Friday, October 25, 2013

Guest speaker: Kent Aitken, Government of Canada

Our next guest speaker, Kent Aitken, provides support for the GC2.0 tools as part of his responsibilities at the Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada, Ottawa.

He is one of the authors of the blog and a contributor to the Canadian Government Executive magazine.

Mr. Aitken will speak to us about his experiences implementing and supporting the use of intra- and interorganizational social media applications, especially GCPedia.

You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

As you prepare for our class session, please think about your questions on the use of social media technologies as internal knowledge sourcing, sharing and creation tools. Leave your questions in the comment section to this blog update.


  1. Dear Kent,

    Welcome to our class.I am eager to learn from your experiences. I am interested to know, rather curious, to understand what kind of next generation of technology do you foresee in web-net technology in the context of one of your blog? How Government organizations can relate to this?

  2. Dear Kent,

    Your profile speaks enough about your personality. Would you please share your experiments on social media strategy of government and its outcome? What inspired you and what keeps you going in the government set-up?

  3. Still to know about your concept of new tools. What do you mean by this?
    Please share your experiences on how did you created the atmosphere of social media strategy implementation? What is your SWOT analysis and future plan? What types of changes supported you?

  4. Thank you for laying out some great questions. I'll think about those and try to address them on Wednesday, and we can return to this space afterwards if we want to dive deeper.

  5. Thanks for taking time for interaction. Sure, would like to be in touch even after going back from here for the public cause.

  6. Mr. Aitken,
    One of the themes that I noticed in many of your blog posts, and as you directly stated in your October 23rd post on CPS Renewal, is "it's worth sharing your ideas." In your experience, I was wondering how governments take a pulse of the ideas that are available to them. I am specifically interested in how the exchange of ideas differs from within the government and the and from outside of the government.
    Looking forward to speaking with you on Wednesday!

  7. Mr. Aitkin,

    I am curious to know how or if the use of GCPedia has changed the culture within the Canadian government. In one of our readings, the author talked about government, in this case the United States government, using 20th century tools to solve 21st century problems. However, with the most recent healthcare website debacle in the US, it seems that even 21st century tools are not being used in an effective way to deal with current issues. In your recent blog post you talk about moving from an analog to a digital world, whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Can you speak a bit more as to why you think was unsuccessful? I look forward to talking with you tomorrow!

  8. please tell us, how the experience sharing is useful when political and administrative culture are quite different?

  9. you may find it slightly inconvenient ,but, if you can, please share your real experience, instead of theories, as it give us more clearity,at times.

  10. GCPedia appears to be a good innovation by the Government of Canada for collaboration and knowledge sharing among Government departments and agencies. It would be certainly facilitating coordination and collaboration on interdepartmental issues.

    But how good is the content? Would it have information about all spheres of Government activities? Is there any agency responsible to ensure quality of content?

    And what is the feedback of this innovation from departments/agencies? Are they finding it useful?

  11. I get the sense that we'll run out of time today, so I may try to address some of the questions that won't come up as naturally through the GC Collaboration presentation.

    On Mr. Soni's first question on the future of technology: It's so hard to tell! I think the imperative for the public sector is firstly to work on being adaptable for an unpredictable technological future, and only secondarily to plan for likely future states.

    In the context of this class, social media is a part of that future state (and I was a long-time Twitter skeptic). It's not a fad - it's actually an incredible reasonable continuation of a trend in communication that goes back 300-400 years: when new technology becomes available, people can divide their communications needs into increasing niche approaches. These days it's smartphones and many-to-many communication, a few centuries ago it was the printing press and academic journals.

    Anything else I'd suggest would be me simply repeating the reasonable predictions of technology writers: smartphone applications dying out as browser-based models become better and everything becomes internet-connected; government taking CFPB's lead and testing government's public interaction (especially websites) for useability.

    1. Oh, and one addition: government's internal collaboration platforms will be more like government buildings with lobbies to the outside world within five years. Right now they're gov-only, increasingly we'll build spaces to which we can invite international, private sector, or civil society collaborators. Or just use Github.

  12. On Ms. Wollaeger's question, we'll get into culture today. But for As Clay Johnson noted, large IT problems have high failure (or at least, time or cost overrun) rates.

    My view would be that we're trying to build 21st century tools ( with 20th century approaches (methodology, hiring practices, procurement, organizational norms), which is why it breaks down. IT is a different thing altogether.

    Here's a comparison. For major real estate projects, cost overruns are common and expected. The major variable is soil conditions - crews don't know QUITE what they're dealing with until they start digging. The difference is that the project sponsor can understand this intuitively; it's easy to imagine that massive rocks change a construction approach, and even the rough magnitude of the complication.

    For IT, however, there's no intuitive sense of difficulty. The senior executives responsible for IT projects either learned how to program 30 years ago, or never at all. And depending on the programming language you're using, a feature could require one line of code, a script pulled wholesale off the internet, or a thousand hand-coded lines. It's hard to say. was a lot of moving pieces, and interdependencies mean complex projects. Another example: most programs you'd use in Windows have a little script built into them that allows you to use the volume controls built into your keyboard. Coders have to think of every weird little thing like that for every program.

    So you have that, plus a procurement environment that makes project sponsors try to define all the requirements before they start digging into the metaphorical soil. And lastly for major drivers, feedback loops. It's a feature of hierarchies that important information, when it has to be relayed through several links in an organization, can change or break down. In this case, senior executives and the Obama administration didn't know how bad the situation was, which does nobody any good.

    Which brings me to Ms. Petruzzelli's question about taking pulse, but I'll try to answer that this afternoon.

    1. Which I'll do for the last three questions as well, I think they'll fit into this afternoon's conversation well.

      Thank you all!

  13. Mr. Aitken,

    While blogging as a phenomenon grew, what are the threats in blogging process in public sector?
    Do you think that there should be codes to regulate that process?

    Thank you,

    1. I think the threats are pretty minor. I can think of a handful of Canadian public servants that blog about their jobs, and hundreds that use Twitter. In Canada, in the last five years we've had one suspension over a tweet and one manager intervention for a blog post (not me). And that's out of thousands of blog posts and hundreds of thousands of tweets.

      There are codes here. Generally, we find that people are respectful and aware of the possibility for public srutiny. Those of us that are active on Twitter often have conversations about how to interpret our Values and Ethics code, which applies. It includes a duty of loyalty to the government, not damaging the government's reputation, and maintaining political neutrality. It was clarified in this Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0:

      But here's the thing. When phones and email were new, there were concerns about use, risk, and productivity. As blogging becomes increasingly normal, we'll relax our goverance. It's hard to imagine a Policy on Proper Use of Telephones now.

      Public servants blogging has far more long-term benefits than risks. We're at a point in time when the public has enough information about their government to scrutinize it, and not enough to understand it. So rather than having citizens use FOIA to get documents, public servants can be proactive about information-sharing and use their public presence to build trust, and to present information with context and explanation.

      As an aside, for the earlier adopters blogging means a competitive advantage. There are many smart people in the Government of Canada, and many people who have thought about emerging issues for the bureaucracy, but the difference is that everyone knows what I'm thinking about. Which means I get a lot of interesting opportunities to weigh in on innovative projects and initiatives around gov.

      That said, being more open about our work is going to be good for everyone in the long run. It creates opportunities for collaboration, reduced duplication of effort, and the more we know about people, the better we'll align people to jobs throughout the whole organization.

  14. In the reading 'The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a complex Adaptive Intelligence Community by D. Calvin Andrus, in the part related to Information Theory, Shannon has been stated to be showing that the noise in the channel is information in and of itself and thus can be used to transmit messages .It is also mentioned that there is meaning in the noise. Please throw some light on this aspect of noise in the communication channels.

    1. What a fantastic reading that is. From 8 years ago! The talk about wikis and blogs as platforms sounds outdated; the talk about a complex adaptive community still sounds progressive.

      Oh! For the record, he was right:



      "The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness [in US intelligence units] was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other. In the highest-performing teams, analysts invested extensive time and energy in coaching, teaching, and consulting with their colleagues. These contributions helped analysts question their own assumptions, fill gaps in their knowledge, gain access to novel perspectives, and recognize patterns in seemingly disconnected threads of information. In the lowest-rated units, analysts exchanged little help and struggled to make sense of tangled webs of data."

      Oddly, this is a concept I'm still trying to pursue here: distributed learning throughout an organization through the adaptive management model. It requires a move from:

      "plan->do->monitor->evaluate" (which Andrus referred to)


      "set goals->hypothesize->model->monitor->evaluate"

      ...Which has "increasing organizational capacity and knowledge" as part of the goal outcome to any solution.

      (I get to pitch things like that through one of our government's current pulse-taking channels.)

      On the sigal/noise side of things, we're getting outside the territory in which I think I can make a meaningful contribution. Noise such as "I'm sick today" on Twitter is enough, when aggregated across a region, to predict disease outbreaks better than Public Health reports. That said, an organization like the CIA could easily apply the same analytical rigour* to their internal email system and pull out insights from word patterns. So in the most obvious sense, there is definitely meaning in the noise. Past that, I haven't explored Claude Shannon's work enough. "The Information" by James Gleick is a good primer on Information Theory though:

      *We spell rigor with a u up here. ;)

  15. Mr Aitken,
    I am curious what your thoughts are on balancing speed of information sharing and collaboration with the need for quality assurance in the public sector. I am a US military officer and have very limited experience with these types of technologies. Much of our reading in preparation for today's discussion focused on the need for organizations to be able to network and collaborate faster because of the speed with which information flows today. In your experience how can an organization achieve greater speed and efficiency through these technologies without sacrificing the quality and/or accuracy of the information? Or is it your opinion that these technologies are inherently more accurate because they are collaborative in nature? Thank you.

    1. I mentioned the accuracy of Wikipedia comparing to or beating out Encyclopedia Brittanica on Wednesday. One quick addition: I do think that quality is the major long-run benefit to collaboration, not speed. Collaboration and multiple eyes expose the complexity of problems, which - correctly - slows the process down sometimes.

      But there's another caveat I'd add. Contributing to a community takes a lot of time. It's not crazily "efficient" when you start. But here's the speed benefit to slowly creating a community around goals and issues: in situations when you actually need information or help very quickly, you already know who to reach out to. And, they're willing to help you because you've helped them in the past. It means that teams can manage their schedule and demands in aggregate, rather than have people be individual bottlenecks because they're pressed for time individually.

      The "Givers Take All" model based on the intelligence community in the US is a good example of this working where accuracy is also vital. I linked above, but here it is again:


  16. Mr. Aitken,
    Good afternoon.

    Organizations in general and particularly in public organizations are political arenas where multiple actors (government, interest groups, the academia, firms, and public opinion) compete for power and scarce resources and where differences in needs, perspectives and interests are the source of constant conflicts (Bolman and Deal. Reframing Organizations. 2013). With social media governments –in democratic societies- face the challenge to meet high expectations for openness, transparency, accountability and responsiveness. Transparency implies the duty to make accessible information concerning government activities that is relevant, timely, comprehensive and reliable. In your opinion:

    - What are the keys to effectively moderate the “negotiated internet interactions” that wikis offer in such a complex environment?

    - How to ensure that these interactions result in the productions of relevant, timely, comprehensive and reliable information?

    Thank you.

  17. Let's focus on intra-/interorganizational tools today and not all social media tools used by government employees in general! We only have limited time to learn about the innovations of the Canadian government.

  18. Mr. Aitken,

    In our readings there was mention of the need for "critical mass" and "trust" to engender success. What can or should an agency do to ensure those elements are in place? Is it simply a matter of - if you build it they will come?

    Thank you for your time and insights.

    1. "If you build it they will come."

      The thing is, if "it" is a platform, "they" will be the 1% of your possible user base that are A) highly engaged or B) early adopters. Outreach, engagement, training, and community management are all vital.

      To build trust: communication (including, in our case, policy direction that says "this is okay") is key. It should be multi-channel and repeated periodically.

      Long term, trust is well served by people participating effectively, and people reacting to hiccups with perspective. Executives need to understand the communities involved, to create context for those inevitable hiccups - one imflammatory comment will draw more attention than 1,000 constructive ones, at least to those outside the system.

      One of the key drivers towards critical mass is purpose. Some people work openly and collaboratively out of principle, or out of a intuitive sense of the long-term benefits. Others need specific business reasons to try different ways of working for the first time. We're seeing this more and more these days: senior executives using the features of our collaborative plaftorms as the primary hub for a business process. Nothing drives adoption more.

      Community managers want to develop roadmaps for users of different comfort levels and tech expertise: defining use cases and user personas and nudging them towards activities that help them climb their own unique learning and comfort curves.

  19. During your presentation, you discuss the heightened efficiency of government communication and collaboration since the development of GCPedia. Have life-long civil servants adapted quickly to the new means of communication? How has the government adapted to the new heightened efficiency and what kinds of projects have been made available due to GCPedia's communication resources.

    Thank you for taking the time to talk to our class!

    1. Have life-long civil servants adapted quickly? Some have, absolutely. But here's the data:

      Public servants under 25 years of age are about 25% more likely to use GCpedia than, say, those 60+. The likelihood gap is more like double for the professional networking tool. But the distribution is fascinating. Our community-enabling power users are by no stretch the new or young public servants - those people who've been dedicated to keeping up with technology but also have a certain depth of experience in the GC environment are probably more representative of our community drivers.

      On the question of heightened efficiency. Are you familiar with Gartner's Hype Cycles?

      The idea is that technologies go through a understanding phase, a period of inflated expectations, a trough of disillusionment, then a plateau of productivity. Because platforms like GCpedia and GCconnex are flexible and user-driver, some people are very much so at the productivity stage. But I'd be of the opinion that the GC writ large isn't, not quite yet.

      That said, there are many fantastic success stories for projects that live off GCpedia. For instance:

      - It's streamlining communication between embassies around the world and our Foreign Affairs department's HQ.
      - Execs are building support for their strategies through engagement and two-way communication on organizational initiatives.
      - A seniormost executive-level committee reviewing how the GC develops policy is relying on the two tools for community input, resources, and feedback - the subject matter is simply too complex for a small team to manage without the help.
      - Public servants are using the tools to find jobs that fit their skills and interests, making the alignment of people to positions better at the organization level.
      - And volunteer teams use GCpedia to organize one of the GC's most successful recruiting programs.

  20. Thank you all for fascinating and challenging questions, and for the opportunity to speak to you. I very much so hope it was interesting and, ideally, at least a little informative.

    Please feel free to debate or dig deeper on anything I said on Wednesday or wrote in these comments, or if you'd like to get in touch (even if you have questions during your end-of-year papers), I'm reachable by email: kent.aitken [at] or by Twitter: @kentdaitken.