription est maintenant ouverte à tous les employés fédéraux, sans frais! Le seul coût demandé est votre engagement à participer à la journée entière.
Pour plus d'information et pour vous inscrire, visitez le lien suivant :


It's finally here! The Collaborative Culture Camp (C3) will be taking place at Library and Archives Canada on October 15, 2010, from 8:30am to 4:30pm.

  • Organized on a volunteer basis by a group of public servants with a passion for public service renewal, C3 will be a highly-interactive event during which you will share and learn about best practices for working collaboratively within government.
  • The event will feature knowledgeable speakers and case studies showcasing exceptional instances of collaboration, as well as a number of interactive, participant-led sessions with a focus on take-away lessons and best practices that can be applied in a variety of contexts.
  • Wayne G. Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, will be the Keynote Speaker.
  • Registration is now open to all federal employees, at no cost! The only cost we ask is your commitment to participate in the full day of activities.

For more information or to register, follow this link:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Update: The Death of the Web

Wired magazine recently declared that "The Web is Dead". It spurred a whole slew of responses and generally got people talking about the article (which probably makes it a success despite your views about it's accuracy).

TVO's The Agenda hosted a great discussion about the article featuring Jesse Brown, Jesse Hisrch, Mathew Ingram, and Tim Wu.

I just figured you may want to watch the discussion, it is 36 minutes well spent.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Still Scheming (Virtuously) Two Years Later

Two years ago I took a risk and wrote a whitepaper called Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants. The whitepaper is a tactical guide for anyone looking to make a real impact in the public sector. I've updated the whitepaper, you can view it below, or download the PDF here.

If you want to get a sense of why you would be interested in reading it, I've also taken the time to put together this quick introductory video.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Participation Inequality and Licensed Based Collaboration

Whenever I give advice to people about what to look for in a collaborative tool, I tell them to steer clear of anything that is based on a licensing model where the organization has to buy a license for every person in the organization, preferring instead to look at open source alternatives.

If you combine the 90-9-1 rule with a proprietary licensing arrangement (as I have in the info graphic above) you can see why: the return is only about ten cents on a dollar.

For Example

Let's consider the following:
  • 500 person organization
  • Enterprise wide solution at $130/license

Making the total cost to the organization $65,000

The participation breakdown within in a organization of 500 people is approximately:
  • 5 heavy contributors
  • 45 intermittent contributors
  • 450 non contributors (lurkers)

Therefore the approximate cost breakdown under this model is:
  • $650 spent to enable heavy contributors
  • $5,850 spent to enable intermittent contributors
  • $58,500 spent to enable lurkers

The production breakdown within this model is:
  • 1% producing 90% of the outputs
  • 9% producing 9% of the outputs
  • 90% producing 1 % of the outputs

Overall licensing is cost neutral but with significant differences:
  • Licensing heavy contributors is highly cost effective because they produce at a 1:9 ratio.
  • Licensing intermittent contributors is cost neutral because they produce at a 1:1 ratio.
  • Licensing lurkers is cost burden because they produce at a ratio of 9:1.

Looking over this example, it is no surprise why I recommend against engaging with vendors that use per user licenses as a distribution control. The model absolutely breaks down when you look at participation models. I personally think there are two caveats worth discussing from here: (1) what does this mean for vendors and in house resellers and (2) what is the value of lurking.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Update: An Honest Appeal

I'll be making an honest (albeit unofficial) appeal for the public sector as employer at GenYOTT on Sept 23rd here in Ottawa. Its a rapid fire talk, and it's all new material.

The event is free and a great opportunity to network with people from all three sectors here in Ottawa.

Hope to see you there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Motivation and Incentives in The Public Sector

Daniel Pink's TED talk on motivation is a must-watch. Watch it yourself, then send the link to your boss.

My Key Takeaways

  1. Contingent motivators often do not work in complex situations because they narrow our focus
  2. Solutions to complex problems are often on the periphery
  3. If we want to discover those solutions we need a new approach
  4. New approaches must be built on fostering intrinsic motivation which is based on three interrelated components: (a) autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives; (b) mastery: the desire to get better and better at something; and (c) purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

The Rise of Online Communities

My experience in the public sector has been that these three things are more easily achieved by participation in communities than by adherence to strict hierarchies. Community is not a new social construct; in fact it is probably one of the oldest. The difference, at least the one I see, is that the web has exponentially increased the speed at which they can form, communicate, and act (not to mention expand their reach, increase their longevity, and create digital legacy). In short, the more connected we are, the easier it is to find and share our niches and/or interests. I have a feeling that this may partially explain the popularity of professionally-focused social networks like Govloop.

The Connection Between Online Communities and Motivation

What sites like Govloop offer that the public sector organizations can't is a large pool of people who have all opted-in to the community (autonomy). Strict hierarchies, and the work we are paid to undertake within them, often fail to align well with where autonomy would take us.

For me personally, despite a significant interest and work overlap, there are many tasks that I perform in my substantive role that don't actually interest me. At a fundamental human level, I think that we are all working to bring our interests and our duties into complete congruence. While there may be other motivating factors, I would argue that joining a professional social network is a way to signal one's interest in improving one's skill set. My own experience with Govloop is that the network has expanded the pool of people from whom I can learn and has exposed me to a number of new social (free) learning opportunities. The community also reinforces my sense of purpose through encouraging comments on blog posts and interactions in discussion forums.

Online Communities: A Motivating Factor

This is incredibly important because the relationship between traditional motivators like salary, advancement opportunities and service to Canadians and autonomy, mastery and purpose is not always clear.

Somewhere at the nexus of employees and managers lies the responsibility to motivate. If participation in online communities does in fact motivate people the way I think they do, an argument could be made that they are the newest tool at the disposal of organizations looking to improve the motivation of their people.

However, this is deeply at odds with standard operating procedure in many public sector agencies. If we agree that participation in online communities can plug motivational gaps within the organization than we should be acting in a way that reduces the barriers to participation for those people in the organization who want to participate.

Why is it then that our organizations block access to these types of networks in the workplace? From where I sit, I see them filling a gap, and doing it at no additional cost to the organization, save some of the employees' time. What people need to understand is that a little time away from the desk now may actually mean a more effective use of the remaining time spent at it.

Plugging the Holes

Perhaps we need to start to rethink the public sector's relationship with social networking sites, maybe they aren't the productivity sink holes many people deem them to be, maybe they could actually be used to fill not only motivational gaps, but learning gaps, expertise gaps, and thereby perhaps even budgetary shortfalls (depending of course on how they are used).

Shouldn't managers then be looking to connect their staff to their communities of interest in a way that creates value for the organization?

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that the ability to do this effectively is about to become one of the most important competencies for leadership.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Update: Thanks, Let's Connect, Upcoming Travel

1) Thank You!

I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone who has made this blog possible. I won't go into details, but if you are taking the time to read this, I owe you a bit of gratitude. The depth and breadth of content on the web means that every second you spend on this site is time you don't spend elsewhere. That is a huge vote of confidence that cannot be understated.

Thank you.

2) Let's Connect!

If we haven't connected formally off of this site, I'd like to invite you to take the time to do so:
If you are interested I also maintain a more complete list of where I am on the social web and why. As usual you can subscribe to the content on the site via RSS; and I recently added the ability to subscribe by email:

cpsrenewal via email

3) Upcoming Travel

If you are in the following areas and want to connect in person, please let me know. I'm always interested in meeting new people and put real faces to online interactions:
  • Moncton, New Brunswick
  • St. Andrews, New Brunswick
  • Toronto, Ontario,
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Cambridge, Maryland
Don't hesitate to drop me an email, and I will get back to you ASAP.


Friday, September 3, 2010

The Changing Relationship Between Accountability and Responsibility

Collaborative technologies apply flattening pressure to hierarchical organizational structures by diffusing the ability to publish, share and disseminate information. For example consider the action of publishing something to the corporate intranet compared to an enterprise wiki.

Intranet Publishing is a Linear Process

This linear process is designed to ensure compliance with a broad set of interrelated policy frameworks, such as official languages, access to information and privacy, information management directives, values and ethics, etc. It does so by making people along the chain responsible for formally approving the content. These people are gatekeepers, key decision making nodes along the pipeline. While this type of system may ultimately produce compliance, it does so at the cost of expediency and thus perhaps even relevancy. In short, when it comes to internal communication models, many hands don’t always make light work, sometimes they make long work.

Wikis are Different (or at least they can be)

In an open enterprise wiki environment, publishing is unfettered. It can be instantly achieved by anyone in the organization. This means that formalized structures (e.g. linear approval processes) are incredibly difficult to maintain. Since there is no formal chain of command that ensures policy compliance, there are no nodes of decision-making that act as gatekeepers. In this model publishers are not only responsible for production but for policy-compliant production. In short, wikis make for quick publication but at the cost of ensured policy compliance.

How Does This Affect the Relationship Between Accountability And Responsibility?

In an enterprise wiki, publishers may have new found responsibility but the traditional accountability chain (i.e. the hierarchy) remains intact. I can't say for certain what the exact impact of this is on the organization other than it is largely seen as an erosion of power of gatekeepers. Gatekeepers rely on the bureaucratic tradition of:

Power = Knowledge


Knowledge = Position within the hierarchy x # of direct reports x Information / relative importance vis-a-vis other areas

The reason this equation works is simple: the information/action/work must be routed through the established process. The minute that process changes, say by implementing an enterprise wiki in parallel to a corporate intranet, the power structure implodes. Ask anyone working in these spaces right now and they will tell you that corporate intranets are losing ground quickly to enterprise wikis.

These will be difficult times

This shift – enabled by changes to the relationship between responsibility and accountability – is playing out in the culture right now. It is creating confusion inside organizations, people are unsure where to put information, where to find it, and in some cases which source of competing information is the most accurate.

The underlying question isn't really whether or not we should replace our intranets with wikis but rather what type of culture do we want our institutions to support? The reason there is so much tension around these issues is that the institution isn't designed to work in the ways that new collaborative technologies now enable us to.

We are slowly moving into a way of working, a way of thinking – perhaps even a way of being – that is not conducive with our way of managing, how we create incentives and/or how we create disincentives.

Maybe it is time for a redesign.

[Image credit: chelseagirl]

Friday, August 20, 2010


I've got to warn you, I am about to do two things I told myself I never would.

First, I'm going to start by breaking the cardinal rule of blogging as a public servant: don't ever talk about the particulars of your workplace.

Second, well, let's just say if I explained it now, it would give too much away.

The Only Constant is Change

Some of you may question what is important enough to prompt me to speak to the specifics of my workplace. Last week, I got some bad news. Last week I learned that my boss is leaving.

If there is one thing I have learned in my time in the public service it is this: you cannot overstate the importance of good leadership.

The Team

The team I work in comprises only 8 people, including my boss.

She is a Director General (DG), we are her DGO (Director General's Office); and unlike typical DGOs, we don't have anyone reporting up into us. We are the closest thing in the public sector I have seen to a SWAT team:

  1. Lightweight (mobilize quickly)
  2. Proximate to senior leadership
  3. Experienced in our areas (unique skill sets and backgrounds)
  4. Clear on our responsibilities
  5. Able to think ahead and anticipate issues
  6. Surrounded by an enabling culture
  7. Results driven
  8. Handpicked by the boss

The worst part is that despite another few months under her leadership, the team is already starting to go its separate ways. I don't expect the next iteration to look the same as the last.

It gets worse: we are being moved under a Director (read: getting heavier, losing proximity to senior leadership) who is yet to be determined (read: unclear responsibilities and culture) and Director General who is also yet to be determined (read: double jeopardy).

In short, the entire unit is imploding, and quite frankly I'm pretty upset about it. It affects me personally, but also I think this is a huge blow for the public sector in general.

We are losing the closest thing I have ever come to a results oriented workplace in the public sector.

We are losing the closest thing I have ever come to an innovation lab in the public sector.

We are losing proof that a small and flexible unit, properly managed, can be highly effective.

It's Personal

When my boss told me she was leaving it was a complete system shock. I forced out the word “congratulations”, but inside a small part of me died.

She was an integral part of the work I was putting forward; she was one of the designated champions; she, at least in my opinion was the strongest voice at the table. Without her, the likelihood of success for the work I am about to undertake drops dramatically.

That drop makes me think twice about staying in my current role.

There, I just broke the second rule – the one I wasn't going to tell you about at the beginning of this diatribe: self-doubt.

I doubt my ability to be successful in my current role because one of the most critical elements for success is being removed from the equation and replaced with an unknown.

Worst Conclusion Ever

I suppose I am supposed to conclude with something definitive, be it positive or negative about the future of my work, but I can't.

For the first time in a long while, I am left speechless.

[image credit: TheGiantVermin]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Innovation is like Poker: A Day to Learn and a Lifetime To Master

It struck me last week that innovating in the public sector is a lot like playing Poker. Good players will tell you that it's not sheer luck, but rather a combination of skill, strategy and tactics. In this spirit, I've taken the liberty of recasting 10 of the most common poker tips for public sector innovators.

1. Don't Play Every Hand / Do Fold More
Probably the number one mistake beginning poker players make is that they play far too many hands. When you're just starting out playing poker, you want to play poker, and that means staying in hands that aren't very good just to be part of the action. But playing more doesn't mean winning more, it usually means losing more. If you find you're staying in half or more the hands you're dealt, you need to upgrade your starting hand requirements.

Lesson for innovators: If you choose your projects carelessly just to be a part of the action you risk dwindling your social capital and ability to influence. Look for better opportunities and take advantage of openings.

2. Don't Play Drunk
Countless nights have I sat across a table from someone & watched them get plastered silly and throw away their entire stack of chips. I've been that person too - and there are nights where you're just playing with friends for low stakes and it's more about the fun than the poker - but if you're in a casino, watch the alcohol. The truth is, while you may be more relaxed after 2 drinks, it may lead to you playing looser and less sharply, even if one's not 'drunk.'

Lesson for innovators: Don't be reckless. Don't burn through your social capital needlessly and be careful of those who do. Try to associate with people who keep their head in the game until the last card is shown.

3. Don't Bluff Just For Bluffing's Sake
A lot of beginner's understand that bluffing is a part of poker, but not exactly how. There's is NO rule that one must bluff a certain amount or at all during a poker game, but many players don't feel like they've won unless they've tried a poker bluff. Bluffs only work in certain situations & against certain people, and if you know a player always calls to the showdown, it is literally impossible to bluff that player. It's better never to bluff than to bluff "just to bluff."

Lesson for innovators: Don't withhold information just to withhold it. Do it sparingly, and with good reason, and whatever you do, never flat out lie to your boss. Even if you could catch them with(?) a bluff, why would you want to?

4. Don't Stay in a Hand Just Because You're Already In It
Another common mistake beginners make is to think that "Well, I've already put that much in the pot, I have to stay in now." Nope. You can't win a pot just by throwing money at it. There may be cases when pot odds warrant a call, but if you're sure you're beaten, and there's no way your hand can improve to be the best hand, you should fold right away. The money you've already put in the pot isn't yours anymore, and you can't get it back just by playing a hand all the way to the end.

Lesson for innovators: It is okay to kill an idea if the timing is off, if you don't have the support, or if the idea wasn't all that great in the first place. Knowing when to call it quits is imperative - there is no shame in it.

5. Don't Call at the End of a Hand to "Keep Someone Honest"
This one follows the last tip. I see a lot of players look at another player's final bet, look at the hand, & say "I know you've got me, but I have to keep you honest," as they throw in a final call. It may be worth it to see if a player really has the hand if you're not sure & you're gaining information that will help you later on, but if you really feel a player has the hand he's representing & you're beat, why give him another pile of your money? Those bets will add up over an evening.

Lesson for innovators: Accept failure and move on.

6. Don't Play When Mad, Sad, or in a Generally Bad Mood
When you play poker, you shouldn't do it to escape from being depressed or having a really bad day. You start out on tilt -- playing emotionally, not rationally -- and you won't play your best. Likewise, if during a poker game, you lose a big hand or get sucked out on and feel yourself going on tilt, stand up & take a break until you feel calm later on. Fellow players will sense your mood & take advantage of it.

Lesson for innovators: Innovation requires presence. If your head isn't in it, it'll show, so take care of yourself.

7. Do Pay Attention to the Cards on the Table
When you first start playing, it's enough just to remember how to play and pay attention to your own hand. But once you've got that down, it's incredibly important to look at what's going on at the table. In Texas Hold'em, figure out what the best possible hand would be to fit the flop. Make sure you notice flush & straight possibilities. In 7-card stud, pay attention to what's showing & what people have folded when you consider calling opponents.

Lesson for innovators: Keep your head up. Innovation occurs within a much larger organizational context. Focusing too narrowly on your piece of the puzzle jeopardizes your initiative and the likelihood of its success.

8. Do Pay Attention to the Other Players
As you play, one of the single best things you can do is observe your opponents, even when you're not in a hand. If you know if one player always raises in a certain position, & another has a poker tell when he bluffs, & a 3rd folds to every re-raise, you can use that information to help you decide how to play against them. Once you know that player 3 always folds to a re-raise on a river, that's when you can bluff & steal a pot.

Lesson for innovators: Keep your head on a swivel. Knowing how people will react to you or your initiative allows you to anticipate action before it happens. Streamline your execution and make sure you are able to adapt and respond as the situation changes.

9. Don't Play at too High Limits
There are many reasons people move up to a higher limit game than they usually play. Good reasons like they've been winning consistently at a lower lever & are ready to move up, & bad reasons like the line is shorter for higher limits or you want to impress someone. Don't play at stakes that make you think about the actual money in terms of day-to-day life or with money you can't lose. Even if you had one super-good night at $2/4, resist the urge to play $5/10. The next tip explains more why.

Lesson for innovators: Start small, scale with success. Build momentum, then use it smartly.

10. Do Pick the Right Game for Your Skill Level & Bankroll
One of the reasons you shouldn't jump into a $5/10 game after winning a huge bunch of money at $2/4 is because as the stakes rise, so does the average skill level of the players sitting there. You want to be one of the best at the table, not the fish who sits down with sharks. If you're making stacks of money at a lower level game, why move? You're winning stacks of money. The swings up & down at higher limits are much bigger, and one big night's win won't last long at a high-stakes game.

Lesson for innovators: Innovation is harder the farther you move up in the organization. If you are having success where you are, think twice before jumping at a higher paycheck, more responsibilities, etc, you might actually get less than you bargained for.

[photo credit:Rambis]

Friday, August 6, 2010

Equip Leaders to Lead

Below you will find a 5 slide deck that I have embedded if you want to scroll through it for context, I have also broken each slide out as an image below with a few comments. The underlying point that I am trying to make is that senior leaders in the public sector deal with an incredibly complex and nuanced information and influence system that operates around them and that, in order to make the best possible decisions, they need to be properly equipped with business intelligence aggregation devices.

Step by Step
Essentially the bureaucratic hierarchy is quite simple: it's a pyramid where outputs flow up for decisions, and direction flows down.
The external environment is far more organic. Stakeholders don't always interface with the government effectively because they aren't necessarily designed to do so.
However, strict bureaucratic hierarchy is somewhat of a myth when we consider it in relation to external stimuli. Public servants at all levels within the organization consume (interact) with the outside world is some way, shape, or form. Thus the external environment influences both the production cycle and the direction of the public sector organization in ways I think we truly do not yet understand; ways that are far more profound then the media scrums of our political masters and the infamous Globe and Mail test.
What I find fascinating is that all of the public sector organizations operate in much the same context, yet largely remain in their own silos.
But, given an increasingly complex policy environment and cost-cutting, you think we would be actively investing in ways to improve co-production, co-consumption, and co-direction. After three and a half years in government, I can say with authority that true interdepartmental coordination is always the most difficult thing to achieve. We have difficulty identifying the leads, who should be at what tables, what work has or is being duplicated, etc. I had prepared a full two-page introduction to this premise but have scrapped all of it in favour of one simple sentence:

In order to lead effectively in the environment outlined above, senior leaders need a tool that delivers them real time business intelligence to inform decision-making.

Business Intelligence Aggregation Device

Senior leaders, meet what could easily be your new best friend, flipboard.

The concept behind Flipboard, the personal magazine, is incredibly powerful for any organization looking to make better use of its business intelligence.

That being said, I think this application has the potential to be transformative in the public sector. Information moves so slowly through the bureaucracy that it undermines even the most valiant efforts at being proactive. Forget about Flipboard connecting you to content you care about, think about its potential to connect senior leaders to the business intelligence they need in order to lead effectively.

A Huge Opportunity for Innovation

I don't see a reason why we shouldn't investigate how to implement this type of solution behind an organizational firewall. Simply replace Flipboard's Twitter and Facebook aggregations and “Retweet” and “Like” buttons with business intelligence and actionable items.

  1. Production: a synopsis of what’s being written by employees (briefing notes, policy papers, correspondence, communication plans, etc), sortable by level or business line.
  2. Direction: request in-person briefings with subject matter experts, send delegates to meetings, approve documents for publication, etc.
  3. Consumption: get a feel for what external sources are influencing decision-making and knowledge asset production within the organization
  4. Co-Production / Consumption / Direction: Share and act across organization boundaries when it makes sense.
This type of approach provides a far greater depth and breadth of information than the status quo of briefing binders, red dockets for signing and often out of date telephone directories stapled to cubicle walls.

If we truly want our leaders to lead, we need to equip them to do so. Whenever I look at new pieces of technology and assess their potential value to organizations I find myself reflecting on a statement made by Clay Shirky:
"These tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn't when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It's when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we're all in this together."

That is why I am really interested in this particular idea.

Introducing the equivalent to the "Enterprise Flipboard" into existing organizational structures doesn't erode hierarchies or undermine authority structures. It simply makes better use of existing (but currently opaque) business processes and the social systems that surround them. Back to Shirky's point, "Enterprise Flipboard" really isn't all that interesting technologically; being able to leverage tools like this for data aggregation and decision-making should be the norm; and so should the idea that everyone in the organization is in this together.

If you are interested in discussing developing the equivalent to an "Enterprise Flipboard", let me know, I'm interested in discussing it more.