Friday, February 25, 2011

On Hiatus

Friends -

You may be hearing a lot less from me both on and offline. I have decided that I am going on hiatus, and I'm not sure for how long. My priorities shifted dramatically this past Sunday when my father told me he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. My father has always been someone who inspires me, and, quite simply, I am choosing to spend more of my time trying to (re)inspire him.

Rest assured that I'm going to see through that to which I have already committed over the next few months, and I will continue the cpsr365, but I am not able to take on any additional extra curricular responsibilities over the coming months.

Thanks for your understanding, and until we meet again, let's stay engaged.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Modern Policy Wonk Workstation

The web is integral to my work. Here's a mockup of my workstation on a typical workday (Note that dual monitors are integral to this set up)(click to enlarge):

Tweetdeck (for Twitter)

Tweetdeck is open almost all day, and I am constantly paying partial attention to it. I have a it broken down into multiple streams (from left to right):

1. All (everyone I follow on Twitter, approximately 1600 people

2. Tier 1 (approximately 600 people)

  • people I have met in real life;people whom I have a significant online relationship with or respect for;
  • local media/pundits who cover the Hill; and
  • people who link a lot to relevant articles.
3. My @ replies My direct messages

4. Approximately 8 search columns based on:
  • hashtags (metadata)
  • inclusion of a link

What I find incredibly interesting (and some others find overwhelming) is how I can quickly process information flowing in multiple streams from Twitter via Tweetdeck. When I look at Tweetdeck I don't see 12 vertical columns but rather a single image map that is constantly updating. I have learned (through exposure) to scan the entire map for things that stand out:
  • Quotation marks (which denote an article title)
  • Hashtag (which denotes context)
  • Underlined portion (which denotes a hyperlink to an article)
  • Avatar (upon which I make an instantaneous judgement about the value you bring to my twitter experience)

These four things blend together to determine whether or not I am going to read something that comes through my stream. I'm not entirely sure if others are doing the same thing as I am, but my hunch is that as your Twitter usage grows and you spend more time with a client like Tweetdeck the more likely you are to develop strategies for coping with content. Thus there are a number of implications around how people can package their twitter content to make it more likely to be seen by others:
  • Use quotation marks around your title
  • Include a hashtag for instant context
  • Always include a hyperlink to the relevant site
  • Avoid changing your avatar frequently as others need to re-familiarize themselves with you or be forced to re-evaluate the strengths of your contributions to their experience

Streaming Video (from the House of Commons)

Awareness networks are incredibly important, if you can stream relevant committee proceedings to your desktop (via ParlVu) there is no reason you shouldn't be doing it. You can learn a lot about the direction your files are heading in, and thus can create a better product, one that better anticipates questions in the future. This is something I learned early in my career, and became some of the core tenants of Scheming Virtuously.

Web Browser

I don't want to talk about which browser to use (for the record I'm a Firefox guy) in so much as how I read content on the web. There are 3 main sources of web content that come through my browser:
  • Search (and by search I mean Google)
  • RSS Feeds (via Google Reader)
  • Twitter (via Tweetdeck as outlined above)
When I land on a page via one of the methods above I immediately scan the entire page. This may sound odd, but much like with Tweetdeck, I see the web page as an image map, not as a document to be read. I quickly scan for:
  • Subtitles (to get a sense of the argument)
  • Hyperlinks (to see who informs that argument)
  • Images / info graphics / audio / video (to get an emotional “feel” for the argument)
  • Tables / tabular data (to see the “facts”)
Furthermore the inclusion of all of the above makes me more likely to do a deep dive into the contents on the page. For me a deep dive includes (in chronological order):
  • Reading the introduction;
  • Reading the conclusion;
  • Reading the body;
  • Running a search on the author (if I don't already know them);
  • Opening all the links in the article in new tabs; and
  • Repeating the entire process with every new tab I open.
I must also say that I am incredibly ruthless in my determination of the value of a particular article. I have already articulated how I make that judgement via Twitter and have elaborated on how to do it with RSS Readers in the past. Content is being created at such a rapid pace that knowledge is no longer the scarce resource, time is. Anyone who lives on the web as I do understands that a moment you dedicate to one bit of information is time you cannot allot to another.

PDF (or Doc or PPT) I'm Reading

Allotting a tab in a web browser to content is one thing, breaking it out into a dedicated window that takes up permanent real estate is another. The latter denotes a more serious investment of attention. Truthfully I don't spend too much time reading longer documents off the screen at my workstation, my preference is to send the document to my tablet as I feel it is a more conducive environment for longer haul reading (and annotation).

Document I'm Writing (Output)

A big part of my job is to write documents (briefing notes, project plans, communications plans, strategic reviews, etc). I can do short bursts of writing at my work terminal but for long haul writing my preference is my personal computer at home, only because I can create an environment around it that is more conducive to my writing style (low light, loud industrial music with no vocal tracks, coffee, chocolate and large chunks of uninterrupted time). To be honest, I am often less effective at my workstation than I am at home (at least with respect to long form writing).

Email Client

Notice how I didn't even include the email client on the diagram? That's because I keep my email minimized pretty much all day long; and I don't get a pop up notifying me of new email upon receipt. Seldom does the core intelligence I need to do my job come to me via email. Email is usually an administrative burden and unless I am expecting something important (input or action) I relegate all email interactions to my blackberry (even while at my desk); and I apply the rules of Inbox Zero with extreme prejudice.


Technically speaking my whiteboard isn't on the internet but I take a lot of what I come across above and move it onto my whiteboard (or my iPad whiteboard app). Anything I whiteboard ends up digitized in either a photograph or a sketch in my iPad.

I'm not trying to prove anything

I just wanted to share with you some of how I see and interact with the web. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on how you interact with it. If like me you have started to ingest large quantities of fast flowing data as a dynamic image; if you have developed strategies to help navigate the online world of fast flowing information.

That being said, if you look at what I've outlined above, it is apparent that the web is an integral part of how I work. It is a point I drove home to a group of grad students a couple weeks ago with a liberal use of expletives which I will reiterate here:

As a public servant, if you aren’t aware of what’s going on you’re ineffective. If you are blocked from accessing the web at work you’re ineffective. If your internet connection at work can’t handle streaming video you’re ineffective. If your management regime thinks that social media is nothing more than a productivity sink hole you're ineffective. We need a new approach that embraces the web and new ways of thinking and working, and that is what I am trying to work towards.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Growing Importance of Online Awareness Networks

After writing from From Briefing Notes to Govblogging, I got an email from Richard Akerman that contained the following nugget (internal link, contents reproduced with permission):

"Another [worldview] is that every employee needs to construct and maintain an "awareness network" to monitor the rapidly-changing environment. Individualised, curated streams of google alerts, RSS feeds, news apps, Twitter streams, podcasts etc. are used by knowledge workers to build their own understanding of a dynamically changing environment. They themselves are responsible for bundling what they see into conceptual groups and trends."

Case Study: Canadian Radio-television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) Ruling on Usage-Based Billing (UBB)

I wanted to pull in a real public policy example to help illustrate the importance of awareness networks. My intention is neither to weigh in on the debate, the actions of any of the players, nor misrepresent the facts. What follows are simply observations about how the issue is playing out at a very high level as I experienced them.

I was first alerted to the CRTC’s ruling on twitter when someone posted a link to a Globe and Mail article entitled A Metered Internet is a Regulatory Failure. I subsequently started to follow the issue online in order to try to understand more about how online communities shape public policy. I read the ruling from start to finish and subsequently dove into the Twitterverse looking to read people’s reaction to the ruling (and the article). I wound up on Michael Geist’s blog reading Unpacking The Policy Issues Behind Bandwidth Caps & Usage Based Billing. Since writing it, Geist continued to write about the issue (here, here, here, here, here, here and here) garnering a significant amount of attention on the web. But Geist isn’t alone, David Eaves weighed in here and here, and there are undoubtedly bloggers who did the same. There is an online petition. Mainstream media outlets have continued to cover the story. Moreover, each of the resources I’ve linked to above is replete with views, comments, trackbacks, tweets, likes, etc.

As if that wasn’t enough, while these events were unfolding The Prime Minister and Industry Minister were talking about the issue on Twitter before they spoke to the mainstream media (prompting a piece in the Globe and Mail entitled Government policy decisions, in 140 characters or less); and if you paid close attention to the Industry Minister's twitter stream you would have seen that not only was he speaking to the public writ large but also specifically got it into it with (journalist) Andrew Coyne on the issue.

Welcome to the long tail of public policy

The respective contributions by regulatory boards, academics, pundits, subject matter experts, and citizens are being strung together online by hyperlinks and social networks. This is the new face of public policy and these online contributions combine to form a narrative of the regulatory evolution of the internet in this country.

Wait, so what does this have to do with awareness networks?

Good question.

If you restrict access to the internet, you: (1) restrict access to the long tail of public policy and (2) cut your staff whose job it is to brief senior officials on the policy climate at the knees. A good awareness network connects you quickly to the heart of the debate; allows you to gauge sentiment; connect with subject matter experts; engage in a deep dive quickly; and thus provide better advice when called for. The public policy environment can be a difficult place to navigate, to my mind it looks something like this (click to enlarge):

(Note: that I am currently working on a more comprehensive model that also includes the internal portion of the network; thus the diagram above is totally beta.)

Supporting Awareness Networks Internally

I’m of the opinion that we don’t yet fully understand the value of online awareness networks in the larger organizational context. If we were, we would be encouraging more people to use the web-based tools at their disposal externally, we’d have a more expansive tool set behind the firewall, and we’d have fewer, if not zero, blockages to the internet from our workstations. Yet ironically, and this is me just guessing, the majority of documents produced behind the firewall start somewhere outside it (e.g. Google).

To wrap, I just wanted to point out that a lot of what I have written in the last few weeks lends itself to increasing the support to public servants who operate on an awareness network model:

  1. That we can learn a lot how sites like Quora piece together information in a way that is meaningful to the users and not necessarily reflective of the organizational structure;
  2. That blogs are great tools for contextualizing thought and forming a narrative. That they are searchable, hyperlink-able and make room for comments and debate; and
  3. Intranets are largely a collection of static information about the organization and not a dynamic collection of information for use by the organization.

The Challenge

Not everyone agrees with me. Many question the value of awareness networks for a more traditional model, or as Richard puts it:

If your experience is that information arrives in pre-packed bundles [e.g. briefing notes], on demand, you may assign zero value to the sort of "continuous partial attention" monitoring of the Internet that many knowledge workers find to be an invaluable part of their professional development. This may mean that there [may be] two very different mental models of how the organisation should function. In one, only people who have a specific job function should be gathering information, when it is requested. In another, everyone is expected to continuously monitor topics related to their work.

Richard concludes his posting by stating that:

[W]e need to find ways to communicate that the environment is changing rapidly and that many knowledge workers expect and need to continuously monitor changes in order to be the most productive and able to provide the best advice as part of a continuous learning, continuous service model.

Thanks for the push Richard, hopefully what I’ve laid out above helps in that regard.

This was originally published to by Nick Charney

Friday, February 4, 2011

Intranet is a Misnomer

On paper, intranets make sense: a private computer network that uses Internet Protocol to securely share any part of an organization's information or network operating system within that organization (from Wikipedia). However, despite using the same protocols and user interface (a web browser) they are incredibly different. Looking at the disparity between the Internet and intranets one can't help but come to the conclusion that they have followed two divergent evolutionary paths. I suppose it makes sense given that one has had the benefit of trillions of hours of cognitive surplus, while the other has been limited by whatever resources the organization has allotted to it.

Here's the Rub

Corporate intranets are largely a collection of static information about the organization and not a dynamic collection of information for use by the organization.

Intranets are where we house our HR forms, mission statements, and org charts. They are usually not all that searchable, are often out of date, incorrect, or simply inconsequential. In fact, the very term "intranet" may be a misnomer, we have failed to link the organization's knowledge base in a meaningful digital way. Thus I am of the opinion that aside from accessing the intranet via a web browser there is nothing "web-like" about them. Perhaps this is why our organizations are struggling to understand the social web. The social web is built on complex and interrelated connections between ideas, actors, and services, things we have yet to connect within our organizations.

A New Vision for Intranets

When I think about what intranets could be, I can't help but feel that perhaps our records and document management systems are to blame. Record keeping is important but doing so in isolation doesn't seem to make sense. How can we build an ongoing knowledge-based narrative when we lock away each page in separate file, with different permissions, and filenames?

Anyone looking at intranet renewal shouldn't be looking at simply modernizing the existing intranet infrastructure or updating out of date content, rather they should be looking at how to weave together a digital narrative of the otherwise siloed and fragmented knowledge that is already being stored within the organization. In short, we need our intranets to be less concerned with the static information about our business and far more concerned with the information we use to conduct our business.

There are a couple of ways in which we can do this:

  1. encourage new public servants to take up govblogging so that we may immediately start contextualizing what is happening right now and
  2. refocus the energies of our archivists, researchers, policy wonks, and any other story tellers to weaving a digital narrative from the abundant amounts of raw materials sitting idle within our organizations.

Much like open data, digital curation must be done in consultation with stakeholders as we work towards understanding what part of the narrative is of the most value to our citizens.

Final Thought

This type of work should most likely be entrusted to those who understand and have grown up on the web for it is our best chance at passing along a digital narrative that is meaningful to those living on the web today, and in the end, that is what is important.

[image credit: cackhanded]

This was originally published by Nick Charney at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gov 2.0: Policy, Public Servants and Citizens in the Age of Social Media on Feb 10

Join us for a fantastic learning and networking opportunity with current and future public servants on the theme of Government 2.0.!

This event was created because we wanted to facilitate linkages between w2p and graduate students of public administration. Many of them will be joining our ranks in the coming years, so this is a great opportunity to introduce a new generation to the idea of Gov 2.0.

It's also a great opportunity for us to get fresh perspectives on the Gov. 2.0. issues we grapple with daily!

Come share, learn and mingle over beers with other public servants on the cusp of the Gov 2.0. revolution, public admin students gearing up for a career in the digital age, and non-governmental experts in facilitating online and offline dialogue between citizens and policy-makers.

Speakers include myself, Ryan Androsoff and Hannah McKinnon (location/logistical details can be found on the RSVP links below)

You can RSVP via Twitter or via Facebook.