Government as a platform eh?

I came across this draft post from when I attended the 2009 Gov2.0 Summit in Washington.  It was just after Obama became President and the excitement in the air was like that in Ottawa recently with our new Prime Minister. 

Reading it again, it occurred to me that it might be useful input into the conversation about what digital means to the governments of Canada.
Gov20summitThere was lots of talk about government as
a platform on the first day of the summit and I must admit that I came to Washington a little unclear on the topic. There are multiple “layers of abstraction” and no doubt those who build hardware and software have a more detailed understanding, nonetheless I will share with you what I took away about one of the big themes of the conference.

platform for change

  • A data platform for services
    By sharing data in open machine readable ways, the government can enable industry to create social and financial value by building services on top of that data. The dominate examples had to do with GPS and GIS data, (location, maps and details). There were impressive examples from the battlefront in Afghanistan to the streets of LA. The Obama administration has taken a bold step towards embedding this behavior in the bureaucracy with its Open GOvernment Directive.
  • A social platform
    With its power to convene and consult with groups of citizens the government can be a powerful catalyst for civic action. With much of the credit of Obama’s election win going to the power of the internet to mobilize voters, the administration is very interested in how to involve Americans in taking action to solve their problems. By using modern internet tools the government could fulfill the promise of Jeffersonian Democracy it seems.
  • An economic platform
    Finally with its power to invest the government can initiate market moves and affect the direction of the economy. The feeling in the room was that if government investments in infrastructure good things will happen.

There are probably many more ways you could describe Government as a platform. Gosh, I even heard a sidewalk referred to as a platform for social interaction. (Depending upon how you design and build it, you will get different behaviors. Add a bench and people sit down. Make it narrow and people walk on by.)

The thing about Government as a platform is that it provides a new perspective on the old problem of making government more effective. As I believe that genus with the funny hair said:

 ” you can’t solve old problems with the same thinking that created them”  

New perspectives are a good thing.

There are many ways you can think of Government as a platform. The take away for public servants is to use this perspective to create new forces for good.  To create policy and programs that will address the real problems the world faces today.

There you have it. My thoughts, such as they are. Feel free to comment, correct or elaborate, express whatever you want, just be polite about it ok?

Posted in Conference, Gov 2.0, Open Data, Positive Change | Leave a comment

A visit from the open data bunny

Easter bunny crop 600p

Can you find any easter eggs?

In 2014 I had the privilege of traveling across Canada in a jet plane, as well as on the internet, to listen to what some Canadians had to say about Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government.

The purpose of this post is to introduce you to one of the outputs of that exercise; the release of all the consultation comments collected as open data. Some of this data might be relevant to the conversation on principles for engagement between governments and citizens. Part of that conversation is taking place at the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum next week in Ottawa.

This dataset is the same one I used to perform some high level qualitative analysis that informed the development of the action plan for 2014-16. That analysis is described in the what we heard report. My thinking is that the data may contain some undiscovered insights, some easter eggs if you will. Easter eggs you might be able to find.

The data contains the actual text of comments collected, as well as metadata and the codes we applied during the analysis. One of these is the “core code” (data, info, or dialogue). Filter the comments by the dialogue core code and you end up with 322 comments that might be fun to analyze in the context of the conversation around principles. These comments have location, theme, subthemes and other metadata to play with.

Here is a link to the data and release notes on the open.canada web site.  If you are up for a little easter egg hunt, please explore.

Be sure to share your discoveries using the hashtags #CODF16 and #OpenGovCan, or leave a comment here.

Hoppy easter everybody!



Posted in Open Data, Open Government | Leave a comment

March 2016 Update

This is my annual(ish) update where I send you a few words on my recent experience, and then a few more about an event that you might like to attend.

As you might know, I have been working in Open Dialogue at the Open Government Secretariat, which is part of the Chief Information Officer’s Branch, at the Treasury Board Secretariat in the Government of Canada. What that means is that I have had the opportunity to design and practice high calibre citizen engagement, and perhaps provide a nudge towards better engagement across the enterprise. It has been a most interesting 18 months, and I am hoping for an opportunity to help implement some of the new government’s commitments to openness and collaboration.

In addition to being an advocate for transparency and collaboration in the Government of Canada, I am also addicted to teaching, mostly at Algonquin’s Advertising and Marketing Communication Management Program. For the last few years I have been conducting two courses:

  1. For graduating students I curate and deliver a Professional Practice speaker’s series designed to help them develop self awareness and networking skills. If you have a story to that you think would be insightful to a marketing communications student about to graduate, I would be happy to chat about you speaking to the class.
  2. I also teach first year students a course about why consumers do what they do, and how you can sometimes influence behaviour through clever messaging.

I learn a lot from teaching, much of which is applicable to a changing public service, and I am happy to share, so feel free to connect if you think I might know something of use to you in your work.

The event of interest is about policy making in the digital age. This year promises to be an exciting one for citizen engagement in Canada, and this conference just might mark a pivotal moment in our democracy. Taking place in Ottawa, March 31-April 1, the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum (Open 2016), aims to “bring together 300 participants for conversations about the untapped potential of open dialogue, and how the convergence of data, information and dialogue could create new opportunities for prosperity.” I understand there is a buy 2 tickets and get 3 offer in place until March 13. Simply email with the names of your two paid registrants and the name and email of your free registration.

I’m pretty excited about the potential of this gathering and hope to see you there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this message, I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

All the best for 2016,


Posted in About, Conference | Leave a comment

You can change culture now: 3 essential truths for public service leaders

stick man on stairs squareThe Canadian federal public service has been trying to change its culture for a few years with initiatives like Blueprint 2020 and the Innovation Hubs. Now we have a new federal leadership that wants to adopt a new and more collaborative approach to governing. One might wonder what is keeping us from our goal…

I am not a millennial, but I am a pretty hip, late baby boomer who has been part of the interweb since close to the beginning. My career has been a little eclectic and I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in a wide range of transformational activities. I am telling you this, because it is that experience that has provided the fodder for the observations that follow.

A few years ago I was deep into an analysis of how governments could realize the potential of collaboration and social technologies. As I was mulling over how to synthesise all of the data into a sound bite that could be easily consumed by a busy executive, I was also thinking about how it connected with what I had learned from working in advertising and teaching consumer behaviour. In a rare moment of clarity while waiting for a red light I scribbled down three truths that seem to me to be both obvious and profound.

1. Sharing is good

Sharing is the activity that fuels successful collaboration, knowledge management and communication, which in turn are fundamental to a “capable and high performing” organization. By sharing we become authentic to those around us, sharing preserves hard earned knowledge and makes us more productive, telling stories makes us real, and helps to build the common purpose which is so important to successful change.

Most of the major research firms agree that the biggest challenge organizations face in implementation of social technologies within the enterprise is creating a culture that supports information sharing. Having been involved with over a dozen enterprise collaboration efforts I can say that my personal experience supports those findings. Culture, as the saying goes eats strategy for breakfast, apparently it also eats technology, and probably has a taste for deliverology as well.

Many people don’t share because they are afraid of making a Career Limiting Move (CLM), while others, (kudos if you are one), consider sharing part of their responsibility. Unfortunately too many seem to equate sharing with a CLM, and ultimately we need to institutionalize ways of rewarding sharing and punishing information hoarding. Maybe we can make sharing part of management accountability accords, it is pretty easy to count contributions to sharing platforms like GCpedia and GCconnex…

2. Ego gets in the way

By ego I mean an unhealthy focus on self. We have all come across individuals that try and withhold information, and manipulate those around them for personal gain or promotion. When combined with a lack of emotional intelligence I believe this is one of the most destructive forces in the public service today. We need to get our self-worth from something other than the size of our empire, we need to get emotional and career points for collaborating. We need to recognize the common purpose, (serving Canadians anyone?), as more important than our personal gain. Not only is the, “I only do what is good for me” attitude, bad for the organization, its beginning to look like it may be bad for your career as well.

I have worked on enough horizontal files to have come across this issue more than once. No matter how you structure a collaboration, the people involved can always sabotage it. While researching the horizontal governance issue sometime in the early 2000’s, I came across an Auditor General’s report examining the lack of progress on the climate change file. Without much reading between the lines it was obvious that the real problem was that the primary departments involved could not find a way to collaborate, mostly because the Deputy Ministers did not like each other. Now I am not pointing fingers at the senior ranks, you see this kind of behaviour at all levels. I suppose we should not be surprised, given the competitive, individualistic socialization most of us have grown up with. But humanity’s greatest capacity is to learn, and I like to think that we can learn to work together despite personal differences—if we set aside our ego once in awhile in favour of the common goal.

3. You can’t communicate too much

“You can’t communicate too much”,  I posted this comment on twitter during  a conference  once and it quickly became one of the most re-tweeted updates, so it seems the sentiment hit a nerve.

Back in my advertising days we used to spend a lot of money on media buys and printing, and one of the worst things that could happen was for a print run or advertisement be published with a mistake. When it did happen it was an expensive and embarrassing lesson. After the first time we began to repeat instructions, in different languages if necessary, we would draw pictures, leave notes on the artwork, call the publisher, even attend press runs to make sure all was understood. Later in my career I worked with a Product Line Manager at a major telecom who told me that for an idea to get traction you had to say the same thing over and over again in as many different ways as you could think of —when you are sick of saying the same thing, it’s time to say it again— you can’t communicate too much.

In today’s information intense and dynamic workplace, trying to get the attention of information inundated executive ranks will take more than a little repetition. Going the other way, management can’t communicate too much with staff, especially during times of change. The mushroom school of management (keep them in the dark, and feed them sh*t), simply has no place in an agile and high performing organization— you can’t communicate too much.

In dynamic times, perfection is the enemy of communication, waiting for a complete and crafted message simply leads to speculation and fear, while communicating often and openly, even admitting you don’t know everything, leads to trust and understanding. Having a clear and common purpose is more important than knowing the details of how you are going to get there— you can’t communicate too much.


Changing the culture of something as big as the public service is a daunting task, sometimes compared to turning a supertanker. But the public service is not a ship, it is an organization made up of people, and it’s people who make the culture. The three truths that I have shared can and should be applied from the top down, but more importantly they can be applied by individuals regardless of rank, when you think about that, it means you have the power to change culture.

What are you going to do with that power?

Image Source:

Editorial Note:

This post is adapted from one of two posts that was written for a GTEC 2013 blog series exploring what it means to be an Agile, Open, Collaborative and Mobile Government. The original post was entitled “Three truths to help you change the culture of the Public Service.” My focus in the series was on the Cultural, Organizational and Policy Infrastructure that provides the foundation for public service culture.

Posted in Collaboration, Culture, Gov 2.0, Leadership, Learning, Marketing & Communication, Positive Change, Rant | Leave a comment

Get an intern from Algonquin Marketing Communications

The marketing communications program at Algonquin College has a six week internship program (March-April), which is a great way to get some extra help and maybe test drive a potential new hire. These guys are generally pretty talented and motivated to make you look good. Check out this infographic some of them created.

Internship Final Poster

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest Speakers Wanted 2016


As many of you know, in addition to working in Open Government, I teach a course entitled Professional Practice,which is part of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management Program at Algonquin College. A program that I graduated from when typewriters were the norm, and which I eventually led in the nineties—until the internet lured me away.

The course is for graduating students and helps students transition from school to the workplace, the blurb from the program outline reads:

“Attitude, communication, and human relations are the key to surviving in the ever-changing world of advertising. This course helps you prepare for workplace success by providing practical expectations and useful tools to make a successful transition from school to workplace. The course discusses self-management, workplace politics and etiquette, building relationships, and tools for the future.”

A key part of the course is the speakers program where professionals just like you come in for an hour to share their wisdom and insights into the real world.

The main themes of the course are  personal brand, networking, and finance with an emphasis on the first two.  I try to bring in a variety of people, and not every speaker is from the communications industry. Some speakers dive deep into relevant topics while others simply tell their career story and engage in conversation.  Self awareness and career success are two common themes we explore, usually within a marketing context.

If you have some insight to share or an interesting (and motivating) story to tell, I would like to hear from you. This year there are potentially 16, 45 minute speaking spots available on Thursdays from January 14 to March 17.  The detailed schedule and other information is available in this google document.

Thanks, I hope the new year is good to you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Always do the best you can with what you’ve got

June 16 – Today is the anniversary of my father’s passing, his motto: “always do the best you can with what you’ve got” His name was Ted #rip



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment