Are public servants “connected”?

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I’ve always been bad at introductions and this blog post will not be any different. The idea for this post has been floating in my head for several months but I’ve only realized the inspiration for it recently. I’ve always said that this blog will be on subjects as they come to mind and so if you’ve come expecting something on project management, I hate to disappoint you.

So what do I mean when I say “are public servants connected”? The very question lends itself to broad interpretation. Public servants are becoming increasingly connected through internal social media tools such as GCPedia, GCConnex and through several internal tools such as the Business Enterprise Enabler (BEE) as provided in Health Canada. While these tools represent a dramatic shift for the use of social tools by public servants, we are still lagging behind our counterparts in the private sector who have embraced and collaborate on social platforms.

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But the use of social tools internally is one small piece of the bigger puzzle. Public servants are not connected internally in their own department let alone across the different departments. As many public servants can relate, the federal public service is largely “siloed”, that is to say that public servants often have limited interaction with individuals outside of their program. While I can’t speak for the entire public service, my own personal observation is that the federal public service is missing a grand opportunity for unheard of innovation, collaboration and efficiency by not providing the tools or encouragement for public servants to break down their silos and connect. The Institute of Public Administration in Canada launched an initiative called [email protected]:

[email protected] is about ensuring that today’s federal public service can keep pace with change and meet future challenges. The public service workforce must evolve and must test new ways of working that break down silos and promote more collaboration as issues increasingly cross organizational and other boundaries.”

The federal public service must continue to break down silos to be successful in the future, to keep up with the pace of change and to continue to be effective. With this idea in mind, I embarked on a search to discover what opportunities were avaliable to me as a public servant for networking, having policy discussions, associations/groups that facilitated public servant discussions and professional events.What I found was a loss string of events that represented specialized areas of interest. For example, Health Canada offers a young networking event once a year, and several communities of practice in specialized areas of policy, grants and contributions etc. that offer events like lunch and learns and policy discussions. However, these events were infrequent, not well known and were strictly for Health Canada employees.

As a public servant, there is no group who offers the following for the public servants in Ottawa:

– Regular networking events attracting public servants from all departments/agencies

– Regular policy and public administration related discussions to connect public servants in person both during regular working hours and outside of working hours on evenings/weekends.

– A way to contribute and submit ideas, to innovate, to collaborate in order to improve government, the public service, public administration. Examples include: crowdsourcing, microtasks, ideation platforn etc.

– A social online way to connect to public servants across government in order to start and then continue ongoing dialogue about key topics relevant to public servants. For example: Linkedin board discussions, Twitter chats etc.

– An information repository to store and collect all of this information for use by future public servants.

No group exists who can provide this to public servants. There are several challenges that have prevented such an idea from taking off or someone would have made a group already. Despite these challenges, I believe the very social media tools we want our governments to use are the key to connecting public servants and creating the organization to connect them. The solution lies in the very concepts we want our government to use: microtasking, crowdsourcing, Twitter, blogs etc.

This blog post is but the first step to making this a reality. Public servants who are interested in creating a group to meet the needs of the 21st century bureaucrat need to use the very tools of the 21st century to make the idea a reality. The public service can and will break down the silos by using the power of social media.

Are public servants connected? That might not be the right question. Are public servants collaborating outside of their silos in order to create the public service of the 21st century who will be able to serve Canadians more efficiently and effectively? Will the public service be able to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving Canadian public? Only time will tell but connecting them through a group whose sole purpose is to connect public servants is a step that can’t hurt.

Scott McNaughton, originally published on http://thenewbureaucracy.ca

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