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Are Civil Servants Too Old and Selfish for Government 2.0?

Maybe we should give up on this quest for a "government 2.0" or "open government." Maybe the people in senior positions are, well, just that - too "senior." Or maybe it's that most public servants just aren't that interested in being collaborative, transparent or participatory.

Of course, you know me well enough to understand that I don't espouse that view at all. But the title of this post is a paraphrase - possible an even more accurate labeling - of a blog post by Stephen Dale in which he asks "Are Civil Servants Made for Social Media?" Here are some excerpts from his thoughts:

"...thinking of the UK demographic of public sector employees, I think that majority of the decision makers fall into the Baby Boomer category (born 1940's to early '60's) than Generation X (born 1960s- 1970's), and it's these decision makers that are primarily responsible for blocking access to social media in their departments. They see no impact or consequence of blocking social media because they don't use it, either for work or personal use. Regrettably, they are limiting the opportunities for their departments to engage with the increasing number of citizens of all ages who are using social media, and risk creating departmental 'ghetos', isolated from the conversations that may have some direct relevance to them.

In addition to this generational issue, I also had an exchange with someone yesterday in which they said, "it is ungodly hard to move a collaborative project forward in gov - as Nick Charney has said, some people are wired to share. Most, I'm beginning to think, are not :( "

So between these two proposed issues - government employees nearing retirement who don't get (and don't want to get!) social media and an entrenched bureaucratic culture that's wired to hoard vs. wired to share information - are we fighting an uphill battle? Are the forces of inertia and stagnancy stronger than the momentum and velocity of the Gov 2.0/OpenGov movement such that people will grow tired and give up the fight?

I hope not...but I am seeing signs that some are growing weary.

What do you think? Where are you?

Views: 58

Tags: 2, communications, jobs, tech


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Comment by Gary Berg-Cross on April 24, 2010 at 8:12pm
One follow on to Henry's observation that "in the process we inevitably give in to 'the demands of psychopolitics.' That is, we let all the interpersonal stuff get in the way of real execution."

There is quite a bit of psychologiocal reasons to use social media.Doug Firebaugh discuused 7 of them in "Social Media Marketing-The Psychology of Social Media-The 7 A’s"

We may all be subject to them but things like social status and connectedness may influence how much. Senior managers may not need acclaim or achknowledgement as junior staff. They have already been noticed (personality differences aside).

But we all want to be included in things- something that is happening that is bigger than we are. If this is where the action is, we want to be a part. Of course this is a chicken and egg issue since older civil servants may not believe this is where the real action is, but if they did and got engaged it might become the action point for change.
Comment by Henry Brown on April 12, 2010 at 4:52am
Since this blog posting has taken several turns, one of which is moderating comments thought I would share this article from April 12 New York Times which MIGHT mean that this blog MIGHT give a whole new meaning to "Most Commented blogs"
Comment by Sheryl Grant on April 9, 2010 at 7:57pm
@Harlan I think that would be a good question to ask Stephen Dale who wrote the post about senior civil servants (who were first identified as Gen Xers, btw). Dale shifted the original observation to his own experience in the UK, which may/may not have an older demographic in senior positions than the US.

I took the post to refer to blocking access to social media, and I'm curious what others here think about current metrics for ROI for social media. There are endless analytical tools, but many are cringe-worthy.
Comment by Andrew Krzmarzick on April 9, 2010 at 2:32pm
Hey @Jack!! Awesome to hear from you! I agree - the answer is a resounding NO! The title is meant to be provocative (vs. offensive ;-) highlight the reality that it's not about age; it's about attitude. See the full thread for @Bowen's introduction of pants (or lack thereof) into the conversation.

But individuals adapt to their surroundings, right? So the organization and it's leadership do play a major part in changing culture...individuals can try all they want...but it requires some macro-level might in an organization to move things in a new direction, eh?
Comment by John Peppard on April 9, 2010 at 10:53am
The simple answer no. Everyone is interested in good leadership, effective government, good communication, developmental opportunity. The question as posed somewhat offensive. Pants - dress code is not the question. Sharing, learning and being open starts with individuals, not with organizations.
Comment by Amanda Blount on April 9, 2010 at 10:20am
@Andy - If I were your neighbor, I would have a camera ready at all times! :-)

@Barry - See above! LOL :-) And yes, be careful of the ones who survived the 60s, it can get interesting in all generations.

@Henry - ":It's not an X or Y thing; it's a how thing. " - WELL SAID!!!

@Sheryl - great stuff to think about

@ Alex - Good luck in your run for office.
Comment by Alex Steed on April 8, 2010 at 9:47am
I just want to thank everyone involved here. This has been an EXTREMELY helpful conversation to be privy to.
Comment by Sheryl Grant on April 8, 2010 at 9:45am
David Ferriero (AotUS) wrote a blog recently that captures some of our discussion here.

"...optimism agreed to by the experts indicates their belief that the internet will prompt institutional change, but is contrasted with the same experts’ concerns that:

'Government agencies are cumbersome and resistant to change. The pace of progress towards openness and responsiveness will be slower than anyone would hope.'

In my first few months on the job, I’ve seen some resistance to change, but that has been outmatched by what I see as a wellspring of enthusiasm for changes to our agency."

Ferriero goes on to write, "We risk losing our memory as a country if we cannot meet the challenges of electronic records management. The fact is, without good records management, it is impossible for us to learn from the past and plan for the future. This concern is deeply American."

I think this comment could be adapted to anything Gov 2.0, no?
Comment by Henry Brown on April 8, 2010 at 7:01am
Suspect that this blog posting from HBR MIGHT have at least some relevance to this thread/blog

The Misunderstood Gen X Manager
Author: Roberta Fusaro

A quick skim through just a few of the discussions taking place on the HBR Answer Exchange's live event with Tammy Erickson suggests there's a whole lot of misunderstanding going on between Generation X managers and their Boomer and Gen Y colleagues and supervisors.

Dress codes, goals and expectations, and office politics are all on the docket.

Sound familiar?

I'd love to believe it's all about Gen X; yes, I'm a card-carrying member of that sandwiched, sidestepped set. But these and other conversations appearing on the Exchange are fundamentally about communication in the workforce. More directly, they're about how tribes of people in companies (whether they're organized by function, age, geography, or whatever) get things done.

I'm generously paraphrasing the psychoanalyst Abraham Zaleznik here, but whether it's high school, Main Street, or Wall Street, we all self-identify with others for good and various reasons; we establish codes and rituals within our groups; and in the process we inevitably give in to "the demands of psychopolitics." That is, we let all the interpersonal stuff get in the way of real execution.

That's really what people are talking about on the HBR Answer Exchange this week, and every week. They're trying to find ways to cut through their differences and get things done.

It's not an X or Y thing; it's a how thing.
Comment by Barry Everett on April 8, 2010 at 12:34am
First off, I'm not wearing pants right now. ;-)

Secondly, I'm an old guy, but I believe that dinosaurs come in all ages. Maybe an anachronism, some say I'm a fossil, but I believe that I'm one of a new 60's generation - in our 60's and of the 60's. You know, before we temporarily lost the vote to revisionist no-good-niks. I had lost the fervor of political activism for almost 40 years. I got it back on 11/8/08.

Lastly, just hide and watch as the best of the oldsters hook up with the rest of the youngsters, and together we re-weave the fabric of this democracy. The new revisionists are no better than the old ones. Hamilton was a Federalist. Jefferson was not a Communist. McCarthy was just wrong. In every era of this country we have fought the fear and loathing and ignorance of small, selfish thinkers. We can whip them, and we can do it without pants. Nuff said. Good night.

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