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]