Creating change one step at a time

The other day I posted about the challenges of creating good government sites, but how do we overcome these challenges?

Is there a way to use what we’re learning from observing the behaviour of online collaboration offline?  That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do with our site redesign project.  Not that I’ve really got anything to show you yet, since it won’t start to go live until November.

It all starts with sharing…

In Clay Shirky’s in Here Comes Everybody he presents 4 stages of social arrangements – sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism.  It all starts with sharing.  We cannot do anything in isolation, and yet, the most common complaint I hear in the government is that we don’t have enough resources.  I hear people at Staff Retreats saying we must “break down silos” (whole groups of people working in isolation).  Then what do I see?  People building up empires.  We must stop this! We must talk to each other.  We must work with our colleagues, not just in our own branch, but within other branches in the same Department, and other web shops in other departments, and with other levels of government.  Please stop worrying about who will get the credit.  You will, trust me, or trust Tara Hunt; it’s the whuffie factor.

And talking…

I believe that culture-change takes just one person at a time.  So I walked out of my mini grey cubicle and started talking to my colleagues.  All of them, or at least, as many as I could find.  Some found me.  At work.  On Twitter.  In the blogosphere.  On GCpedia.  By phone or e-mail.  By referral.  More found me when I started implementing our Comms plan before it was even written.  I used the reverse need-to-know principal…Is there a reason I wouldn’t share this? No? Ok, I’m sharing it then.  I’m presenting to as many committees and working groups as will have me.  Never presenting a fait accompli, I would present what I knew about the web, what I assumed about our audiences based on the data I had available and sought ideas, knowledge and research papers from others who knew the content and our mandate better than I.

And working together…

Each time I present, a few people send an e-mail, pass along a name or a research document, or volunteer to be a guinea pig.  Never before have I worked in such an open and inviting environment.  It takes a lot of time to change even one neural network or mental model that people rely on to interpret the world around them, so I use the same slides and words in different orders and in varying levels of detail depending on the audience.

If you’ve followed Thomas Homer-Dixon around the world and back in his search for answers to some of our most pressing global issues in The Ingenuity Gap, then you probably already know that the world is COMPLEX!  Not only is it complex, it is always changing.  Working in a large organization means that it can take a long time to get things approved. Never fear, we’re not the only ones living in this complexity and uncertainty.  Many have already figured out how to operate within in this environment.  Some have even written about it.  Google search ‘complexity theory’ or ‘systems thinking’.  Read Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton.

All this to say that none of us can do or know everything.  We know we need to share and work together. But it can be challenging just to get to a point of collaboration in a complex environment.  What is changing is that we no longer can (or need to) know the answer to a question before starting.  We just need to assemble the willing people who have the interest,  time and capacity to work towards solutions.

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About Laura

As a Business Analyst working for the Canadian federal government in Web usability, I have the opportunity to be a part of a growing movement of professionals implementing user-centered design principles.
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4 Responses to Creating change one step at a time

  1. charles says:

    This is great, you make plenty of links within your vacation readings… but as I read you, I think this might be somewhere an ideal that is very hard to reach because of our span of attention. Attention is limited, time is limited. As we move forward a more specialized world, we tend to look more and more on our own speciality and less and less on the world around us. We can’t do it, we don’t have the mental capacity to process an ever increasing body of information. This is why we will be siloing even more… THIS IS THE BABEL TOWER… WATCH OUT… THE WORLD WILL COLAPSE ! ;o) ! But seriously, our brains have been wired to work in a world where there were 100 000 people all across the surface of earth. I think we will find solution that work to thrive in complex environment, but before we switch from individual genius to collective genius it will take years before we find solutions… let’s face it, it is not being pessimistic, it is human nature.

  2. Colin McKay says:

    Wow. Charles is a downer, and completely wrong. We are adapting as necessary, and using our innate social skills to build allegiances, support networks and communities to reflect our changing environment (see what I did there? That was Homer-Dixon’s first big article).

    Great post.

  3. charles says:

    Maybe I am wrong, and in a sense, just for the future of my kid I hope I am. I still have to read the article you are talking about. I don’t put our ability to adapt and to build allegiances in questions. I am just questionning our ability to do this in the short term… It is not a critic of this post.

    To say this, I am refering as our ability as a specie, the human being, to work as a team to produce results that are great. I agree this is what we should tend to do, but we are still very far to from doing it as other species do it in an innate manner. Ant are a great example. There is no central planning to build great results. As humans, even St-Peter Basilica, New Louvres or any other building is associated to the name of a men. The human equivalent that has not been reached so far is the experiences of collectivism and anarchism in societies that have been tried in the 60′s and 70′s where without any central coordination everybody was doing what they had to do. I think we tend to this way, but as anything that is new, working in teams, especially decentralized network will take years before it gets to a point where we can consider it really works. The various experiences that work are a small exception not a rule. Look at all the consultants hired to work on disfunctionnal organizations and industrials psychologists to help people listen themselves in an organization… such industry that works so well is a proof that most individuals are not ready to work together in teams in a collaborative manner. As their own world as individual is getting more and more complex, needs more work to get mastered, they have the choice to get clustered in it or to open to something else. As our society still rewards people that master well a tiny subject… the choice is obvious for most.

    Working on government websites, I notice that this need to communicate work together is obvious, but is not embraced by most. I deeply hope I am wrong by saying this adaptation is gonna be long, because my job is gonna get very depressing!!! Thanks again for underlining Homer dixon names, it is now top on my reading list ;) !

  4. Laura says:

    Wow! Thanks for the well thought out comments Charles. When I look around, I definitely see most people resisting change, probably out of fear and the fact that looking out for yourself and not collaborating appears to be the path of least resistance in the short term.

    But then I get online and I meet people in my “tribe” who *want* to change, grow, live, experience, challenge, take risks… People who realize that what’s best for them is what is best for everybody, and they are willing to risk the comfort of the status quo to support a vision of people working together like ants. :) Richard Harwood (http://www.theharwoodinstitute.org/) called them people who not only want to do what’s best for their own kids, but for all kids. People like Colin, Nick, Peter, Martha and my other #w2p buddies who are witty, strong, intelligent people carving a path through the mediocre to strive for excellence. Then I don’t feel so depressed anymore.

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