Archive for the ‘bureaucracy’ Category

The speed with which the American federal government has been moving forward with its web agenda is nothing short of breath-taking. From open data to social media, mobile and beyond, the American government’s online presence has been transforming itself. So fast in fact that a whole industry has sprung up to watch and report on it (think NextGov, GovFresh, OhMyGov, etc.).

Many will think of the arrival of the Obama administration as the key driver of this energy. But the pieces were falling into place even before the US President’s open government directive in Jan 2009.

Back in 2008, the Federal Web Managers Council issued a challenge to the bureaucrats managing web in the US federal government — “Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government.” That whitepaper proposed six goals for the web function in the Government of the USA:

  • Establish web communications as a core government business function
  • Help the public complete top government tasks efficiently
  • Clean up irrelevant and outdated content so people can find what they need online
  • Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service
  • Deliver the same answer from every service channel (web, phone, email, print, in-person, etc.)
  • Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online.

Noble goals all. And ambitious too. Yet commonsense — and key to meeting the needs of an increasingly digital society.

The Federal Web Managers recently issued an update detailing their progress in achieving this vision.  Read about it in their 2010 Progress Report.

Here in Canada, the evolution of web management in the federal government has taken a different path: a focus on policy compliance. CLF 2.0 standards came into effect in 2006, and since then many departments and agencies have poured the main part of their energies (and budgets!) for web into compliance. Which is all well and good, but hardly an ambitious achievement.

Now TBS is leading a review of CLF standards with an eye to releasing updates starting later this year. Some of the good changes that I have seen from my position mostly on the sidelines:

  • a community minded, crowdsourcing approach where those involved in web across the GoC have been encouraged to participate
  • extensive use of GCpedia, the GoC-wide wiki environment, to facilitate collaboration and participation
  • the incorporation of usability (or user experience if you prefer) as a core aspect of CLF, closing up a major pre-existing gap in the standards

But none of this changes the fundamental disconnect around web that I see in the GoC: for citizens, the web is increasingly becoming central to their interaction with government, while within the bureaucracy, web is still by and large treated as a secondary concern. It is far from being “a core government business function.”

As @resultsjunkie tweeted earlier today, we need a GoC version of this vision of putting web at the centre of government.

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Friday thought about social media, the workplace and generating ideas.

The following appeared in the comments thread on a lighthearted post about things not to say if you are trying to get your org to go social. I’ve added highlights:

I used to have relatively strong disagreements at the foundation I worked at years ago when they were pushing video-conferencing to replace face-to-face meetings. I kept thinking that the most profound insights and creativity always happened “in between” the formal sessions–during coffee breaks, over lunch, casual encounters when moving between sessions, and particularly when the formal sessions completely broke down. I’ve got a colleague in international development that spends all his time at conferences in the hallways to converse with other folks “escaping” the formal structure.

For me, Enterprise 2.0. Gov 2.0–virtually any social media channel–recreates that “in-between” space, where interactions can spontaneously occur, where the pressures of “productivity” and deadlines are released enough to see and experience things in radically different light, and therefore always fresh opportunity. Can it be measured against a cost-benefit analysis? Probably not, but for the sake of argument, what if it were possible to measure ALL the communications that took place around a given community/organization/enterprise–formal and informal–and flag the points where the greatest creativity broke through? I think it almost invariably happens first “in-between” and then enters the “formal” discussion.

And that’s what social media opens up–a rebalancing of the “in-between” spaces with the formal structures.

Just thinkin…

Props to the author. This crystallizes the feeling that I have about the value of social media at work. The importance of social media in the workplace is that in enhances that informal, in-between space for idea generation.

It goes further than merely recreating the water-cooler experience.  Social media allows ideas generated informally to be efficiently captured for future use. Too often, those water-cooler chats vanish into thin air, and the spark of an idea that might have had legs dies out invisibly. By transferring those conversations online, they get preserved for others to build on.

And it gets better — Only a few folks can gather around a water cooler, but given the endlessly linked and continuously interconnecting nature of the web, you’re no longer restricted to a small circle of face-to-face connections for sending and receiving flashes of insight. You can take it much farther afield now, over a longer period of time also.

The always-on, instantly shareable nature of social media lets people capture those flashes of insight for immediate testing and validation or correction. At a scale that was previously unavailable.

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It was about a year ago that I first shared a snapshot of GCpedia. Here’s an update.


Home page has gone through a major revision and is now much simpler.

Click the thumbnails to see full size:


As of 28 April 2010 at approx 11 am, GCpedia consisted of:

  • 43 632 total pages (including talk pages, stubs, redirects and such)
  • 6675 pages that are described as “probably legitimate content”
  • 11 646 files uploaded
  • 3.27 million page views
  • 224 486 edits
  • 14 539 registered users

More or less, there’s about 3 times as much stuff — in terms of total pages, total edits and registered users.

File uploads have boomed — more than 4 times as many as there were a year back.

And lurking is up dramatically too — 4.6 times as many page views as last year.

Interesting that distinction between “probably legitimate content” and total content — I’d say talk pages are just as legitimate as “proper” articles in this environment.

Most Viewed Pages

  • Main Page (337,317)
  • Category:Welcome template (66,411)
  • Category:Communities (55,932)
  • Category:Project (17,231)
  • Applying Leading-Edge Technology Working Group – Le groupe de travail sur la mise en oeuvre des technologies de pointe (15,812)
  • Information management community (15,016)
  • Help:Getting Started (12,933)
  • Web Accessibility and Common Look and Feel (CLF) (10,630)
  • Information technology innovation campaign (10,310)
  • National inventory of bridgeable students (10,026)

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Reaction to the news that the Clerk is on Twitter

Wayne Wouters is the Clerk of the Privy Council. He’s the most senior civil servant in Canada, and now he has his own digital footprint. Yesterday he launched himself onto the web with the www.clerk.gc.ca site and two Twitter accounts.

This was timed no doubt in conjunction with yesterday’s release of the 17th Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service, the first issued under Mr. Wouters’ direction. (Aside: for a really quick overview of the reports themes, check out these visualizations).

Anyhow, it’s pretty impressive — not to mention validating to those of us in the bureaucracy who’ve already gone out and started participating online. Apparently I’m not alone with this. Here’s a sampling of reactions:

From @marknca (screen capped above):

triplet of cool for “the clerk”; on Twitter, has a verified acct, replies! very encouraging to the rank and file, thanks @WayneWouters! [View Tweet]

From @simonaioffe:

If @WayneWouters has his Twitter feed on his homepage (great 2.0 #win) http://ow.ly/1t5cx then depts should follow suit #GoCclerk #goc #w2p [View Tweet]

From @scilib:

. @WayneWouters welcome to Twitter. Great to see emphasis on public service renewal & use of new tech on your website. #cpsr [View Tweet]

From @AngelinaMunaret:

Congratulations 2 Clerk of the Privy Council & Secretary to Cabinet @WayneWouters 4 having verified twttr acct & using it. #gc20 #ccobcc [View Tweet]

From @dbast:

#GOC @waynewouters (PCOClerk)’s latest report mentions “Web 2.0” three times- Woot! #gc20 #w2p [View Tweet]

In perusing the results page for my search on “@waynewouters” I noticed that there is some question around whether it is the Clerk himself doing the tweeting or whether it is one of his staff. Plus some helpful tips to whoever is managing the account (this one is my fave – “Tip: you don’t need to bit.ly URL-shorten “http://clerk.gc.ca”: it’s short enough!”).

This is actually something that’s been rolling over in my mind as I’ve been building this post — the approach on display appears to be a mix of corporate and personal branding. Frankly not sure what to make of it at this point, as I haven’t really had time to reflect. But regardless, it’s nice to see the Clerk with a public digital presence!

marknca: triplet of cool for “the clerk”; on Twitter, has a verified acct, replies! very encouraging to the rank and file, thanks @WayneWouters!

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“Corporate Twitter”

Comic by Tom Fishburne

"Corporate Twitter" - Brand Camp by Tom Fishburne


I love that guy in the lower left — he’d be a perfect civil servant.

While I was laughing over this, I realized that this could easily be transposed to the government context — simply swap “Legal” with “Communications.” Us government communicators are also strong on accuracy and approvals, less so on timeliness and simplicity. We’re also a good all-purpose bad guy for bureaucrats working in other areas ;+)

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From Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen:

Maria Barrados, president of the Public Service Commission, has commissioned a study on the implications of generational turnover as the baby boomers retire. The twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are starting their public-service careers today have grown up in a different world from that of their parents. There’s bound to be some friction, but friction can be useful, if it leads to positive change.

If it doesn’t, the new recruits will quickly become disillusioned. They might stay in their jobs because of the great benefits, good hours and security, but they’ll stop trying to be creative if creativity isn’t prized. They’ll learn, soon enough, how just to put in their hours and go home, and channel all their creativity into other parts of their lives. That won’t serve the taxpayers.

Full story: Tomorrow’s bureaucrats.

My own experience, from the perspective of more than 10 years “inside”: I still feel that creativity is possible, perhaps more so now than ever. The adjustment for me was learning that every so-called great idea (or brain fart) that I had was not necessarily the best thing organizationally speaking.

In the first few years I spent in the bureaucracy, I spent a lot of time being frustrated about this, but I gradually came to learn that it’s not just about me. How can it be? I am but one individual among more than 200,000 that make of the federal public service. Let alone the 30+ million citizens that we serve.

I wouldn’t call this realization disillusionment. Instead it’s far closer to enlightenment. I still bring creativity to my work. But I now have a much better sense of where to focus my creative energies. What’s that saying? Pick your battles. To me, it’s about leverage — spotting the achievable, realistic points at which you can effect change, and then taking advantage of them.

That’s not saying cherry pick the easy stuff — often the easiest changes to make are change for its own sake, stuff that doesn’t matter. I’m talking about making real, concrete changes that benefit Canadians who are touched by the services I provide. Pinpointing what those changes could be and then following through is a long process, and requires patience and persistence.

In my case, it’s about making GC websites and web communications better. Not prettier or flashier, but more useful. And for the websites I am currently responsible for, I feel like I’m just at the beginning. There is a lot to do. Good.

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Last Friday, I quickly re-blogged a news item on the 2009 Osbaldeston Lecture, by Martha Piper, former president of the University of British Columbia. Over on my Posterous miniblog, a reader reacted to my highlighting of an analogy that Ms. Piper made between the wristwatch and a Blackberry device. I’m going to reproduce those comments here, because they raise a good point:

“In a speech at the National Arts Centre, Piper likened today’s public service to the declining popularity of the wristwatch. Everyone over age 50 wears one, but most Canadians under 25 don’t.”

My response:

The wristwatch analogy has been used before, it is nothing new and it is not accurate. Most teenagers wear watch not so they can tell time but as a fashion statement. I would really like to meet a public servant that is isolated in Ottawa, the ones I work with are plugged in, on the move and aware of the world changing around them AND are part of the change or driving it. Perhaps she is talking about her perception of Ottawa, and if so, she has been isolating herself in BC. She is clearly out of touch.

I agree — if you focus on the demographic angle, it’s true that the wristwatch analogy is not accurate. It’s a stereotype, and if you were to leave this out of it, it would be more effective.When it comes to technology, young people are not inherently more “with it” than their elders. Different people use the same tools in a wide variety of ways, regardless of whether we can are “youth” or “middle aged” or whatever. & in terms of adoption rates, I’ll bet there is a wide variation in all demographic groups. I suspect that it is more about individual attitudes rather than generational.

What stuck me with the wristwatch/blackberry analogy was not the demographics however; it was the image of an older mechanical device that does one thing well, vs a newer digital device that does a lot of things, including what the old tech did. Maybe the new BB doesn’t tell time as stylishly as the old wristwatch does, but I’m willing to give that up to be able to also use it to communicate with my friends/family/colleagues, read news, organize my schedule, check weather, etc., regardless if I’m at my desk or not.

I realize that wristwatches are almost all digital these days, but to me they still are artifacts of the mechanical era, when the technological paradigm was a narrowly specialized — each tool should “do one thing, and do it really well.” Compare that to how 21st century digital technology is inherently open-ended and focused on multi-functionality. To me, that is what is effective about this analogy — as a comparison of two technological eras.

Regardless, after having had a chance to read the full text (warning PDF link) of Ms. Piper’s remarks, it turns out that the best stuff was not what I saw last week, it is the material that actually followed it. More on that tomorrow later.

(Oh BTW, I do beg to differ with the idea that public servants do not isolate themselves in Ottawa. I feel that point is highly debatable; I can think of a few bureaucrats that I’ve crossed paths with recently … but anyhow.)

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Social Networking at Work. Source: Unkown

I came across this infographic behind the GoC firewall. It’s timely given the recent discussions that have been occurring around the future of GCconnex, the GoC’s pilot social networking project.

So not sure of the graphic’s source, but it gives a pretty good breakdown of how social networking has value in the work environment (nitpickers: call it professional networking if you must).

So let’s walk through the chart, starting with the “seekers” side of the equation. With a socnet’s search capacity, I can solve the awareness problem much more quickly than by the usual freind of a friend approach of sending a “do you know of anyone…?” type email to friends and colleagues. And then, by checking out that person’s profile, I can get a sense of their competence before even contacting them. Similarly, by looking at their activity stream, I can see if they are the helpful, sharing type. And then I can contact them directly, or move on to the next prospect.

To me, the key difference here is one of degree — a social workplace lets me get to the answers I am seeking that much quicker and more easily. And the more open a social network is, the more broadly I can broadcast my need, again speeding up getting answers. Problem solved, on to the next one. Productivity win.

Looking at “contributors” column,  it goes both ways. By participating in a workplace socnet , I am opening up myself to the same kind of scrutiny as I apply to others when seeking. Which I think encourages professionalism and responsiveness — I know other socnet members will be evaluating my usefulness to them also, so there’s more impulse to reciprocate and participate.

Actually, I’d say this graphic looks too focused on the individual’s situation in the contributing column. It doesn’t get at the value to the organization very well. Social networking is not simply a means for civil servants to get ahead in their careers.  Rather, the wins on this side of the equation are more reputational — not merely personal rep either, but more significantly that of my team, my organization, and my community. All my actions reflect on the org I work for and the professional community I belong to, and that’s equally (especially)  true in the socnet context. So in terms of contributors, social networking is a great way to strengthen branding at multiple levels.

So two great selling points for GCconnex: making productivity gains and enhancing the public service brand.

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A bit late on blogging this, but anyhow.

Last week there were a couple of stories in the Ottawa Citizen (on Thursday and Friday) that touched on impartiality in the federal public service.

From the Friday story, titled Internet age a challenge to impartial public service:

The commission [ie, the PSC] concluded the young PCO analyst who posted his support for the Liberal party had crossed the line with “improper political activity,” but found no evidence that this affected his ability to do his job.

The employee wasn’t disciplined for his Facebook entry other than receiving a letter from the commission warning against “political activities” that could undermine his ability to do his job impartially — or leave that impression.

The unnamed bureaucrat wasn’t a senior executive but he did work for PCO, which has a more politically sensitive mandate than other departments.

Some thoughts:

1. Tempting to write this off as a PCO thing, since life is different at “the centre.” But that would be a mistake — especially for people working in communications and marketing, as we routinely bump up against the political/administrative divide in government. Impartiality is important throughout the bureaucracy.

2. Nor is it an age thing — leaving aside the fact that “young PCO analyst” is pretty ambigous, it is clear that social networking is increasingly popular among all workplace demographics.

3. In one sense, nothing has changed. Listing your political affiliation on a social networking site is analogous to wearing a party badge or political button on your coat. If you want to be seen as impartial, don’t do it.

4. Social networks like make it all too easy for this kind of thing to happen. When I signed up for Facebook, I remember that the “political affiliation” question was part of the registration process. Incredibly easy for an inattentive user to pick something that they will later regret since their focus is on getting signed up.

5. Yes social networking is redrawing the line between public/private. My rule of thumb – err on the side of caution and treat online participation as more public than private. I assume that how I present yourself online always has a an impact on my personal reputation and the reputation of my employer. (Writing this, it occurs to me that it’s probably no different in the private sector.) By the by, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been doing great work on privacy issues around social networking.

6. As cases like these start to pile up, it will be tempting to simply block off the social web in government workplaces. This would be a mistake, as not only would business value be lost, but it would just drive the activity “underground.” People will find a way regardless — so better to encourage responsible use than to make people do it behind your back. The recently reanimated StopBlocking.org has great info on why it’s better to allow your people access.

7. On policy: I don’t feel that new rules need to be invented. There’s enough policy out there already. I am in favour of education and guidance though — to help us navigate through this new and unfamiliar terrain. Whether in terms of reminding employees of their responsibilities as public servants or by having early adopters and leaders showing us how it’s done. Or creating a touchstone of some sort that interprets existing rules in the light of new realities presented by the social web (for this last one, I’m looking at you TBS).

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