Cultural risk

I was recently asked to create an executive briefing that included a high level assessment of the risks associated with adopting social media in the Government. I segmented the risks by three areas; Policy, Legal and Cultural.  The cultural risks are what interest me at the moment and they relate to the internal culture of the organization. I found myself writing and rewriting these words:
Conflict occurs between hierarchical and network management philosophies when power based on information control is replaced by power based on reputation.
To complete the risk equation, I believe the likelihood and impact of this occurring depends on the degree to which key individuals try and maintain power structures based on information control.
I am wondering if the statement captures the essence of the risk ?
Can the risk of conflict in this situation be mitigated — perhaps it is inevitable, even necessary?

About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Culture, Gov 2.0, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Cultural risk

  1. cdh86 says:

    I’m interested in this shift as well, although I’m always wary of information by way of reputation. I think of academics who win a few awards, and then continue to win awards even if nothing ground breaking is published — rather, they keep winning awards because they’ve already won a lot of other awards.

    When someone new tries to break in, especially if they are providing advice that is against what others with a stronger/longer standing reputation believe, they may be considered outsiders and unable to actually enter into the game in the first place (plus they start to gain a negative reputation for challenging others).

    Essentially, what I’m trying to say is: Reputation is not free of hierarchy, it’s just a less formalized one. People can leverage their reputation in order to lower the reputation of others, or keep others out of the reputation-hierarchy altogether.

    For me, then, the question is: How do we mitigate the reputation hierarchy as we head in that direction?



    • Thom Kearney says:

      I had never thought of the idea of a hierarchy of reputation before. You are of course correct, those higher up in the hierarchy could help or hinder those entering. Although in a completely open system, you should be able to establish your reputation regardless….theoretically anyway!

      Thanks for your thoughts


  2. Zaphod62 says:

    There are two sides to the control of information. The institution is greater than the sum of its parts and it is held together by inherited power structures, so people who could benefit from challenges to the structure don’t challenge because they would have to rethink their place in the system and threaten its source. On the other hand, those with less obvious benefits from changing the system (a.k.a “the old guard”)… well, let’s say they’re not always comfortable with risking change. It’s more historical/organizational than individual, IMO.

    Outsiders are usually either absorbed or excluded, unless they have the vision and diplomatic skills to foster change. I think there’s a fair bit of appetite for change these days and some talent out there for that…so I’m optimistic that all can benefit.


    • Thom Kearney says:

      I too am optimistic Zaphod62, there is a bit of an alignment of things going on; the demographic wave, the rise of Web 2.0 and a general recognition that new ways are needed that make me think real change is possible. It may take longer than some would like, but I believe it will occur.

      Thanks for you thoughts


  3. I have come to government late in life via the circuitous route of the FSWEP program (seriously, I am at least a decade older than my oldest colleague and six past the upper age limit that delineates their client segment) after spending 10 years doing largely blue collar work, which has given me a unique, some might even say skewed, view of an institutional structure I have not encountered anywhere else. There is a risk that has thus far gone unmentioned: that of information entropy, something I have witnessed first-hand within the first few weeks of my summer internship. This is a risk associated with the hindrance of the adoption of social media. Let me explain. The program within which I am working runs every year during the summer, and every year offices are inundated with green students who know nothing of the federal public service, how it is run, what their responsibilities will be, etc. However, from what I can tell, by the end of the season, most have figured out at least the basics. They’ve got most of the information about their duties, the various programs and services offered down – then – wait, it’s over, gotta go back to school. Hence, entropy ensues as all that knowledge dissipates like snowflakes, falling forgotten as if whitewashed with a fresh snowfall as they forget the minutae of their employment. Social media could be instrumental in helping to avoid this as students could leave behind digital narratives. In addition even if they aren’t returning they still have a common experience that could bring them together via social media if only for that reason. Furthermore, every year there are a few returning students who have done the job before that, given access to social media, could use it a space to share their experience and knowledge. Ideally, it would become a mentor-driven collaborative workspace rather than the hierarchical information power structure that currently drives the program. I could get into a driving metaphor here, touching on obsolete technologies, but I’ve already said way too much for a newbie! 😉


    • Thom Kearney says:

      Love the phrase “Information entropy” ! So true.

      One thing we did with students who work on GCPEDIA is just as you suggest, asked them to create a digital narrative to leave behind for the next crew. You should be able to find them at GCPEDIA:Students

      I also agree that the regular use of social media could lead to a much more organic and successful capture of knowledge as it happens as a side effect of just doing your work, rather than a special effort.

      Thanks for the comment.


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