It’s time to explain the cow…


It’s about listening

At the beginning of this year, I was deep into engagement around creating Canada’s next plan for open government.

As part of this process, I was promoting events on the twitter and one of my tweets caught the attention of someone up the chain. Apparently, there was some concern that I insulting people in Cattle country, as we had recently returned from workshops in Regina and Edmonton.  I don’t know the details or the thinking behind it,  all of this happened above my pay grade and my management had the good sense not to bring it to me at the time. I only heard about it because apparently, it came up in one of Alex Benay’s regular “Ask Me Anything” events and someone related it to me.   I believe this is the tweet in question.

I view engagement as an exercise in institutional listening and the cow is an important part of that. Those of you that have been to one of my workshops have probably met Moo the interrupting cow. Moo is a facilitation device that introduces some humour to help participants be heard. I use it, along with some dog slides to set the stage for group discussion.

It goes something like this.  I would like to introduce you to Moo, the interpreting cow. Moo is the result of a knock, knock joke my kids told me years ago…sometimes a participant knows the joke which begins to engage folks. Anyway, the deal with Moo is that when you are in working in a group and someone is dominating the conversation, you can toss the cow (metaphorically) at the person to let them know it is time to let others talk.  I sometimes will give the cow to one of my colleagues to toss at me if I run over.

I am writing about this because this incident reminds me of our tendency in the public service to try and eliminate risk in everything we do. Unfortunately, this also sucks the fun out of everything we do.  AND FUN IS IMPORTANT!  Especially if you are trying to come up with creative solutions to challenging problems.

Pretty sure there is some research on this and, certainly in my experience as a facilitator and teacher I have learned that if you can make an exercise fun, you will generally get better results.  Others seem to agree, at GovMaker 2017, Hillary from Ontario expressed interest so I sent her one of my backup cows as a gift because I know they are working hard at listening as well.

But the most important thing about the cow is that it is part of a process that leads to results like this: I felt heard - nice work!

I have done a lot of engagement work over the years and this is the desired result. I am also pretty sure that if more Canadians felt this way about their interactions with government things wouldn’t be so scary for our democracy these days.

What do you think?

p.s. If you like the story about the cow and listening you may also be interested in learning about the ducks and enterprise alignment. 

 

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About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
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One Response to It’s time to explain the cow…

  1. R Benson says:

    The reason we often fail to connect with Canadians as a government is that we obsessively vet and sanitize everything as well as the ways we do it, watering down out our outreach into a bland spoon-feeding of consultative pablum. As a result, that’s how they see us – and worse, our initiatives.

    Plus as with most things in life, you get what you give. With risk comes reward; with risk-aversion comes…very little. Plus our responsiveness suffers from the many layers of “Hmmm…”.

    Not that you should swing the other way and be free-wheeling either…but in an era when other formerly-stodgy institutions like banks (and even other levels of government) can produce edgy social media content and build virtual personas which foster entirely new markets and perspectives across their audiences, I’m convinced there’s a middle ground where we can speak to Canadians in a way that is both engaging and not hackle-raising. This is one of my favourite examples: https://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombie/index.htm

    Leave it to a stuffed animal to be our muse on the ludicrousness of leaders being risk-averse in perhaps one of the most risk-tolerant jobs on the planet. Yes a lot of the sensitivity comes from political masters – but a true fearless leader should be far more concerned with serving the public than climbing the ladder as quickly as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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