Friday, July 16, 2010

Now What?

Full disclosure: I was recently sent advance copies of two reports (canada@150 c/o the PRI and Road to Retention c/o the Public Policy Forum) and asked to blog about them. This is that post, sort of. Rather than waxing poetic about the reports themselves, I will simply offer up a quick observation on each, and then explore what I think is a far more important question: now what?


Admittedly, I didn't read the entire canada@150 report. It’s a behemoth size-wise (I recommend the coles notes version). Rather than skim the entire document haphazardly I zeroed in on the vision of the public service in 2017, which was well-articulated and worth the read. I went so far as creating a data visualization of it:

The nice thing about the visualization is that it helps you get the sense of what the essence of the vision was, is interactive, and offers a lower barrier to entry to prospective readers.

Road to Retention

Despite not actually being listed as a participant in the final report, I was in fact in attendance at the Ottawa session. I quickly skipped over the contextualization in the document as I am familiar with the changing demographics in this country. I was however quite interested in the recommendations put forth. The recommendation that hit closest to home for me was the need for employers to understand that the boundaries of the workplace have shifted. I for one regularly empty my inbox, prioritize my task list and read relevant documentation on the hour commute in to work. Old school management philosophies wouldn't put any value on that work. I gathered all the text from the recommendation section of the report and put together this word cloud of the recommendations in the report.

Truthfully, I was a little disappointed in how the word cloud turned out. I don't think it necessarily conveys the essence of the recommendations (feel free to disagree). Looking back I feel as though being a part of the conversation itself was far more valuable to me than reading the report a year later. Similarly, I assume, to those who participated in the canada@150 process.

Yeah, so reports are all nifty and cool but like now what?

Great question, right? What should we do with the contents of these two reports? There are some bang-up recommendations in both. Surely they deserve a better fate than early retirement to a lonely corner of the internet somewhere?

Please forgive me, and I don't mean to sound insulting, the reports are great, but my feeling is that if we didn't have a plan to use the ideas put forth in these reports why did we invest in the process of creating them?

The problem is by no means unique to either of these reports. In my three years in government I have seen it happen over and over again. Good ideas published in reports only to gather dust.

I think the reason it happens is actually rather simple: we often set the publication of the report as the final stage of the project, sometimes we take it one step further and have a communications plan that exceeds “put it on the website”.

What I never see these reports include is a re-integration plan: how do we take these recommendations and bring them into our organizations. Don't just throw the recommendations out there, point people in the right direction, arm them with communication materials - things they can use within their own social circles, give them an opportunity to connect with other people interested in the ideas. Whatever you do, don't just set up a generic email address to field queries.

I'm not saying rush out there and set up a Facebook fan page, but perhaps you could find a little corner on the web that pulls together all the pieces of the conversations and enables broader community engagement with the ideas.

Workflows that produce reports with recommendations should include the reintegration of those recommendations born out of the ideation process. Failing to do this costs organizations in more ways than I think we understand. There are many ways to do this through outreach, tagging, and aggregation tools using currently available (and often free!) tools.

I don't want to focus too much on the communications aspect, but I am a firm believer that reintegration of recommendations and community engagement needs to be part and parcel of the process that create these types of reports. What we need is akin to a cradle-to-cradle strategy for these types of initiatives. In both of these particular cases these reports were produced from an inclusive and participatory process. My feeling here is that there is a kind of natural opportunity here. The community (even if only temporary as in the cases above) should be the primary means through which the essence of these reports are communicated, championed and reintegrated back into organizations.

There is no better way to reintegrate the findings of a report back into the business fabric than by involving those initial producers back into the fold. Surely their voices lend more credence to the contents. They speak with a conviction deeper than any blogger who was at best tangentially involved in the process. We must shift our thinking and equip participants to move forward in a meaningful way. If we don't, I feel as though we have done them a disservice: their opinions mattered enough for us to solicit them, but not enough to act on them.

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