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.
- Production: a synopsis of what’s being written by employees (briefing notes, policy papers, correspondence, communication plans, etc), sortable by level or business line.
- Direction: request in-person briefings with subject matter experts, send delegates to meetings, approve documents for publication, etc.
- Consumption: get a feel for what external sources are influencing decision-making and knowledge asset production within the organization
- Co-Production / Consumption / Direction: Share and act across organization boundaries when it makes sense.
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.