Thom’s Top Ten #g2e 2010 edition

Back in May I wrote about attending Gov 2.0 Expo, in that post I promised to share some of what I learned. In short, it was an intense three days, lots of great presentations, and more importantly dozens of interesting and insightful conversations.  Here is my report.

1.  Top quote

I thought this was a very mature statement.

” web 2.0 tools are not something we need to learn to use, but environments we need to learn to live in.” Jack Holt, Dept. of Defense

For other things I thought were cool at the time you can check out my twitter feed from the conference.

2. Thou shalt engage

There is a ton of civic and employee consultation going on south of the 49th parallel. It seemed like every second presentation was about some form of engagement, mostly using the tool made available by GSA to all agencies, a good example is GSA’s own consultation.

With all this activity going on I expect we will see some more lessons learned in the next few months at, but two early conclusions appeared in my mind:

  1. A broad national conversation is difficult if not impossible and of limited value.
    There are simply too many voices. Maybe when semantic analysis improves it will be practical but for now focus is essential.
  2. Follow-up is critical. You need to know what you are planning on doing with the input,  be transparent about your intentions and follow through. Be sincere and prepare for the unexpected.  See this post from David Eaves for some perspective on what can happen.

David also had a wonderful keynote at the show about open data, baseball and government. You can watch it here.

For a Canadian perspective on engagement check out what the folks at Ottawa based Publivate are up to.

3. The big systems are coming

The early days of web 2.0 are rapidly coming to a close and I am seeing more and more big systems thinking entering the conversations. This is both good and bad. The good part is when the big systems are viewed as ecosystems with permeable barriers between components. The bad part is when those big systems encourage silos and are not designed to get better the more people use them.  I am not sure if this is an observation from #g2e or just a recent reflection, but there you go – beware of big systems that encourage silos.

4. You can still do a lot with a little

The City of Manor, pop 5,800 showed us how creative partnerships with innovative thinking could accomplish some really interesting things. The image that sticks with me is the bar code stickers on the side of city trucks. Check out the presentation.

5. We have begun to move from rhetoric to results

I think it was Gwynne Kostin at the General Services Administration, Office of New Media and Citizen Engagement, who said this to me and I felt the same. Compared to previous conferences , there was not quite so much enthusiastic arm waving going on. The mood was a little more serious, a little more thoughtful. I think these are the signs of a movement that is maturing.

6. Culture change is the elephant in the room

This thing called culture frequently comes up as something that needs to change. We talk about it a bit and then conveniently move on to something else.  What I almost never hear is the idea that culture is about people. For culture to change, people need to change.

Unfortunately that means you and I have to change.

I had breakfast with the amazing culture change artist Kitty Wooley (@kwooleyy) which led to a guest blog about how hard it can be to change, even when you want. You can read the post at the Senior Fellows and Friends blog .

As a former advertising guy, I am real interested in if, and how we can influence culture change.

7. Canada is seriously behind in some respects

I had the opportunity to chat a little with Senator Kate Lundy from Australia and learned about their Declaration of Open Government based on the three key principles of Informing, Engaging and Participating. Of course Obama has the Open Government Directive and I certainly heard the mantra of Transparency, Participation, Collaboration more than once.

I look forward to hearing something similar from our government….but I am not holding my breath.

8. But we might be ahead on the inside

Of the people I spoke with and certainly in the US and Australia there is nothing quite like the Canadian Government’s GCPEDIA.  For the most part silos persist and efforts to improve internal collaboration are just beginning with initiatives like FedSpace generating a fair bit of discussion on govloop.  Incidentally I had great chats with Emma Antunes who is on loan to FedSpace from NASA, and Mr. govloop himself, Steve Ressler.

9. We need a trusted GC url shortner

It seems like a small thing, but a trusted government URL shortened is essential for gov 2.0. The US version was launched at the show  I am pretty sure there is no official effort underway to do something similar in Canada, although I understand there is a page in GCPEDIA about it.  If anyone has an update, please let me know.

Oh yes, it needs to come with metrics. Lots of metrics.

10. People will engage for their reasons, not yours

Kathy Sierra gave a great short keynote on Creating Passionate Citizens that I would recommend you watch. Who knew that pets were a gateway drug to passion?  Video of Kathy’s talk at Gov 2.0 Expo.

There is lots of other video from the expo.

11. The more things change the more they stay the same

Web 2.0 technology is fun and amazing but when you get right down to it, social networks are about connecting people, and people connect (or not) depending on how well they communicate. There is noting new about that.

There is also nothing new about the power struggles going on all over the place. A disruption is underway and people are seeking advantage. What I think is different this time, is the potential for the “power of the masses” to be put to work on positive change.  Millions of people can now come together at very little cost. I am excited about what can happen, and worried that it won’t.

I have to stop now, there is more, lots more but now its your turn.

This post also appears on govloop


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 Conference, Culture, Gov 2.0, Web 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Thom’s Top Ten #g2e 2010 edition

  1. Ah. That big, enormous elephant. Culture. It really is a culture change that is needed for the PS to be more innovative. But culture in an org as large as the Canadian government is a big boat to turn … it takes time and persistence — on everyone’s part.


    • ThomKearney says:

      Agreed, it does take patience and maybe a sharp stick or two with which to gently poke the elephant!


    • cdh86 says:

      I agree, but at the same time, it can be helpful to break it down a little. Part of the resistance is that we’re not sure of the consequences. However, we see some smaller agencies and departments that are experiencing huge success which is helping build momentum for a culture shift.

      It’s why communities like #w2p, or the broader engaged PS community, is so helpful in pushing forth this message. By helping someone in a different department achieve success, we nudge ourselves that much closer to the tipping point.


      • ThomKearney says:

        Pointing to examples of success shows the rewards that make the risk worthwhile.

        #w2p is incredibly valuable in breaking down the barriers between silos. I think it is one of the few genuine communities of practice around. The question I think the higher-ups are grappling with at the moment is how to react to the momentum you are creating.


  2. @TariqPiracha says:

    I really like the 10th point: people will engage for their reasons, not yours. It’s a good reminder for public servants where their focus should lie. It also reminds me of web usability. Design and implement web sites for the user. Good websites find out what people need and facilitate the accomplishment of that task that needs to be completed. Same principle.


    • ThomKearney says:

      Well said. It is a principle we should all keep in mind whenever we want anyone to do anything! Something I have to keep reminding myself of. Recently I heard a term that I liked. Make the user interface Super Simple!


  3. @suesanpd says:

    Thanks Thom – All your takeaways from g2e are great food for thought. On point number 6 , i think culture change is of course a critical element of Gov 2.0 or web 2.0 for Gov implementation. We know that change needs to be managed, and that there are known ways to do this – having a vision for what the future looks like and communicating that vision is key i think. The other thing that perhaps we are a little reticent to state is that change is becoming more & more constant (if that makes sense)- Organisations and the people who run them and work within them need to be agile and capable of constant change – this is i think bigger than a shift from one culture to another in the traditional sense, it is a shift towards an understanding that the culture is change – we need changing organisations much in the way we have or have accepted the idea of learning organisations. There is an interesting set of articles on Managing Change in June 2010’s Harvard Business Review that have got me thinking…


    • ThomKearney says:

      I think there is a proverb, “the only constant is change”. I first heard the story when I was in grade 7 and throughout my life it is the one thing I can say has held steadfast. We often imagine change to be from one steady state to another steady state. But as you say, the reality is one of continuous evolution, a river of change we all need to learn to navigate. I believe I have that copy of HBR, now I have to read it.


  4. @mpeers says:

    Kate Lundy is pretty kool.

    My takeaway is the points about Manor. Their site seems so simple, but behind it is a whole re-branding/re-development initiative. Interesting thing about websites like this, it requires that groups in the smaller city/town administrations get their stuff together and share it. I wonder: could province’s help smaller places (big cities are fine on their own!) work toward Gov 2.0 through website redevelopment/simplification? Maybe small teams of roving provincial servants getting the province online… which sorta slowly leads to your comment about big systems. You’re right. Watch out! That’s why open specifications are more important than open source/software, etc. I think the Open311 initiative is a great example. Everyone can build differently and freely, as long as the specifications are the same.


    • ThomKearney says:

      Bang on. I did not mention it, but there was lots of talk about open standards. Open311, open maps, standards for open data…lots of work to do.


  5. Digital Chief says:

    The generation of leaders that are in place now were defined by the era of bottom lines and management by spreadsheet. Their decision model was based around measurement that asked; is it core, is cost effective, analytical and compartmentalized. They are not prepared (for the most part) for the challenges of a transparent cultured, a movement that cannot be measured with a tradition budget spread sheet. It will take time and patience, but as we live in the environment things will changes as the must and as they always have.. (the w2p’ers will see to that)


    • @thomkearney says:

      I was thinking just this afternoon that one of the greatest challenges facing those folks is dealing with control issue. Giving up control, (or the illusion of it), is exceptionally difficult for some and represents a true paradigm shift.


  6. Mike Gifford says:

    That’s a great list Thom. Just thought it would be worth adding that the .gov URL shortener is done with the following Drupal module

    It would be pretty straight forward (technically) to replicate this & have a

    There’s an easy precedent to follow.


  7. @suesanpd says:

    A little extra requirement is that the GC url shortener needs to be bilingual – i know that GC ppl all know this but others (i.e. non GC or from US or elsewhere may not)


    • Mike Gifford says:

      @suesanpd – Fortunately that’s not a problem for Drupal. Language & CLF’s accessibility requirements can be fairly easily met using existing technology.

      I haven’t tested the URL shortener, but can’t see that there would be any specific problems that would be tied to that.

      There are some potential enhancement that can be done however.

      1) It would be great if the redirection site could alert people from the outside if they are going to an internal GoC link like GCPedia that they can’t otherwise see.

      2) I’d like to see some monitoring for dead links or links with potential security problems. This shouldn’t be a hassle though.

      3) It would be good if there was an open policy about traffic analysis of the links used in these URL shorteners. Any external shrinking site will be monitoring the traffic & a GoC site should be doing the same (but need to be transparent about it).

      I suppose the module could be extended to assess whether the page is english or french & include a prefix to the URL, but I don’t think this would be beneficial.


  8. ellengrove says:

    Culture is the elephant in the room – check!
    People will engage for their reasons, not yours – check!

    It’s really hard to effect any kind of lasting change unless you can provide people with the input/experience they need to convince themselves that the new way (whatever it is) will be more successful than the old way. This is particulary difficult if they think the old way worked OK for them. It takes patience, enthusiasm, patience, persistence, patience, compassion, patience, understanding, patience, creativity, patience, pig-headedness, patience, respect, patience….or perhaps a really big stick that allows you to make big environmental changes that compel new ways of acting in order to bring people to new ways of thinking.

    Great post — I will need to come back here to delve more deeply into some of the links.


  9. Todd Lyons says:

    An excellent, muchly appreciated roundup for those of us suffering from an anaemic travel budget. Keep ’em coming, Thom. I’ll continue to enjoy vicariously.


  10. deepishthoughts says:

    Very useful insights Thom, and only one that i would take issue with: Big systems are coming as IT departments get involved in web20, but this is a bad thing. Big systems are almost always stovepipe creators, especially for the enterprise. They take time and dedicated effort and a single minded focus to get up and running. Web20 tools tend to be smaller accessible systems that you grow to larger ones and I hope this continue. On the other hand the cloud is different.


    • Thom Kearney says:

      Agreed that the big systems that create stovepipes are bad. But thinking about the whole is good! And a big open system, or rather ecosystems in the cloud are probably a good thing.


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