A Response to @nickcharney

Well, sort of a response. The following entry is a quasi-response to @nickcharney’s column at CPSRenewal.

Being someone who is decidedly terrible at math, I always found the concept of the bell curve to be fascinating. A few years ago, I was at a conference in the US for the American Association of Colleges & Universities. One of the sessions was on trying to change university campuses. The woman running the session drew us a bell curve to talk about engaging people on campus, and who would be likely to help us out with change. From the looks of things, it has a close link to Rogers’ Bell Curve.   

She divided it up into four different groups, which I have renamed (mostly because I can’t remember how she actually named them):

There are many reasons I am not in graphic design. This is one of them.


  1. Stuck-in-the-Mucks – It doesn’t matter what you do. About 10-20% of those in any group will not engage in change-oriented activities. Ever. They might go as far as to actively thwart you for whatever reason.
  2. Skeptics – About 30-40% of any group will be sceptics, and will want to see things work. They need to be convinced to help you out, or to adopt a new way of doing things. This group will be playing a challenge function.
  3. Almost-Theres – The next 30-40% are almost willing to help you, and want to be involved in the change, but perhaps more peripherally. They’ll take on little tasks here and there, but won’t commit to anything too drastic. These are the helper elves.
  4. Pioneers – The top 10-20% (mostly towards the 10% mark) are those whose names come up all the time, often on seemingly unrelated projects. These are the people who are passionate, and try to do it all.

The issue is that the pioneers have lives too. Kids, sports, friends, etc, just like all the other groups. They do it all, plus the added burden of being the first to try to push new ideas forward.

Going back to Nick’s post, I want to pick up on a few central themes:

“Our engagement strategy, if you can call it that, has been “if you build it they will come” and to come extent people have come. But my experience is that once the majority of people show up they have no idea what they are supposed to do so they slide back into the routines”

“we forget to pay attention to improving how we communicate with each other”

I couldn’t agree more, and I think we see this a lot with government initiatives. When the Almost-Theres and the Skeptics show up, and can’t be told what do, or how to contribute in a meaningful way, then they shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Secondly, we don’t look internally enough. I’m not in comms. While I see the value of social media, etc, I want to know how I can use it in my stream of work (policy), which (should) includes a lot of intradepartmental and interdepartmental collaboration. To issue is getting everyone that I work with on the same platform. I work on one committee that uses GCconnex for posting our documents, discussion, etc, and it’s worked out really well. One of the reasons we started using it was because, well, if we were going to talk about renewal activity, we should lead by example. Trying to get people on board tools like this, that helps make their jobs easier (easy pitch “You won’t get 35 e-mails with 10 different versions of the same document”) internally is a place to start for those not in communications.

The issue, of course, is that if you have a Stuck-in-the-Muck on a committee, they may have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Hopefully they’re not chairing it.

The next theme is that of support from senior management:

“public servants and Canadians alike are risking a lot here by relying on a very small community for a big change and without leadership from the very top”

Bang on. The question is, of course, what categories do our senior managers fall into? I imagine we have some from each of the four categories. We don’t know until we interact with them at the higher levels (DM, ADM). Going back to the idea of leading by example – if we talk in the Renewal World about breaking down the hierarchies, shouldn’t we try to show that that’s what we’re doing? I can imagine some fascinating notes about people trying to break down hierarchies….routed through 8 different people before making it to the top of the hierarchy, with the person who wrote the note only being able to orally brief his/her respective Director.

Trying to change the system by perpetuating the process that is causing some of the issues seems pretty counterintuitive to me.  

All of this to say that there are some outstanding questions that I think we need to answer:

  • Pioneers – What can I do to help? Let’s recruit the almost-theres and tell them what we need from them to move forward. Break it into tasks, even if it’s just editing some written work. Tap into people’s expertise.
  • Senior Management – I don’t think it’s that senior management doesn’t want to help. I think it’s that many of our senior managers manage hundreds of files, and being asked to ‘help’ on something is a very large and nebulous concept. What, specifically, would we like senior managers to do? If that can be articulated in a clear and concise way, I think it’s half the battle.

I’m not entirely sure of the answers, personally, but I’m hoping that someone out there does!


One thought on “A Response to @nickcharney

  1. Great post. Totally agree with that last point. Many senior managers so want to help. But they have trouble finding the time to really understand the technology and the change. The more specific you can be in your request and the more concise in briefing up. The more likely you will get the support you want.

    We have been using Web 2.0 inside the GC for almost two years now, GCPEDIA has been available to all for a little more than a year. The critical mass that is building of users and experience is being noticed. I think next year will be a very good year for Web 20 at the GC and with that a progressive change towards more collaboration.

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