Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cubicle Hacking Redux

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

A couple weeks ago I challenged Twitter to do something, anything, out of the ordinary that embodied the workplace culture they wanted to see. I did a few things, none original:
  • Brought in an armful of books to start a lending library about my team's domain (hat tip)
  • Hung a whiteboard on the outside of my wall listing what I was working on and looking for ideas about (hat tip)
  • Started a "win wall" on which to post successes large and small (hat tip)
  • Covered a wall in blueprint paper to start a slow map of my work and stakeholders (hat tip, though I spun it)
(On that last one - I had some kicking around. Er... I may or may not have submitted a poster-sized document to Blueprint 2020.)

Aside from what each addition to my office specifically does, the major goal for me was starting conversations. I would like colleagues to see something that interests them on the whiteboard or blueprint and ask about it.

It's taking a minute to think differently about your workplace. Nick has suggested this before (see: Cubicle Hacking 101), and everyone should read Spydergrrl's excellent talk at GTEC in October about Hacking Your Way to an Agile Organization.

And today, of all days, is an auspicious one.

So two questions: what could you do to your physical surroundings today that better fits the workplace you want, when you get back in 2014? And more importantly, what are you going to do, on the first day back in the new year, that makes your workplace better?

Happy New Year, and happy workplace hacking.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays, See you in the New Year

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

The title pretty much says it all but if you are looking for something interesting to read, have a look at this report on The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investment in a Growing Field.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Get Meta on Life

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

The elegant beauty of Kent's most recent reflection (see: Get Meta on Engagement) is that, well beyond the realm of stakeholders, its logic is applicable to the realm of self.

Life  I am learning  is about far more than being available. It's about contextualizing that availability within a larger narrative. It's about taking the time to thoughtfully examine why you think a certain way and ultimately how that informs your decision making.

Exposing oneself to new experiences is then critical. If your experience is singular then your context is narrow. We often forget this and accept our own experience as an experience shared by others, forgetting that divergence, innovation, and personal growth all happen on the boundaries of our experiences, not at their core.

The Stanley Parable (video game)
Perhaps this is top of mind having just returned from the Yukon, working, living and socializing under very different circumstances than those I am accustomed to. I met dozens of people, all with unique histories, deeply committed to their work and marked by a heartfelt hope for the future. I've had the privilege of meeting thousands of civil servants from all over North America and I can say with complete and utter confidence that I have never met a more collegial team than the one I spent two days with in the North*.

When someone questioned why I would voluntarily go to the North in December (on Facebook) the answer was simple: any opportunity for a policy person like me to step outside the Ottawa bubble and work directly with stakeholders is an absolute no-brainer.

And, again, it's a no brainer for precisely the same reasons Kent articulated in his piece this week. A periodic testing of assumptions — in work or in life  is useful. Seek them out, don't shy away from them.

In other words, get meta on life.

*As an aside, the North is an incredibly important part of our Canadian identity and I would encourage you to visit it at least once in your lifetime. I honestly think it will make you a better Canadian. Possibly even a better person.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Get Meta on Engagement

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

This is a Story as an Introduction, and it is as Long as the Rest of the Post

For a while I've held the opinion that public officials should be blogging or writing Op-Eds about decision rationale and key strategies. This is for several reasons: to get feedback with which to make decisions, to expose unforeseen adverse effects, but perhaps most importantly, to get past mere information availability and into actual transparency. Both public officials and citizens would be better off receiving information with both context and some level of thoughtful presentation.

Which I why I applaud initiatives like St. John's Councillor Dave Lane's blog. I can't speak for him as a city Councillor, but I'm a big fan of his recent 566-word post entitled Yes, I voted for a propane tank. Spoiler alert: it explains why he voted to allow a large propane tank to be built on the waterfront. Propane tanks aren't usually popular, but in context, his decision seems incredibly reasonable.

File:StJohns Newfoundland ViewfromSignalHill.jpg
St. John's harbour. It's lovely, and you should go. Don't miss Raymond's, it's epic.

Get Meta

But that's all an aside. In his post from the day before that, Lane hit on a great lesson for stakeholder engagement. The city is launching a public engagement initiative, and they're starting with the question:
"How would you like the City of St. John's to engage?"
Surprisingly, an oft-overlooked idea in engagement activities, and great as either a starting point or a periodic gut-check: asking your stakeholders for input on your relationship with them. Don't just ask, "What do you want us to do?", but "How do you want us to ask you 'What do you want us to do?' "

It's simply a periodic testing of the assumptions on which your processes rest. And it's useful. Get meta. 

Photo by Aconcagua (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Contradictions, Changes, and Openness

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

I occasionally still use my old blog for a release valve. On Sunday I wrote about embracing our contradictions, and if you're curious: Large. Contains Multitudes. It could as easily apply to how we approach our professional lives, but I decided to keep it general.

Generally, I avoid discussing my specific job on this blog. While I'm, naturally, influenced by the environment I'm working in, I try to keep my views rather separate from those of my organization. So I avoided weighing in on Nick's recent GCpedia posts (see: GCpedia: a David Among Goliaths and Embrace GCpedia as a Technological David), even though it's a near and dear topic - I had been working on the team that supports GCpedia and GCconnex since June.

Since joining the public service I've developed a lot of "ought" statements about the way the public service should work. Working openly is one of them. But while working on GCpedia and GCconnex, openness on those platforms is the only option (and I'm sure I still have a lot to learn and much to improve). So even a few months ago I found myself looking forward to learning how to apply ideas to other positions and roles, and the challenges in doing so.

As it happens, last week I was reassigned to a new portfolio. Should be really interesting, and should take the need for openness to a new level. So a new adventure, the need to walk the walk, and a new walk to learn.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nothing really, just a dip into my stream of conciousness

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I've not really had the time to sit down and give thought to something worth sharing this week; like you I've been busy.

But I'm not here to complain or gloat about it, I just thought I'd share some of what I've been up to and the things I've been thinking about.

I drove up to Montreal last week with Kent for a discussion at the University de Québec à Montréal (sponsored by the Trudeau Foundation). We filled our night comparing field notes, chatting with interesting characters, and generally looking to the future. I'm thankful to have met Kent, to have earned his trust and friendship, and my confidence in him grows with every conversation.

I spent some time speaking with new youth group coordinators here in Ottawa, reflecting back on my own experience when I was new to the civil service and how my perspective has evolved over time; how I appreciate the nuance more. I'm trying to slow down more, enjoy life more, enjoy people more. Maybe I'm just getting older, mellowing out.

I went to Toronto to moderate a panel on Open Government for the Ontario Public's Service's Cabinet Office; I met some fascinating people on the way, and get the sense that my involvement with them is just ramping up. I took advantage of my time there to visit with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, another that I see often, and still another who, thanks to serendipity, just happened to be out at the same establishment I was at. There's a lot of change on the radar for Rick, its going to be an exciting year for him. I can't wait to work more with Jesse, he's like a house on fire. Thomas is a smart guy and we may have lost him at the federal level but the province scored big on that one, he's got huge potential, I wish him luck.

Next week I'm off to Whitehorse for a couple of days as a part of my official duties, I've never been there before and I rarely get the opportunity to do this sort of work. I'm filled with a nervous energy that can't possibly fail.

There's a lot of people I should reach out to right now, but I'm getting tired, and Kent just asked for some feedback on a bit he's writing.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Leaders Make it Easy to be Followed

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken
In September I wrote about nudges: ways to influence behaviour through setting defaults or designing interactions, without actually limiting people's choices (see: How Nudges Work for Government).

Nudges can be considered in contrast with other levers we have to influence action. For government, these could be rules, economic incentives, or information. However, it's also worth considering the role of nudges - interaction design - for ourselves as individuals. It's because we now create value through tribes.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” - Seth Godin
Godin's book Tribesmore frantically paced than Kerouac's On The Road, describes the rise and increasing power of such tribes. Even while working within a company, on a portfolio duly ascribed through the hierarchy, Godin had to exercise informal leadership and connect to people throughout the organization, just to get his job done. Specifically, he crafted and distributed a newsletter to draw colleagues' spare time and effort to his software development projects that desperately needed help.

I think this is increasingly the case for most knowledge workers. We rely on our friends and colleagues for help, advice, bouncing ideas around, and invaluable feedback on possible solutions. Whether we recognize it or not, we all sometimes take informal leadership roles. But unlike those in formal positions of power, rules and economic incentives are out - leaving us with information and, perhaps, nudges to get things done.

Information is obvious. We have to explain why people should take interest in our projects, and how they can contribute. But that leaves an interesting question about nudges, for leaders of tribes.

Nudging Contribution

Cass Sunstein, who popularized the term nudge, uses the example of mail-in rebates for purchases as a broken system. Such rebates are not completely easy, don't fit into consumers' day-to-day lives, and involve barriers. Even though all the information is available, people are nudged towards non-participation and so redemption rates are low.

Nudged towards non-participation. When seeking participation from our peers, it's easy to accidentally set that trap.

In Cultivating Communities of Practice, the authors related the story of a community manager realizing what lay behind success for his meetings. Regardless of emails asking for agenda items, consistent scheduling, and clear messaging, attendance was based on how much time he spent visiting people face-to-face outside of the meetings. It changed people's relationship with their community. People needed to be convinced of their role in the community's success, and to talk out the value of the meeting's agenda, to be inspired to contribute. Information wasn't enough.

I'm sure you can summon an example of asking for attendance or input and getting responses only from the usual suspects. (Who are quite likely the people you go for coffee or drinks with. It's trust: to respect their time, and to value their input.)

But often we need to throw our nets further. And unfortunately, in doing so it's very easy to communicate in next-to-useless ways. Consider this parody of what Nike's advertising would look like, if Nike communicated like government (according to Dave Meslin):

Shared by Michael Grigoriev.

The contrast is powerful: Nike's effective, visceral advertising, and this information-is-enough style. We all know the limits of emailed blocks of text for conveying a message, but use them anyway, which is only okay for people who already trust us not to waste their time. (And I unfortunately have to admit guilt here.) 

But, how we present information is just one nudge, one part of the interaction design, for informal leadership. It could also be what kind of input we request, the platforms we use, and even how we schedule meetings. So there are questions we should ask ourselves:
  • Do I make it easy for people to know about my project in the first place?
  • Do I give people meaningful choices for different ways to contribute, based on the different levels of time, understanding, and comfort they might have?
  • Am I considerate of the different ways people need to be engaged?
In short:
  • Do I make it easy for people to help me?
But remember. Technically easy does not mean intellectually easy, or interpersonally easy, or culturally easy. It's a hard road to easy leadership.