Those ‘crazy’ public servants

Well I can complain about the media till I’m blue in the face, they’re after ratings, entertainment and so on.  Anyway, I said to one journalist that it was ‘crazy’ that public servants who I knew read Troppo didn’t comment, not because I don’t understand that they don’t want to get embroiled in controversy – that is generally speaking fair enough, but because they can stop way short of any of that and still participate.  Anyway, my guess is that the journo in question led with the word ‘crazy’ because it was a good word to lead with, and the subbie did the rest with this headline. ”

Public servant blog mentality ‘crazy’: Gruen

Oh well, I can’t really complain that my word ‘crazy’ came up to the top of the media blender to be quoted, not so much out of context but to flavour the entire story. It was the juiciest morsel, the juiciest word of the ones I used.  Anyway, it’s probably a good thing.  Perhaps we can get some attention to what is emerging as a problem. A lot of heavy lifting has been done at the policy level. It really is crazy that we don’t get a little more action. Not risky action, just a teensy bit of action. Public servants who are already reading policy blogs like this one, could for instance simply help people find resources. On reading some post, they could point to bits of literature that were relevant to the conversation. Why should they?

  1. They’re paid for by the public and most of them are keen on serving the public – that’s why the good ones are where they are and not making more money in the markets. So if they can see a place where they can add some value, and do so for a negligible investment of their time . . .  they should.
  2. They will also be investing in their own professional knowledge, because we’ll know they’re in the conversation.  That means we might be able to tailor our comments to be of greater relevance, we’ll get to know them, and their interests.  I doubt if there’s any regular author of posts on Troppo and many on other blogs who doesn’t get the occasional ‘you’d be interested in this’ email from me when I spot something that I think would be of interest to them.

So come on guys. It’s easy. The APSC’s guidelines on online engagement begin thus:

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.

Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches.

They go on to outline all the ways in which they must remain consistent with the APS Act and code of conduct and so on, but there are no surprises there. Since then we’ve had the declaration of open government that the Taskforce championed. This is a passage from it (emphasis added).

Citizen collaboration in policy and service delivery design will enhance the processes of government and improve the outcomes sought. Collaboration with citizens is to be enabled and encouraged. Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees, in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commission Guidelines. The possibilities for open government depend on the innovative use of new internet-based technologies. Agencies are to develop policies that support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0-based proposals.

As we put it in Chapter 4 of the Government 2.0 Taskforce report:

[B]etween the ‘ideal types’ of public servants officially putting forward their agency’s position and their speaking in a private capacity, there is much middle ground. In negotiating this terrain, public servants may find official stipulations, codes of conduct and other guidance useful. Yet for the distinction to be practically useful, they must have an intuitive ‘feel’ for how these apply as they negotiate the public space of the internet in ‘real time’.

To date public servants have taken an extremely cautious approach. There is a rich array of blogs hosted from within Australia and elsewhere which provide a valuable avenue for professional discussion. It is true that such blogs sometimes descend into party political debate and even acrimony. It is appropriate that officials avoid public debate of this kind unless it is seen as strictly private activity (and even here senior officials should show sensitivity). Yet much discussion on blogs covering public and professional issues is not rancorous or highly partisan. Yet, except for some pseudonymous participation, Australia’s public servants are largely absent.

This spectrum details the types of actions under the different roles of a public servant. The spectrum is split into three roles, “Official”, “Professional” and “Private”. In their Official role, a public servant is to represent the agency’s policy and style of public policy discussion.  In the Professional part of the spectrum, the representation of authoritative views in a public servant’s capacity as a  professional person, along with exploring alternatives in a professional is indicated. Toward the “Private” end of the spectrum, the actions of “Participating in social networks in both private and professional capacity”, and the “expressing private views” are identified.

In the right context, particularly where it was not some matter of heated party political debate, a public servant might discuss their own professional judgement as to the pros and cons of various policy options, providing it was clear that they accepted whatever view the government of the day or their agency had or might come to. As the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Hon. Lindsay Tanner MP commented; ‘While no one is suggesting that we allow public servants to simply tell reporters what is on their mind, they should feel free and encouraged to engage in robust professional discussion in public including online.’

The taskforce agrees with Google’s submission to it:

Members of the Australian Public Service should be able to make attributed comments in fulfilment of their official duties and as part of their work environment that do not necessarily represent the views of their agency, and the default might be that their views do not unless stated otherwise. This is the customary default setting by corporations that permit their employees to blog on an attributed basis, then backed by internal protocols and approval processes as appropriate to the organisation and its culture.

But all this is running, compared to where we are now. At the level of high policy Australia is actually unique in the emphasis that’s been given to the involvement of individual officers and not just Agencies. That led Andrea DiMaio, Gartner’s lead Government 2.0 consultant to observe “Australia is the place where the government 2.0 taskforce has recognized the centricity of employees and the federal government has bought into that idea.”

But so far, public servants haven’t.  There are now quite a few public servants running blogs on behalf of their agencies, so they’re doing some posting and some commenting, but public servants joining the discussion – however carefully – is still a very rare thing.  So can’t we just take some baby steps.  Pleeeesse?  We know you’re out there – I know it’s caretaker time but if you’re reading this and you’re a public servant, can you say ‘hi’, thanks for the blog, or something less appreciative. Tell us which recent Troppo post you’ve liked lately, or the colour of your dog’s hair.  Anything really just to get things going. It’s the Government’s policy!

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Don Arthur
11 years ago

Nicholas – There’s a great research project in this. It would fascinating to survey public servants to find out how they understand their relationships to their minister and to the public.

In policy areas of Canberra departments I suspect that most public servants regard their minister as the customer. And it is up to the minister to decide what serving the public means.

There’s an understanding (if only tacit) that it is not an individual public servant’s role to decide whether sharing information or analysis is serving the public (unless they’re SES).

All departments have branches dedicated to interacting with the public. Some handle ministerial correspondence others do public affairs. Policy and research and evalution areas may produce correspondence or write reports, but these must be routed through proper channels before being released to the public. And each area of the department jealously guards its turf. If you run a program, nobody else in the department is allowed to write or talk about it without clearing it through you first. Watch what happens when a Senator in estimates asks the wrong group manager for information (estimates is a special case and a worthy research topic in its own right. Public servants are taught to answer only the question that’s asked, and only if it’s asked in exactly the right way).

As for engaging in online discussion being government policy, I’m not sure most public servants would feel that they had the authority to interpret that policy for themselves.

I could be wrong about this. But before complaining about the behaviour of individual public servants, it would be interesting to research the culture.

Don Arthur
11 years ago

I think it would great if public servants could get more involved. And I think making it happen means convincing people at the top and getting them to pass the message down.

Public servants need to know when they’ll be protected if a journalist or opposition member takes one of their comments out of context and uses it to embarass the government.

John Passant
11 years ago

I don’t know about this. When I was in the ATO we couldn’t scratch our arse for fear of upsetting some power broker in the administration, the government, the community and the like. It was stifling. But I wonder how your vision stacks up against the Afghanistan Wikileaks. I’d be keen to see ‘secret’ documents made public to expose the lies of our leaders. In fact I’d like to see that exposure institutionalised.

Don Arthur
11 years ago

Nicholas, you’re being annoying.

Get a job in a public service department in Canberra — one at an EL2 level or lower — work there for a year and then come back for a chat.

John Sheridan
John Sheridan
11 years ago

Hi Nicholas

Thanks for the blog post. The last Troppo post I looked at before this was Battle at Kruger Park – because you tweeted it and I have a sad fascination with military history (dear reader, don’t be misled – it’s not about military history, it’s about the ‘circle of life’ in a South African wildlife park). Speaking of animals, Molly (our 3rd Airedale terrier) has brown and black hair.

There – that wasn’t too hard was it!

Regards

John

PS – another possible explanation of why APS people don’t comment on the posts on this blog is they don’t find anything to comment about. Some of the AGIMO blog (http://bit.ly/bQITM2) posts that I thought would create lots of comments received none. Others, which I thought would be largely ignored, got heaps. Interestingly, despite the number of posts we have had that sought industry feedback, very few commenters (in fact 0 if I recall correctly) identified themselves on the basis of their employer. Maybe we just don’t know the comments are from APS people – especially if they aren’t commenting in the left hand side of your continuum above.

PPS – these comments are made in my private, professional capacity and have no official standing.

John Sheridan
John Sheridan
11 years ago

PPPS – the AGIMO blog has post-moderation. This appears to have pre-moderation. Who’s on the leading edge here?

Ken Parish
Admin
11 years ago

Having spent the first 15 years of my life as a lawyer working for the public sector union and AEU, I know that the maxim “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” is a wise one by which to live. Of course the culture may have changed radically since then, but somehow I doubt it. I haven’t seen any sign if it. I’m sure Lindsay Tanner was sincere about it, but he’s gone now. I’d also like to think that Gov 2.0 will amount to more than just window dressing, but if I was a mid-ranking public servant I think I’d be operating on the “better safe than sorry” principle.

There’s no shortage of APSC Guidelines that can happily be relied on to opposite effect to the ones Nicholas cites, and they’re the ones that are trotted out when it suits expedience. For example, read the APSC Guideline document titled “Guidelines on the involvement of public servants in public information and awareness initiatives” especially the heading “Responding to media enquiries”. In fact I defy any but the most gung ho to read the document without concluding that sticking your head above the PS parapet is only for those craving early involuntary retirement.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Yeah don’t leave it all to us market crazies although I did spend a couple of years in the circus and it could be catching.

“There’s an understanding (if only tacit) that it is not an individual public servant’s role to decide whether sharing information or analysis is serving the public (unless they’re SES).”

That’s probably a fair call which is why I’d advocate a ‘without fear or favour’ level of career public service with free exchange of information and analysis with a seat based Senate rather than just at Senate estimates grilling time. Certainly the Reps Govt with its overarching appointed SES leadership can take care of the confidentiality link between the Dept’s output and the Minister. It might take a bit of getting used to by the players and no doubt some more diplomatic/disguised requests from the political SES to the career SES. eg Let us know your priorities if you had another X to spend or X had to be cut. What policies are working best and why and conversely. Any particular avenues you think need looking at and so on and so forth and here’s a couple to think of by the way. The notion that the Govt is asking the PS to canvas a range of options and share them publicly would catch on and become the norm rater than particularly newsworthy.

That still leaves a natural tendency for the PS to not be too adventurous however, as well as the inevitable bathwater drinking that goes on in all big organisations. You see it in Big Biz too. Unlike those of us in SMEs public servants don’t get a lot of kudos for getting it right(we have a sublimely infinite reward system) but can sure cop it for getting it wrong because of their broader customer base.(ask BP too) The buck stops with me which breeds a much more agile and snap decisionmaking process and if I or mine stuff up occasionally I’m not exactly current affairs news. Besides as I know only too well I’ve got an edge over bureacratic systems in being able to respond instantly with no hassles to fix same. Doing that is worth multiples of success stories because the punters are so used to the runaround and button pressing with the big end of town. Perhaps that builds a deep innate appreciation of the constant need for countervailing and disciplining power at all levels of the marketplace.

Sorry
Sorry
11 years ago

I’m a public servant, three years at the other gruen’s department, below EL2. I have been reading this blog for seven years.

While I understand Nicholas’ passion, I agree with Don’s comments on convincing people at the top. The risks (damaging the reputation of your department, job loss) are too great for most public servants to bother engaging.

I imagine people working in private firms would be similarly “crazy” though. Would a bank be happy with an analyst of four years experience commenting on blogs while identifying herself with her workplace? I accept that she does not work for the Australian people but the analogy is still useful.

Craig Thomler
11 years ago

Hi Nick,

I think that many public servants consider the perceived benefits versus the perceived risks and make their judgments accordingly.

And I believe that, on an individual basis, many public servants don’t yet perceive that the benefits of engaging online in a professional capacity outweigh the risks.

Sure they may be able to correct mistakes made by the public – but isn’t that the job of their Department’s Communications team?

They could participate in robust policy discussions – but hasn’t their Department already invested in stakeholder engagement, research and other policy formation activities – what benefits will additional engagement bring?

They might learn something that helps them in their career – but that’s what paid conferences and training is for (during work hours no less), or they could just read what others say online and not bother commenting.

There may even be professional kudos for engaging online – but could being noticed be more damaging than advantageous?

On the flip side, when engaging online public servants need to consider risks, such as:

Do they have enough experience of social media to use it effectively?

Are they allowed to access social media channels in the office, or do they have to engage online from home, cutting into their personal time?

Do they know enough about the topic to make a useful contribution without looking stupid? If they look stupid, will this affect their career or make their Department look stupid?

How will their activities be viewed by the senior management of their Agency? And how will it be viewed by their next boss (if there’s a restructure)?

Will other Agencies consider them a security risk and potentially unemployable?

Real or not, these perceived risks could easily lead a public servant towards deciding that the benefits of engaging online are simply not worth the risks.

Of course cultural change will change the tilt of the seesaw, though it can take some time to perculate through organisations.

Cheers,

Craig
(An APS EL2 who does engage online)

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
11 years ago

Nick,

your story of being quoted on the juiciest of your words sounds a little like a shot before the bow. Perhaps your campaign on hesaidshesaid is getting some attention.

Ken Parish
Admin
11 years ago

Re-reading my comment, I shouldn’t have sounded so negative. Ditto on the Fiscal Rectitude Commission idea for certifying responsible levels of government borrowing. Both are very good ideas, but both will be much harder and take much longer than you implicitly seem to assume. Entrenched cultures and attitudes are very hard to shift, especially where those at the top have a significant vested interest in preserving the existing culture. Almost 30 years of experience with FOI fairly clearly shows that politicians and senior public servants are adept at subverting transparency policies, because they have the power and motivation to do so. I see little reason for optimism that this would play out much differently with your “set the public servants free” Gov 2.0 policy ideas. One swallow named Tanner does not make a summer.

The Fiscal Rectitude Commission idea might have more chance in a shorter time frame, for the reasons you canvassed. There would be an immediate political payoff to Labor if it could effect a change in public attitudes towards responsible borrowing for productive infrastructure. But we’d certainly need an equally independent body to restrain wasteful pork-barrelling infrastructure proposals, or perhaps some sort of market signal linkage to identify the most desirable.cost-effective projects. Any ideas there? (sorry. This paragraph really should be on the other post)

TimT
11 years ago

Nick, next time you do an interview for the paper you should throw in a whole bunch of bizarre adjectives just to make the headlines more interesting. ‘Crazy’, ‘saucy’, ‘sexy’, ‘frisky’, ‘hallucinogenic’, ‘psychotic’, ‘capricious’, ‘nebulous’, ‘waggish’, ‘verdant’, and ‘zonked’, for instance. Don’t even worry what they’re describing. The reporter’s going to distort your message anyway…

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[…] with respect to their work and the work of their agencies. As Taskforce Chairman, Nicholas Gruen notes, “…can’t we just take some baby steps. […]

StewartL
StewartL
11 years ago

My experience is that Government staff are often very risk averse, in particular the exec. They see Social Networking as a risk, rather than an opportunity. However, the tide is turning, albeit slower than a lot of us would like.

One thing I find interesting in all this is that IT Security issues haven’t really been mentioned. Social Networking can (if not configured correctly)increase the potential for malicous attacks on your IT networks, another reason why I think Government in particular is taking things slowly.

Craig Thomler makes some excellent points in his post. The time contraints are the key one from my perspective, it is difficult to find time during work hours to read all the posts and forums and then respond when you have something to say.

Despina
11 years ago

Interesting exchange although it made me feel old – it’s the plus ca change est plus c’est la meme chose situation isn’t it? Despite all the rhetoric, the reality trips over that P-word:Power. And, if you think about it, ‘servants’ don’t usually have any! So, all that most of us can usually do is trade in a modest exchange of knowledge, point to information on the public record and remain politely sagacious as servants of democracy. Of course we’ll end up crazy!

Jacinta T
Jacinta T
11 years ago

You requested hellos and links from public servants, so here I am.

Hello :)

Here’s an interesting link – http://socialmedia.defense.gov/. More specifically, here’s an interesting slide share – http://www.slideshare.net/DepartmentofDefense/social-media-overview-4773666. In the same vein, there’s Telstra’s Digital Mum facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/DigitalMum.

Education on the tools and a real analysis of the risks would be helpful to those who are interested, but concerned about making the first step.

JJ
JJ
11 years ago

Nick

Firstly thank you very much for Club Troppo – we public servants certainly read, even if we cannot write. I very much enjoy the blog (even though it is only tangentially related to my work in that all our funds come from the economy and we vicariously experience its ups and downs).

You have asked for a reference – I thought this couldn’t be much more topical to your article. It is from Andrew Podger’s book on being a Secretary of a Department.

http://epress.anu.edu.au/anzsog/dep_secs/pdf/ch09.pdf (page 126).

Essentially, he gives an appropriate speech, The Australian beats it up and the end result is this quote: “but I was under no illusion: the view of the Prime Minister’s Office was that secretaries should not give public speeches unless formally cleared by ministers beforehand, and even then they were frowned on.”

My impression is that this is one of the ironies of the information age. Just as FOI rightly increased access to information, its flip side is that we all think at the back of our minds for EVERY comment we write – how would this look if became public?

Please do not underestimate how much we public servants read. There are some excellent policy blogs (many of us in health follow the excellent Croakey).

I know I am repeating what everyone else has said. It’s not an unreasonable request – it just goes completely against the grain. Keep up the good work.

John Passant
11 years ago

After I retired from the Tax Office and wrote a few articles on my blog critical of it, especially its lack of international strategic thinking, and had one published in the Canberra Times Public Sector Informant, the ATO responded by blocking access to my site for its staff. My site was, it said, political. True, but it shows you how narrow minded bureaucracies – both private and public I would argue – are or can be.Openness is a threat to their perceived existence or role and the public service can use the Public Service Act – apolitical for example – to justify any whim.

observa
observa
11 years ago

“Now we need some leadership.” Which had set me thinking about the very essence of leadership (success or failure) and then I came across Mark Carnegie’s gem of an article about obliquity I referred to here-
http://www.harryrclarke.com/2010/07/30/cooking-the-planet/comment-page-1/#comment-12808
It was in a business rag naturally and I could immediately empathise as many a market man can with ‘My career was one of obliquity writ large.’ which led to the contrast with science/scientists becoming authoritarian with seemingly devastating results(well for Harry at least with a certain despair) That’s probably where I’ve been coming from that LGQs are really advocating the authoritarian approach which has clearly failed post Copenhagen. I’ve largely been brought up in the marketplace and that’s the very antithesis of authoritarianism. The market knocks that out of you in a rapid and humbling way and as I’ve said makes you appreciate external countervailing or disciplining power that no particular individual or elite group should wield lest hubris and Groupthink take over.

That’s where my ideal constitutional marketplace springs from and with it the inevitable constitution of a political marketplace for competing ideas and leadership with true countervailing and disciplining power for all. To do that means to think obliquely and tangentially about the problems and the clues to solving them. That means speaking to truth and not being swayed by short run diversions or political expediency as Mark Carnegie points out so well. Here’s a typical example of not speaking to truth and the bind a leader like Wayne Swan will quickly find himself in-
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-election/swan-claims-opposition-childcare-policy-will-lift-grocery-prices-20100726-10s6d.html
Well Wayne if the argument holds for childcare costs it must hold for compulsory super, wages and tax rises and why the Grocerywatch nonsense in the first place? OTOH perhaps you were right with oligopoly pricing and hence Grocerywatch and price controls even, unless Coles and Woollies can easily absorb them then what’s your point? The point is really inflation pure and simple and what actually impacts that, so cut the crap like you had to with Grocerywatch. Now look at my concept of an ideal constitutional marketplace and tell me where I misread any of the clues and fail to talk to truth. That’s the acid test as I know only too well working within the crappy one I’ve inherited so far and the authoritarian crap I’m being fed to fix it. There’s a bit of truth floating around all the parties at present but it’s mixed in with a lot of crap too. Leadership speaking to truth without fear or favour can fix that.

Alex Roberts
Alex Roberts
11 years ago

I agree with John and Craig – sometimes I think it is a matter of not having anything else to say, other times it’s an issue of not having time to say it. Engaging online can also be quite daunting – it’s not particularly rational, but the first comment can be a big step, even if you’re only talking about the weather.
Mainly I think it’s just something that will take time and will be helped as more agencies start to blog and the norms surrounding it become clearer. (Of course prompts and calls for action such as your post here will help.)

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

Hi Nick – I read Club Troppo – we link to Troppo articles on internal blogs and even struggle with the chess problems!

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[…] this post, Dr Nicholas Gruen (who was Chair of last year’s Gov 2.0 Taskforce) urges public servants […]

Robert van Aalst
Robert van Aalst
11 years ago

Nicholas (and others),

Thanks for the column, and to all others for comments. An interesting conversation. I have been turning my interest to Gov 2.0 thoughts over the past six-nine months or so, so a relative newcomer. I also come from a mixed background having spent years in the private sector – where profits and customers come clearly first, managed organisations in the not-for-profit sector – where trying to do a lot with little is a priority, and in the public sector – where I can confidently say that ‘risk aversion’ over rides all other motivations.
There are clearly many areas of Government sector work where online social network interaction is highly innapropriate – and will never be innapropriate. There are areas where it would be a nice thing to do – to test the waters and play around – but likely little benefit to be gained and there are obvious areas where crowd sourcing, using the minds of the masses or just plain gaining feedback from citizen X would be highly valuable.
The next step in the evolution of this discussion around Gov 2.0 (which seems to be very much stalled at this point) is to clearly identify public sector roles across those three areas – and no doubt there will be blurred lines between them. If anyone attempts to foist Gov 2.0 on to the public sector in one foul swoop, then it is doomed to failure. The way to proceed would be, as you say Nicholas, take baby steps, but take baby steps in areas where assessment has determined that there might indeed be some benefit in allowing a broader cross-section of the public sector engaging with either a small or large section of the citizenry.
Let’s not try and do it all in one go and set ourselves a goal of having Gov 2.0 implemented by 2015. That is utter nonsense. Let’s give senior management in the Departments the authority to select the areas that may be appropariate and let people run little experiments, trials, or Betas if you will.
If we want to succeed in a brave new world of citizen-engaged governance, lets be smart about it. We also need to change the mind set of our public servants in these areas and give them permission to take risks — let them know their job is not on the line if something goes pear-shaped.
And finally, we need to remember that not all the public will want to engage. I guess there are studies that could tell us, but I would suggest that probably upwards of 90% of the public don’t want to engage or have a say in what and how the government does what it does – a large proportion of those 90% likely don’t even really understand which of the three levels of Government are responsible for which services! For those of us in Canberra, we must continually remind ourselves that the rest of Australia is not like Canberra – which has a high level of interest and engagement in the workings of the public sector.

Private Public Servant
Private Public Servant
11 years ago

For someone responsible for this area within a local government context I think it’s great that Gov 2.0 is being discussed.

That said, our internet filters here prevent even viewing a good deal of the discussions taking place. Anything with political content and/or blog or anything determined to be a social media site is blocked automatically. This site for instance is blocked on our local network. (Sshhh I have a workaround)… But most my research is done on my own time in my own hours. No other option.

So obviously Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc etc are blocked. Our LocalGov needs to be kicked dragging and screaming into this area of engagement, they are just not interested, which is a shame. So therefore no funding or resources are provided to improve things and it does not look like that is going to change anytime soon.

Also under no circumstances are we to discuss Council decisions, policy etc in any context, it’s part of employment contract. So I have to agree with some of Craig Thomler’s points (his egovau website is also blocked ;) we simply do not make comments for fear of being sacked. Until management get with the program or are forced to allow public servants to have a voice I do not see much changing.

Martin Stewart-Weeks
Martin Stewart-Weeks
11 years ago

Zany Nick Gruen? I think that could catch on…

But zany or not, subversive, in the very best sense. As the discussion in this terrific thread about how to engage public servants in more open and appropriate debate edges forward, suddenly lo and behold, an open and appropriate debate with some real input from some real public servants is happening right before our very eyes! Terrific! And some very insightful, thoughtful and challenging stuff it contains too.

So well done to one and all for quietly, and with characteristic lack of fuss and fanfare, showing us what is possible when we conspire to be reasonable, intelligent and collaborative.

But the undertow of this discussion is important too. It’s fine, and proper no doubt, to constantly reach for the official guidelines and to preach caution about the need to maintain the official persona and role of public servants. None of that can, or should, be lightly discarded or demeaned. But isn’t there something larger to confront here, which is the equally proper and I think increasingly important contribution that public servants should be making in their contribution to an open, inclusive and well-informed debate to the health and well being of our forms of democratic self-governance?

In the social networking world and in the world of open, connected innovation, we are learning to live by Peter Drucker’s deceptively simple, but subversive precept of “contribution, not status”. That is, we’re learning that insight and wisdom do not necessarily increase as you go up the hierarchy or cleave ever more anxiously to rules and guidelines whose primary anxiety is order, control and propping up traditional notions of authority.

In large corporations, in public bureaucracies and in the world of voluntary associations too, we’re learning the new rules of serendipitous connections that reveal new ideas and insights from often the strangest and even unpromising places. This is not a world devoid of order, of course. Nor is it a world that can be sustained without some groundrules about openness, respect and tolerance. But it is a world, fundamentally, energised by participation on the freest and most liberal of terms. The whole point of this world of co-production, user-generated content and authentic engagement is that people have to get involved, or at least have the clear chance to get involved should they want to.

That is the context in which we should be discussing how public servants confront the overwhelmingly positive and productive potential of the world of Web 2.0 and the more connected, open world it both encourages and enables. We need to be having this conversation from the other way around…not starting from the rules and guidelines and seeing how far they can be stretched to accommodate the more open and connected world in which the professionals they seek to counsel actually have to operate, but rather working out how those people need to behave to maximise the opportunities for doing a better job which these new tools, platforms and capabilities offer. Let’s get that right and then work out the rules that are needed to make that outcome a reality…

observa
observa
11 years ago

Essentially the O’s stance can be summarised as- It’s the constitution of the marketplace stoopids! Still not convinced? Well let’s look at the typical LGQ approach to a perceived problem in the O’s industry, housing and construction. Now suppose you wanted to build ‘Mr Blandings Dream Home'(a B&W movie pearler for us all) and naturally you want it to be green. Well obviously you’d round up a 150 relatives, friends and acquaintances and pump them for all their bright ideas, jot them all down and off to Bob the Builder to whack it all up for you. No? Oh you want some professional green advice to incorporate as many bright green ideas as you can afford but you’re not quite up there in the Troppo Architects set just yet. Don’t blame you because wouldn’t I love a quid for every architectural wish list that never saw a sod turned.

Welcome to the big cahuna LGQ problem, Minister Penny Wong and Co discover when they pop around the builders’ to ask why they don’t build more of their preferred green homes. It’s a resounding- There aint no quid in it luv? Well the natural response, if it’s not an ingrained suspicion of nasty capitalism, then there’s always good ol’ market failure to fall back on and it’s clearly time for legislative fiat, all in Gaia’s interests you understand. Well the first time we get to roll our eyes at the latest and greatest from command central In Canberra, is via our industry Associations, the HIA and MBA passing on Supreme Leader’s press release announcing Green Energy Star ratings for buildings to be phased in after suitable consultation with industry, etc. Well we’re used to rolling our eyes at such obvious contradictions, particularly as they always impact the eternal fluffy kitten of housing affordability. While Govts everywhere do their darndest to screw as much as they can out of development and real estate in general, they are forever rolling out small but conspicuous sops to the fluffy kitten.

So the Minister wants her pet green housing just like you did eh? Well the first thing she’ll have to consider is where’s the house going? Hobart or Cairns, because the climate and predominant sun angle are going to have a strong bearing here. Then there’s siting, single or multiple storey, elevated or slab on ground, materials and in particular cladding selection and their particular R ratings vs Fire Rating, noise transmission tradeoffs and the like, glazing and glass areas and their particular aspects, eaves s/storey or multiple storey and verandah and balcony considerations too, blinds and drapes, air gaps in doors windows, vents and exhaust fans, insulation types and R ratings and interactions/clearances with electrical fittings,appliance demands and ratings, electricity or gas, lighting wattages, etc,etc…. Minister to SES to Dept and back comes the preliminary research this is bigger than we thought Minister..staffing.. time constraints and springing into action the Industry Associations feeding back all the info the’ll need, as well as feedback on costings along with their usual submissions on land availability and Govt charges and levies still impacting that fluffy kitten Minister.

So what do you think this massive LGQ empire will come up with in response to all this information, research and feedback? Well naturally some fancy computer models that you can feed all these inputs into out there in the field and presto they’ll give the industry precisely the Energy Star rating Gaia needs. Right about now you’re thinking this mountain of variables, interaction and feedback effects sounds a lot like trying to construct computerised models of national economies in a globalised world or worse still global climate computer models and you’d be right-
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/people-in-politics/energy-star-ratings-in-disarray/story-fn5oa9p3-1225899270215
It’s the constitution of the marketplace stoopids!

Laurence Millar
Laurence Millar
11 years ago

Seems like public servants feel more comfortable on their own blogs, rather than on external blogs, and the public choose not to join the public servants blogs (ref the absence of comments on the Agimo blog).

So we have two paralell universes of conversations taking place – which is better than no coversations taking place, and at least each side can see what the other is saying/thinking.

But both groups want the other to join their conversation – can there in fact be a middle space. If so, what would it look like?

Gail Fairlamb
11 years ago

In South Australia the government is actively encouraging public servants (and the community) to join a post moderated conversation online about the strategic direction of the state by joining groups and commenting at saplan.org.au, and on our social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In. We are socialising these spaces and encouraging interest through several videos loaded to You Tube.

Post moderation and video with comments from both the Premier and the leader of the opposition make this an interesting case study.

An email from the Premier was sent earlier across government this week to all email addresses in the public service, encouraging interaction and participation.

If you would like more information on this project please contact me:

Gail Fairlamb
Community Engagement and Stakeholder Relations
Office of the Executive Committee of Cabinet
Department of the Premier and Cabinet
( +61 8 822 60845 3 0432145740 7 +61 8 8226 1111
š gail.fairlamb@dpc.sa.gov.au
+ Level 14, State Administration Centre, 200 Victoria Square, ADELAIDE SA 5000
Website: http://www.saplan.org.au
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/YourFutureSA
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/YourFutureSA
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourfuturesa
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/YourFutureSA