Q&A from O'Reilly Media: Gov 2.0 International Online Conference

I know during my session I wasn’t able to answer everyone’s questions. However, I was able to find a few other questions in the chat and twitter stream. I’m a big believer that everyone should have a chance to ask a question so – with apologies that I couldn’t do them live – here are some responses!

@Subbob: How possible is to have real meaty policy discussion within a gvmt internal wiki, given the possibility of leaks, which may lead to a scandal?

Short answer: Absolutely.
Longer answer: I actually think there are two different points you are raising – (a) can you have a substantive discussion in a wiki and (b) can you do (a) under the threat of a leak.
I think (a) on its own, is definitely doable. Indeed, it may be the best place to have a substantive discussion. It allows a diversity of actors (with the civil service – and possibly some invited from the outside?) to participate. The key is creating a culture where people explain the underlying logic of their arguments and avoid positional statements. Lots of stuff I can port in from the negotiation and collaboration theory space here. Take a look at my presentation “Community Management as the Core Competency of Open Source.”

The threat of a leak increases the range of choices by which one leaks a document, but not the risk (in my opinion) stays the same. Did the installations of telephones in government employees offices increased the risk of leaks? I’d say it just lowered the transaction cost. But should we tear out the phones from government employees offices? Absolutely not. They need them to work. More importantly, as I shared on the conversation – I’m really disturbed by the unintended consequences of these decision to disallow tools cause of the risks of leaks: what does it say about the trust government has in its employees – and its ability to attract or retain top talent. (I talk about this point in more detail here, little bit about it again here.

Much like 3rd world leapfrogged 1st world in mobile, do you see the same thing happening with Gov2?

Super interesting question.

Short answer: Yes

Long answer… it is more complicated.

First, we are definitely straying on the edges of where I’m knowledgeable enough to talk about this, so take everything I say with grains of salt (of course you should approach everything I say, or anyone for that matter, with a healthy amount of skepticism). I think there is an opportunity to governments in developing countries to leap straight to Gov2. Indeed, some of the opportunities around fighting corruption (not have human tellers for many services, who sometimes demand to be bribed before helping) is driving this in places like India. Moreover, I think the cellphone network in Africa may drive some governments to build themselves around such networks, which could cause them to create themselves in networked as opposed to hierarchical manners.

I see two major obstacles. One structural, one cultural.

The structural challenge is the nature of how democratic systems do (and should work). The accountability model found in democracy often means that strong hierarchical lines of control extend out of the executive. This is even more the case in authoritarian regimes. My suspicion is that even though sometimes weak, emerging democracies or emerging markets have as much “unlearning” to do as we do in rethinking these models. Given they may be smaller this might be easier, but…

Never underestimate the culture challenges. For better or worse the Western World has held up its democracies and government institutions as “the model” against which others should measure themselves (and, we should collectively note, in many cases have tied our development funding to promoting that model). This means that rather than inventing something new, replicating what exists in the west has become the gold standard for democracy and governance. I suspect that in many cases replicating these models is actually the goal of many public services in emerging markets or developing democracies – so the barrier is that those on the ground and a goal that will likely steer them away from gov2.0.

Really tricky question that one… Would love to see what examples of gov2.0 exist on the ground in some emerging markets. What a wonderful opportunity.

What is state of knowledge capture in Canada crown agencies? Earliest SoMe projects in US included use of forums as pseudo-wikis for internal knowledge capture.

Great question and I confess I do not know (for those unfamiliar with the term a Crown Corporation is a company owned by the government but run independently – so, for example, Canada Post, would be a Crown Corp). If anyone knows of some projects in this space please comment or send me an email.

12 thoughts on “Q&A from O'Reilly Media: Gov 2.0 International Online Conference

  1. Brent Barron

    Thanks for your great presentation and responses to questions. I was the one who originally asked the internal wiki question, and I was hoping for a little followup. I started wondering about question after speaking to someone in the OPS who was aware of OPSpedia, but didn't use it. This individual (who would be considered a “higher up”) was concerned that anything they wrote on the wiki could be considered a signal for future policy directions both internally, and externally should something leak. They were also concerned that fear of possible leaks or FOI requests would make it impossible to have innovative discussions; everything would be sanitized.You touched on gotcha journalism in your presentation, which is think is very important. As long as opposition MP(P)s can score points and newspapers can score readers by focusing on relatively minor snafus, I see the nervousness of this OPSer as a fairly rational response.Even the public service renewal question posted by the PCO Clerk, despite being a pretty soft issue, could potentially lead to some unpleasant outcomes. Imagine if there starts to be a discussion on increases wages to attract talent that is currently going to business and engineering schools. If the Toronto Sun heard about that being discussed, I bet it would make for a pretty ugly front page story. As far as new technology and fear of leaks, I think wikis are a bit different than previous technologies simply because of the amount of people involved. I guess all of my concerns stem from cultural issues: in the public, in the media, and in the public service. The public needs to stop responding to minor failures in judgement as though it was a scandal, the media needs to do the same, and the public service needs to recognize that extreme risk-aversion is making their jobs harder.On the other hand, you mentioned today that GCPEDIA sign-ups are up a few hundred percent since your article, so maybe this stuff isn't a problem. PS: Your talk to the Public Policy program at U of T was what got me into all this Gov 2.0 stuff in the first place, so big thanks for that. You've been by far the best speaker we've had.

    Reply
  2. jesgood

    Hi David, I just want to comment on your telephone/wiki analogy. Wikis are not like telephones. Telephone conversations are: private; between two people (mostly); leave no record of the content of the discussion; cannot be changed after they are finished; etc. Before wikis, if someone were to leak something via telephone they must have some information worth leaking. Given how tight information is in pre-wiki public service, the person has to be connected directly to the information somehow in order to leak it. Wikis change this connection between leaker and information – on a wiki all content is open for anyone to leak. It is permanent and searchable, and it can be changed by anyone. Further, on a wiki it is very difficult to know how authoritative anything is. Given how people use wikis to brainstorm, write opinions, seek input on draft work, etc. it would be very easy for incorrect information to be leaked. Once leaked it would be hard to explain this nuance. I understand what you are saying about trusting public servants to make the right decisions, and I agree that this is probably the most important factor in whether information gets leaked or not, but wikis are special beasts that are not a lot like telephones at all.

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  5. David Tallan

    Hi David,That was a great talk you gave at the Gov 2.0 Online conference yesterday. I was particularly interested in your analysis of the differences at the different levels of government here in Canada. One question I had (asked on the chat) was whether you had considered the possible influence of the lack of party politics at the municipal level on their ability to move toward open government. I'm thinking that party politics can create a different media dynamic that can make certain types of activities more risky from a political point of view. What do you think?And by the way, we'd be delighted to show you OPSPedia any time you are interested. I don't think we're as far behind the Feds in Gov 2.0 as you indicated. :-)

    Reply
  6. David Tallan

    That's interesting. Here in Ontario party politics is limited to provincial and federal levels. There are definitely blocks of left-leaning and right leaning councillors in Toronto, but they aren't organized into formal parties. That means we don't have parties forming a city government the way we do at the provincial and federal level and taking the credit/blame for everything the government does. It's a whole different dynamic in the media.

    Reply
  7. David Tallan

    That's interesting. Here in Ontario party politics is limited to provincial and federal levels. There are definitely blocks of left-leaning and right leaning councillors in Toronto, but they aren't organized into formal parties. That means we don't have parties forming a city government the way we do at the provincial and federal level and taking the credit/blame for everything the government does. It's a whole different dynamic in the media.

    Reply
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  9. Nabeel

    Perhaps not on the level of gov 2.0 as you envision it,not on the level of Vancouver and Toronto certainly, but for a country that has been called the most dangerous in the world, not bad: http://karachicity.gov.pk/

    Agree with Brent – ‘gotcha’ journalism is a major thorn and the reason why I increasingly turn to social media for the news. It may not be as reliable as CBC at times, but it’s often quicker and accountable to the market rather than govt, which gets rid of trash far quicker than govt regulations do (where even nonsense is sometimes fair game under the guise of free speech.)

    and,yes,excellent talk.i was actually happy that the other speaker had technical difficulties,although his discussion was equally interesting in a different way. do you have that presentation available somewhere online to go through, by the way?

    Reply
  10. Nabeel

    Perhaps not on the level of gov 2.0 as you envision it,not on the level of Vancouver and Toronto certainly, but for a country that has been called the most dangerous in the world, not bad: http://karachicity.gov.pk/

    Agree with Brent – ‘gotcha’ journalism is a major thorn and the reason why I increasingly turn to social media for the news. It may not be as reliable as CBC at times, but it’s often quicker and accountable to the market rather than govt, which gets rid of trash far quicker than govt regulations do (where even nonsense is sometimes fair game under the guise of free speech.)

    and,yes,excellent talk.i was actually happy that the other speaker had technical difficulties,although his discussion was equally interesting in a different way. do you have that presentation available somewhere online to go through, by the way?

    Reply

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