Friday, November 26, 2010

Lean On Me

I've taken the last two days off to spend with a good friend who needed someone to lean on, when was the last time you did the same? After all, we all need someone to lean on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gov T-Shirts! Get Your Gov T-Shirts Here!

So I finally got around to setting up an online store for the T-Shirt Designs I pulled together. Thanks to all for the interest, here is the link:

There are two designs and both are available in mens and womans versions. Hopefully more to come in the future. Please note that I haven't actually received my own yet, so it is hard to tell you about how the look/feel offline.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Unproductive Meetings? There Should Be an App For That

"In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes" - Benjamin Franklin

Old Ben was pretty close, but he forgot one crucial element: meetings. We all attend them, we often loath them, we often wonder in hindsight if they were actually worth the time. I'm not trying to say that meetings can't be useful, just that they often aren't, at least in my experience. In fact the more time I spend around the boardroom table, the more I think that there must be a better way to manage meetings within the organization.

Why do we need to rethink meetings?

I can't say for certain if this phenomenon is universal or simply ubiquitous across my own experience, but people tend to think of meetings as just another part of their job; few think of meetings in terms of their costs to either them personally or their organization, happily meandering through directionless meetings.

How do we need to rethink meetings?

Meetings, even internal meetings, aren't free. There is always a cost associated with meeting. Why not build an app that could show participants what the true cost is? Here's a rough outline:
  • Meetings could be created by the person setting the agenda.
  • Info can be attached to the invitation
  • Attendees would check in to the meeting when they accept the meeting
  • Their salaries are automatically drawn out of their enterprise employment records (but not divulged to others in the room)
  • The convener starts the meeting and projects a running tally of the cost of the meeting as it is being conducted kind of like a taxi meter
  • Next to the cost of the meeting is the deliverable cost (e.g. say the meeting is to decide how to allocate a 25k contract)
  • Each participants mobile device can concurrently display their own dollar tally as well as a percentage of the total meeting cost.
  • The app would also give each participant ongoing cumulative data on how much of their own salary they have eaten up in meetings.
  • This data could also be used by the organization as a catalyst for better information sharing (to circumvent or improve the culture of meetings)
  • All in all the app is designed to shift thinking around the costs of meetings and inform better decision-making when it comes to meetings.

What can we do to rethink meetings?

This app is just a sketch on a whiteboard, but if you are interested in helping me build it, let me know. I'd love to get this one out the door.

Oh an yes I know that it probably will never make money, may actually contradict the science of motivation, but I can think of no other more immediate way to show people that (for hypothetical example) spending 150k in salary dollars determining how to best allocate an under 25k contract may not make sense.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Open Gov West Recap: Change, Connect, Contribute

This week I took some time off and headed out to Victoria British Columbia so I could be a part of Open Gov West BC.

It was an absolutely amazing experience

I had the privilege of sharing the opening keynote with friend Walter Schwabe. Walter and I have an excellent rapport and wanted to shake things up a little bit, we wanted to try something different, we wanted to inspire immediate action. We didn't just sit at the front of the room and talk down to audience from the riser. We walked among the crowd, armed with microphones, iPads, and a surprise.

Under the cover of darkness a few nights before the conference we created a group blog and invited everyone in the room, and those watching remotely to engage right now by changing, connecting, and contributing. We drove the theme home by telling everyone why we thought these things we so incredibly important.


When I first joined the public service I was struck by how closed it was, the system has a hard time surfacing talent and ideas. Moreover, it is being constantly reinforced by a culture of playing your cards really close to your chest. After a year circling the drain in a closed system I decided to approach things from an ethos of open. But it wasn't a fluke, I recall a conversation with a senior manager:

"Just because that's how everyone else acts, doesn't mean you have to do it too."

It was such a simple statement, but made at an opportune time. It completely changed my perspective. Since then I've come to better understand some of the challenges facing the public sector: impending retirements, out migration of knowledge and expertise, budgetary constraints, and the lack of sustainable engagement. Through hard fought experience I've come to the realization that openness isn't a panacea, but it is without question part of the answer. Often people just need to be told that change is in fact possible, I certainly did.


With this in mind, the single most important thing that people can start doing is narrating their work. So much of what we do as public servants gets locked away on proprietary drives, closed records and document management systems, or email. We need to start readily sharing not only the information we currently have on lockdown but also how we are making sense of that information, and how we are contextualizing it within our work.

Never before has technology allowed us to paint such a clear picture of what is informing decision-making, policy, and program delivery. Embracing a more open ethos and grabbing hold of enabling technology will do more for our public services than we could possibly imagine. It starts with a simple switch: connecting what we used to write in the margins of our paper based notebooks on the web.


This was the thinking behind the communal blog. We wanted to not only drive the message home but make participation as easy as possible. In addition to unleashing the blog, Walter purposefully walked participants through other low risk ways to be a part of the online conversation. We wanted to show them the path, and make it as easy as possible to walk down.

In the end, all we asked of participants was 100 words.

What we got was so much more

By about noon the traffic to the blog actually crashed the site. Participants weren't scribbling way in their individual notebooks, they were creating one communal one online and in real time. Participants had taken the message to heart, they changed, connected and contributed both in the room and online, which tells me that the event was an incredible success.

Kudos to everyone who participated.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Shift in Thinking on Enterprise Wikis

Whenever I explain why someone should use a wiki I usually come back to this graphic created by NASA:

Wikis, according to NASA, are designed (or at least deployed) to help mitigate the problems associated with document coordination via email. Whenever I show people this image, they immediately identify with the problems associated with document coordination and coauthoring via email.

Herein lies my question: if wikis are meant to help mitigate the email problem, why is it that when it comes to policy compliance we treat them like websites and not like email?

Because they’re web-based?

True, wikis are web based. But then again, so is email. In my opinion, what we are really talking about here is browser based versus client-based communication; think MediaWiki versus Outlook. This is most likely a nuance that is lost on many, taken for granted or considered unimportant. But the more I think about this, the more I think that these small differences are playing out in some major ways.

My Hunch on Policy

I have a hunch that many of the problems with deploying enterprise wikis are linked to the fact that we have trouble with them from both a policy and a cultural perspective because we try to treat them more like an intranet than like email. From a policy standpoint, we look at wikis and think about all of the interrelated policy frameworks (e.g. Official Languages Act; Access to Information Act; Privacy Act; Policy on Information Management; etc) and how they apply to government websites. I can see why we have gravitated in that direction, but have a feeling that it may be hindering adoption in a significant way. I would argue that public servants already understand their policy obligations when communicating via email. The only evidence I offer is the fact that email essentially runs the enterprise, and has for quite some time now.

Explaining wikis as websites that anyone can edit (standard practice, of which I am guilty) rather than a means of complementing email means that public servants are no longer familiar with their policy obligations. I’ve written on this matter before – about how push-button publication is changing the relationship between accountability and responsibility – but only connected the dots recently.

Why we might want to shift our thinking

Thinking about wikis as websites is creating confusion and complication, it disconnects us with what we are familiar with (email) and puts many outside of their comfort zone. We may overcome some of the barriers to adoption by refocusing on the fact that wikis can compliment email, and thus can be governed by a similar set of rules and norms. We look at email and understand how we craft it depends on the circumstances: intent, publisher, audience and the corporate (or non corporate) nature of the communication, etc. If we simply applied the same logic we might have higher levels of comfort around the use of wikis within the enterprise.

Wikis aren't new, they are new to government

I know I sound like a broken record when I bring it back to Clay Shirky’s statement about the transformative nature of technology, but I think it is incredibly important:

"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." – Clay Shirky, TED Talk

Dulling the Luster

Perhaps giving everyone in the enterprise “control over their own website” is simply far too interesting, while extending their (boring) old email system is far less so. Moving forward I’m considering purposely dulling the shine of enterprise wikis by explaining them more like this:

“Think of wikis as just an extension of email. They make it easier to circulate those enormous attachments or collate people’s input on a document. All in all they aren’t so much shiny, new or interesting as they are ruthlessly utilitarian.”