A Response to a Ottawa Gov 2.0 Skeptic

So many, many months ago a Peter R. posted this comment (segments copied below) under a post I’d written titled: Prediction, The Digital Economy Strategy Will Fail if it Isn’t Drafted Collaboratively on GCPEDIA. At first blush Peter’s response felt aggressive. I flipped him an email to say hi and he responded in a very friendly manner. I’ve been meaning to respond for months but, life’s been busy.  However, over the break (and my quest to hit inbox 0) I finally carved out some time –  my fear is that this late response will sound like a counter attack – it isn’t intended as such but rather an effort to respond to a genuine question. I thought it would be valuable to post as many of the points may resonate with supporters and detractors of Gov 2.0 alike. Here’s my responses to the various charges:

The momentum, the energy and the excitement behind collaborative/networked/web 2.0/etc is only matched by the momentum, the energy and the excitement that was behind making money off of leveraged debt instruments in the US.

Agreed, there is a great deal of energy and excitement behind collaborative networks, although I don’t think this is sparked – as ensued, by something analogous to bogus debt instruments. People are excited because of the tangible results created by sharing and/or co-production networks like Wikipedia, Mozilla, Flickr Google search and Google Translate (your results improve based on users data) and Ushahidi inspire people because of the tremendous results they are able to achieve with a smaller footprint of resources. I think the question of what these types of networks and this type of collaboration means to government is an important question – that also means that as people experiment their will be failures – but to equate the entire concept of Gov 2.0 and the above cited organizations, tools and websites with financial instruments that repackaged subprime mortgages is, in my mind, fairly problematic.

David, the onus lies squarely with you to prove that policymakers across government are are incapable of finding good policy solutions WITHOUT letting everyone and his twitting brother chime in their two cents.

Actually the onus doesn’t lie squarely with me. This is a silly statement. In fact, for those of us who believe in collaborative technologies such as GCPEDIA or yammer this sentence is the single most revealing point in the Peter’s entire comment. I invite everyone and anyone to add to my rebuttal, or to Peter’s argument. Even those who argue against me would be proving my point – tools like blogs and GCPEDIA allow ideas and issues to be debated with a greater number of people and a wider set of perspectives. The whole notion that any thought or solution lies solely with one person is the type of thinking that leads to bad government (and pretty much bad anything). I personally believe that the best ideas emerge when they are debated and contested – honed by having flaws exposed and repaired. Moreover this has never been more important than today, when more and more issues cross ministerial divides. Indeed, the very fact that we are having this discussion on my blog, and that Peter deemed it worthy of comment, is a powerful counterpoint this statement.

Equally important, I never said policymakers across government are are incapable of finding good policy solutions. This is serious misinterpretation of what said. I did say that the Digital Economy Strategy would fail (and I’ll happily revise, and soften to say, will likely not be meaningful) unless written on GCPEDIA. I still believe this. I don’t believe you can have people writing policy about how to manage an economy who are outside of and/or don’t understand the tools of that economy. I actually think our public servants can find great policy solutions – if we let them. In fact, most public servants I know spend most of their time trying to track down public servants in other ministries or groups to consult them about the policy they are drafting. In short, they spend all their time trying to network, but using tools of the late 20th century (like email), mid 20th century (telephone), or mid 3rd century BC (the meeting) to do it. I just want to give them more efficient tools – digital tools, like those we use in a digital economy – so they can do what they are already doing.

For the last 8 years I’ve worked in government, I can tell you with absolute certainty (and credibility!) that good policy emerges from sound research and strategic instrument choice. Often (select) public consultations are required, but sometimes none at all. Take 3 simple and highly successful policy applications: seat belts laws, carbon tax, banking regulation. Small groups of policymakers have developed policies (or laws, regs, etc) to brilliant effect….sans web 2.0. So why do we need gcpedia now?

Because the world expects you to do more, faster and with less. I find this logic deeply concerning coming from a public servant. No doubts that government developed policies to brilliant effect before the wide adoption of the computer, or even the telephone. So should we get rid of them too? An increasing number of the world’s major corporations are, or are setting up an internal wiki/collaboration platform, a social networking site, even using microblogging services like Yammer to foster internal collaboration. Indeed, these things help us to do research and develop ideas faster, and I think, better. The question isn’t why do we need GCPEDIA now. The question is why aren’t we investing to make GCPEDIA a better platform? The rest of the world is.

I’ll put this another way: tons of excellent policy solutions are waiting in the shared drives of bureaucrats across all governments.

I agree. Let’s at least put it on a wiki where more people can read them, leverage them and, hopefully, implement them. You sitting on a great idea that three other people in the entire public service have read isn’t a recipe for getting it adopted. Nor is it a good use of Canadian tax dollars. Socializing it is. Hence, social media.

Politics — being what it is — doesn’t generate progressive out solutions for various ideological reasons (applies equally to ndp, lib, con). First, tell us what a “failed” digitial economy strategy (DES) looks like. Second, tell us what components need to be included in the DES for it be successful. Third, show us why gcpedia/wikis offer the only viable means to accumulate the necessary policy ingredients.

For the last part – see my earlier post and above. As for what a failed digital economy strategy looks like – it will be one that is irrelevant. It is one that will go ignored by the majority of people who actually work in the digital economy. Of course, an irrelevant policy will be better than a truly bad one which, which I suspect, is also a real risk based on the proceedings of Canada 3.0. (That conference seemed to be about “how do we save analog business that are about to be destroyed by the digital economy” – a link to one of my favourite posts). And of course I have other metrics that matter to me. That all said, after meeting the public servant in charge of the process at Canada 3.0, I was really, really encouraged – she is very smart and gets it.

She also found the idea of writing the policy on GCPEDIA intriguing. I have my doubts that that is how things are proceeding, but it gives me hope.

6 thoughts on “A Response to a Ottawa Gov 2.0 Skeptic

  1. Thom Kearney

    Excellent read. Thank you David and Peter for making some very lucid remarks. I think the discussion proves the need for ongoing education. A wiki is not the only way to do anything, but it is a way, and sometimes its a better way. We need to be open to trying new ways of doing things, because the world is changing around us. Big time.

    Reply
  2. Stephen Downes

    My problem with gcpedia is that it is closed – if you’re not in government (or using a borrowed account) you don’t get to see it.

    That said, I’m totally on board with the comments about the difficulties of cooperating with staff in other departments. There aren’t good technologies in use, and we could certainly use a 21st century approach.

    But with the general clampdown on information that characterizes the current operations of the Canadian government, I don’t think we’re going to see improvement any time soon. Because government departments cannot really communicate while the veil is down, and I see no signs of it being lifted.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Response to Ottawa’s Gov 2.0 Skeptics | eaves.ca -- Topsy.com

  4. Nik Garkusha

    Good points. A process & governance model may be necessary for introducing & managing internally various collaboration / networking tools, including adequate training & sharing of “best practices”, to make sure the networking/social media tools are used and not abused. We wouldn’t want web 2.0 tools “infantilising” our public servants minds, or making them selfish and attention deficient?? (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/24/social-networking-site-changing-childrens-brains)

    Oh, what’s this referring to: Meeting as a tool of “mid 3rd century BC”?

    Reply
  5. Nik Garkusha

    Good points. A process & governance model may be necessary for introducing & managing internally various collaboration / networking tools, including adequate training & sharing of “best practices”, to make sure the networking/social media tools are used and not abused. We wouldn’t want web 2.0 tools “infantilising” our public servants minds, or making them selfish and attention deficient?? (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/24/social-networking-site-changing-childrens-brains)

    Oh, what’s this referring to: Meeting as a tool of “mid 3rd century BC”?

    Reply
  6. Pingback: A Response to Ottawa's Gov 2.0 Skeptics | Brasil Economia Digital

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