Likely a grossly misinformed post on Technology and Culture

I’ve been working on a number of posts over the last few weeks, and while many are still in development, one thing I’ve noticed about many of the initiatives within the PS tend to be things I’ve learned from blogs and twitter. Now, while this may be a good way to get information out to those who are looking/paying attention, we need to start getting people involved earlier. Getting new public servants on GCpedia, GCconnex, and more importantly, into the mindset that that is how government is going to function is a key part of a strategy to getting everyone on board.

Yet, unless your manager happens to be one of the plugged in people, you may never know about it, learn about it later on, or be sure how to contribute in a meaningful way. The PS is a big machine, and navigating your way around as a newbie can be a daunting experience. No matter what, you’ll also be at the mercy of your manager to a certain extent. Terrible managers are out there, as are fantastic managers, and depending on what one you happen to get, it will have an impact on your initial experience within the PS.

Tools like GCpedia and GCconnex only work if it becomes part of our culture to utilize them and share information early on. This issue becomes two fold: Technological and Cultural. In order for these (and other) initiatives to achieve greater success, both of these issues need to be addressed.

Technological

I admit upfront — I can identify a computer correctly 7/10 times. I’m not technologically inclined. I don’t understand coding, programming, etc. It needs to be simple for me to understand it. For me, then, the technological problem is that I need something simple.

GCpedia actually does a fairly decent job of making things easy, assuming one knows how to copy and paste. While I can’t do any fancy formatting, I can add to a page without screwing it up and might be able to start a new page.

As someone who works in policy, I’m not necessarily looking for the latest in technology. To do my job I only need two programs (word/power point or their equivalents) and the ability to do research. The latter is where GCpedia can really help out (and has on a few occasions), but I find that the search tool on GCpedia isn’t intuitive. It needs to be as simple as possible. Whether it’s through particular naming conventions, tagging, etc. (which of course, only work if everyone is playing by the same rules).

In order for the search tool to be effective, we also need information to be, well, shared. This leads us into the second, and perhaps more complex issue.

Cultural

I worry when we talk about culture shifts, mostly because it tends to be used as an excuse. “A culture shift”, the argument goes, “doesn’t happen over night.” From what I can ascertain so far, it becomes an excuse to not push forward.

To me, a culture shift isn’t an event — it’s ongoing. Culture is constantly shifting. To say we shouldn’t push/do something because it requires a culture shift is entirely counterintuitive to the notion of a shift of culture. The shift is already happening, sometimes we just need to push just a bit more. Saying we’re going to do nothing, as it will require a “cultural shift” is walking away from the problem (or more often, walking away from the solution).

In the context of GCpedia, we need to try to engage all levels, but let’s start to engage the newbies. I’ve talked to countless colleagues who, in their first year or so in the PS, profess to being bored and not given anything to do. Let’s use these people. The question is: How do we get them on GCpedia?

A few months ago, I attended the Orientation to the Public Service. A mandatory one-day course, run by the Canada School of Public Service. While an interesting course, I think it could’ve been enhanced by the inclusion of such things like GCpedia and GCconnex. An explanation of what everyone’s role is in contributing could be key to getting people on board. Especially if some of these new public servants of spare time, why not hope that they take the time to write about what their group is doing?

The follow-up here is that managers need to be comfortable sharing information not only within their department, but between departments as well. There need to be people who are dedicated to keeping this information up to date. While we have volunteers right now who do this, it doesn’t seem to be institutionalized yet. Let’s capitalize on those new to the PS.

I think there is often an attempt to separate the cultural and technological issues (I know I someone else mentioned this idea to me, but can’t remember who — many thanks to you, anonymous friend), and we need to deal with both. While trying to get senior management is necessary, it is not sufficient for these tools become central to the way we do business. For these tools to become central, we must address both sets of issues and get those who are new on board as well.

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8 thoughts on “Likely a grossly misinformed post on Technology and Culture

  1. Once again an excellent post. You should make a formal request to the school to have gcpedia and gcconnex made part of the curriculum. Perhaps through the teacher of the course you took.

    As for culture change. Each of us has to demonstrate the desired behavior and make it the new way of doing things however we can. The leadership and big system moves slowly but we can all find ways to integrate and encourage more sharing and transparency as part of doing our jobs. A thousand evangelists can accomplish amazing things.

    • Not many in the public service have the need to use GCPEDIA, or the means. Perhaps the analysts who need to always look far & wide for information to fill their prospective analyses, but those on the other side of the hallway; the many “officers” (financial, program, HR) and even admins can go weeks without needing to use the outside Internet for their work; their information inputs and outputs start and end in their department. I know; it describes half of my PS career).

      GCPEDIA as a panacea of information is for a specific group, with specific needs on their managers. Not to say it isn’t worthwhile, but I don’t think GCPEDIA should be spread thin across the whole of the public service, but providing for a market of niches according to purpose and function.

      The (mandatory) Orientation to the Public Service was already full-to-the-brim with content when it was 2-days long. Now only a full-day, it’s harder to put other content. And there are other topics vying competing for the attention of newly-hired public servants – but Web 2.0 and a message from Sr. Execs seems to be under consideration. I don’t know if GCPEDIA’s “pilot”/”proof-of-concept” status impedes it’s support, but I’m sure it can’t help make a case for training on a beta system that starts more questions than it answers.

      As someone who works in policy, you may already know that the sharing of information within and between departments may be encouraged by citing the Policy on Information Management http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=12742&section=text (one that I cite quite often):
      “6. Policy requirements: 6.1 Deputy heads are responsible for:
      “6.1.3 ensuring that information is shared within and across departments to the greatest extent possible, while respecting security and privacy requirements;”

      Question is: how to get the departments to do this. I think part of that is understanding why they don’t.

      (PS Grosly is misspelled)

      • I think there are two reasons why we don’t share information as much as we could, even if the Policy on Information Management is cited:

        1. It is often easy to get wrapped up in the work of our own unit/department. Unless your policy has specific interdepartmental implications, it might not occur to you that there are benefits to sharing/exchanging information with interdepartmental colleagues.

        2. Even if sharing is encouraged, there may not be a mechanism through which to do it. This is where I think GCpedia can fill in the gap. It provides a tool that is simple to contribute to and (with improved search function) easy to retrieve information from.

        Citing a policy is great, but there needs to be a tool/method to actually turn that policy into a reality.

        Grassroots are important in any major change that we’d like to see, but I think a push from the top to make sharing information a priority amongst all groups is important. While on the corporate side your comments are certainly accurate, that’s not to say that some of that information shouldn’t be on GCpedia, if only so that some of us who aren’t on that side can gain a quick understanding of a process, or those who are new to a particular administrative area have a resource that they can turn to.

        Which is why I think it belongs in the Orientation to the Public Service — even if your function begins and ends within your department, you’ll likely switch departments during your career, possibly change areas, etc, so having a centralized source of information that is up-to-date would certainly be a helpful resource for all public servants, even if some use it more than others.

        I can only provide feedback from my experience in the Orientation a few months ago. The best part was a message from a senior exec from TBS, who did a Q&A session after his talk. My suspicion is that if you look at the breakdown of the day, you can probably make 15 minutes to talk about GCpedia.

        In doing so, you not only promote a tool (I’m cognizant of the fact that it is a “pilot”, but my suspicion is that it’s here to stay), but you also promote a set of values — that information sharing is something that the public service places a priority on, and that working interdepartmentally (or at least talking to our interdepartmental colleagues occasionally) is something that we think is important in the public service.

        CH

        PS — Many thanks, shall edit the title appropriately.

  2. While I’m not in the PS, I can likely shine some light on the problems with the GCpedia search:

    CGpedia (likely 99% of other wikis) probably runs on the same software that runs Wikipedia; it is opensource software, available for free to anyone, including the search functionality.

    However, the search built into Wikipedia is widely acknowledged to be terrible, and it is the object of many projects to try and improve it. Proof: if you go to Wikipedia and type in: 2010 olmpics (deliberate misspelling) you will get 2 links, neither of which are the page for the 2010 Olympics, which is what I was clearly looking for. On the other hand, if you type: wiki 2010 olmpics (deliberate misspelling again) into Google or Bing, the first link will be to the 2010 Olympics page on Wikipedia. The search engine behind GCpedia is equally useless, because it is the same one.

    Conclusion: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to have better search; Google and Bing both offer services to corporations that enable them to securely use their search engine for intranets. What you need to do is convince (likely in conjunction with a powerful ADM/DM) the IT folks hosting GCpedia to implement the service. Check out http://www.google.com/enterprise/search/gsa.html for more information.

  3. “In the context of GCpedia, we need to try to engage all levels, but let’s start to engage the newbies. ”

    You may be very interested with how NRCan uses their (super awesome) blog for engagement (started to even before GCPEDIA was off the ground!):

    Students are hired into divisions/communities, to get them up on the Wiki, and info about the group up to date. They keep the pages up to date, research, outreach. They keep the division/community up to date, and do outreach to other groups as well – internal & external. They learn to wiki while finding out more about their group and the rest of their department. By the end of their student term, they are rooted in the group, the department, and they are a true GoC knowledge-worker: The best kind of student to be bridged in.
    THIS is what I would love to see in GCPEDIA: but with a twist: student spots are made by the departments, but coordinated by GCPEDIA. They meet, share best practices, insights, etc. and learn from each other.

    I hope GCPEDIA does this. I’ll try to dig up the page of the proposal I wrote half a year ago. No idea where it went (into the blackhole oblivion). Meanwhile, I can’t encourage you enough to look into what NRCan is doing with their wiki.

    • Am I correct to think that you are proposing that we build a community of gcpedians who then act as a knowledge broker/liaison back to their group?

      I think that could work very well and doesn’t place the burden of “learning wikis” on all the entire team. My only concern is that it reminds me of hierarchical systems where the flow of information is forced through a choke point.

      What happens if that person is away? Doesn’t want to share? etc?

      I suppose some of that it mitigated by the fact that anyone could still access the wiki should the so desire.

      Sidenote: the search needs to be better and should have been improved a long time ago.

      • It might be a place to start, but we’ve seen what happens in many departments when all of a sudden experts in particular groups leave. The burden to learn at first would be great, as it is with any new process being introduced to any large organization. The goal is to institutionalize certain behaviours so that it just becomes something that you do in the course of your day to day work. This is the same as correspondance evolving (from internal mail/clerks/sorting/etc) to e-mail (personal responsibility to respond).

        If anything, it’s a way to start to increase accountability for our own actions and create more effective record keeping that is easily accessible.

        I like the idea of using students to get started, and had heard of NRCan’s strategy. Clearly it’s one that works. That’s only a start, though, and I think the larger question is how to we get everyone to start doing it on a consistent basis.

        CH

  4. In respect to terrible MediaWiki search – GCPEDIA IM Working Group has recognized this – if you can channel suggestions / support for the change / resources to us, that would help progress. You can find us in GCPEDIA. You can also Twitter or email me or Peter Cowan or other IM WG members.

    Richard Akerman
    @scilib

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