This is part 1 of a 3-part series.
A year and a half ago I posted “GoC Web 2.0 wish list“. The responses from the post were awesome, especially responses I received in person. Although I’m reluctant to look at that list again, fearing many of the wishes hadn’t come true, I think it’s still a very relevant post. I’m happy that some of the items did come true (DFAIT is on Twitter!), others half-true (Privy Council Office is starting to come around on Web 2.0), while others remain still a wish (Natural Resources Canada lost their pioneering collaborating Deputy Minister Cassie Doyle and the Canada School of Public Service still doesn’t offer Web 2.0 courses).
But nonetheless, kicking off 2011, here you go, another list.
Part 1: Departments at the center
#1: Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS): make a choice: either Control OR Measure.
As the Government of Canada’s program reviewer and accountability guard of government departments, it plays both roles as coach and judge. If departments are playing hockey, TBS sets the rules and policies on the very ice that they themselves created (through the Management Accountability Frameworks). But the world of public administration is a complex one, and the game continually changes. While TBS can change the rules and adjust the boundaries, they’re also keeping track of the score. Unfortunately they are left with narrower options to both pull departments into compliance and push them into accountability. The usual options are rejecting proposals, reducing options, lowering budgets and limiting discretionary decision-making authority, evident with TBS’ attempts to both control and measure Web 2.0/Social media adoption by departments.
Government departments face tough choices to make on Web 2.0: adopt it and face consequences, or [continue] to wait for policies (and blessings) from TBS, all the while facing ever-increasing criticisms from the cynical populace and hits from TBS on program implementation. TBS both controls and measures departments, and departments either push the barriers, abide and wait, or take risks, venture forth and face the consequences.This pattern risks repeating itself with the next wave of change facing the public service.
What’s the solution? For TBS to make a strategic choice, between control or measurement of departments.
If the choice is to control, then they need to walk quietly but carry a big stick, as the long administrative arm of the Privy Council Office. Penalise non-compliance, reward compliance. Departments didn’t understand the rules? Ask for clarification. Unsure? Ask for clarification. Can’t comply? Ask for permission. Don’t comply? Program is under review next year. Not much different.
If the choice is measure (a better choice, in my opinion), then promote understanding of the policies, promote departments to organically organise to discuss policies, adopt those that are common among the departments, and always encourage collaboration among the departments. Understand that measurement is not a means of control, but a verification of the effectiveness of the policy (under the agreeable presumption that the department seeks to abide by the policies- a much larger discussion). Beyond that, the sky’s the limit, and departments can aspire to do what they can to achieve their mandate for the benefit of the government as a whole and for the Canadian citizens they serve.
Another benefit includes line departments directors in being less stressed when they get a call from TBS.
#2: Privy Council Office (PCO): Adopt Openness, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Open Data
I know, it’s difficult to keep the words “Open” and “Privy” in the same sentence, but there’s a big wave of change happening across democratic governments, large and small. In Canada alone, British Columbia has joined the Open Data fold, with more and more Canadian cities declaring themselves Open Data Cities (such as Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver). With so many departments and agencies in GoC, Open Data can be adopted by the government, in big and small ways. For some departments it’s a sensible and necessary fit; Environment Canada and NRCan have been active in the Open Data arena before it was called Open Data. As Canadian Open Data pioneer David Eaves has shown, by charting the Federal Government’s (lack of) Open Data adoption on DataDotGC.ca, the federal government has a lot to do. Because Open Data has yet to be adopted by the federal government (it’s inevitable, really), it’s either because it’s being blocked (no doubt with PMO direction as well) or delayed. Instead of blocking it outright, the hope here is that PCO allows a department (or two) to try out Open Data, and find out it’s not the end of the world for the government, but a promise for better services for citizens, and engagement by citizens.
#3:Public Service Commission (PSC): Place a value on computer skills
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: PSC ought to place as a qualification on new recruits to the public service (especially at the executive level), skills with computers. As the “independent agency…that works with departments and agencies to recruit and appoint qualified persons to the Public Service of the Government of Canada”, this is squarely within their mandate. By placing a value on computer skills, departments can then quit asking their techies to reduce computers to mundane basic operations, trying to keep the screensaver-virus-clicking analysts away from government computers.
Every time I’ve been on a project with computer-literate govvies, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience of fully tapping into our productive and collaborative potential, without having our efforts boiled down to the lowest-common-computer skills among us. Maybe you’ve noticed as well the difference in the capacity of a director because they hired an administrative assistant who knew their way around their Public Words-issued Dell $2000 computer. Sometimes this difference results in a week’s worth of worksaved because they knew how to print your briefing note when the printer was offline. Or they saved thousands of dollars because they knew the modern office photocopier can fax too. Or they know how to work from home and still keep the office moving smoothly. Imagine if everyone had the basic knowledge for using computers, just how low the barriers to using social media and collaborative tools would be (not so many: “No way! I’ll break it!” or “Another tool I need to use?”)
At the analyst level, as knowledge-workers, the imperative to know how to work with information in different forms, in different software, on different systems is important. I hope computer skills become regarded as a necessary skill for hiring into the federal government, or at least as necessary as writing and communication are.
Up next: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS), the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), and Library and Archives Canada (LAC).