Once upon a time there was a little government. 

Baby robin sitting on a community library. Photo taken while on a walk with my dog Annie.

Inside, every day we worked to second guess the leadership, everyday leadership tried to guess the mood of the community. 

Outside, a discontinuity emerged as the world became more connected and capitalism exploited the new ecosystem. Some clever people learned how to manipulate unconscious bias and monetize data. 

One day, the good people of good government decided that a change was needed in how we manage the public good. Unparalleled cooperation was called for. But never achieved. 

Because of that a resistance was formed. Virtuous schemers began to connect and learn to nudge the status quo, eventually as more and more people nudged and sincerely investigated, the corruption and incompetence was exposed.

Because of that, a new type of politics emerged, one based on issues and not ideology. People took control of their opinions and polarization started to break down into networks where it was ok to belong to groups that didn’t agree on some things. Intersectionality became a dominant value, second only to caring for the planet.  

We learned to live together and the future brightens up. 

Obviously, this is my fantasy. But why can’t it be our reality?

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MarCom story tellers wanted, 2022 edition

In January and February I teach a course entitled Professional Practice, which is part of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management Program at Algonquin College. The course is for students about to graduate from the three-year program and is intended to help with the transition from school to the workplace, the course 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 speaker’s program where professionals like you share their wisdom and insights into the real world. This year we have the added challenge of doing so during a global pandemic.

The main themes of the course are a personal brand, networking, and finance with an emphasis on the first two.  I try to bring in a variety of people from recent graduates to experienced mavens 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.

There are about a dozen, 30-45-minute speaking spots available on Thursdays between Noon and 3:00 PM EDT, from January 13 to February 24, please get in touch with me via a reply to this post or find me on twitter @thomkearney.

Thank you.

Thom

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On Engagement & Collaboration

A recent conversation got me thinking that over the years I have had the opportunity to dive deep into thinking about platforms for government enterprise collaboration and engagement.

This post is an attempt to gather some of artefacts created to capture and communicate what I learned when thinking about strategy. I don’t claim any ownership over these ideas, I am documenting them for those that want to build something better.

If you find anything useful or would like to chat please let me know. I may update this post with new items as time and interest allow.

Engagement

For me, engagement means understanding your stakeholders, listening to their concerns and building relationships. This is hard enough on a personal level, but to do it at scale across a bureaucracy whose culture is to be non partisan and invisible increases the challenge.

Here are some things I have to contribute to the work to be done.

Engagement Hub Concept

This is the model that was originally posted on LinkedIn which became the impetus for this post. Various versions of it were posted on a wall beside my desk for years.

Here is the link to the post: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/thomk_someoneshouldbuildthis-activity-6819998667840229377-4f3r

GC Stakeholder map

In order to listen to and understand stakeholders at scale you need to have some idea of who they are.
A while ago a group of engagement specialists in GC thought it would be fun to see if we could come up with a shared view of GC Stakeholders – a generic framework that we could use to talk about and understand the many, many different stakeholder groups that the 300 or so departments and agencies serve. This slide and accompanying visualization was as far as we got.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16He4_p2bTLPRl4IpQ-kzI_p5fiUm_OoG/view?usp=sharing

The image is from a slide, here is the stakeholder map part in Kumu, circa 2015  https://kumu.io/thomkearney/gc-stakeholders

The Listening Machine

Between 2014 and 2018 I was part of the public engagement team for open government consultations to develop three biannual National Open Government Action Plans. Each time we did it we tried to make the data collection more transparent and robust. Even conducted some ML experiments to see if that could help us understand what we were hearing.

We got some good international kudos for the work, so I documented what we did as an aspirational case study on open policy making that includes a data management plan and associated protocols.

Title slide for a presentation called Building a listening machine. Includes a diagram of a 1857 invention to show the wave that sound creates.
Here a link to the presentation, which includes links to documents and details. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1NDFgymWM_TkxHPA2yqm24HTMpWaL6CT-ZHJY4PHgp_s/edit?usp=sharing

Collaboration

What does collaboration mean?

The answer to that question is that it depends.
Here is a post where I tried to explain it back in the day.

Collaboration Tools the Shirky Ladder

This post originally appeared as part of the GTEC 2013 Blog Collaboration is a word you hear a lot these days, and its one of GTEC13’s theme words.  In the Government of Canada (GC) Public Service context, the Chief Information Officer, Clerk of the Privy Council and the President of the Treasury board have all…

Keep reading

Collaboration Patterns

Here is an attempt at documenting requirements for enterprise collaboration. It does not feel like those making decisions about enterprise collaboration in the GC are paying attention to these kinds of things…

Connect with me if you want more details on this, I must have them somewhere….


GCpedia & Cloud Governance

Back in the day (2009 ish) our humble little wiki was a world leader in enabling government wide connection and knowledge sharing. This image was the secret governance plan.

I wrote more about governance and the creation experience for the World Social Science Forum.

There are tons of lessons buried in that experience that are often ignored when we purchase enterprise software.

Virtual Government Network?

After the GCpedia experience I was inspired to pursue this idea for a while and documented some thoughts. Apolitical is partially filling this need now, but I still think there might be a place for something like this. What do you think?

That’s all for now

There is more I am sure of it, but if this post is every going to see the light of day, it is time to stop.
Until next time that is.

Please leave a comment if you want to see more of this kind of thing.

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You’ll never know if you don’t go

Ok so this is a weird little thing that just happened to me this morning on March 24, 2021.

I am doing a little early morning creative work, and trying to open an old illustrator file. The internet says I need to covert the .ai file into a .svg file. I have managed to do that easily but now I am looking for a free tool that will let me edit .svg files.  Trying to open the file from google drive, one of the options presented in the “connect more apps”  thing is something called Nearpod, an educational addon for google slides that lets you “Embed the magic of Nearpod directly into Google Slides”.  Anyway, it says it’s for K12 and I sometimes teach college, so I think maybe I should check it out – yet another diversion… 


Scanning the comments section, I realize they are kind of spammy with hashtags like #freecookies4ever and repeated posts of the same poem by someone called Abigail Enright. Thinking this is a waste of time, I am about to leave, but something motivates me to read a little of it.  So I stop and read a few lines. I find some of it deeply reflective of how I am feeling at this time of my life in this pandemic place, things like: 

My world’s on fire, how about yours?

You’ll never know if you don’t go (go!)

Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do, so much to see

So what’s wrong with taking the back streets?

I am intrigued by the random serendipity I am feeling and my curiosity leads me to paste some of the text into search.  Almost immediately I am transported back 20 years or so as I watch a video and discover that the poem is actually the lyrics from the Shrek song I first heard with my partner and offspring in an immersive theatre in Disneyland or maybe it was Universal Studios… 

You probably recognize it.

Lyrics to the Smash Mouth song All Star, from their 1999 album Astro Lounge.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xxQs34UMx4

All of this to say, despite everything, just remember,  you’re a rock star, get your game on, go play!

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Welcome to 2020 eh?

#OtisSez Welcome to 2020 eh?

At the end of 2019 I concluded an assignment with the very talented folks at the Policy Community Partnership Office. In my time there I explored the policy process within the GC and co-created a new framework for learning about policy along with a new 2 day course. I delved into topics, curriculum and learning approaches. Created some information architecture built some prototypes. I experienced enlightenment, pivots, passion, frustration and the 12 steps of why. I met tons of really smart folks and I learned a lot.

As 2020 begins I will be starting a new project, more on that if and when the paperwork comes through. In the meantime I thought I would share some reflections on what I might like to do in the new year. Some of this applies to the project I have coming up, but much of it also could apply to future projects in the next fiscal.

I would like to work on an open project. Maybe a prototype of some sort. Maybe a provocative presentation or video. Definitely something to support positive change. I would like to use evidence and data and apply critical thinking. I would like to work with a multi-disciplinary, teleworking friendly team with as little drama as possible. I would like to create little stories to support culture change.  I would like to be part of an agile network.

There is a whole lot of “I” in that paragraph, but the most important thing is what we can do together. If you have a project in mind that I could help out with, I would love to chat. If you don’t have a project in mind, I have some ideas 🙂

The listening machine prototype
Build on previous work to collect and quickly distill meaning from large amounts of qualitative engagement data.  Establish a standard for consultation data.

AI for policy formation
Prospect for data and opportunities to demonstrate the value of  AI/BigData to policy formulation/implementation/evaluation/improvement. Demonstrate a high value use case. Communicate the possible through a provocation paper or other means.

Any kind of collective curation effort
Seems to me that we could be doing a much better job of capturing and sharing key knowledge from across the public service ecosystem. For many topics I believe there are willing partners who just need some dedicated leadership.

These ideas are just starting points, if they happen to align with something you need to do that would be great, but I am open to talking about any project where I can provide value. Let’s chat and see if we can find some synergies.  

What is the Free Agent Program? 

It is an efficient way for you as a manager to get short term project help.

The Free Agents are a new model for workplace mobility in the Government of Canada that supports managers looking to rapidly and easily acquire top talent to support their short-term project needs.

You can find out more about the program and details on acquiring Free Agents by visiting the GCcollab group.

All the best to you and yours in 2020.

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Have a story to tell that will help 20 somethings transition into professional communicators?

Class of 2019

From January to March I teach a course entitled Professional Practice, which is part of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management Program at Algonquin College. This is 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. Now I feed my teaching addiction part-time.

The course is for students about to graduate from the three-year program and is intended to help with the transition from school to the workplace, the course 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 speaker’s program where professionals like you share their wisdom and insights into the real world.

The main themes of the course are a personal brand, networking, and finance with an emphasis on the first two.  I try to bring in a variety of people from recent graduates to experienced mavens 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. Some of the topics that students have said they would like to hear about include:

  • SEO and advanced digital marketing
  • Habits for success

This year there are potentially 13, 45-minute speaking spots available on Thursday afternoons from January 9 to February 20.  The detailed schedule and other information is available in this google document.

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

Thom

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The story of Harvey

This is a hard story to tell.

A few days ago we picked up an 8 week old golden retriever and we called him Harvey. He was coming home to us two other dogs, one of whom you may know from #OtisSez, the other dog is a small Maltese that belongs to my mother in law.

The first days were about house training and integration with the other dogs, establishing the routine and things were going quite well. Harvey was naturally playful and inquisitive but the other dogs seemed to learning to tolerate him.

I was looking forward to documenting the little guy’s early days and excited about getting him into the little photo studio I was setting up. A friend dropped by with flowers and petting him remarked how therapeutic it was. There is no feeling like that of a puppy’s fur – kittens and bunnies are good, but for me this guy was special. Here are some of the pictures from the first days.

On Wed, May 8, which incidentally is one year from the say we said goodbye to a 15 year old golden named Saul, I was sitting in the dinning room, the sun was coming in the windows, the birds were chirping and I had Otis and Harvey sleeping by my feet. Harvey was actually on my feet.

At that moment I experienced something that might be called bliss, and I thought about writing a post about bit. The day before I had spent an hour or so reclining outside with Harvey sleeping on my lap and it was a similar feeling. I was very much in a happy place.

Harvey discovering the stick.

Nothing good lasts forever, and later that day, there was an altercation between the older dog Otis and Harvey. Otis snapped at the little guy over a stick and made contact. Dislocating his left eye. We rushed to the animal hospital where the treatment was to suture the eye shut in the hopes that he could keep the eyeball (probably without sight), we will know in a couple of weeks if that works, or if the eye will have to be removed.

Naturally we were devastated. We had one job to keep the pup safe and had failed. All the what ifs, if onlys and should haves and could haves began to occupy our minds. If there is a lesson, it is we could have been more vigilant. Otis had not displayed this behavior before but dogs will be dogs and can be unpredictable.

Harvey after his operation.

After a conversation with Judy the breeder we agreed that the pup could not stay in our house. Otis was displaying resource guarding and it was too unpredictable. It would impossible and unfair to keep Otis and Harvey separated all the time.

Judy found Susan who agreed to take the pup and care for him. After picking him up at the hospital we briefly took him home where thankfully he did not exhibit any fear of the other dogs and then took him to Susan. I am crying as I type this…We will likely not see Harvey again and my heart is broken.

Take care of your loved ones and keep them safe.

P.S. I totally get that this is very much a first world problem, but that does not make the tears any less real.

UPDATE: Response has been overwhelming and we do not need any more offers.
Thank you everyone who has responded with compassion and love.

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Guest speakers wanted – 2019

classroom_anon

Have a story to tell?

From January to March I teach a course entitled Professional Practice, which is part of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management Program at Algonquin College. This is 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 students about to graduate from the three-year program and is intended to help with the transition from school to the workplace, the course 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 speaker’s program where professionals just like you share their wisdom and insights into the real world.

The main themes of the course are a personal brand, networking, and finance with an emphasis on the first two.  I try to bring in a variety of people from recent graduates to experienced mavens 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 15, 45-minute speaking spots available on Thursday afternoons from January 10 to March 7.  The detailed schedule and other information is available in this google document.

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

Thom

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PROTECT THE DEVIANTS!

Two golden retriever dogs in a puddle as the sun sets.
Otis and Saul enjoying their deviance.

I was a “risky” hire.  Not quite cut from the same cloth. A slightly irregular education. A different sort of professional background. An advocate for better, maybe not anonymous enough…someone with an opinion.

The system, like any mature system, naturally tried to reject me. I failed exams for subjective reasons. Was disqualified based on narrow interpretations. Limited opportunities due to my background and maybe even gender and age.  In fact, I am pretty sure that if the HR System was a person I would have grounds for a complaint. Alas, the system is not a person and harassment only applies to people.

The people I have met are polite, concerned and friendly. Most of them want to do a good job.  Some of them have seen beyond the risk and helped me, and I thank you very much for that.

Now that I am in the system, I realize that I am a bit of a deviant for the same reasons that I was a risky hire.

If you imagine government organizations as living organisms and apply some biological logic, it is not hard to see how they would naturally try to reject anything foreign. And in some parts of government culture, I am definitely foreign.  Luckily in other parts of government culture, I fit right in, in fact, I am not as “deviant” as some!

Nevertheless, the places where I do fit in are generally bucking the system, or at least trying to hack it. Their directors and managers are committed to finding a way to do the right thing today, even when the rules are trying to force them to do the right thing for yesterday. It is not easy, they have to work hard, be persistent and continually challenge existing thinking. All before getting on with their mission. 

There is a point to this rant. In his seminal book on organizational culture, Organizational Culture and Leadership Paperback,  Edgar H. Schein talks about how people that first exhibit new traits become different than their co-workers. In most groups of people, this deviance from the norm results in marginalization—cultures by their nature seek the harmony of homogeneity.  Because of this human dynamic, if an organization wants to change it needs to protect the positive deviants from the forces that would see them banished.

The forces that marginalize deviants come in all shapes and sizes. Some are hidden in cognitive biases, others come out as classification, age, level, gender or discipline discrimination. Still, others manifest as well-intentioned policies and rules with narrow interpretations that result in prejudicial side effects.  Risk aversion plays a role here as well. Managers often equate risk with being challenged and the easiest way not to be challenged is to do things the way we have always done them. Deviants are risky by definition, even if they are positive, so the logical path is to get rid of them or not hire them in the first place. 

I think of myself as a positive deviant, and I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of public servants that feel the same way. If the public service is to remain relevant in a different world, it must be different and to be different it needs positive deviants, not former employees. 

Protect the positive deviants! 

Posted in Culture, Leadership, Positive Change, Rant, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Conference report – culture, SNA and failure

IMG_20181121_100242Yesterday I was part of a panel at the Conference Board event on Public Service Transformation with Virginie Carrier, Senior Strategist, Future Workforce Strategies, DND, and Teresa D’Andrea, Director, GC Digital Exchange, Office of the Chief Information Officer of Canada, TBS.  

The topic was the Complexities and Opportunities of Culture Change and we went through a series of questions, the supporting deck is here.  I had one little epiphany in preparation for the session which I tweeted about, it might be worth some further discussion if you are interested in theory of change stuff. 

theory of change

The event was held on the 4th floor of the Museum of Nature and there were about 90 people there and some interesting speakers.  

I caught two of the speakers:

John Burrett, President of Haiku Analytics did a presentation on Using Network Analysis to Map and Drive Change. He closed with a very cool animated diagram of the day in a life of 1000 Americans, check it out.

 

The second speaker was Andrew Graham, Professor, School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University. A former Public Servant turned academic Andrew has been researching failure and had a very interesting session on the Architecture of Failure—Why Learning How to Fail is a Necessary Step on the Path to Success. I tweeted out some highlights and he closed with a long list of Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet and what some strategies for reducing the probability of catastrophic failure.

tools to reduce failure

If you are into any of this stuff I am happy to chat.

Thom

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