Tag Archives: canada25

Congratulations to Naheed & other fabulous people

(On a separate note, I’m giving a talk tomorrow at 3pm at UBC.)

For those who weren’t paying attention to the Calgary municipal election last night, Naheed Nenshi came out of third place and won the mayoral race. Of course, the articles are already focusing on the wrong things: he’s Muslim, his a minority, etc…

What really matters about Naheed is that he smart, he is about ideas and he’s progressive. That he’s managed to capture the imagination of a place like Calgary speaks volumes both about how hard he campaigned and how cosmopolitan Canada’s urban centres are becoming.

But back to ideas. I first met Naheed way back when he served as lead author of Building Up: Making Canada’s Cities Magnets for Talent and Engines of Development for Canada25. Essentially for as long as I’ve known him he’s cared about cities (and his passion predates my meeting him). There isn’t much more you could want from someone who is about to become your mayor. For me personally, his work became the template for me later when I worked as lead author first on Canada25’s report written at the request of the Privy Council Office and then, of course, on From Middle to Model Power.

It also speaks volumes about the types of people I had the pleasure to meet through Canada25 and watch grow over the years. Indeed, yesterday I ended up having lunch with Chris Kennedy – another Canada25 alum – who as Superintendent of Schools with the West Vancouver School District is also driven by a sense of public service and policy. Alison Loat, Executive Director of Samara, is another passionate believer in public service and public policy. I’m not sure whether to be more impressed by her own work or simply grateful for her unfailing belief and support of me and my work. And Andrew Medd, who gave me what may have become the best advice about blogging when I first started eaves.ca years ago: “Write for yourself, as though no one will read it.” (advice that actually was fact for the first while – you should only blog if you’re prepared to be alone with your thoughts). Of course there are so many I’m not mentioning like Ross Wallace, Debbie Chachra, Mike Morgan…

Watching the celebrations taking place in Calgary, all I can think of is how lucky I was to get to meet some of these people early on and how much I can’t wait to watch them going forward.

On a separate note, it is very much worth looking at MasterMaq’s election website powered by open election data from the city of Edmonton. From Naheed’s election (in which social media paid a powerful role), to the coverage through Twitter (that’s how I followed the events), social media continues to evolve and have an impact, especially at the local level.

On Policy Alpha geeks, network thinking and foreign policy

In the past few weeks the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the Canadian International Council (CIC) both launched new visions for Canada’s foreign policy. Reading each, I’m struck by how much overlap both documents have with Middle to Model Power, the Canada25 report written 5 years ago by over 500 young Canadians from across the country and around the world.

With Middle to Model Power, a group of young people largely self-organized to lay out a vision and selection of ideas around how Canada could rethink its foreign policy. Take a look at this selection from its executive summary, including an overview and the first recommendation:

We submit that Canada should cease assessing its influence on the basis of its size or position within an obsolete global hierarchy. Instead, Canada25 calls on Canadians to look at the world as a network, where influence is based on the capacity of an individual, company, non-governmental organization (NGO) or country to innovate and collaborate. Building on this perspective, we propose that Canada become a Model Power—a country whose influence is linked to its ability to innovate, experiment, and partner; a country that, by presenting itself as a model, invites the world to assess, challenge, borrow from, and contribute to, its efforts.
In pursuit of our vision of Canada as a Model Power, we outline three priorities for action. These, accompanied by some of our recommendations, include:

MAKE CANADA A NETWORK NODE. Enhance the ability of Canadians to create, nurture, and tap into international networks:
• Issue five-year work visas to foreign graduates of Canadian universities • Reach out to Canada’s expatriate community by creating an international network of
Canadian leaders…

You can download the full report here, but you get the idea. Remember this is a group of 23-35 year-olds writing in 2005.

Now, quickly compare this to the summary’s of both the LPC and CIC’s new reports.

The LPC report, called a Global Networks Strategy opens by stating:

Networks define how the world works today, as hierarchies did in the past. Influence is gained through connectedness, and by being at the centre of networks. That is good news for Canada, because we have a reputation for being able to work with others, we have shaped many multilateral organizations, and our population today reflects the diversity of the world. The Global Networks Strategy is designed to leverage these assets. It sets priority areas in which the federal government must collaborate with the full range of players who contribute vigorously – and most often in networks – to Canada’s presence in the world: other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, young Canadians, academia, faith- based groups, artists and others.

And in the CIC report, titled Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked World, has as one of its opening paragraphs:

Canada will never be the most powerful nation on Earth. But we live in a digital age, where might is measured in knowledge rather than muscularity. If we keep building on our openness—attracting the best and the brightest citizens, generating and exchanging new ideas and new ways of doing things and welcoming investment in our economy—Canada can position itself at the centre of the networked world that is emerging in the 21st century.

And, unsurprisingly, the deeper details of the reports offer many similar prescriptions.

So how, on a shoestring budget, can a group of young Canadians many of whom were not foreign policy experts, write a report that identifies an organizing principle that 5 years both a major political party and one of the country’s newest and best funded think tanks would put at the hearts of their own reports?

A few ideas come to mind:

1) The Medium is the Message: Middle to Model Power was not written on a wiki (in 2005 none of us knew what a wiki was!) but it was written over email. The authors were scattered across the country and the process of organizing local events was relatively decentralized. People raised whatever topics that mattered to them, and during the drafting phase they simple sent me their ideas and we batted them around. There was structure, but were were a pretty flat organization and… we were very connected. For Canada25 a network wasn’t just an idea that emerged out of the process, it was the process. It should hardly be surprising that the way we saw the world reflected how we organized ourselves. (When I say that Canada’s digital economy strategy will fail unless written on GCPEDIA this is part of what I’m hinting at). The medium is the message. It’s hard (but not impossible) to write about networks deep in hierarchy.

2) Look for Policy Alpha Geeks in resource poor environments: So why did Canada25 think in terms of networks? How was it that before Wikinomics or GPS or pretty much most other things I’ve seen, did Canada25 organize itself this way?  Well, it wasn’t because we were strategic or young. It was because we had very little money. We couldn’t afford to organize any other way. To get 500 Canadians around the world to think about foreign policy we had to let them self-organize – we didn’t have an org structure or facilitators to do it for them. We had to take the cheapest tools (email) and over use them. Don’t get me wrong, Canada25 was not poor. Our members were generally very well educated, we had access to computers and the internet and access to interesting people to interview and draw ideas from. But the raw infrastructure we had at our disposal was not significant and it forced us to adopt what I now see were disruptive technologies and processes. We became Policy Alpha Geeks because we had to innovate not to be relevant, but to ensure the project survived.

3) It’s not about the youth: People presume that our thinking emerged because we were young. This is not entirely correct. Again, I submit that we got to thinking about networks because we were operating in a resource weak environment and had exposure to new tools (email) and a risk tolerance to try using them in an ambitious way. This isn’t about age, it just happens that generally it is young people who don’t have lots of resources and are willing to experiment with new tools. Older people, who frequently have more senior titles, generally have access to more resources and so can rely on more established, but more resource intensive tools and processes. But again, this is about mindset, not about age. Indeed, it is really about the innovators’ dilemma in policy making. Don’t believe me? Well, as lead author of Middle to Model Power I can tell you that the most influential book on my thinking was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock which I read in the month preceding the drafting of the report. It was written in 1970 by an author who was, at the time, 42. In sum, young people can be a good guide, but it is environmental factors that you can replicate, not intrinsic qualities of being young, that allow you to innovate.

Both the LPC and the CIC’s documents are good and indeed, more up to date than Middle to Model Power. But in terms of core organizing principles the three documents are similar. So if you are genuinely interested in this take a look at all three documents. I do think they put forward what could become an emerging centrist consensus regarding organizing principles for Canadian foreign policy. Certainly that was the ambition back in 2005.

Millennium Scholarship Foundation: A Case Study in Sustaining a Network

For those who haven’t heard, one of the worst decisions of the current government has been to not renew the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The foundation, created by Chretien in 2000 had a 10 years of funding to pursue three goals: 1) improve access to post-secondary education, particularly for students facing economic or social barriers; 2) encourage a high level of student achievement and engagement in Canadian society; and 3) to build a national alliance of organizations and individuals around a shared post-secondary agenda.

After 10 years of dispensing scholarships and bursaries there is now a large alumni group of Millennium scholars, many of whom have met one another as a result of an annual conference the foundation which brought scholars from across the country together to learn from external speakers and one another. In short, the Millennium alumni network is a relatively vibrant community composed of some very compelling people.

But now the organization that created that community is ending. So one question the foundation has been asking itself is: how does the community continue to have impact once both its funding has stopped and the alumni network ceases to grow? This is a challenge common to many groups. For example, I’ve frequently heard conference organizers ask how can the participants can continue to grow and learn from one another once the conference ends. In theory, new social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook should make this easier. In practise, it is not always the case.

As I look at Millennium and reflect on its strengths, its community and the tools it has available, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of one’s brand.

Firstly, in relation to not underestimating the power of brands, try to think about what it is that your brand has enabled, and why people might be grateful or interested in it. In the case of Millennium, it has helped make a post-secondary education possible for thousands of people. But it did more than that, it found people who were creative, smart, interesting and passionate about life and their communities. It also brought them together to meet and engage one another. If its alumni network did nothing more than serve as brand that allowed people to connect to on another over the next 40 years that would be in of itself a powerful outcome. It may sound trite but in my own life I’m always willing to meet with someone who participated in either Action Canada or Canada25 (two other discontinued program with a fixed alumni group). Both those groups consisted of people who I know want to make the world a better place, and if I can help them, I’ll try. Same with the Sauve Scholars. The fact that I can call on people in these networks and ask for their help, thoughts or advice is one of the most important legacies of these projects.

On the overestimate side, people should recognize that just because it is easy for people to connect, doesn’t mean that they will. Getting a broad network of people to sustain action on a given subject matter (especially if that subject matter didn’t bring them together in the first place) is very, very, difficult. In the case of the Millennium Foundation, it could encourage its network of alumni to tackle global poverty. This is a laudable goal, but it is not the issue that initially brought the group together so attachment to this issue is likely to be highly varied. This is a group with diverse interests. Some may want to focus on technology start-up, others on the environment, others on surviving grad-school. Trying to shoehorn a large group into a single goal is hard, especially if the group make up is now fixed and can no longer grow/evolve to focus on it. A powerful and/or well regarded brand does not mean you can do anything.

My hope is that the alumni are trying to figure out what it is that they, as a  group, do have in common. In the case of Millennium, my sense is that one thing everybody in the network can agree on is that education is important. The very fact that they are Millennium Alumni means they have benefited from access to high quality education. So if the network was, from time to time, going to focus its energy, something related to this issue area might have the greatest resonance. Activities, actions or an annual event that attempted to do something simple around promoting education might be a good place to start. This could sustain the network’s relevance in the lives of its alumni as well as maintain connectivity among a certain percentage of its members. I’d also argue that the country could stand to have a 5000+ army of smart, engaged, interesting and increasingly powerful people who continuously champion the importance of education.

ChangeCamp: Pulling people and creativity out of the public policy long tail

ChangeCamp is a free participatory web-enabled face-to-face event that brings together citizens, technologists, designers, academics, policy wonks, political players, change-makers and government employees to answer one question: How do we re-imagine government and governance in the age of participation?

What is ChangeCamp? It is the application of “the long tail” to public policy.

It is a long held and false assumption that ordinary citizens don’t care about public policy. The statement isn’t, in of itself, false. Many, many, many people truly don’t care that much. They want to live their lives focusing on other things – pursuing other hobbies or interests – but there are many of us who do care. Public policy geeks, fans, followers, advocates, etc… we are everywhere, we’ve just been hidden in a long tail that saw the market place and capacity for developing and delivering public policy restricted to a few large institutions. The single most important lesson I learnt from my time with Canada25 is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Did Canada25 get a new generation of Canadians, aged 20-35 engaged in public policy? I don’t know.

What I do know is, that at the very minimum, we harnessed and enormous, dispersed desire of many Canadians to participate in, and help shape, the public policy debates affecting the country. Most importantly, we did this by doing three things:

  1. we aggregated together the people who cared about public policy, we gave them peers, friends and a sense of community.
  2. we provided a vehicle through which to channel their energy
  3. by combining 1 and 2, and by using simple technology and a low cost approach – we dramatically lowered the barriers (and csots) to entry for credible participating in these national debates

Today, the technology to enable and aggregate people their ideas, to connect them with peers and to create community, is still more powerful. Our capacity to challenge, push, help, cooperate, leverage and compete with the large institutional public policy actors has never been greater. This, for me, is the goal of ChangeCamp. What concrete tools can we build, what information can we demand be opened up, what new relationships can we build to re-imagine how we – the citizens who care – participate in the creation of public policy and the effective delivery of public services. Not to compete or replace the traditional institutional actors, but to ensure more and better ideas are heard and increasingly effective and efficient services are created.

Long tail of public policy

Individually, none of us may have the collective power of a government ministry or even the resources of most think tanks. But collectively, linked together by technology and powered by our energy and spare capital, the long tail of policy geeks and ordinary citizens is bigger, nimbler, more creative and faster than anything else. Do I know that the long tail of policy can be set free? No. But ChangeCamp seems like a fun place to start experimenting, brainstorming and sharing ways we can make this country better.

The Open Source Public Service

Consider these to quotes side by side:

First,

“Human beings generally take pleasure in a task when it falls in a sort of optimal-challenge zone; not so easy as to be boring, not too hard to achieve. A happy programmer is one who is neither underutilized nor weighed down with ill-formulated goals and stressful process friction. Enjoyment predicts efficiency.

Relating to your own work process with fear and loathing (even in the displacing, ironic way suggested by hanging up Dilbert cartoons) should therefore be regarded in itself as a sign that the process has failed. Joy, humor, and playfulness are indeed assets…”

– Eric Raymond, The Cathedral & The Bazaar

(BTW: Who would have thought that the entire line of Dilbert cartoons – their humorous reflections on how organizations (dis)function – could be made depressingly painful in one brief phrase.)

Second,

“Disability claims and stress leaves are soaring. For many public service managers, the work-life balance is so unhealthy that one major federal department has tried to implement a BlackBerry ban between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., so that people can reclaim some of their personal time. Management scholars are using the public service as a laboratory to study workplace dysfunction…

…The discussion about public service renewal is ongoing, but one valuable contribution arrived this week. In a report released Wednesday, the Public Policy Forum, an Ottawa-based think tank, succinctly identifies some of the key problems facing the public service. Few of these observations are likely to surprise Ottawa insiders, but it’s useful all the same to see them legitimized by respected researchers.

 var addthis_pub = ‘canada.com’;

function textCounter(field,cntfield,maxlimit)
{
if (field.value.length > maxlimit) // if too long…trim it!
field.value = field.value.substring(0, maxlimit);
// otherwise, update ‘characters left’ counter
else
{
var divLabel = document.getElementById(“divLabel”);
divLabel.innerHTML = maxlimit – field.value.length + ” characters remaining”;

}
}

The report confirms, for example, public servants feel so tangled up in procedure and regulations they are unable to get meaningful work done… Yes, public servants need to be accountable, especially in the post-Gomery universe, but if the “web of rules” is completely extinguishing every spark of innovation and producing the most risk-averse organization in the country, then there’s a problem.”

The Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board

The narrative of the public service as a byzantine, rule bound place has become so accepted it is now unquestioned gosple. The truth is always more complicated. I know of, and occasionally hear from, people who work in places where (usually small) teams of public servants work in flat collaborative groups that are able to achieve great things. But the narrative exists for a reason – as the above Ottawa Citizen piece attests. This is why where you work in the public service (and often who you work for) is far more important than what file you work on.

So how much work in the public service falls within the optimal-challenge zone described by Raymond? More importantly, how many public servants would continue to do their job if they weren’t paid? 10%? 35%? 50%?

My suspicion is that the open source community for public policy is actually quite large. It includes those in the public service – who are tied up and tied down in their silos, but also extends much further. The problem is that it is tied down by process and an industrial model to “churning out” policy that doesn’t work well with today’s knowledge workers.

Canada25 showed that hundreds and indeed thousands of young people wanted to think about, engage in, and write about public policy in their spare time. All we did was allow them to focus on whatever they wanted and create as frictionless a process as possible. The result? Four well received policy papers in 6 years on top of numerous smaller projects, debates, discussion groups and countless other outcomes I don’t even know about.

The main point is that “open” can work in policy development. So maybe it is time to set the public service free? To allow policy analysts to self-organize and focus their attention to where they believe they can best contribute, rather than having hundreds if not thousands of them babysitting files that simple don’t move?

Why not treat policy challenges like open source software programs. Create a policyforge (modeled after sourceforge) where the policy can reside and where the module policy owner, can foster a community and accept its ideas, opinions and edits.

Will it work? I can’t guarantee it. But we’d better start experimenting because the one thing we do know. The current system is beginning to crack.

myforeignpolicy.ca

So in February, during the online discussion with Granatstein and Axworthy, when I picked up on the Canada25 Middle to Model Power thread and argued that:

“As a country we may appear adrift, but, as individuals, Canadians are more effectively and successfully engaged than ever. Quietly, we’ve transitioned from a middle power — a plucky country whose government prevented conflicts and ensured stability — to a model power — a country whose plucky citizens innovate solutions to new global challenges.”

and that

“In an era where technology enables individuals to self-organize, deploy resources, or simply get involved, Canadians have jumped at the opportunity.”

These women – profiled by the Globe & Mail – pretty much refer exactly to what I was talking about.

They are making their own foreign policy – and power to them.

Europe as Model Power…

So it appears that Hillary Clinton isn’t the only person reading Canada25 reports. British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, gave a speech entitled “Europe 2030: Model Power Not Superpower.”

Ring a bell? In 2004 Canada25 published From Middle to Model Power: Recharging Canada’s Role in the World.

A brief excerpt from Miliband speech:

The EU is not and never will be a superpower. An EU of 27 nation states or more is never going to have the fleetness of foot or the fiscal base to dominate. In fact economically and demographically Europe will be less important in the world of 2050 that it was in the world of 1950.

Our opportunity is different. The EU has the opportunity to be a model power.

It can chart a course for regional cooperation between medium-sized and small countries. Through its common action, it can add value to national effort, and develop shared values amidst differences of nationality and religion. As a club that countries want to join, it can persuade countries to play by the rules, and set global standards. In the way it dispenses its responsibilities around the world, it can be a role model that others follow.

This speech is intended to set out the basis of such progress.

Thank you Peter M. for the tip!