Friday, May 28, 2010

If we build it, will you come?

If we built a free, day long conference focused on teaching and learning about collaboration (not technology!) in the public sector would you want to attend? Would you want to lend a hand?

If you are inside the Government of Canada firewall I would invite you to look at (and contribute!) to the planning page in GCPEDIA.

If you are outside the federal public service and want to be a part of the planning team, the first planning meeting is being held Friday June 4th at 4pm, details here.

If you are interested in participating but not helping organize please let me know via email, twitter, or in the comments here so I can get you more details when they are available.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rant on Productivity

I will spare you the pleasantries, and cut directly to the chase: social media behind the firewall does not present any new management challenges in the public sector.

If you were a strong manager before the age of social media, you are a strong manager in the era of social media. Conversely, if you were a weak manager before social media, you are a weak one with social media. The same can be said about employees of every stripe and at all levels.

In short: poor performers are poor performers.

The only real difference is the radically transparent nature of the environment enabled by the tools and their underlying ethos: the gift economy.

Transparency is the key to efficiency in the public sector: it rapidly exposes poor performance, information hoarding, and posturing, all of which are endemic to and even rewarded in the public sector.

I simply cannot accept an argument that says: “We deny you access to tools and large chunks of the web because you will waste your time.”

Unproductive people in your organization have been unproductive for years without social media and will continue to find ways to be unproductive even if you block access to it. Why stop there? I could rhyme off a huge list of things that may take you away from your immediate work that, when looked at more closely, has an ambiguous effect on productivity: smoke breaks, coffee breaks, walks around the block, working from home (or anywhere else), lunch time workouts (which often surpass 30 minutes), walking to a meeting instead of taking a cab, etc.

If we measure productivity in terms of milliseconds spent at your workstation we might as well bring back the punch clock and get back to making widgets.

If your management strategy is based on denial then you are in denial: you really don't have a management strategy at all.

The bottom line is that social media doesn't present new challenges, it just shines some new light on old ones.

[image credit: ibai Lemon]

Friday, May 14, 2010

Recharge the Batteries

To be honest I had a difficult couple of weeks and I needed to take the time to unwind (buy me a coffee if you want the details). It was probably the first time in over three years in the public service where I took time off for the express purpose of simply recharging my batteries.

I took two days off this week and spent the time doing things I wanted to do. I created some nifty visualizations of the Digital Economy consultation paper, went for a run, had lunch with my dad, spoke at an event, taught a course, and wrote this simple blog post.

How often do you take the time to recharge?

What do you do?

I'm certainly going to start doing it more often and I'm interested in how it's done; I'm learning just how important it can be.

[image credit: Princess Cy]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Update: What Social Networks I'm on and Why

I thought it would be worth while to simply share what social media platforms I am using and how and why I am using them. Feel free to connect with me where you see fit, I have listed services in alphabetical order. I have also made this page a permanent feature on the blog as well.

I use to share songs that reflect my mood, I usually quote the relevant portion of the song in the blip; and I have it set up to automatically push the blip to twitter. I tend to blip more on the weekends than the weekdays.

Feel free to follow me on blip but be advised that I do not use any of the other social features in the platform, I don't care about the badges and I don't follow any other DJs.

I rarely save something to delicious, when I do it is with the intention of reading it later or re-using it for work or blogging purposes. All of the bookmarks there are related to knowledge management, social learning and collaborative technologies.


While I am on Facebook I actually dislike the platform, there are slew of privacy issues and it is rife with noise (i.e. farmville). I use it primarily to vent with status updates not fit for twitter, upload photos of my children to circumvent people asking me to email them, and for its event functionality. I initially joined Facebook because I wasn't getting invited to parties anymore, that is the honest truth.

I have also created a bare bones "fan page" (misnomer), if you would like to receive blog posts in your Facebook feel free to add it. I didn't want to bombard 500 of my closest non public servant friends with a conversation about a sector many of them do not work in.

Empire Avenue

Empire Avenue is still in closed beta but I am really digging it. Empire Avenue is like FriendFeed with a gaming component that actually keeps you interested.


I don't actually share any photos on Flickr but I do use compfight to search Flickr for creative commons licensed photos I can use in presentations. My galleries are organized based on the license under which the images are issued.

I got into FriendFeed a while back and I find the act of creating a lifestream to be an incredibly eye opening experience. Seeing every piece of previously detached interaction on the web assembling into a single RSS feed really gives you an appreciation for the amount of content people are now creating on the web.

While it includes all my feeds I am not following many people on FriendFeed and don't intend to in the near future. Right now there simply aren't enough people in my social circle using it to make it worth my while.

I really think there is huge potential for social location based services, but I am starting to grow tired of Foursquare. I find its not very social, unlocking badges is a rarity and other than bragging rights with other social media types there is little value to being the mayor of anything. In short it feels like the human equivalent of marking my territory. That being said I still check in periodically and selectively push updates to twitter. I only push the update to twitter when I would've tweeted about being at the location.
Google Reader

Google Reader is my choice for feed readers, it combined with FireFox and couple of GreaseMonkey scripts makes it a pretty good experience. Despite readers built in sharing options I tend to tweet out links from my reader rather than sharing them with those who follow my reader. I would say that there is probably no real reason to follow me in Google reader.

(the same can be said about Google Buzz and Google Wave; I'm there but not using them)


I syndicate my blog to Govloop on Mondays (I publish here on Friday) in order to reach a wider audience. I always link back to this blog in the syndication and I respond to any and all comments left on the post at Govloop.

I also use discussion groups to ask a questions, read the featured blogs and connect with other public servants all over North America (and the world).


My use of Linked In is rather limited. I use it mostly as a static (but up to date) resume that points to some of my other social presences. Despite there being a number of active discussion groups on the platform I tend to either quickly skim them via daily digest emails or ignore them summarily. This is mainly a time issue, but also the fact that their digest emails don't display well on a blackberry (because they are full of HTML and I couldn't find a plain text option in the settings panel).

I am currently a Prezi convert, it is a flash based presentation software. I build all my presentations there and recommend it to anyone who likes to build a dynamic presentation. Unfortunately there is no way to link to a gallery of my prezis so I am providing a link to one of them, look for the "more prezis by Nick Charney link".

I used to use SlideShare to share all my presentations but since moving to Prezi I no longer have slides and thus no need to share them. I still use it to peruse other peoples decks for inspiration or information.


By far and away Twitter is my favorite social platform. It allows me to communicate with a number of people at once, crowdsource questions, share links and connect to others doing the same.

I also have a bot running that is auto tweeting links to a number of public servant blogs that publish relevant content. It also automatically retweets people tweeting links under the following hashtags: #cpsr #goc and #gc20.

Friday, May 7, 2010

All I Really Need to Know (About Collaboration) I Learned in Kindergarten (Last Week)

Last week I volunteered in my daughter's junior kindergarten class. Afterward I realized that building online communities is not all that different than building trust with a large group of children. In the column below I will speak directly about my experience in the classroom; while in many cases the corollaries will be self-evident I have purposely employed parentheses to make the analogy more explicit.

Introductions and Credibility via Association

My afternoon in the classroom started with a simple introduction: “Today we have a helper in the class, his name is Nick, he is Larkyn's dad. Can everyone say hello to Nick?” … which was met with a resounding “Hi Nick!” from the children.

In retrospect, the introduction builds my credibility in two ways: the first is that it was issued by the teacher for whom there is an existing relationship of respect and authority within the organization. The second is that the introduction included a peer connection–in this case my daughter Larkyn. The combination of authority (teacher) and camaraderie (Larkyn) created a certain degree of comfort between us despite the fact that we are essentially strangers.

Building Trust One Person at a Time

After the introduction I was on craft table duty. I was tasked to help the children make a hand print using paint and construction paper. Essentially this involved me giving directions (a framework), providing materials (the tools), making the print (the expected behaviour) and of course, cleaning up.

The process by which the children were selected to do the activity was akin to the process anyone should follow when they are looking to build support for an initiative. The students didn't maul the table all at once, nor were they told to come under their own volition; but rather they proceeded one at a time, starting with Larkyn. Starting with my daughter was incredibly helpful because she was my strongest link to the rest of the class. Each child who completed the craft not only selected the next child to complete the craft but also notified them. The key to understanding the success here is that in each case the student who just completed the craft freely selected the person the next person to undertake the process. I think it is fairly safe to say that students chose the subsequent student based, at least in part, on affinity. This approach (to community building) creates a cascading effect whereby each subsequent participant took my direction (advice) readily because they were referred by someone in their peer group.

As a class helper (community manager), this one–on-one interaction also provided me an incredible opportunity to learn about each person in the class (community) individually. I learned their names, which hand was their dominant (work style), their comfort level with having paint on their hands (tolerance for change), their ability to clean up after themselves (self-sufficiency), and who they considered their closest friends in the class (relationship map).

Play Where the Community Plays

I was then advised by the teacher that I could play bingo with the children after their snack, and was given the requisite materials to do so. I asked the kids if they wanted to play and while they said they were interested, they immediately dispersed after their snacks, electing to play with something on the other side of the room instead. Instead of hollering at them to come play bingo I just left the table and walked over to where my daughter was playing with three other friends. We started to play house but after a few minutes of interacting with them on their terms, I told the kids I was far more interested in the large set of cardboard building blocks along the wall. They weren't really interested but I asked them if they minded if I explored the blocks in order to see if they could be put to good use (permission for a proof of concept). They didn't have a problem with it so I began playing (experimenting) with them. I started by walling myself in with the blocks and then I knocked them down in a somewhat raucous manner.

Scaling Participation and Activity Levels Naturally

What I learned was that building the castle wasn't going to incite interest (high barrier to entry), but knocking it down was (low barrier to entry). The prospect of being able to knock down a second iteration of the castle was enough to secure the attention of four of the children (early adopters). Given that the attention span of these new converts was relatively fragile, our first castle (project) was fairly simple. We used no more than half the blocks available and the castle was completely devoid of any windows or doors (had only basic functionality). The building process itself took only minutes (expedient). Despite the relative simplicity of the activity and the low number of participants it quickly started to scale as the students became evangelists for it.

The key here is that I didn't push any of the students to recruit others but rather we scaled naturally. In some cases children self-selected to actively bring in their friends; in others, observers simply decided to join the fray based on what they saw. In both cases the initial hook was the same: a chance at knocking down the castle. As our numbers scaled so did the number of blocks we used, how elaborate the castle itself was, and the rules that governed that activity. While I provided advice, all of the aforementioned factors were ultimately determined by the participants through a self-emerging consensus.

Learning from Detractors

The benefits of allowing the group to determine its own code of conduct is that when there is a need to amend the rules of engagement it is felt more bluntly by participants. For example, the look of panic on a young boy’s face behind the wall screaming “I have to pee!” (the detractor) was enough to not only cause the immediate destruction of the structure by the community but also to prompt a new strategic choice: the mandatory inclusion of doors and windows on all future iterations of the castle.

Emerging Enablers

In the final iteration of the castle I started to see enablers emerge. In particular three individuals stepped up and played more active (yet different) roles: Larkyn, Jacob and Ethan. Larkyn was on crowd control, she determined who was in, who was out, she made sure people were sitting, and that they weren't knocking down the structure prematurely (guidelines for behaviour). Jacob was bringing me the building materials, starting with the largest blocks down to the smallest so we could maximize the efficiency of the structure (usefulness of the platform). Ethan was building with me. I took the time to teach him how we could build the tallest and sturdiest structure given the materials at our disposal (community manager).

On the final iteration we had approximately 20 children in the castle, and 3 enablers emerged to facilitate the larger group. Interestingly, participation rates were not too dissimilar from the 90-9-1 rule of internet participation.

Expanding the Scope

For the most part, when the teacher told us to clean up it was all hands on deck. While that was not surprising (they are told daily at that time to clean up), what was interesting was that when we moved outside to the playground the majority of the kids looked to me, Larkyn, Jacob and Ethan (the enablers) to choose the games to be played given the change in the environment. In short, the community generalized its decorum to a different set of circumstances.

Parade of Hugs

When I left at the end of the day it was a parade of hugs. Everyone wanted to thank me for the spending the time in the classroom (kudos for a job well done). In retrospect, I'm so glad I took the time to thank them too (because reciprocity is so important).

[image credit: woodlywonderworks]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Update: Armchair Discussion May 10th

Hi All - just wanted to blog this quick for those of you following the blog but not using twitter.

I will participating in an armchair discussion at the Canada School of Public Service on Monday, May the 10th from 1:00pm-3:30. Here are the details quoted verbatim from the School:

May 10, 2010 | 1:00 p.m to 3:30 p.m. (ET)

The Implications and Use of Social Media for Employee Engagement in Values and Ethics

Language: English Presentation; Bilingual Panel Discussion

Harnessing new technologies to enable the workplace presents both exciting opportunities and elements of risk. These tools create new possibilities for engaging employees and for renewing our workplace ethical culture. During this discussion, the speakers will talk about their approach and experience with incorporating social media into ethics programming for employees.

You are invited to attend this session at 65 Guigues Street (Ottawa) by clicking on "Register" below. If you cannot attend in person, tune in via Webcast (live video and audio feed) by clicking on "Register - Webcast".


Ms. Kathleen Edmond, Esq. is the Chief Ethics Officer.

Mr. Gil Dennis is the Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness at Best Buy Corporation.

Colin McKay is the Director of Research, Education and Outreach at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Nicholas Charney is a Policy Analyst with Indian and Northern Affairs.

You can get more information and/or register here... if you ask me the real draw of this event will be my friend and colleague Colin McKay - that guy cracks me up.