Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Update: Gone Camping

Hi All - just wanted to let you know that there will be no column this week. I'm leaving tonight to go camping with the extended family for Canada Day weekend.

Have a safe and happy Canada Day (or 4th of July!) and we will see you all next week.

(if you are really looking for something good to read, try: Working for Government is an Endurance Sport by my friend Nina.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I Made a Mistake, and I Apologize

Last week I reacted too quickly. I was upset and tried to prove a point. I still think my point is valid, but in retrospect I went about trying to prove it the wrong way.

My passion got the better of me, and for that I apologize to those I was trying to prove the point to. I respect them, and they deserved better than that.

Long story short, I tried to fake-scuttle something because I thought a colleague was being treated unfairly. This colleague, my friend, a brilliant and capable man, assured me that he could handle it. I didn't doubt for a minute he could, and he did.

My passion got the better of me, and for that I apologize to him. I took it personally when it was something far more important.

It was about many of us. It was about everyone who had stepped in on the ground floor, editing preliminary wiki pages, throwing out ideas, and taking time to sit around the planning table.

My passion got the better of me, and to everyone who put in time, I apologize. My intention was never to actually scuttle the project, but rather to induce a short coma to prove my point.

The point, the one I think is still valid, the one that got the better of me, is that in order to exert influence over the project in today's environment you have to be present, you need to participate, and the participation of any one individual is far outweighed by the collective participation of others. The influence of hierarchy, especially in collaborative cultures, is eroding.

It is a point that all of you who refused to let me scuttle the project proved to me through your actions, and through your refusal to simply let a good idea die because one person couldn't participate; and for that I thank you.

Making mistakes is natural. The trick is learning from them. One of the things that I have learned through this experience is that community - friends and colleagues - tend to know more than you think, and they also cut you slack if you have social capital. Making mistakes is a lot harder when you worry about alienating those you on rely for support. It’s a lot easier when you know they will be there to help you up when you fall down.

I made things personal. I underestimated you, and overestimated my own importance.

I made a mistake, and for that I apologize.

[image credit: mysunshine]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eat or Be Eaten

Last week I happened upon a blog post from Geordie Adams via a tweet from Tim O'Reilly. In it Geordie explains what he thinks is the major issue facing social media enthusiasts in the public sector:
“Cultural change [is] the biggest impediment to a higher adoption rate of social media in the public sector... [it] gets mentioned, everyone agrees, and then conversation turns to a technical or implementation discussion. To not [dig into culture change] is robbing important momentum from public sector social media evolution.” - Geordie Adams, Publivate (full article)
Geordie's right, I can't even recall the amount of times I have heard variations of the phraseCulture eats strategy for breakfast”. Essentially, even the most well thought out strategic approaches are vulnerable to the workplace culture. It would seem that when social media meets the public sector it is culture, not content, that is king. Culture is eating breakfast in plenaries, in tweets and in blog posts on a daily basis all over the world. Initially I thought it was a great line, its retweetable, to the point, and when I hear it I implicitly understand the connotation.

Over my dead body

As catchy as it is, I would hate to see it on my tombstone. If we don't do a better job tackling the problem we might as well give up, call the undertaker and order our tombstones with that very inscription. I can see mine already:

Here lies Nick
He went quick
always circled by a vulture
its name was culture

While Geordie's list of cultural problems (failure, engagement, and transparency) is a good place to start , I prefer to start with what I think underlies all of them: complacency. It would seem that over the years many of us have earned the fat cat stereotype; even those who haven't earned it directly are now guilty by association.


In John Kotter's Leading Change, Kotter addresses the problem of complacency by arguing that a sense of urgency is a key determinant of success when it comes to deep culture change projects. In fact, according to Kotter, urgency is so important that he decided to write another book dedicated to that very topic. Urgency, it would seem is the penultimate catalyst for change.

If this is indeed the case - and I tend to agree that it is - then we must ask ourselves, where is the urgency in the public sector right now? I can say without hesitation that after three years, I haven't seen it. Sure I've been busy, or stressed out or faced tight deadlines, and I don't doubt that many of you have too. What I mean is that there really isn't what Kotter would call a true sense of urgency: steady, unrelenting, purposeful, intense ... trying to do things a bit better all the time.

That sense, simply doesn't exist at the macro. That being said I find it everywhere I turn at the micro, I see it because I choose to associate with those, who like me, implicitly understand that urgency, that need for deep change.

Semi-Rant: I don't understand

I apologize in advance, this is where you may find me ranting, but sometimes things need to be said because these are things that I just don't understand.

I don't understand why we in the public sector are so good at accepting the status quo. We accept it even when a great opportunity to question it comes across our desk or when our gut tells us otherwise.

I don't understand why it is okay to blame the culture for our failures. It seems like a cop out. Somewhere along the line failure due to "culture" has become acceptable, completely mainstream. Any effort expended can be readily justified whenever someone exclaims: "It wasn't me it was the culture" or "The culture wasn't (isn't) ready for it". We have created an excuse for ourselves and it has made us lazy and weak. There is no other possible explanation for the prevalence of the “culture eats strategy” meme; now we hang our shame on it like a collective crutch.

I for one am done blaming our failures on the culture, we are the culture, if I blame it I blame myself. I might as well be honest and accept the blame readily instead of playing semantics. Accepting this is the first step towards moving forward.

Don't we wordsmith too much already in government?

Eating Elephants

If culture is truly the elephant in the room, we must ask ourselves how we can best deal with it. My thought is that if culture is eating strategy for breakfast, than perhaps we should turn the tide and get hungry ourselves.

So, to borrow the old adage, how does one eat an elephant [in a room]? One bite at a time.

You may not have the stomach for it, but I don't really see another viable option, we have reached the point of eat or be eaten.

[Image Credit:WallTea]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Update: Real Life

I just wanted to let you know that I'm traveling back from Yellowknife today and didn't have time to queue up my blog post. I will say this, my experience in the North was amazing; I do not know where to start.

I will have something for you guys by Monday; in the meantime go read this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Update: Featured on Govloop

I just wanted to mention that I was featured on Govloop. I answered 4 questions exclusively on the site. Check it out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vlog: Highlights from my Interview w/@FusedLogic at #Govcamp

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Govcamp, in addition to listening to the panel and participating in the break out sessions, I also had the opportunity to sit down with Walter Schwabe from FusedLogic for an hour long interview. The video below is 10 minutes of the highlights from that interview.

If you are hungry for more video content I would encourage you to check out both the panel discussion and the 3+ hours of interviews with the likes of people I admire personally like David Eaves, David Hume, and Chris Moore and of course John Weigelt, the man who made Govcamp possible.

Also if you are in Toronto on June 17th, I would encourage you to find a way to get to Govcamp Toronto, word on the street is that it is going to be a blast.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Update: canada@150 Report to be Released Next Week!

I just wanted to write a quick update to let you know a bit about some key things going on next week. After much anticipation the canada@150 report will finally be officially released at an armchair discussion at the Canada School of Public Service.

You may recall that around this time last year I conducted an interview with one of the participants that was, and I quote (myself) "chocked full of successy-goodness".

Unfortunately I can't be at three places at once, so while the report is being released, I will be in Yellowknife presenting at the 2010 Northern Communicators' Forum; which also means I will be missing Govcamp Toronto.

Don't get me wrong I am very excited to be visiting the Canada's North for the first time, connect with some of the people in real life there (whom I have only ever met online) and to be on a panel with Jesse Brown.

All of that being said it pays to be a blogger (actually it doesn't =/) because it means that I am sitting on an advance copy of the canada@150 report and plan on sharing my thoughts in a blog post next Friday (June 18th).

Talk to you soon, have a great Public Service week next week. Oh, and if anyone has any suggestions on must do things while I am in Yellowknife, please let me know.


Friday, June 4, 2010

I hold these truths to be self-evident

In honour of my trip to DC last week I decided that remixing a portion of the Declaration of Independence would be appropriate:

I hold these truths to be self-evident, that platforms that enable collaboration are valuable, but useless unless they are supported by people and an engagement process, a process that is built on trust, enablers and reciprocity.

-- That to secure these things, bureaucracies must focus more strategically on modernizing their workplace, curating a culture of collaboration in a gift economy.

--That whenever individual bureaucrats resist this cultural shift, it is incumbent on those who embrace it to be courageous, to continue to lay the foundation of public sector renewal in such form, as to maximize openness and transparency.

History, indeed, dictates that long established traditions cannot be thrown by the wayside for the latest social media fad; and that while me must learn from our past experiences, that, while there are risks, the public sector has for more to gain from the adoption of these technologies, than they do to lose by banning them or blocking access to the web.

But if we the evangelists focus on the technologies to the detriment of the people, we will have done the people and ourselves an injustice, and we should be reminded that we jeopardize all that we have struggled to accomplish, and endeavour to rediscover the human element of these technological enablers.

--We have suffered with an outdated culture far too long; and now the rapid development of enabling technologies means that the necessity for change can no longer be constrained. The bureaucratic culture has largely been one of knowledge as power, locked data, and closed government. To change this, we continue to endeavour to open it up to a more transparent world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gov 2.0 Expo Highlights

I was fortunate enough to end up at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington DC. First of all, if you are ever in DC stay at the DC Guest House. Big thanks to Laurel Ruma at O'Reilly for turning me on to the place.

Second, the Expo was on the whole, pretty awesome. There were some slick show and tells, a lot of energy, and thought provoking discussions. I also (finally!) got to meet the great people behind Govloop: Steve Resler, Andrew Krzmarzick, Megan Price and of course Attia "the intern" Nasar; not to mention a whole slew of others.

Slick Show and Tells

By far my two most informative show and tell sessions were:

(follow the links above for more info)

Energetic Gov 2.0

By far the most energetic session at the Expo was Kathy Sierra's "Creating Passionate Users".

I also really enjoyed Fred Dust's Building a Culture of Experimentation. It was an elegant discussion that focused in on the need to start with people - something that is often lost along the way. (Sorry no video, it was a break out session)

Thought Provocation

Jay Parkinson's "Healthcare Needs a Redesign" was absolutely amazing, it made me want to do the exact same thing for citizen services.

Anil Dash's "Innovation and Participation: Embracing the Civic Web was great too. The main premise is that your social network is your own personal think tank. Worth a watch.

Finally, Jeff Jonas' "Spear Phishing the Masses: When Open Data is Dark" was probably my favorite talk at the entire expo just because of the informative content. Warning, don't show this talk to your CIO.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I’d rather be GovCamping!

[Update: I took the code off from the live stream as it was live streaming other FusedLogic TV events. Cheers. - Nick ]

Today I'm at Govcamp in Ottawa, below is a live stream of the event care of my friends at fusedlogic. Seems like the feed settings are wider than my column below, if you are tuning in, I'd full screen the feed. Cheers.