A couple of years ago I wrote a Globe Op-Ed “A Click Heard Across the Public Service” that outlined the significance of the clerk using GCPEDIA to communicate with public servants. It was a message – or even more importantly – an action to affirm his commitment to change how government works. For those unfamiliar, the Clerk of the Privy Council is the head of the public service for the federal government, a crude analogy would be he is the CEO and the Prime Minister is the Chairman (yes, I know that analogy is going to get me in trouble with people…)
Well, the clerk continues to broadcast that message, this time in his Nineteenth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada. As an observer in this space what is particularly exciting for me is that:
- The Clerk continues to broadcast this message. Leadership and support at the top is essential on these issues. It isn’t sufficient, but it is necessary.
- The role of open data and social media is acknowledged on several occasions
And as a policy entrepreneur, what is doubly exciting is that:
- Projects I’ve been personally involved in get called out; and
- Language I’ve been using in briefs, blog posts and talks to public servants is in this text
You can, of course, read the whole report here. There is much more in it than just talk of social media and rethinking the public service, there is obviously talk about the budget and other policy areas as well. But bot the continued prominence given to renewal and technology, and explicit statements about the failure to move fast enough to keep up with the speed of change in society at large, suggests that the clerk continues to be worried about this issue.
For those less keen to read the whole thing, here are some juice bits that mattered to me:
In the section “The World in Which We Serve” which is basically providing context…
At the same time, the traditional relationship between government and citizens continues to evolve. Enabled by instantaneous communication and collaboration technologies, citizens are demanding a greater role in public policy development and in the design and delivery of services. They want greater access to government data and more openness and transparency from their institutions.
Under “Our Evolving Institution” which lays out some of the current challenges and priorities we find this as one of the four areas of focus mentioned:
- The Government expanded its commitment to Open Government through three main streams: Open Data (making greater amounts of government data available to citizens), Open Information (proactively releasing information about Government activities) and Open Dialogue (expanding citizen engagement with Government through Web 2.0 technologies).
This is indeed interesting. The more this government talks about open in general, the more it will be interesting to see how the public reacts, particularly in regards to its treatment of certain sectors (e.g. environmental groups). Still more interesting is what appears to be a growing recognition of the importance of data (from a government that cut the long form census). Just yesterday the Health Minister, while talking about a controversial multiple sclerosis vein procedure stated that:
“Before our government will give the green light to a limited clinical trial here in Canada, the proposed trial would need to receive all necessary ethical and medical approvals. As Minister of Health, when it comes to clinical issues, I rely on advice from doctors and scientists who are continually monitoring the latest research, and make recommendations in the best interests of patient health and safety.”
This is, interestingly, an interesting statement from a government that called doctors “unethical” because of their support for the insite injection site which, the evidence shows, is the best way to save lives and get drug users into detox programs.
For evidence based policy advocates – such as myself – the adoption of the language of data is one that I think could help refocus debates onto a more productive terrain.
Then towards the bottom of the report there is a call out that mentions the Open Policy conference at DFAIT I had the real joy of helping out convene and that I served as the host and facilitator for.
Policy Built on Shared Knowledge
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has been experimenting with an Open Policy Development Model that uses social networking and technology to leverage ideas and expertise from both inside and outside the department. A recent full-day event convened 400 public and private sector participants and produced a number of open policy pilots, e.g., an emergency response simulation involving consular officials and a volunteer community of digital crisis-mappers.
DFAIT is also using GCConnex, the Public Service’s social networking site, to open up policy research and development to public servants across departments.
This is a great, a much deserved win for the team at DFAIT that went out on a limb to run this conference and we rewarded with participation from across the public service.
Finally, anyone who has seen me speak will recognize a lot of this text as well:
As author William Gibson observed, “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” Across our vast enterprise, public servants are already devising creative ways to do a better job and get better results. We need to shine a light on these trailblazers so that we can all learn from their experiments and build on them. Managers and senior leaders can foster innovation—large and small—by encouraging their teams to ask how their work can be done better, test out new approaches and learn from mistakes.
So much innovation in the 21st century is being made possible by well-developed communication technologies. Yet many public servants are frustrated by a lack of access to the Web 2.0 and social media tools that have such potential for helping us transform the way we work and serve Canadians. Public servants should enjoy consistent access to these new tools wherever possible. We will find a way to achieve this while at the same time safeguarding the data and information in our care.
I also encourage departments to continue expanding the use of Web 2.0 technologies and social media to engage with Canadians, share knowledge, facilitate collaboration, and devise new and efficient services.
To be fully attribute, the William Gibson quote, which I use a great deal, was something I first saw used by my friend Tim O’Reilly who is, needless to say, a man with a real ability to understand a trend and explain an idea to people. I hope his approach to thinking is reflected in much of what I do.
What, in sum, all these call outs really tell us is that the Gov 2.0 message in the federal public service is being mainstreamed, at the very least among the most senior public servants. This does not mean that our government is going to magically transform, it simply means that the message is getting through and people are looking for ways to push this type of thinking into the organization. As I said before, this is not sufficient to change the way government works, but it is necessary.
Going to keep trying to see what I can do to help.