Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Government 2.0 – Managing Risks

I attend many workshops on Government 2.0 initiatives. At these workshops, attendees are always looking for concrete examples of Government 2.0 initiatives or best practices. I came across a publication that outlines steps one should take in managing Gov 2.0 projects with a specific focus on managing risks.

Section 3.1 – “Projects” – outlines concrete examples of Gov 2.0 initiatives around the globe. This is a great resources for anyone looking for best practices.

The document can be accessed here:
Government 2.0 Guide to Managing Risks


Canada Border Services Agency – Transformational Opportunities

On Friday, I attended a speaking engagement delivered by an executive at Canada Border Services Agency. The event, entitled “The New Normal”, was hosted by the Ottawa Center of Research and Innovation. As per the event description, participants were expected to hear about the “vision for the border services of the 21st century and the role technology is playing in this key transformation.” I was expecting to hear concrete initiatives, or clear opportunities, that exist for CBSA in this respect. To my disappointment, the event was characterized by the same stereotypical government speak – motherhood statements, lofty language, commitments with no details, etc.

For instance, a key aspect of the CBSA presentation was “the need to exploit data assets.” I completely agree. I have written here and elsewhere of the need for government to begin collecting and using data better as a means to improve their business processes and service delivery. Unfortunately, few details were provided on what CBSA is actually doing in this respect, or what opportunities exist. “Technology must support risk analysis” was also stated. Great, but what does that mean? What outcomes does CBSA hope to achieve by doing this? A representative from one technology firm asked, “how can we help you?” The question was never clearly answered. My assumption is that CBSA doesn’t have a good idea of what it wants and hopes to achieve by exploiting data. If it did, it would have come through clearly in the presentation.

I applaud CBSA for providing an open forum for a discussion about new technologies. However, I do see this as a missed opportunity. Here are my suggestions for how technology can help CBSA deliver on its mandate more effectively:

• Digitize everything. It is cheaper to produce and easier to distribute (to citizens requesting information, for example) when a document is in digital format. CBSA is still collecting a lot of its data through conventional means – paper manifests, note taking, etc. Also, data that is digitized can be manipulated so that the Agency can begin to understand trends in import/export activities, search and seizure, border wait times, and many other elements.
• Speak to citizens using mediums they understand: to govern effectively today, governments have to be in the same capacity as their citizens. Canadians are among the most active internet users in the world. Therefore, government must be connected. CBSA should move to communicate with citizens using the same mediums – mobile devices, internet, live chat, that citizens are used to in their everyday lives.
• Promote new skills: know what skills/competencies will be required for the CBSA of the future. Younger generations have different physiological makeup than older ones. Having unfettered access to vast sums of information at the touch of a button has made their short term memories worse. Why memorize something when the sum of human knowledge (well, almost) is available at your fingertips. Government should encourage schools to teach skills such as: creativity (taking unrelated concepts and making them work together), research (knowledge of where to find information and extract it in a manner that is useful) and communication (ability to send messages clearly about what needs to be done to achieve certain ends).
• Be inclusive: Countless civic groups already use new technologies and information-sharing tools to promote political action, operate an opposition movement, or mobilize community activism. Why not allow citizens to become more involved in government service delivery? There may be opportunities for CBSA to leverage the resources of individual citizens to feed CBSA information using new technologies. For example, digital cameras can be used to photograph, and therefore document, security gaps in our border infrastructure (like broken fences at secure warehouses, or remote access points along the 49th parallel). Government doesn’t have the resources to collect this information in real time, so why not democratize the process and get citizens involved?

These concepts require contemplation and research to determine the policy implications. However, they do represent concrete ends to work towards.

Categories: Uncategorized

Retention in the Public Service

This past summer, the Public Policy Forum released a report entitled “The Road to Retention” that tackled the issue of retention in the public service. The report was based on the outcomes of a series of workshops with representatives of Canadian workplaces and roughly 300 “Generation Yers” (those between the ages of 18 and 30, from a wide range of regional, linguistic, sectoral, cultural, academic, and socio-economic backgrounds). The intention was to identify what are Generation Y’s values and expectations when it comes to work and the workplace; what is the impact of these values in an organizational setting; how has the conception of work evolved; and how can employers attract and retain young workers.

I believe that the report gave an accurate portrayal of the workplace values of today’s youth (consistent with my own and my colleagues). Some key conclusions that I took away include:

• The not-for-profit and public sectors, in particular, have struggled because of rigid, process-heavy, and risk-averse structures
• Young employees consider mentoring as an essential part of their professional development, and they look for mentors beyond direct supervisors or managers to find colleagues who can inspire, guide and challenge them. Despite the significance of mentoring, participants felt that most organizations today do not provide such opportunities
• Generation Y fuse work, home, and social spheres; they don’t compartmentalize their lives. Thus, Generation Y value “informal work environments” and are not proponents of rigid rules (such as internet censorship at work; attendance rules).
• Generation Y are lifelong learners and don’t consider the end of University as the end of their learning path. Thus, both continuous formal and informal learning pportunities are important and valuable.
• Generation Y value timely critiques about their performance, and when recognition is involved, it does not have to be monetary, but meaningful to the recipient.
• As a generation that thrives on new ideas and risk taking, young employees embrace responsibility and being treated as a “value-add” to the organization. Thus, a stimulating work environment is one that allows employees to challenge assumptions, fosters experimentation, tinkering, and engagement in new surroundings.

The report also goes on to outline 10 recommendations for employers to attract and retain young employees. From a public service perspective, I do think that there are conscious efforts being made to incorporate strategies such as the ones identified in this report, however, it remains at an individual, rather than systematic, level. My own recommendation for the public service would be to have central agencies (such as Treasury Board Secretariat or the Public Service Commission) and unions assume more of an active role in reforming public service management practices to be more consistent with youth values. This can include anything from setting up a cross-departmental mentoring program, to establishing more forums for collaboration and communication (GCForums is a good example of this).

I encourage all public sector employees, from managers down to working level, to read and promote/adopt the recommendations outlined in this report. The report can be downloaded here:

Other Youth Retention Strategies:

Eastern Ontario Development Program – Youth Retention Strategy
A Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy for Newfoundland and Labrador
Saskatchewan Youth Economic Engagement Council

What does public service renewal mean to you?

I was recently asked on a survey “what does public service renewal mean to you?”. The Canada School of Public Service, Privy Council Office and other government institutions generally define it as:

…an ongoing process of pursuing and achieving excellence in all that the public service does, now and in the future. It is about having a workforce that can adapt to complex and changing environments and that continues to excel in delivering policies, programs and services to the people of Canada.

The first part of that definition is fluff. “Excellence” is a buzzword that most public servants are tired of hearing. The second part of that definition, which references the ability to adapt, is closer to my understanding of PS Renewal.

To me, renewal is about adaptation. Adaptation to new technologies, new realities and new occupations. There are trends occurring in society, such as a move towards more open communication, diversity of cultural practices, the desire of individuals to play a role in the policy process and the speed at which decisions are expected. Today, the process at arriving at a decision carries more merit and worth than the decision itself. Therefore, it is increasingly important for government to collaborate, with the public it serves and with each other. Government has for too long been characterized by its hierarchical nature and siloed approach. These features of modern government remain inconsistent with the changing reality that the public service finds itself operating within.

Efforts to adapt the public service to these cultural, demographic, social and economic trends are what I consider Public Service Renewal.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Internet is Doomed – Google / Verizon Net Neutrality Deal

2010 marks a sad year for the internet.

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, announced an agreement that could allow Verizon (and other internet service providers) to allow special access (speedier access) to Internet content if users are willing (and able) to pay for the privilege. Also, companies could pay internet service providers money to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. For example, search “Net Neutrality Deal” into Google and instead of my blog having the same chance as the New York Times, whoever paid the ISP more would get #1 in Google’s search result.

Even Jeff Jarvis, a stout defender of the “Google way of life” came out against the alleged deal between the two companies.

This decision goes against one of the founding principles of the internet, net neutrality. Currently, Internet users get access to any Web site on an equal basis. Corporate home pages, political websites, forums and blogs all show up on a user’s screen in the same way when their addresses are typed into a browser. This will now change, allowing corporations to decide which information on the internet has priority over others.

Google has since defended its position, stating that: “We have taken a backseat to no one in our support for an open internet. We offered this proposal in the spirit of compromise. Others might have done it differently, but we think locking in key enforceable protections for consumers is progress and preferable to no protection.”

Protection for consumers? Essentially, the Google / Verizon deal proposes that Congress allow wireless services to remain free from regulation, for now, implying that the issue would remain under “continual discussion”. Why the initial compromise? The way I understand compromise, is some sort of “middle of the ground” solution, i.e. both sides give up something in order to find common ground. In this instance, compromise would mean giving faster access to police, medical professionals or emergency responders, not Monsanto, Suncor or the big banks.

There is, however, a piece of this entire debate that I find missing in all the opinion articles and news reports that I read: why are Google and Verizon the ones who get to decide the future of the internet? Where is the government’s leadership (i.e. the Federal Communications Commission) on this one?

Julius Genachowski is the current chairman of the FCC and an avowed net neutrality supporter. Months ago, Julius Genachowski met with industry leaders to discuss this issue. No public interest groups were invited. At that meeting, it was decided that Google and Verizon should broker a deal on behalf of the industry and consumers. This assumed, wrongly, that Google was on the side of public interest groups (consumers).

At minimum, the role of government in society should be one of mediator. There are interests to protect in society that for-profit companies do not concern themselves with (rightly so, they are not in the business of promoting consumer rights). In this debate, profit is the only thing being debated here because both Verizon and Google are in the business to make money. On the other side of the debate, government should represent the broader interests of society, such as rights, equality, fairness, transparency, etc. An open internet protects everything from democracy (as in the case with Twitter feeds from the riots taking place in Iran) to innovation (the onslaught of social media websites that have changed the way we communicate). If individuals in Iran had to subscribe to “premium services” in order to upload pictures to their Twitter feed, would they? Possibly, but it certainly doesn’t create incentives to do so.

In the end, money rules. Google is evil.

For details on the profit motives of Google behind this whole fiasco, see Ryan Single’s article Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey

Categories: Uncategorized

Speaking Truth to Power – the Resignation of Munir Sheikh

Remember the Yes Minister series? The British sitcom from the 80s placed a comedic twist on the often sensative relationship between senior public servants and elected officials. While the show was a comedy, the real life implications of this “special relationship” are not as amusing. Case in point: the resignation of Statistics Canada Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh.

In academia, students of public administration are taught of the concept “speaking truth to power”. This phrase expresses one of the most fundamental obligations as a public servant, which is to provide information and honest – and fearless – advice to your superiors. It is not about telling people what they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear. What the facts demonstrate, rather than what one’s opinion is. This is the difference between career bureaucrats and career politicians – the absense of political considerations when making decisions. Bureaucrats make decisions based on the public interest, while politicians balance public interest with the specific interests of their base (those that vote for them).

Decades of debate and scores of academmic literature have still not resolved the core question: how far should public servants go in defending the public interest – resign? go to the media? refuse to implement Ministerial decisions? The reason this debate is never solved is because in the end, its a personal decision.

The Globe and Mail summarized Mr. Sheikh’s dilemma as:
In the Privy Council Office, Mr. Sheikh led cost-cutting exercises for the entire government; he is no shrinking violet in the face of a tough challenge. By resigning, he essentially stated that the government’s extreme, unreasonable demands on the census simply could not be reconciled with his other professional responsibilities.

There is a certain level of respect that must be afforded to Mr. Sheikh. It takes an incredible amount of courage to do what he did. The message it sends and principles it upholds should be a source of inspiration to students of public administration today. When governments around the world look to improve the management of government or implement new policy, they turn to public administrators for advice. The effective functioning of democratic government rests on the principle of a non-partisan public service that serves the public interest. Anytime this principle is threatened, so is our democracy.

A Leader for a New Generation: Public Service

I often read research reports, presentations and hear executives making speeches referencing the “new generation”. The concept is often presented as vague and futuristic. The way the government goes about its business, it seems as though we haven’t arrived yet.

Being part of this new generation, I wanted to offer my own thoughts. Primarily, I wanted to discuss what I believe will constitute a successful public service leader of the future. The four aspects of a future public service leader that I outline below are based on my current beliefs of my own generation, often misunderstood and stereotyped. I make the following assumptions of my generation, adopted from Don Tapscott’s book: Grown Up Digital. The book was the result of a $4 million research project that interviewed over 10,000 people. It accurately portrays (accurate in my experience) what Don Tapscott terms the “Net Generation” (those born between 1977 and 1997, often referred to as the Millennial or the Echo Boom) and provides insight into how this generation is and will continue to change the world.

The eight “norms” of this generation are as follows, followed by my own commentary as applied to the public service:

Freedom of Choice: Millennials want freedom and choice. Freedom over one’s own work plan, including how to get a particular job done (the freedom to use own software or tools). Freedom from the office, meaning they want to be free to integrate their work lives with their private lives (dont block gmail at work!).

Natural Collaborators: Millennials create natural networks through social media and other tools. They expect to be stakeholders for any product they buy. They want to join the conversation rather than simply observe it (reading a newspaper online vs. web 2.0)

Sceptics: Being constantly bombarded by information has become a state of normalcy for Millennials. Within an instant, they are able to find reviews, commentary and reaction on a particular product or policy issue. Naturally, they become sceptics, questioning authority. In the workplace, this translates to the need for open spaces, dissent and dialogue, rather than hierarchy and taking orders from the top down.

Insist on Integrity: Traditional barriers between government and citizens no longer exist. The advent of the internet has allowed citizens to easily communicate with elected officials, public servants, the media and each other. This open flow of communication has provided Millennials with new methods to seek out the truth. Millennials come to expect no less from their superiors in government.

Want to have fun: staying connected means having fun. Millennials want work to be fun. In return, they will stay motivated and productive. For example, for a Millennial, the “two 15min breaks” doesnt work. Sometimes they want a 2minute break to go on facebook, or a 20min break to work on their blog. This integration of social life with work life should not be seen as a negative, but rather the solution to making employees more motivated and productive.

Speed is normal: Millennials are constantly bombarded by diverse bits of information flow. This is normal, which is why many find the pace of government such a burden to progress and in conflict with the lives they live outside the office. An instant question requires an instant response. This is how workplaces should begin to orient themselves.

Innovation is a part of life: Millennials can recognize a problem quickly. Often problems are recognized through any of these norms, or lenses above. Solutions are often sought in collaboration with others, taking ideas and applying them to unique contexts. This, Millennials are always looking for new ways to collaborate, learn and work. Give them these options and they will excel in what they do.

This brings me to the four aspects that a future leader in the public service must embody in order to successfully manage the “new generation”:

1) Unite around common cause: There is a fundamental human need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation, outlined what he termed the “Hierarchy of Needs” to explain that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other needs, ultimately reaching a state of self-actualization. Psychologists have studied and built on this theory for years, with many concluding that a sense of purpose is a basic fundamental trait of the human psyche, and without it, many fall to depression and isolation. To this end, many turn to religious faith while others find purpose in their career or the pursuit of a family. What all three of these examples have in common is that they are profoundly motivational – people are motivated by a higher purpose, being part of something bigger than themselves. Effective leaders must establish a cause, from day one, for which to motivate their staff. The cause should be communicated as worthy, progressive and on the side of the future.

2) Walk the Walk. Talk the Talk: morale is contagious. As such, it is vitally important to set the tone. Leaders that demonstrate inconsistency or incompetence will be less respected for it. Those that demonstrate self-sacrifice and devotion will want to be followed. Personal example is the best way to set the proper tone and build morale. People thrive off positive energy. In groups, the effect is multiplied. Set a positive, future oriented tone from day one, or risk losing your staff to those that do.

3) Reward High Fliers; Weed Out Slackers: All groups contain a core of people that are more dedicated and disciplined than the rest. As a leader, it is important to recognize and reward these people. At the same time, keep a low tolerance for slackers. Controlling perceptions is half the battle: be careful not to appear to have trouble addressing sensitive issues or your staff will have less faith in you, or worse yet, take advantage.

4) Stay Dynamic and Unpredictable: never bet on stability. Everything changes. Appear to be fluid and adaptable, changing to the times when circumstances call for it. The new generation of public servants is hungry for a type of newness. Managers that are rigid, have set identities and hardened habits elicit boredom. Being dynamic, on the other hand, elicits excitement and a sense of urgency, creating an atmosphere of necessity and purpose. This is what breeds innovation.