GCPEDIA (also check out this link) is one of the most exciting projects going on in the public service. If you don’t know what GCPEDIA is – check out the links. It is a massive wiki where public servants can share knowledge, publish their current work, or collaborate on projects. I think it is one of two revolutionary changes going on that will transform how the public service works (more on this another time).
I know some supporters out there fear that GCPEDIA – if it becomes too successful – will be shut down by senior executives. These supporters fear the idea of public servants sharing information with one another will simply prove to be too threatening to some entrenched interests. I recognize the concern, but I think it is ultimately flawed for two reasons.
The less important reason is that it appears a growing number of senior public servants “get it.” They understand that this technology – and more importantly the social changes in how people work and organize themselves that come along with them – are here to stay. Moreover, killing this type of project would simply send the worst possible message about public service sector renewal – it would be an admission that any real efforts at modernizing the public service are nothing more than window dressing. Good news for GCPEDIA supporters – but also not really the key determinant.
The second, and pivotal reason, is that GCPEDIA is going to save the public service.
I’m not joking.
Experts and observers of the Public Service has been talking for the last decade about the demographic tsunami that is going to hit the public service. The tsunami has to do with age. In short, a lot of people are going to retire. In 2006 52% of public servants are 44-65. in 1981 it was 38%, in 1991 it was 32%. Among executives the average ages are higher still. EX-1’s (the most junior executive level) has an average age of 50, Ex 2’s are at 51.9, Ex 3’s at 52.7 and Ex 4’s at 54.1. (numbers from David Zussman – link is a powerpoint deck)
Remember these are average ages.
In short, there are a lot of people who, at some point in the next 10 years, are going to leave the public service. Indeed, in the nightmare scenario, they all leave within a short period of time – say 1-2 years, and suddenly an enormous amount of knowledge and institutional memory walks out the door with them. Such a loss would have staggering implications. Some will be good – new ways of thinking may become easier. But most will be negative, the amount of work and knowledge that will have to be redone to regain the lost institutional memory and knowledge cannot be underestimated.
GCPEDIA is the public service’s best, and perhaps only, effective way to capture the social capital of an entire generation in an indexed and searchable database that future generations can leverage and add to. 10’s of millions of man-hours, and possible far more, are at stake.
This is why GCPEDIA will survive. We can’t afford for it not to.
As an aside, this has one dramatic implication. People are already leaving so we need to populate GCPEDIA faster. Indeed, if I were a Deputy Minister I would immediately create a 5 person communications team whose sole purpose was two fold. First to spread the word about the existence of GCPEDIA as well as help and encourage people to contribute to it. Second, this team would actually interview key boomers who may not be comfortable with the technology and transcribe their work for them onto the wiki. Every department has a legend who is an ES-6 and who will retire an ES-6 but everybody knows that they know everything about everything that ever happened, why it happened and why it matters. It’s that person everybody wants to consult with in the cafeteria. Get that person, and find a way to get their knowledge into the wiki, before their pension vests.