Monday, November 25, 2019

Group Hugs and Stating the Obvious

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitken

In 2010 I attended an event variously called GOC3/Collaborative Culture Camp and Collaborative Management Camp. This was back in the halcyon days of our youth when events had tweet walls, displaying the inner workings of the hivemind. Some of this was insights and connections between speakers’ points, though most was essentially live-tweeting quotes from the on-stage conversation. At one point, the tweet wall showed someone’s assessment that the event was “So far, mostly group hugs and stating the obvious.”

Which serves today as a launching point for thinking about that community, how it has changed, and where we are today. (Crowdsourced timeline here:

At one point in 2006, there were zero public servants on Twitter – because there was no Twitter. By 2010 it was probably in the scant hundreds; you could reach the end of the community, so why not follow everyone? We could figure out the “why” out later, but for the time being it was good enough to be connected around a general ideology of sharing, collaboration, experimentation, and openness (see: Millenials, Lego and the Perimeter of Ignorance). I wrote about the value of writing in the open as a way to create “rough edges” that could create connections with people learning the same directions or trying to solve the same problems (see: On the Importance of Being Earnest (and Open)).

That was before the era of information overload and much need for Twitter hiatuses or culling who you follow (though one of Nick’s most popular posts, a full decade ago, was about using Yahoo! pipes to fast-filter articles shared through social media (see: Signal to Noise)). The community matured, grew, and one of the driving common problems – bringing government into the social media era – started looking like a solv-ed/able problem. So people started subdividing into more niche and specialized sub-elements, and taking the natural step of expanding networks across sectors (though there’s still a serious core of “people on Twitter outside government that people inside government know”).

In parallel, the double-edged sword of asking “What problem are we really trying to solve?” emerged as a guiding principle. I say “double-edged” because an impact focus is, of course, a healthy lens. On the other hand, it may have undervalued community-building efforts where the “goal” was really a Venn diagram of many different goals for different people. In many ways, “group hugs and stating the obvious” was exactly what many people needed to start growing into a new and wider community. The first time I heard this question answered really well was Heather Remacle in the BC gov: success for a collaborative community is “growing people who fulfill the vision.”
Which roughly leads us to why posting on fell off for me. Like Nick (see: Fully, Completely), it was a combination of factors: new and challenges roles in my career, a busier personal life, but there was also an element of the GC collaborative community changing. Where once I agreed whole-heartedly with Andrew Kjurata’s “Shut up and say something” call for people to raise their voices in public spaces, the other increasingly plausible lens was that additional voices were as likely to just be uninformed bellowing into a cacophony. My standards for what I posted about and why went up.
So now, in a cacophonous environment characterized by information overload, Nick and I have both returned to posting at around the same time, and again for some of the same reasons. A little bit more professional and personal space, but at the same time, I think there are some useful things to discuss about the cacophony. One of my strongest conclusions from a year of interviewing people about digital-era governance was how warped our discourse can be about technology and change. Talking points can enjoy years of repetition before critical voices and evidence emerge to correct them – and even then likely don’t stand a chance against the ingrained memes.
Which I don’t purport to be able to correct, but it does mean that I continue to find this space interesting. And I wrote way too much stuff a couple years back (see: Governance in the Digital Era) that I had always intended to chop up into somewhat more digestible sections, which seems like a worthwhile project. I enjoyed Laura Wesley’s description of writing in open spaces as talking to her future self, and I’d like to keep making deposits in that collection rather than just withdrawing all the time.
And if we’ve met recently and you’re new here, here’s a few starting points from the past years that I think remain non-embarassing. Also, holy shit. The current count is 715 posts (more Nick than me and the other contributors). I’ll leave Nick to note his own, if he so chooses. 



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