Sad realisations

When I first started this blog, I wrote it because I wanted to share what I knew – because I knew some stuff other people seemed to need/want to know and keeping it all to myself seemed wrong.

I joined Twitter around the same time, and there was a big group of people in local government, all of whom seemed to want to do the same thing.

Transpires, I’m a bit of a mug. Because there are people in the ‘community’ doing a whole lot of taking of ideas and other peoples words and not giving a whole lot back. And while an idea doesn’t care who has it, a community can only sustain itself while everyone contributes to it.

Discovering there was a group off Twitter where people were discussing implementing Yammer in their organisations at the weekend was just the final straw, really. If people wanted to share their best practice, I’m reasonably sure they’d do it on Communities of Practice, instead of creating a closed user group which only the specifically invited by email address could see.

To me, that’s not sharing best practice. That’s creating little cliqes at a time when I would have thought that those working in the public sector might have wanted to stick together, to help each other out.

Turns out, I don’t appear to need the group anyway, because we seem to have managed to implement our own Yammer network reasonably well. But it’s left an enormously sour taste in my mouth.

Instead, I am coming to the conclusion which I am sure many people came to months ago which is that if the same old people have the same old discussions, then very little new comes out of those discussions. If you add new and interesting people into the mix, then often new and interesting ideas arise.

I’m feeling really quite disillusioned. And am wondering if I am not alone as I see the dynamics and demographics of Twitter change entirely as the people I used to love talking to are no longer there.

Have you all abandoned transparency and openness in government and gone back to your old ways?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Is government just pre-programmed to operate in silos because of its overall organizational structure? What if old ways of thinking about “agencies” or “departments” gave way to a more projectized, cross-disciplinary, team-based approach? Would that “force” collaboration by structure in ways that change the manner in which we use communication tools and technology.

Carol Davison


1. yes but we can reprogram it!

2. We would be more effective and efficient. I just left “CommerceConnect” where we are breaking down the 13 DOC silos so we can provide one stop service to the business customer regarding his business development, intellectual property protection, etc questions so he can complete more effectively in the global market place and hire more Americans. Now we need “FedConnect!”

3. As long as we made it so but we must continually adapt government to mission to ensure that in functioning in accordance with the tax payers needs, and not just it own survival.

Anna Abbey

While I don’t know the specifics in the context of your situation…it seems to me that there are two distinct issues that technology can be used to address in government. One is greater engagement and open government, and another is efficient inter office communications. Yammer may not meet the first, but it can go a long way towards assisting with the second.

My agency is so large and geographically diverse that I will most likely never meet all of the individuals I work with. Yammer creates a space for us to engage one another and share ideas in the formative stages. When anything goes public there is an increased obligation to respond thoughtfully to comments and represent the government competently. A tool to help us collaborate within our organization and share thoughts is an important first step towards getting to a point in which we can engage the public.

There are silos upon silos, and this helps us cut through but one layer of it. 😉

Andeen Drayton

@Andrew Krzmarzick

Is government just pre-programmed to operate in silos because of its overall organizational structure? What if old ways of thinking about “agencies” or “departments” gave way to a more projectized, cross-disciplinary, team-based approach? Would that “force” collaboration by structure in ways that change the manner in which we use communication tools and technology.

I agree with you totally, but in my 4 years in the public sector, what’s become very clear is it’s a culture of competing priorities and agendas. Group A might have a great idea about how to use Yammer or Twitter in some form of Gov 2.0 initiative, but then it collides with an already established application held by Group B. That app may not be as user-friendly or cost-effective, but since it belongs to group B they’ll fight for it anyway. Because when it comes time for new fiscal year funding…well, you see the pattern.

Granted at least within my agency we’re much more projectized and it does promote (i.e.: FORCE :oP) some more collaboration. Still, we’re a long way off from everyone playing as one big team

Brian Gryth


I’d say yes to your question that government silos are forced do to structure. Restructuring govenment would be a good idea. I have couple questions: Are silos inherently bad? Is so, why? Are we expecting to much? Or do we need to allow change to happen?


Twitter and “Web 2.0” technology will not save us from human nature. Groups and the creation of groups is what humans do. Sharing information is critical and important. However, it is important to realize people are people. Social dynamics are playing out. People feel safer in small in groups (The 90-9-1 rule posits that the vast majority of people are going to watch/lurk and contribute very little). I would encourage to share and contribute to the community because that is important. Will people wall themselves off? Yes because that is what people do. Should they? Probably not, but that might be a motto point.

My friend and colleague, Scott Primeau, said the other day that our work in this space is sometime like giving a lighter to someone who wants to be in the dark. He is right, but I think that those people think they want to be in the dark. It is the allegory of the cave in play. The walled garden, closed groups, and like are the shadows on the wall of the cave, the illusion. Your openness to sharing, the community, and collaboration is the real world. We just need to get people to turn around. We get them to do that be walking the walk.

Cheers, Brian

Joe Adams

The keys to the silos are the ‘enabling statutes’ that created the agencies in the first place. Until the legal authority, mission, and purposes of agencies change, with accountability for innovation and performance, the defensive mentality of government executives is not likely to change. The integrity and coherence of the behaviors of agencies is a direct result of the level of coherence of the process that created them. Having experience on both the legislative and executive sides of government, I can attest to the fact that many compromises require that agencies limp through what has been done to them as best they can, with one arm tied behind them, while being ruthlessly attacked by those who feel that previous compromises were merely temporary truces in hostilities. With increasing legislative polarization during this budget crisis, there’s hardly an agency executive that is not asking themselves where they can limit risk and exposure to criticism, which usually means a rigid, minimalists adherence to their enabling statutes. That is not an ideal environment for building the kind of trust and engagement across organizational boundaries that we need for more transparency, collaboration, and innovation. In that context, collaboration from the ‘middle’ is our best bet, but it takes people who are risk-takers, and probably not expecting to retire from government. The silos are the most rigid at the top, where technology, like information, is seen as a threat.

Linda Stopp

Thank you for this post. The sharing of information by some to some is a manner by which to control information flow and it is an elitist practice. I lived in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s when the internet just started there. Information access was highly controlled by those with it, so that only certain people would learn about resources that would come available. It is amazing to me to learn that this type of information control would emerge in the US, where access to information is a prize of our democratic system. Structure is the culprit in many instances as commented by Brian. Power differentials and pyramidal structure fosters control.

Margaret Schneider Ross

I am all about finding new and interesting people to add to the discussion, and have been trying to find ways to get the CoP that I support (an internal group that provides services to Agency clients – as opposed to the public) to cross fertilize with some new folks/other-related disciplines. I would love there to be an online forum like this where we could share knowledge and information and insights with each other across the federal government. We participate in interagency discussions, workgroups and meetings that all take place in person…why not be able to extend those to an asychronous environment???

That said, what I’m talking about would still have to be fed only, and exclude the public. Many of the great non-fed experts in my field are also our contractors, and there are ethics violations to think about. Further, we don’t want the public to believe that because we’re batting around ideas, or brainstorming crazy ideas, that we’re making obligations or decisions – even ones that could be tangentially inferred when taken out of context (and believe me, it doesn’t take much).

Finally, I think it makes sense for any group or organization to make sure that their deliberative process makes sense for what they’re trying to do… A smaller group might make sense for a task force with a short timeline, no?

What gets my goat isn’t that these discussions are happening in a closed environment, but rather that, because of the competing priorities we face everyday, I have neither the time nor the energy to keep pace with all of the groups that are interesting to me. Or that there are discussions about things I care about that I could participate in, but I have no way to know that they’re happening.