Christopher Wilson & Assoc.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

GovCamp 2010

Great experience yesterday with Govcamp at the University of Ottawa. Co-hosted by Microsoft and CIPS the event explored the application of web 2.0 and other social media to government and the implications for government transformation, public service renewal, open data, government-business-citizen collaboration, citizen-centred service, public engagement and many other broad topics. This rich conversation, dubbed an 'unconference', was orchestrated by Mark Kuznicki and the team at Change Camp.

Some of the interesting stories emerging from those conversations included:

Seeing the adoption of social media tools as part of an ongoing and fundamental culture change in governments and how they organize themselves as organizations. As speaker David Eaves commented, current governments in Canada tend to operate like Kmart did, seeing itself as only a retailer (it's now defunct) when they should be operating like Walmart which sees itself as a data manger and partner facilitator. The biggest public asset of governments is usually the information they collect. Unfortunately they are neither good at managing that data internally or using it to stimulate public welfare. Speaker Marj Akerley from TBSC emphasized that that the web 2.0 was unquestionably a culture change and not a technology change. This culture change has now been given the formal go ahead with the encouragement of the Clerk of the Privy Council and will only gain ground as policy entrepreneurs across government experiment and share their experiences.

Governments know they do not have the resources to do everything that their citizens want even if politicians say otherwise. The logical consequence of this is to engage citizens and non-government organizations to partner in the work that needs doing, said Guy Michaud, CIO for the City of Ottawa. This is evident in the open data movement that is flourishing in some countries, especially the USA, and in some Canadian municipal governments like Ottawa and Vancouver.

The move to engage citizens more actively in the affairs of government will have significant consequences for rethinking the relationship between governments and their citizens. Engagement happens when there is access to information; when there is sufficient education for online citizenship; when there are multiple avenues for participation; when the conversation is two-way; and when citizens can have evidence that their participation matters. While from the perspective of government getting others to do work that would otherwise be done by government may seem like a great idea, there is a quid for that quo. People will demand greater and greater access to information -- unfiltered information, as is currently the practice, so they can come to their own decisions. That presents a huge risk in the context of our adversarial and some say quite dysfunctional system of governing. Unless greater access to information is also tied to an increased capacity for collective learning and shared accountability, don't expect radical changes, however, to the small and partisan displays of political behaviour.

But citizens will also want a place at the governance table. They will want to contribute to policy and not just be the object of policy formation by others. Power sharing with citizens ... citizens as partners. That may mean more participatory democracy which politicians in Canada have rejected on several occasions. It may mean redefining the role of elected representatives, encouraging them to take on a more convening, educating and facilitating role amongst their publics. It might also mean setting up a parallel system of online conversations to balance parliamentary debates which are increasingly unrepresentative of either Canadians or their learning and working together.

Lastly, a big underlying theme of the day centred on the idea of collaboration: collaborations within governments, across governments, with industry, with NGOs and community groups and with citizens. The non-news was that governments generally don't do collaboration well. However, it was evident that everyone seemed to have some story of successful collaboration and there was agreement that these stories needed to be re-told again and again as a tool for affecting culture change. It also seemed evident that more attention must be given to developing the skills and knowledge for the successful practice of collaboration rather than learning them on the fly.

If we want to make any kind of transformative change, then we have to do it together. And that working together begins like yesterday with a conversation exploring the possibilities and trying to understand our common ground. In that regard, yesterday was a well begun effort towards more collaborative government.

The proceedings yesterday were streamed online via FusedLogic TV. Hopefully they will archive it.

As a secondary resource you might enjoy the following documentary film on social media and mass collaboration, entitled UsNow.