Tag Archives: government services

Interview with Charles Leadbeater – Monday September 19th

I’m excited to share that I’ll be interviewing British public policy and open innovation expert Charles Leadbeater on September 19th as part of a SIG’s webinar series. For readers not familiar with Charles Leadbeater, he is the author of We-Think and numerous other chapters, pamphlets and articles, ranging in focus from social innovation, to entrepreneurship to public sector reform. He served as an adviser to Tony Blair and has a long standing relationship with the British think tank Demos.

Our conversation will initially focus on open innovation, but I’m sure will range all over, touching on the impact of open source methodologies on the private, non-profit and public sector, the future of government services and, of course, the challenges and opportunities around open data.

If you are interested in participating in the webinar you can register here. There is a small fee I’m told is being charged to recover some of the costs for running the event.

If you are participating and have a question you’d like to see asked, or a theme or topic you’d like to see covered, please feel free to comment below or, if you prefer more discretion, send me an email.

Why StatCan is (or could be) like Google

Statscan Google logoThe other week I gave a talk on Gen Y, Gen X, Technology and the Future of the Public Service at StatCan’s managers’ meeting. The speaker before me apparently told the gathering that they “should be more like Google” if they want to recruit young talent. During his Q&A one of the managers asked how a government agency could be like Google (a legitimate question, I thought) and the speaker didn’t have much to say. Frustrating, no?


But I think there is a good case. While the idea of StatCan emulating one of the best performing, young, hottest companies in Silicon Valley may sound far-fetched, it needn’t. StatCan can be like Google. In fact, it already is.

Look, for a second, a Google’s strategy. Google’s mission is encapsulated in its SEC filing statement:

“to organize the world’s information …. and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google explains that it believes that the most effective, and ultimately the most profitable, way to accomplish our mission is to put the needs of our users first. Offering a high-quality user experience has led to strong word-of-mouth promotion and strong traffic growth. Putting users first is reflected in three key commitments illustrated in the Google SEC filing: “1. We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful search results possible, independent of financial incentives. Our search results will be objective and we will not accept payment for inclusion or ranking in them.

  1. We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful advertising. Advertisements should not be an annoying interruption. If any element on a search result page is influenced by payment to us, we will make it clear to our users.
  2. We will never stop working to improve our user experience, our search technology and other important areas of information organization”.

To organize the world’s information… and make it universally accessible. This a huge part of StatCan’s mission. To organize Canada’s information… (now if only we made it universally accessible).

I think Google’s mission is similar to StatCan’s. Indeed the main difference is that StatCan not only organizes Canada’s information; it also creates that data. However, this is a space that Google has moved aggressively into — why do you think it has created platforms like Google Earth? To facilitate the creation of data so that it has more to organize and offer its users. Indeed, what is interesting about Google is that it knows the more information and data that is out there – for free – the more useful and important it becomes. It means more people doing searches, which means more advertising revenue.

So what does this mean for StatCan?:

First, distinguish and separate what you do: “Creating and organizing information about Canada” from what makes you valuable: making this information universally available to citizens.

Second, make yourself the centre of a data gathering, sharing and analyzing eco-system: There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who could do amazing things with StatCan’s data. The problem is, it isn’t easy to find, often you have to pay for it, and it is usually only available in HTML charts that aren’t easily accessed, and certainly not dynamically available. If StatCan data was available as API’s and Excel spreadsheets, then a whole ecosystem of multimillion dollar businesses, bloggers and other pro-ams would emerge around it as supporters, collaborators and complementors.

Finally, hire young people to make it happen because if you are open, they will come: Does StatCan want young people to come work for them? Then stop behaving like a 20th-century consulting firm whose job is to hoard data and conduct analyses for clients. (Don’t worry you can still do this). Instead, act like the 21st-century Google-like platform that you are. Your job should be to make your data as searchable, taggable, as pluggable, in short, as usable, as possible. This, in addition to collection, should be the top priority. If StatCan’s data were easily available (say as an API) people would start using it in all sorts of creative ways – this, and this alone will drive innovation, excitement, energy and buzz about Statcan into the workplace. In short, it will make Statcan relevant. StatCan should be a place where young Canadians want to work so they can learn how to handle and disseminate HUGE quantities of data to everyone from the smallest bloggers to the largest companies. That skill set is going to be critical in the 21st century and so such a mission will attract talent top talent, if StatCan gives them the freedom to play and build it.

StatCan is like Google — if it chooses to be. It can’t offer the stock options, but it can offer a cool opportunity to help build the country’s most critical data ecosystem for a 21st century economy. That’s a job lots of geeks would be interested in.

Crisis Management? Try Open Source Public Service

Does anyone still believe that government services can’t be designed to rely on volunteers? Apparently so. We continue to build whole systems so that we don’t have to rely on people (take the bus system for example, it doesn’t rely on constant customer input – indeed I think it actively discourages it).

So I was struck the other day when I stumbled into an unfortunate situation that reminded me of how much one of our most critical support system relies on ordinary citizens volunteering their time and resources to provide essential information.

Last Sunday night, through the review mirror, I witnessed a terrible car accident.

A block behind me, two cars hit head on at a 90 degree angle – with one car flipping end over end and landing on its roof in the middle of the intersection.

Although it was late in the evening there were at least 20-30 people on the surrounding streets… and within 5 seconds of the crash I could saw over the soft glow of over 15 cellphone LCD screens light up the night. Within 60 seconds, I could hear the ambulance sirens.

It was a terrible situation, but also an excellent example of how governments already rely on open system – even to deliver essential, life saving services. 911 services rely on unpaid, volunteer citizens to take the time and expend the (relatively low) resources to precisely guide emergency resources. It is an interesting counterpoint to government officials who design systems that pointedly avoid citizen feedback. More importantly, if we trust on volunteers to provide information to improve an essential service, why don’t we trust them to provide a constant stream of feedback on other government services?