Tag Archives: public servant

Patch Culture, Government and why Small Government Advocates are expensive

So earlier today I saw this post by Kevin Gaudet, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and retweeted by Andrew Coyne (one of the country’s best commentators).

It pretty much sums up why Governments (incorrectly) fear open data and open government:

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The link is to a story on The Sun’s website: Government agencies caught advertising on sex sites!!!! (okay, the exclamation marks are mine).

This is exactly the type of headline every public servant and politician is terrified of. The details, of course, aren’t nearly as salacious. A screenshot Photoforum.ru reveals its a stock photo website (which probably does violate all sorts of copyrights) and, I am sure, there are some photos, somewhere on the site, of nude women, much like there are on say Flickr or Facebook.

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Three interesting things here:

1. The challenge: Non-stories suck time and energy. The government, of course, didn’t choose to advertise on Photoforum.ru. It hired an agency, Cossette, that placed the ads through Google AdSense. (this is actually the good part of the story – great to hear that the government is using Google AdSense which is a cheap and effective way to advertise). But today, I assure you that dozens of public servants, at least one member of the Heritage Minister’s political staff and a few Canada Post employees are spending the next few days running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to find out how an ad in a $5000 contract ended up on a relatively harmless site. The total cost of all that investigative work and the reports they will generate to address this “scandal” will probably cost taxpayers $10,000s, if not $100,000s in staff time and energy. No wonder governments fear disclosure. The distraction and cost in time and energy needed to fix a non-story is enormous.

2. The diagnosis: The accountability systems trap: What’s interesting of course, is everybody is acting rationally. The Sun (while stretching the truth) is reporting on the misuse (however minor) of taxpayer dollars. Same with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). But the solutions are terrible. The CTF demand that the government eliminate all advertising is nonsensical. We can debate whether every ad is needed, but a flat out ban is silly. There are lots of things governments need to inform citizens about. So we can talk about reducing the government’s ad budget, but this news story doesn’t advance that aim either. Indeed, the Canadian Taxpayers and the Sun have, indirectly, helped inflate the cost of government. As noted, the government, acting rationally, now has dozens of people spending their time solving a crisis around a some minor ad campaigns.

So we have a system where everyone is behaving rationally. But the outcome are terrible. This is the scandal. Indeed, if one were really concerned about the effective spending of taxpayer dollars what one would quickly realize that what’s actually broken here isn’t government advertising, it’s the process by which governments react to and address problems.

3. One Approach: Patch-Culture and Open Data. So it is understandable that government types fear disclosure as, presently, they often seeing it leading to the above situtation.

But what’s interesting is that we could handle it differently.

This same story, in the software world, would have been quite different. The Sun article would have simple been understand as someone pointing out a (minor) bug. The software developers (in the case the public servants) would have patched it (which they did, ending the ads deployment to these sites) and the whole thing would have been a non-event. But at least, for minimal cost and effort, the software (ad program) would be better making both the developers (public servants/politicians) and users (taxpayers) happy. So why is it so different with government?

Two reasons.

First. Government’s pretend that everything they do is perfect. They live with an industrial worldview where you had to get something perfect before launching it since you were going to stamp out 100,000 copies of the things and any bug would get replicated that many times. Of course, very little of government is like this, much more of it is like software where you can make fixes along the way. What makes software so great (although sometimes frustrating too) is that they acknowledge this and so patch it on the fly. Patch-culture – as my friend David Humphrey likes to call it – where people help software get better by point out flaws, and even offering solutions, is exactly what our government needs to learn.

Second. People jump to the worst conclusions because governments appear secretive. Because they don’t proactively disclose (and because Access to Information process is sooooo slow) they always look like they are hiding something. Consequently, when people find mistakes they presume people have been hiding it, trying to cover it up and/or that it was made with some malicious intent. In an open source community, when people find a bug, they often assume it was a (dumb) mistake – not a nefarious plot to do achieve some dubious ends. Open data makes a patch culture easier to create because when you share what you are doing it is hard to believe you have some evil intent. Yes, people may just assume you are dumb – but that is actually better than evil (especially for powerful institutions like government).

Open data is about changing the culture everywhere, both inside and outside government. It won’t do it over night and it won’t do it perfectly but it can help. And it’s a shift we need to make.

Conclusion

I could easily have imagined the above story playing differently in world where patch culture has taken shape within government. Someone discovers the ads on photoforum.ru, thinks it is an error (someone made a dumb choice), submits a bug to the government, the ads are removed, the bug is patched, everybody is happy and… no wasteful non-story about government spending.

Indeed, we could have instead allocated all that wasted time and energy to have the debate the CTF actually wants to have: how much of the budget should go towards advertising.

What we need to be thinking about is what is the system we are in, what are the incentives it creates for the various actors and then think of the system we’d like, and figure out how to get from here to there. I think Open Data is an important (but not exclusive) part of the puzzle for changing the relationship between the government, the press and citizens. It may even create some new problems, but I think they will be better, less costly and more interesting problems then the ones we have now, we are frankly destroying budgets and the institutions we need to serve us.

Getting Government Right Behind the Firewall

The other week I stumbled on this fantastic piece by Susan Oh of Ragan.com about a 50 day effort by the BC government to relaunch its intranet set.

Yes, 50 days.

If you run a large organization’s intranet site I encourage to read the piece. (Alternatively, if you are forced (or begged) to use one, forward this article to someone in charge). The measured results are great – essentially a doubling in pretty much all the things you want to double (like participation) – but what is really nice is how quick and affordable the whole project was, something rarely seen in most bureaucracies.

Here is an intranet for 30,000 employees, that “was rebuilt from top to bottom within 50 days with only three developers who were learning the open-source platform Drupal as they as went along.”

I beg someone in the BC government to produce an example of such a significant roleout being accomplished with so few resources. Indeed, it sounds eerily similar to GCPEDIA (available to 300,000 people using open source software and 1 FTE, plus some begged and borrowed resources) and OPSPedia (a test project also using open source software with tiny rollout costs). Notice a pattern?

Across our governments (not to mention a number of large conservative companies) there are tiny pockets where resourceful teams find a leader or project manager willing to buck the idea that a software implementations must be a multi-year, multimillion dollar roll out. And they are making the lives of public servants better. God knows our public servants need better tools, and quickly. Even the set of tools being offered in the BC examples weren’t that mind-blowing, pretty basic stuff for anyone operating as a knowledge worker.

I’m not even saying that what you do has to be open source (although clearly, the above examples show that it can allow one to move speedily and cheaply) but I suspect that the number of people (and the type of person) interested in government would shift quickly if, internally, they had this set of tools at their disposal. (Would love to talk to someone at Canada’s Food Inspection Agency about their experience with Socialtext)

The fact is, you can. And, of course, this quickly get us to the real problem… most governments and large corporations don’t know how to deal with the cultural and power implications of these tools.

We’ll we’d better get busy experimenting and trying cause knowledge workers will go where they can use their and their peers brains most effectively. Increasingly, that isn’t government. I know I’m a fan of the long tail of public policy, but we’ve got to fix government behind the firewall, otherwise their won’t be a government behind the firewall to fix.

Lots of great reading

So with summer having now sped by I haven’t done a reading update in quite some time… here’s a quickie:

1. The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

For a subject that sounds like it should completely bore you – the history of finance – this book is brilliant and, frankly, fun. It’s also timely. The financial system is so old that we often forget that it actually emerged out of something. Money, bonds, stocks, all that good stuff, it hasn’t always been around. WE of course know this, but it is great to actually be walked through how it all emerged, especially when its so wonderful told. It’s also nice to take a look at an old system, like finance, which we are now as comfortable with as the air we breath (even, when at times, it turns toxic and crashes our economy) as so much of my time is spent looking at relatively newer systems – digital networks and the internet. Lots of lessons could be drawn, especially around trust networks (something here for Shirky while he’s at Berkman?).

One additional point. I initially started watching the PBS series by the same name which is based on the book and also hosted by Niall Ferguson but was not really riveted by it. It was somewhat slow moving and lacked the historical depth and arc the book has… so if you saw the TV documentaries and were turned off, not to worry, the book is definitely working picking up.

2. How Government HR Processes are Broken

Check out this fantastic post by an anonymous public servant in Gatineau. It’s a deadly piece about how broken hiring practices are in government and how it’s unsurprising some would be driven away. It would make you laugh if it weren’t making you cry. Got this from a public servant, then after tweeting it, a bunch more noted to me how painfully true it felt to them. Sigh.

3. David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualization

It’s hard(er) to do visualizations without open data. Here’s some beautiful ones from England.

We are going to make a better world, nudging and learning

4. An interview with David Mahfouda and Alex Pasternack, creators of a new app for booking/sharing rides in New York

A fantastic interview about how we can share resources to get around more quickly, cheaply and efficiently by using technology. A riff off of Robin’s Chases’ ZipCar idea but its not about sharing cars, but sharing rides. This is the future of urban transportation. That is, of course, if Ontario’s bus companies don’t try to outlaw it.

The Most Dangerous Website in Ottawa

What is the more dangerous website in Ottawa? Here’s a secret. It isn’t a x-rated site, or loaded with tips and tricks on how to make weapons or break the law. It isn’t – contrary to what some politician might feel – even a newswebsite.

No, the most dangerous website in Ottawa is much, much, more boring than that.

The most dangerous website is actually a small site run by the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform or FAIR (see you are yawning already).

But one simple page on the site, entitled Some Canadian Whistleblowers, is potentially the most damaging website in Ottawa. In one swoop the site is a devastating critique of a Conservative Government (and Liberal Government before it) that ran on accountability but that crushes those who seek to advocate for it, it is damning appraisal of a public service that is willing to turn on its own and even wreck the careers of public servants and citizens who try to prevent the defrauding of Canadian taxpayers or ensure the integrity of our government, and it is a cautionary tale to public servants who may be tempted – by their ethics and good judgment – to speak out when they see something is deeply wrong about how the country is being run.

Consider this, of the 29 Whistleblowers highlighted on the website:

  • one public works employee and a group of five RCMP employees who spoke out together have the appearances of a happy ending. (The RCMP employees were publicly commended by a parliamentary committee and the public works official ran for office).
  • 7 were attacked by the public service but ultimately have managed to keep their jobs but their careers have been negatively impacted.
  • 15 more found themselves turfed out of their jobs, often by the very authorities that should have protected them.
  • The final person – Richard Colvin – still has his job, but the Conservative Government has effectively muzzled him by refusing to pay his legal fees (as he is entitled).

One might suspect that these stories have political angles to them, like that of Dr. John O’Connor, an Alberta doctor, who work uncovered unusually high rates of cancers among the residents of Fort Chipewyan, in the Athabasca oil patch. As the site details:

His findings contributed to concerns that oil extraction operations may be contaminating the environment with carcinogenic chemicals.

In what was perceived as an attempt to muzzle him, Health Canada doctors lodged four complaints against O’Connor with his professional body – charges which could have resulted in the loss of his licence. Doctors were alarmed by this incident, since such reports from doctors in the field have been vital to the detection of new diseases such as AIDS. Consequently, in 2007 the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution (#103) calling for whistleblower protection for doctors – apparently to protect them from Health Canada.

But these are actually more isolated incidents. The real lesson from the website is that your story doesn’t need to be political in nature at all – all you really need to do ruin your career is speak out. Indeed, from the stories on the FAIR website, it is easy to see that if you are a public servant and you note illegal or unethical activities to your supervisors you may seriously damage your career. Should those supervisors ignore you and you opt to go public with those allegations – your career will be literally or effectively over (regardless of whether or not those accusations end up being true).

This is why this is the most dangerous website in Ottawa. Politicians (particularly Conservative politicians) don’t want you to see it, the Public Service doesn’t want to have to explain it, and Canadian citizens and public servants don’t want to end up on it.

Is this the future of accountability in Ottawa?

Emergent Systems in Government: Let's put the horse before the cart

Yesterday Paul McDowall, Knowledge Management Advisor at the Government’s School of the Public Service and chairperson of the Interdepartmental Knowledge Management Forum, wrote the following comment in response to a blog post from several months ago entitled “How GCPEDIA will save the public service.”

I’ve posted his comment – feel free to read it or skip it and go straight to my analysis below. In summary, what makes McDowall’s comments interesting isn’t just the argument (or its reactionary nature) but the underlying perspective/assumptions that drives it. It serves as a wonderful example of the tension between how the traditional hierarchical nature of the public service and some evolving emergent models that challenging this approach.

So first, McDowall:

Will GCPEDIA save the public service, or capture all the tacit knowledge that will walk out the door? No, of course not! To suggest otherwise is, frankly, naive hyperbole.

As great and as promising as GCPEDIA and other Web 2.0 tools are, tools will never save the public service. People are the public service and only people have the capacity to save the public service, and it will take a whole lot more to improve the weak areas of the public service than a tool. Things like leadership play a pretty important role in organizational effectiveness. There are many good Organizational Excellence models (I have researched this area) and they all include people and leadership as two elements, but funny enough, tools aren’t included. Why? Because it is not so much a tool issue as it is a craftsman issue.

With respect to your comment about tacit knowledge and social capital (not the same things by the way), I think it may be helfpul to brush up on what tacit knowledge is, and what Knowledge Management is.

It is unquestionably true that the public service continues to face a potential impact from demographic changes that are both extremely significant and yet unquantified. It is also unquestionably true that most public service organizations haven’t truly understood or addressed these potential impacts, to say nothing of the potential of improving their effectiness right NOW from better Knowledge Management (productivity, innovation, etc).

These issues need to be addressed by public service leaders in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. Tools can and certainly should help but only when wielded by craftsmen and women. For too long vendors have made grandiose and unrealizable promises about their ‘solutions’. I thought we had learned our lessons from all that experience.
Let’s not get the cart before the horse, shall we?

Paul McDowall
Knowledge Management Advisor and chairperson of the Interdepartmental Knowledge Management Forum

McDowall’s main concern appears to be that GCPEDIA doesn’t have a clear purpose and, more importantly, doesn’t serve a specific leadership objective. (If you are wondering how I gleaned that from the above, well, I cheated, I called McDowall to ask him more about his comment since the nature of his concern wasn’t clear to me). For those used to an era where IT projects were planned out from the beginning, everything was figured out in advance, and the needs of the leadership were the paramount priority, GCPEDIA would be disconcerting. Indeed, the very idea of unleashing people willy-nilly on a system would be an anathema. In short, when McDowall says, don’t put the horse before the cart, what he’s saying is, “you’ve rolled out a tool, and you don’t even know what you are going to use it for!”

This would appear to be rational concern. Except, many of the rules that underlay this type of thinking are disappearing. Indeed, had this type of thinking been adhered to, the web would not have developed.

First, The economics have changed. There was a time when IT projects necessarily costed tens of millions of dollars.  But GCPEDIA was built on a (free) open source platform using a handful of internal FTEs (making McDowell’s comments about vendors even more confusing). Indeed GCPEDIA has cost the public service virtually nothing to create. One invests in planning so as to avoid expensive or ineffective deployments. But if the costs of deployment are virtually zero and failure really isn’t that traumatic then… why waste time and years planning? Release, test, and adapt (or kill the project).

Second, with projects like this become cheap to deploy another important shift takes place. Users – not their bosses or a distant IT overlord – decide a) if they want to participate and b) co-develop and decide what is useful. This has powerful implications. It means that you had better serve a real (not perceived or mandated) need, and that, if successful, you’d better be prepared to evolve quickly. This, interestingly, is how that usefully little tool called the World Wide Web evolved. Read the original proposal to create the World Wide Web. IT departments of the world didn’t all collectively and suddenly decide that people should be made to use the web. No! It grew organically responding to demand. In addition, there is very little in it that talks about how we use the web today, users of the web (us!) have helped it evolve so that it serves us more effectively.

This is probably the biggest disconnect between McDowell and myself. He believes GCPEDIA is problematic (or at least won’t do the things I think it will do) because it doesn’t serve the leadership. I think it will work because it does something much better, it serves actual users – public servants (and thus, contrary to his argument, is very much about people). This includes, critically, capturing tacit knowledge and converting it into formal – HTML encoded – knowledge that helps build social capital (I do, actually, know the difference between the two).

Indeed, the last thing we need is a more leadership oriented public service, what we need is an employee centric public service. One that enables those who are actually doing the work to communicate, collaborate and work, more effectively. In this regard, I think GCPEDIA is demonstrating that it is effective (although it is still is very early days) with logarithmic growth, 8000+ users and 200 more signing up every week (all with virtually no promotional budget). Clearly some public servants are finding it to be at worst interesting, and at best, deeply enabling.

Is it time to get rid of the Foreign Service designation?

dfait_logoA Foreign Service officer (FS) is an employees of the Government of Canada who pass the foreign service exam and are hired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

This is important because becoming an FS is no easy task. Every year hundreds of Canadians write the test and few are selected for interviews. Fewer still are hired into the department. This barrier to entry has created a sense of class around the FS designation. To be an FS meant you were the best, the brightest, the most able of public servants – not only a distinct class, but a class above.

But what if this is no longer true? Moreover, what if being a class apart is what’s killing the Foreign Service?

It is worth remembering the environment out of which the FS designation emerged (and for which it is designed for). When Canada’s nascent foreign service began to take shape in the 30’s the diplomatic world looked very different. It was dominated by Europeans and largely populated by quasi royalty – former aristocrats – who had all gone to the right schools, spoke the right languages and knew all the right protocols. Foreign policy was an elite policy area – not just because it was so important – but also because it was dominated by elites (in the class sense of the word). While the role of aristocrats in foreign policy has faded long ago, the legacy of their culture lingered. As a result, the Foreign Service had to ensure that the right people became foreign service officers, no ordinary country bumpkin would do, to have influence in the diplomatic world standards had to be kept.

The FS designation also emerged out of an early and mid 20th century era when public servants did not change ministries. In Ottawa you were a Finance Man, or a Treasury Board Man, or a Natural Resources Man (and yes, for much of that period you were probably a man) and it was uncommon to move from one department to another. In this world, a strong Foreign Service culture made sense since many of the other ministries had a strong sense of culture as well.

But today the world, Canadians and Ottawa, are different. Every ministry engages in foreign policy – be it healthcare issues, the environment, energy, transport, you name it. There is hardly an issue in Canada that does not have an important international dimension. Moreover, public servants now frequently move from ministry to ministry. Indeed, a successful career in the public service requires that you move around. A broad set of experience is deemed to be essential. Finally, the typical public servant has changed dramatically. Today, Canadians are much more internationalized. Many of us are born abroad, still more of us have family abroad, and with (relatively) cheap air travel many Canadians travel abroad. This is a far cry from even 30 years ago. But not only do Canadians travel more, they are better educated. There may have been a time when the average foreign service officer was significantly better educated than the average public servant – but this is simply no longer the case. Many public servants now have Master’s degrees. Indeed, for a while, you couldn’t get hired without one.

This is the world of the public service in the 21st century, and it presents three challenges for the foreign service.

The first, it has become less and less clear what makes a Foreign Service officer unique. An increasing number of public servants outside of DFAIT and CIDA are successfully engaging in international work: negotiating treaties, attending international conferences, and working directly with other governments. If this work can be done by non-FSs the question arises… what is the value add of the Foreign Service Officer? What unique skills and knowledge do they bring? Whenever I’m in Ottawa I hear colleagues, friends, and even strangers ask this question. This is not to say Foreign Service officers are not incredibly talented- but it is asking what, as a class or group, do they offer?

This first problem is compounded by a second that few within DFAIT and CIDA wish to talk about: elitism. FSs have always thought of themselves as not only different but also (if they are honest with themselves) better than other public servants. There was likely a time when this was true. FSs were better educated and more traveled than their peers. Today however, it is no longer the case. Many public servants are relatively well traveled and well educated. The gap simply no longer exists. The result is that, around Ottawa, FSs are perceived as elitist snobs, a perception that is crippling the department. Not only does the rest of Ottawa now question the department’s value add they also, quite understandably, despise being looked down upon. Everyday a thousand small decisions are made to seek ways to work around – rather than with – DFAIT and those decisions are adding up. Nobody wants to play with the foreign service.

Finally, FS designation itself is a direct problem because it us both keeping Ottawa out DFAIT down. Today, public servants move around Ottawa getting experience in different departments – this is how the game is now played. And yet DFAIT and CIDA sit outside the game – FSs don’t want to work in another department and they often resent non-FSs who come and work in theirs. Consequently, few good ideas developed outside the ministry find there way in. Moreover, because FSs have isolated themselves they have neither the network of interdepartmental colleagues nor the experience and knowledge of how Ottawa works that their public service colleagues possess. They are getting outplayed. Still more problematic, the answers to the highly subjective Situational Judgment component of the Foreign Service Test are determined by senior Foreign Service officers. This means that those who succeed in being hired as FSs are those who are most likely to think like the outgoing generation. This creates a conservative trend within the department that reinforces old ideas and the class like elitism.

If DFAIT wants a leading role in the development of government policy it has a number of obstacles it needs to overcome. The most challenging however is reforming the system that shapes the thinking and culture of its employees. One place to start may be acknowledging that the FS designation – while an enormous source of pride – is also a source of significant problems. Opening up the FS designation to other public servants (treating it more like that the ES designation) could be one approach. Alternatively, focusing the FS designation on crisis management in the field and making it a class for people who are going to work in embassies in hostile territory or politically compromising situations may make more sense. These are just suggestions – what is most important is that the yawning culture gap between DFAIT and the rest of Ottawa must be closed – because increasingly the rest of Ottawa is discovering it can live without DFAIT, but DFAIT cannot live without the rest of Ottawa.

What the post-bureaucratic era will mean for the public service

In a number of blog posts and, in greater detail, in a number of lectures and speeches I’ve been outlining how the social and organizational impact of  information technologies (like wikis and blogs) will uproot and transform the public service. Specifically, in the coming era of self-organizing, the public service will have to find new ways to balance accountability and control with decentralization, accelerated information flows and emergent problem-solving.

There is, obviously, a ton to dive into here, which is what I’ve been having fun doing in my lectures and seminars. The other week while doing a presentation in Ottawa to a group of Health Canada employees, one of the participants asked me what the implications of self-organizing systems and social media would be for the core values of the public service (the Canadian Federal Public Service is the case study here, but this discussion likely applies to most government bureaucracies). More importantly, he wanted to know if they would have to be amended or changed. I’m not certain they do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t need to be reviewed…

For example, zero in on one of the Public Service’s core values in particular:

Professional Values: Serving with competence, excellence, efficiency, objectivity and impartiality.

  • Public servants must work within the laws of Canada and maintain the tradition of the political neutrality of the Public Service.
  • Public servants shall endeavour to ensure the proper, effective and efficient use of public money.
  • In the Public Service, how ends are achieved should be as important as the achievements themselves.
  • Public servants should constantly renew their commitment to serve Canadians by continually improving the quality of service, by adapting to changing needs through innovation, and by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and services offered in both official languages.
  • Public servants should also strive to ensure that the value of transparency in government is upheld while respecting their duties of confidentiality under the law.

None of these values are wrong. What will be challenging is how emerging technologies will shift expectations among citizens around how these values should being interpreted and what that means for how government operates.

In his 2008 Bertha Bassam Lecture at the University of Toronto, David Weinberger points out that for the last several centuries we have associated credibility (read: professionalism) with objectivity and impartiality (note values listed above). However, the rise of the internet is beginning to erode the link that once bound credibility to objectivity and impartiality:

“Wikipedia is far more credible because it shows us how the sausage is made makes Wikipedia far more credible. Yet this is exactly the stuff that the Britannica won’t show us because they think it would make them look amateurish and take away from their credibility. But in fact transparency – which is what this is – is the new objectivity. We are not going to trust objectivity, we are not going to trust objectivity unless we can see the discussion that lead to it.”

Replace Britannica in this sentence with “the public service” or “government” and you see the problem. The values of the public service presume that objectivity and impartiality will lead to credibility.  Increasingly, however, this is no longer the case. We want the right to see how the sausage is made. More importantly, as an increasing number of organizations like Mozilla, Wikipedia and DirectLauncher make it clear that such transparency is both technically and practically feasible – even when managing highly complex and sensitive tasks – our expectations around what we expect of government is starting to shift. Who do you trust more? Wikipedia or the Government of Canada’s website? Who let’s you see the discussion? This answer to this question is getting less and less clear.

Indeed it is this increasing number of transparent organizations that throw the last bullet in the section on professional values into sharp relief:

Public servants should also strive to ensure that the value of transparency in government is upheld while respecting their duties of confidentiality under the law.

Even if the public’s expectations of what should be legal confidential does not shift, radical change will still be necessary. Already you see people beginning to demand better access to all sorts of government data sets (think the Sunlight Foundation). And we haven’t even mentioned the whole process of Freedom of Information Requests (FOI). Here is a system that is clearly overwhelmed. But think more carefully about the whole process of FOI. The fact that information is by default secret (or functionally secret since it is inaccessible to the public) and that it must be requested is itself a powerful indication of just how fundamentally opaque government is. In a world where information generation is growing exponentially, will the government really be able to manage and access all of it, and determine what is confidential and what isn’t? This seems like a system destined for real challenges. All of this to say that even if the last line of the value statement above does not change one iota, what it means – and citizens expectations around its implementations – is going to change radically.

This transition – the movement from a public service that is opaque by 21st century standards to one that is transparent is going to be gut-wrenching, challenging and painful, not because it isn’t technically possible, but because it is going to require reversing 200 years of culture, values and modes of operation that are embedded within the public service and deeply embedded within the political class. This isn’t to say that the transition will erode the power or influence of these groups, it won’t. But it will be different, and that in of itself is often scary enough to create resistance and a painful transition.

In conclusion, I suspect that the few of the values will, or need, to change – indeed most are necessary and good. However, while the values themselves won’t change, continuing to adhere to them will require dramatic changes to how the public service operates.