Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Hindsight: Links

"Like a pot of water brought to a boil, it all looks pretty messy and bubbly right before the system changes state and reaches new order. Of course, putting a lid on the pot and weighting it down doesn't prevent any disorder; it only prevents the new, higher level of organization from emerging."
- Douglas Rushkoff. Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do Is Great for Business. 2005.

For the longest time, it seemed that talking about the public service was something reserved exclusively for senior leaders, journalists, university professors and external consultants. But thanks to some courageous leadership (and a little help from Web 2.0!), a wind of renewal is blowing through the public service. Employees are taking matters into their own hands and sharing their thoughts on how to improve the institution.

In a very unscientific survey I administered on my blog, I asked visitors: “How do you feel about discussing the public service of Canada and/or PS Renewal on websites, blogs, discussion forums, Facebook, etc.?” The responses were as follows:
  • 51% - I'm totally comfortable doing it. What needs to be said needs to be said!
  • 23% - I'm a bit hesitant but I (would) do it anyway. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission!
  • 20% - I'm not comfortable doing it. I would need some assurance that it won't come back to haunt me or be held against me.
  • 5 % Are you kidding!?! We live in a culture of blamability. Big Brother is watching you!
(Total number response: 39)

The results seem encouraging, but then it begs a question: if 75% of (this small sample of) respondents claim to be comfortable discussing PS Renewal on the Web, why are there so few discussions and feedback on the current sites dedicated to PS Renewal matters? The issue is not unique to the Public Service of Canada; some public service bloggers in other countries have raised similar concerns before (here and here). Studies have identified some organizational barriers, and individuals have taken upon themselves to educate public servants about the appropriate use of Web 2.0, even going as far as providing guidelines for doing it appropriately (similar to what the UK Civil Service has done). But there is still a long way to go.

I released my paper roughly a month after the CBSA employees’ Facebook scandal hit the news, and many managers were initially very concerned that my paper was on Facebook. This showed a lack of understanding of the technology. To start with, you can’t really post a paper on Facebook; you can merely promote it, which I did on the Facebook group on PS Renewal (incidentally, this group was “created following a discussion with James Lahey - how to harness an internet discussion on public service renewal”). Lastly, the concerns over Facebook are somewhat misplaced because, as Mike Kujawski points out on his blog, Facebook is just one out of a few hundreds social networking sites available! Singling out Facebook is futile, because in the world of Web 2.0, chances are everyone will simply converge to another site and do what they wanted to do all along.

Shortly after releasing "An Inconvenient Renewal" on my blog, two public servants launched a blog of their own: CPSRenewal.ca. Their site has become for many the single best resource of news on PS Renewal matters. Feeding on this energy (and taking the Clerk's invitation to get involved to the letter), I have created a site called Bottom-Up Renewal. I hope to make it a hub for sharing tips and practices on how to renew the public service when you are on the front-line. Please take a moment to visit the site and contribute to it. Thanks!

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