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Bursting the Filter Bubble

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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

Let’s start with a Twitter essay from Matt Bailey, DC’s former Director of Tech Innovation who just left for the White House:

(1/n) ..There are so many great people in DC government who want to hear from you. Sometimes they don't know how to find you. Seek them out.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(2/n) ..There are a *lot* of times when public input really makes a difference in the decisions that get made. More voices are needed.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(3a/n) ..A lot of govfolks have no idea that the public cares about they do - they think it's too nerdy, too esoteric, etc..
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(3b/n) .. and the pure joy on their faces when they find out the contrary is a thing to see <3 <3 <3
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(12/n) ..The old model of limiting public interactions to senior and communications officials is deeply broken.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(12a/n) ..Government needs to remunerate/incentivize employees to attend after hours public events.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


(12b/n) ..People deserve to be paid for their time and this is a core competency of government.
— Matt Bailey (@MattBailey0) April 29, 2016


I caught that string of tweets on the train back to Ottawa from Toronto. I had facilitated a lunch workshop for the Government of Canada’s next open government plan, latching onto the National Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy Summit who graciously included us in the event.

The weird thing is that I’m slightly uncomfortable pressing “Publish” on that last paragraph. I’m hesitant about the idea that I was there representing the Government of Canada. But there’s no two ways about it, as far as the participants were concerned. I was. And a lot of us represent the government, directly or indirectly, on a daily basis.

And we have to get used to it. I agree with Matt Bailey about the value of public servants interacting with the public. For the Summit I could have left after lunch, but I chose to get the latest train possible back to Ottawa (rolling in around midnight) so I could spend more time with the participants. Here’s the breakdown of my afternoon, after my "official" duties were done:

  • I think I corrected a lot of misconceptions about how far along government was. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in gov that’s well-known to public servants and completely opaque to the public.
  • I had a string of “3b/n” moment (I’m very lucky to have them regularly). Indelicately put: hearing from people who genuinely care about the work that you’re doing in gov really, really makes you want to work your ass off.
  • I had opportunities to get clarity on what the stakeholders of my program really need and care about.
  • I met some fascinating people who could turn into future collaborators.
  • I’d like to think I helped people understand the ways in which they can influence government, and provided some reassurance that government is actually influenceable.
  • ...and that government is, well, human.
That is, it was positive to the point where I’m actually legit worried about what we’re not at. Where our presence is missing and our voices are absent. How much opportunity for understanding, collaboration, and inspiration are we missing?

On that note. Thinking about the public service/public relationship, here’s a couple recent articles. First, a TVO piece summing up a point that former Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters has been making lately:

"Sometimes we send the strangest signals to the people who work in the public service. In the best of all worlds, here’s what we want from them: We want them to be brilliant. We want them to be much less bureaucratic and much more creative. We want them to serve us better, find solutions to our problems, and explore new ideas that could help save us money. But woe betide a single one of them if they ever experiment with a new idea that goes south, then costs the taxpayers money. In that case, we’ll be the first to string them up in the town square and shame them from here to eternity."

And this, on public servants becoming increasingly public:

"Does it in fact matter if civil service leaders become more public figures than they have previously? I argue that the reason these changes matter is because the traditional anonymity of civil servants is linked in important ways to the impartiality of the civil service. To dispense with the former is to endanger the latter in ways that re-shape the core role of civil service leaders in a Westminster system."

...At which point I'm going to let the post hang, and I welcome your thoughts.