I’ve bit off more than I could chew
2nd week with the blog and I thought I could post <1000 words on the GOC Workplace 2.0. I duped myself.
I should’ve had a much better idea what I was getting into when starting my research and informal dialogues about what people think is the Workplace 2.0 of the Government of Canada. My guest public-servant philosophers offered soundbites of 30 seconds before diverging into the limiting factors that make any scenario all but impossible. Although I elaborated my project scope for this posting that only after we illustrate the final goal would we discuss the intermediary steps, it became clear, somewhat, that the GOC Workplace 2.0 seems much too dependant on external factors to be even imaginable. Either that or my guest philosophers were a humble, uncreative bunch.
I see the value in these insights. Although there are common threads across the Canadian public service (such as the policies, the Ottawa-centric decision-making, hierarchy), there are far too many differing factors that make it difficult to imagine the next GOC Workplace, let alone even the current one.
Simply, I don’t see the workplace of the Government of Canada evolving across the board until a new or updated governance model is in place. But I do see 3 factors driving that change.
3 factors driving change in governance
So what insight could there be about the GOC Workplace 2.0? I still think it is constructive to look at the final destination and draw the links in between. Although internally the Government is wide and varied, I see 3 predominant factors exerting influence on the public service:
- Changing demographic (shrinking workforce: less entering, more leaving via retirement, more immigrants)
- Technology (still advancing despite no flying cars or jet packs)
- Globalisation (also spelled ‘globalization’ to north americaners)
I haven’t seen other factors that would fit here, either because they are too temporary to influence lasting change, or they are a continuing factor without exerting influence. Examples: terrorism, the economy, global politics. Many would disagree, but the advances in technology and globalisation influence the public service as it require changes governance and structure to adapt. Or it has to do with politics. Not touching that one. The demographic point is a matter of reality; you can’t run government without people, independent of how well you’ve adapted the technology and globalisation. Also, to further back myself up here, I’m willing to bet any graduate student of Public Administration will see these 3 topics as important must-take courses.
Okay, so I’m still up in the air here – I’ll get back to Earth here, and Workplace 2.0. Here’s my point:
Current and future workplaces need to adapt to the changing composition of their workforce, advances in technology, and an increasingly inter-connected world.
Whether it’s flexible work schedule, catered lunches, or dancing in career-recruitment videos, any change will need to achieve one of the 3 factors. It thus goes without saying that the areas with the worst biggest “opportunity” for change will be those having all 3. The least; the least number of those.
For example, which situation do you think will have the greater impetus for updating their workplace?
- Competing for talent working on leading-edge technology at DFAIT.
- Replacing program managers handling the pension accounts at HRSDC.
Of course number 1, however the logical question is: “What if they don’t change?”. The answer is not in NPM.
Finger-pointing: New Public Management
That’s an easy and a hard question to answer. Easy to answer, because if they don’t change, the department will not meet their targets and be under greater scrutiny. However what this ‘scrutiny’ is can be messy. If this was the private sector, the capitalist mechanism of open-market competition would have the company drive for efficiency and adaptation (or fall by the way-side). Since this isn’t, we are left with the measures of New Public Management (NPM) to try to push-pull the department into finding the right means to achieve the right targets using the right resources measured with the right metrics, combined with the right “je ne sais quoi”. The impetus for change by departments will depend on what form NPM will have, which should be on its way out 20 years ago. While it stays, it insulates departments from adapting, managers less in control, and ministers less influential to shift the mechanisms. But reasonably, if we are to part ways with NPM, what would be next?
Glad you asked. A few academic papers I have come across postulating changing governance keep pointing to a few themes that shape the next public service:
- digital-era governance
- social-learning governance
I haven’t seen many overlaps in these themes, however they seem to point in the same direction; steam-rolling right over NPM, redefining how government does business, and redefining a new relationship with citizens and government.
Until this happens, we keep what we have; an awkward relationship between government and citizens, myopic guidance between minister and department, insulated control of information from corporate services, decentralised support and guidance from central agencies, and limited influence from executives over ‘employees’, if the list wasn’t exhaustive.
But of course, government is what it is.
And what I think we’re seeing here is the rip and tearing-apart of NPM as Web 2.0 tools seep into Government, from all sides. Web 2.0 flattens government to eye-level with citizens, it gets ministers to relate better with their department, it shatters the control over information by corporate services, it empowers collaboration from central agencies, and enriches the cooperation between employee and executives.
Maybe that’s what we can agree on. Right?
Tune in next week for my post, with sights set on the head of the public service.
Referenced papers in this post (available via my GC20.ca wiki: wiki.gc20.ca):