Getting Ready for OpenGovWest BC – Nov. 10, 2010

Only a few more days until OpenGovWest BC goes down in Victoria and I gotta say, I’m pretty excited. There’s a fantastic lineup of keynotes and presenters (humbled to be presenting alongside them), a sold-out attendee list and a group of really amazing, motivated people showing their passion for building this young community of public sector stakeholders.

I became involved with the conference organising committee a few months ago when they were entering the final push to get all the logistics and planning sorted in order to make this a memorable event, and things have come a long way in the last few weeks. I am particularly excited to have many members of the core group of active open gov and CPS renewal advocates in the room together. I imagine there will be some pretty energetic conversations ensuing.

My take on, and interest in open government lies in the assessment of how ready the public service is to build and sustain a culture of ‘open’ with external and internal stakeholders. While we can dream up every flavour of initiative that would qualify, they won’t be sustainable if the organization responsible is not aligned and engaged with similar approaches.

A systemic focus on availability, accessibility, relevance and trust is a good start, but these are not changes that you throw a system at and see recognizable improvements upon implementation. This is the really hard, really down-and-dirty work that requires prolonged commitments and grassroots initiatives, gutting the status quo and turning policy and directives, processes and protocol on their respective heads. It requires engaged staff who are long-term investors, and it requires Nick Charney’s brand of collaboration, predicated on action.

I encourage all of the attendees to jump in and get actively involved with the discussions and activities, form relationships with co-participants and engage with the presenters. Read Walter Schwabe’s advice on how to make it a successful event for you and the rest of the attendees, and then have fun.

I’m so looking forward to learning and absorbing everything on Wednesday and am really, really excited by the overwhelming response this event has gotten. Thanks to the organizing committee and sponsors for their support and tireless effort. I predict it’s going to be inspiring.

Renaissance Workers – The Pragmatic Visionary

I was having a conversation with an associate/friend/public service advocate and we were talking about what it would take to make progress within his current work environment – how could his employer (or his fellow employees) help progress the vision and strategy of the organisation, when that progress kept getting caught up in black holes of policy, fear, empire-building and the great unknown?

I described to him what I felt was one piece of that puzzle – individuals with influence (whether at the top or the bottom) that were both pragmatic and visionary. Then I stopped for a second, looked at what I had written and laughed, thinking I had just created an oxymoron – “pragmatic visionary”. However, upon further thought I realised that this indeed what is required for progress and success in his particular environment, and in many others I encounter these days.

How does an individual become both pragmatic and visionary? Doesn’t one cancel the other? Can one person be both in the same role? Well, of course. We’re just not used to thinking that way. Typically, we associate “visionary” with blue sky, innovation, the future state. Conversely, pragmatism is rooted in strong operational foundations, association with the practical, steady-handed realism.

In reality, the twain do meet. I thought harder about it and realised that many of the folks I associated with the more successful change programs, informal or otherwise, were exactly this new breed of worker – pragmatic visionaries. Caught neither in the minutia of operations or the headiness of vision, these individuals have struck a chord of balance that resides somewhere in between, incorporating the grand ideas into routinized process, and injecting some reality into the wild blue yonder.

Just “thinking big” is not enough to be successful. Just delivering on schedule is also not enough.This is more than just a practical project manager that finds the recipe for implementation. This is a role that is savvy enough to cherry pick the business wins and understand the values of all interested parties to create a formula that strikes the right chord with everyone and threatens noone.

The mature skills that these individuals have in common include most, if not all of the social capabilities that we have discussed. They are all great communicators (and, paired with some experience in the field, great negotiators), they collaborate without fear, they constantly seek out new and innovative ways to approach a problem, they trust each other and their partners, they are actively engaged with each other and other communities of practice/clients/partners, and their own objectives are aligned with their peers and those of the organisation for which they work.

The pragmatic visionary is the ‘Renaissance Man’ of the workplace – skilled with an arsenal of tools and tactics to maneuver the soft side of any organisation, gluing together all the pieces whether they be floating above in lofty clouds, or firmly anchored in the ground by heavy chains. Given that these elements are reality for most organisations, these personalities are rapidly becoming the only link to an organisation becoming agile and flexible while figuring out how to remove those chains.

Have you met a pragmatic visionary? How were they able to achieve what others couldn’t? How did they reach this level of maturity? What was their role “on paper” in the organisation?

Communities and Performance – The “Future of Work”

Oftentimes when I have a spare minute to let my mind wander aimlessly, I end up thinking about what I would focus on if I continued my education. I imagine what I would choose as a PhD pursuit, and how I would craft my research. While in previous years this has varied from creative to scientific, and all stops in between, the most recent thoughts have been focused on our professional and social communities and how membership within these may (or may not) be correlated with more high-functioning individuals and teams.

I’ve been interested in this for awhile – how closely tied social capabilities are to performance outcomes. Recently, I pursued some literature on the topic, looking for evidence to support my hypothesis that individuals who have access to professional networks, or who work in an environment that facilitates inter-group, intra-group and external communications and idea sharing, are able to perform their tasks more efficiently, effectively, or both.

While I have found a wealth of literature that identifies the relationship between an individual’s work environment (culture) and his/her feelings of wellness or satisfaction (which, in turn, affect performance), I am looking for something a bit more specific and somewhat beyond what is traditionally viewed as “organisational culture” (typically policies and attitudes towards such things as breaks, fitness, flex time, etc.). I’m wondering how employees might perform with access to well-established networks of experts, mentors, and socially aligned peers, and if they are able to create methods of work that they know are most effective for them individually.

The Province of British Columbia includes a whole group/initiative called the “Future of Work”, which began as a commitment to changing the traditional models (both real and perceived) of the public sector worker, with the intention of creating a workplace that is responsive to future demands, appealing to a younger demographic, and is able to retain knowledge from its quickly disappearing top-heavy demographic. The Province is aware that its core service group will be retiring en masse within a 5-10 year period. Without some profound changes to both perception and reality, it will be increasingly difficult to attract the upcoming workforce, who is wily and agile, and doesn’t think twice about demanding attention to personal growth and access to resources. If they don’t get this, they will move on.

Is this the younger generation being spoiled and self-indulgent, or have they finally systemized what we are trying hard to unlearn – that rigidity, tenure and repetition do not a productive worker make? I assert that they are a generation that has learned to be less guarded in their natural responses to any situation and this is what feels right to them. If your gut tells you you need something, you probably do, whether it’s to talk to a like-minded individual to solve a problem, or to study a whole whack of (open) data that’s been amalgamated by a citizen group, or to poll a group of politicians to find a common stance on an issue.

All of these examples demonstrate that we’re leaning further and further into our communities to broaden our perspectives, answer our questions and find creative approaches for all sorts of tasks. So, does this mean those power users of communities and networks are further ahead in their practices? Do they have better information, or just more of it? Can they more quickly “triangulate” their sources to find a common truth? Do members of communities feel more secure, empowered, individually responsible?

Does the public service (or any private organisation) benefit from having employees that are committed to their communities, and know how to leverage them?

When we perform an analysis of an organisation’s social capabilities, we’re less interested in empirical data, and more interested in the qualitative subtext that is provided along with our indicating questions. I believe we’re entering into an age of contextual value where the ‘metadata’ trumps the data.

I welcome your thoughts – are the things we value as workers changing? Can we work better, smarter, more efficiently, and have more rewarding professional lives if we become power users of communities of practice, or informal social networks?

What does the future of work look like to you?