Canada’s Open Government? What about the F-35?

Let’s face it. We’ve got to get this right. Our economy and the future of children depend on it. It’s called an open and transparent government.

Canada has taken some steps forward in the last year. We are members of the Open Government Partnership. As such we have a commitment and action plan for becoming open and transparent. But we have a long way to go.

Kudos to the fifth estate for their excellent investigative broadcast on the F-35 controversy. It’s a shame that our government procurement system is so broken. It seems like the larger the price tag, the more room for corruption and cronyism. I mean if this was a procurement for a $1 M there would be more transparency and accountability for the decisions being made. At least, a government official would be available for interview. In this case (for a $25 B, and rising, procurement), the Royal Canadian Air Force presented the F-35 as the best option with key missing information from the competing aircraft.

Then, according to the fifth estate, when Canada decided to sole-source the F-35, the government based its decision on subsequent information obtained from the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter’s office who will benefit the most from the Canadian sale.

Photo credit: Defense Industry Daily

In his interview with the fifth estate, Pierre Spring, an ivy league “systems genius” who was a designer of the F-16 (the most successful U.S. fighter) is convinced that the F-35 is “inherently a terrible airplane” based on a “terrible idea.” It will not be successful as a combat plane or as a bomber. “The point is to spend money. That is the real mission of this airplane … to send money to Lockheed Martin,” says Spring.

A procurement process like this needs to be transparent, otherwise we do not know whether the government is acting in the interest of taxpayers.

We need to ask why the following people refused to be interviewed by the fifth estate for their investigation: Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Deputy Defence Minister Robert Fonberg, Associate Defence Minister Bernard Valcourt, Assistant Deputy Defence Minister (Materiel) Dan Ross, Chief Financial Officer, National Defence, Kevin Lindsey, Tony Clement, Industry Minister from 2008 to 2011,Lieutenant General Andre Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff … the list goes on.

Canadians need to demand this transparency. We need to hold our government accountable. Otherwise, we are not taking responsibility for ourselves and for future generations of Canadians.

So what can we do? I suggest we unite online. Join a Facebook page. Demand transparency for the F-35 initiative from our elected government officials. Stop the bleeding, if that is what is required.

Gov 2.0 is not (just) Government as a Platform

Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet.

Before a presentation this week on how I use twitter to advocate for Gov 2.0 someone asked me: What is Gov 2.0?

I explained that Gov 2.0 is the next generation of government. It is a public service renewal where government becomes more efficient, responsive, and open to citizens. It is a recognition that we (public servants and citizens) are all in it together.

I told him about the launch of British Columbia’s new open data portal Data BC and a citizen-focused internet site this week. Along with increasingly more governments around the world, the Province of BC is committed to becoming more open, transparent and citizen-centric.

Gov 2.0 is about working with citizens to solve the really big issues that government can’t handle alone like health care, climate change, jobs, the economy, drug addiction, crime and poverty. It is a paradigm shift and, with enough citizen engagement, it is a societal transformation that includes citizens in governmental deliberation and decision making.

I didn’t tell him about Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Government 2.0 as “government as a platform.” O’Reilly, a forward thinker and the founder of O’Reilly Media, explains: “Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”

I’m a big fan of Tim O’Reilly. He is talking about how Government 2.0 makes use of the Web 2.0 platform technologies (cloud computing, collective intelligence apps, social media, mobile devices) to provide services to citizens. At the same time, he says, government needs to move away from being a ‘vending machine government‘ (where taxpayers put in money and government delivers complete, finished services) to being a collaborative government that works with citizens to create value. What I like is Tim’s call to action: “As technologists … we can do our part to be bold, to be brave, and think fresh because that is what will make a platform for greatness.”

Vending Maching Government

But I think we risk losing people when we talk about government as a platform. Gov 2.0 is not just about technology. The revolution was sparked by technology, and technology enables it, but Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet. Gov 2.0 is about people being passionate and making changes for the collective good. Its success is more dependent on trust and people being willing to authentically share and participate, than it is on the latest social media tool. Even the name ‘Gov 2.0’ connotes technology, the second major revision of software. Sometimes I use the term ‘open government’ because it is more accessible for non-techies.

Let’s face it, we collectively have some large issues to address, and the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough technology or communication media. The challenge is that people need to come together and contribute through the technology to address the big issues. The challenge for government is that we need to build trust. We need to be transparent, engage with the public, understand their concerns, listen to their needs, harness their diverse expertise, be inclusive, provide value, and follow through on promises (walk the talk). As citizens, we need to become more involved, stand for something, understand the issues, lead change, share authentically, and know what we are passionate about and make a difference.

In British Columbia, as in many parts of the world, we are in exciting times and moving in the right direction. Sure, we have big challenges and a long way to become more transparent and build trust, but we are taking big strides in the right direction.

Innovative Gov 2.0 – Turning it Upside Down

Think differently.

It turns out that even creative, out-of-the-box thinking follows certain laws and principles. This is a good thing. In government, we are challenged not to pave the cow path. What does the future of Gov 2.0 look like? How do we think differently about providing valuable services to citizens?

Genrikh Altshuller noticed a pattern to creative thinking. As a clerk in a Russian patent office processing 40,000 patents between 1946 and 1969, he realized that inventions and patentable ideas follow predictable laws of evolution. Altshuller postulated TRIZ (the Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) as a model that describes how technical systems evolve towards their increased ideality by overcoming contradictions.

My intention here is to apply the principles of TRIZ to think creatively about the possible advancements of Gov 2.0 and the next stage in its evolution.

According to TRIZ, technology evolves by overcoming contradictions. In order to predict the evolution of Gov 2.0, let’s consider a contradiction that must be solved. Data is a good example. Worldwide data is growing exponentially. Even as the technology to store and access data is becoming more efficient and cheaper, data growth remains IT’s biggest challenge (according to Gartner). As part of the open data movement, government data is increasingly more available to citizens. Data is a good. Data is the foundation of information, and information provides value to citizens. The contradiction arises when you begin to think of citizen’s valuable time. The more data (and information) that is available, more often than not, the more time it takes to find, and the more costly it is to distribute.

How do we improve the productivity of citizens looking for information and services via Gov 2.0 and, at the same time, ensure they have access to the growing stores of data they need to find that information?

With contradiction in hand, we use the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix to determine which TRIZ principle may be considered to trigger innovation for Gov 2.0. Using ‘productivity’ as an improving feature and ‘loss of information’ as the worsening feature of the contradiction, one output of the Contradiction Matrix is the invention principle turn the process upside down.

We tend to think of Gov 2.0 as government informing (or creating services for) the public. If we turn this upside down and look at it from this new perspective, we can consider the public informing (or producing services) for government. Hmm … interesting view. We already do this by exposing data for citizens to write code for as part of the open government data movement. But to turn the whole process upside down? Can we crowdsource government? Data, information, applications, and even policy would be managed by citizens. The implication would be government light or, taken to the furthest point on the spectrum, no government at all.

Realistically, government is here to stay. In Canada’s federal election earlier this month, we had only a 61.4% of all eligible voters turn out for a 15 minute commitment may only occur once every four years. Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” assumes an engaged citizenry. But voter apathy is partly a result of antiquated government practices. Perhaps turning it upside down is the answer. We need to organize government so that citizens can participate. Gov 2.0 and the open government data movement is a start in the right direction. To take it a step further, government data should be open by default. Furthermore, decision makers and the decision making process need to be transparent. We need to leverage Gov 2.0 to lower transaction costs so that citizens engage in policy and decision making.

When it comes down to it, the purpose of government is to serve citizens. Turning it upside down suggests the best way to do is to listen, facilitate, enable, and then, in some cases, get out of the way. Democratization and decentralization of government through Gov 2.0 can reduce the overhead and cost of government services and enable citizens to participate in their democratic right, not once every four years but on a much more regular basis. Only then will “government of the people, by the people, for the people” ring true.

5 Objections to Social Media in Government … and their Responses

How do we address the typical objections that we hear at government decision-making tables about the use of social media in government? Let’s face it, in any government organization there will be a mix of decision-makers who recognize the value of social media tools in government, and those who don’t. Here is a table of typical objections to social media in government and some suggested responses.

 Objection

 Response

 1. Employees will waste their time on Facebook and other social networks. This is a question of trust. The same objection was raised for the telephone. If you don’t trust your employees, you are micromanaging them. Trust them, give them autonomy, and watch productivity and engagement metrics soar.
 2. What is the business value of social media? I’ve blogged about this before. From a high level, improved:

  1. Citizen engagement
  2. Employee engagement
  3. Communication and collaboration

Social media is a powerful platform that helps government expand service delivery channels, improve online customer services, and communicate directly with constituents on the web.

The best way to introduce the value of Gov 2.0 to decision-makers is to start small with one social media channel to address a single business problem. Put your energy into the initiative and make it work, preferable with performance measures. Then go back to the excutive table with your success.

Repeat.

 3. What about privacy concerns? Go to where the public already is: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, for example. Citizens have already shared their personal information with these social media sites. You are only engaging in conversations whey they are. Obviously, do not share entrusted personal information over the internet. In a public social network (like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter) facilitated by federal, provincial or local government, encourage participants to provide feedback, and upload pictures and video. Be sure of your privacy laws before uploading citizen personal information, including videos, photos and opinions. Check out British Columbia’s Social Media Guidelines as a starting point, understanding that every jurisdiction will have different privacy laws.
 4. How do I control  official government communications?  You still can. Think of social media as just another communication channel, like the telephone, front counter, and website.
 5. What about the ROI? A lot has been written about this. Google “ROI” and “Gov 2.0” or check out this article on Gov 2.0 metrics. The most important point here is that you don’t use social media for the sake of social media. You need a business problem you want to address with social media. For example, employee engagement, improved collaboration, or citizen engagement. You need a specific purpose like updating citizens on the progress of a natural disaster such as forest fires or floods, or perhaps the outbreak of a dangerous virus. There is a new Microsoft Excel-based tool that can be used by government agencies to quickly assess the public value of their Gov 2.0 initiative.

Social Media Improves Communication and Collaboration in Government

Continuing on the theme of my last posts, namely the value proposition of social media for government, today I will discuss the how social media improves communication and collaboration.

Social media is a powerful communication channel that enables government to communicate and collaborate more effectively externally and internally. Social media greatly reduces the transaction costs of communication and cuts through traditional organizational and communication barriers.

Social media reduces the government’s transaction costs of producing results by:

  1. Reducing the requirement for email
  2. Reducing the requirement for meetings
  3. Finding expertise/passion from within and outside of government to crowdsource initiatives

Social media also reduces the requirement for top-down management because social media channels are often moderated and directed by the community.

Public service renewal and transformation will only happen when we can harness the expertise and passion of public servants. Social media allows for the focusing and the collaboration of public servants and citizens without the high traditional costs of directing them in that effort.

Government must learn to be lighter and more effective. We must harness the passion of public servants to serve citizens. We must learn to break down walls and cut through traditional communication boundaries and bureaucracy.

The private sector is often held up as a model in government when considering how to better serve customers (citizens) and reduce costs. While the private sector certainly has efficiencies that government could benefit from, government has something the private sector does not have. We have public servants whose mission is to serve citizens. We are driven by making the world a better place. Given the opportunity and the means to make a difference, we do.

Social media allows for the voices of public servants and citizens to be heard. It enables passion and expertise of the many to be directed into results.

The Why of Social Media (part 2)

When thinking about citizen and employee engagement and how we can all work together to address complex issues such as climate change, homelessness and healthcare, to name a few, consider what motivates people and how we can enable them to do what they do best: contribute.

Understanding human motivation is the foundation of improving citizen and employee engagement. Why do people like to use social media? (Recapping from last post.) People want …

  1. To contribute
  2. To be part of something larger than themselves
  3. To make the world a better place

This is not so say I’m a pollyanna. I understand that some people (maybe 5%?) do not have other people’s interest at heart. I understand that social media is used to develop and spread maleware, viruses and spam, for example. Social media can be used to waste corporate time and to organize organized crime. But the majority of people (say 95%) want to help make the world a better place. In fact, when given the opportunity, most people are passionate about making a difference.

Hundreds of examples are out there, from Wikipedia to Linux, InnoCentive to Threadless, blogs to flash mobs, Ushahidi to a multitude of open source/open data applications that benefit citizens. People contribute to these projects because they are passionate about what they are contributing and understand the value of sharing their effort and expertise to a worthwhile cause they believe in.

When you wake up in the morning and you know that you are contributing to something worthwhile that makes a difference, you wake up with enthusiasm and a smile.

I worked for years in the private sector before coming to the public sector. What impressed me about working for in the BC Public Service was that I could make a difference. I took to heart the Oath of Service, especially the part: “Act with integrity, putting the interests of the public and the public service above my own personal interest.”

I was struck by the fact that we are all working for a common cause: to provide value to the citizens of BC. The vision of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has evolved over time, but when I started we were all pulling in the same direction to:

  1. Enable better business outcomes for the citizens of BC
  2. Reduce carbon emissions
  3. Support an anticipated smaller workforce due to demographics (retirements)

In October, 2010, the BC Government released Citizens @ the Centre: Government 2.0 which provided an updated strategy for transformation and technology for the BC Public Service and is centred on three shifts:

  1. Citizen Participation
  2. Service Innovation (citizen-centric)
  3. Business Innovation

Citizens @ the Centre is exciting because this is strategy not just for the OCIO, but for all of the BC Public Service put out by the Deputy Minister’s Council for Transformation and Technology.

The Why of Social Media (part 1)

Yesterday in at the Advanced Learning Institutes Social Media in Government Conference in Vancouver, I talked about the why of social media. I’ve based my thoughts on Simon Sinek’s golden circle (see TED Talk) of 3 concentric rings of why, how and what. Simon talks about the importance of why in marketing products. (The why motivates people to buy). Most companies start with the what and then move to the how. For example, a car manufacturer’s what: We sell great cars. Their how: We have leather seats, mp3 players, sportscar suspension, and great gas mileage. Most companies don’t even have a why. Profit is not a why; it is a result.

Sinek uses Apple as an example of a company that starts with why. Apple’s why (‘why’ is always a belief): We believe in doing things differently. We believe in challenging the status quo. Their how: We challenge the status quo by making products that are easy to use, beautifully designed, and user friendly. Their what: We make great computers. Want to buy one? Compelling.

Social media is the same way. Whether you are thinking about engaging customers, citizens or employees, start with the why. The why for social media is that people want:

  1. To contribute
  2. To be part of something bigger than themselves
  3. To make the world a better place

The how is Social media. Sharing authentically and passionately about what matters (to the person sharing).

The what is blogging, microblogging, tweets, status updates, uploading video and photos.

The golden circle for social media looks like this:

Golden Circle for Social Media