I went to the IPAC Conference here in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. I used to pay more attention to IPAC when I was doing my MPA. It was interesting that MPOW suggested that I go. I’m glad I did.
If you don’t already know, IPAC is the professional association for Canadian Public Servants.I love their succinct mission statement: ‘to promote excellence in public service.’ (Hear that, ALA?) They publish Canadian Public Administration – a few volumes of which I refer to from time to time when I want to refresh myself on effectiveness in Public Service, or to read an article from Peter Aucoin, one of my favorite profs back in the day.
The theme of the conference was, largely, change. There was alot of talk about the need for change, particularly as it pertained to environmental stewardship and technology. There were a few themes that I took out of the event:
- In order for positive change to happen, organizations need systems to encourage creativity.
- Fear is only a short-term catalyst for change. Even the threat of death does not prevent many people from changing their behaviors.
- People respond to joy. If the change brings joy, people will move towards it.
- The planet is likely to look like a big desert with most of the livable land sitting in Canada and Russia by the year 2050 using current predictions. If we don’t all kill each other first trying to get or stay here.
- So far, the actual observed values for greenhouse emissions have exceeded the worst case scenario predicted values mentioned above.
- Engineers without Borders does not build bridges. Instead, the work with local citizens and groups in developing countries to improve their own lives.
- Compared to some of the countries that EWB serves, Canada’s mobile network is ‘archaic.’ Yes, *behind* countries like Malawi and Kenya.
- I really like Atlantic Superstore‘s green initiatives. They seem intentional and driven by a desire to truly be socially responsible.
- The role of social media in engaging the public is affirmed, by Daniel O’Rourke at volunteer planning and elsewhere.
- Social media guidelines and policies are essential if you want to encourage staff to participate online.
The final thing I learned is that there was a lot to suggest that the systems inside the current bureaucracy (and remember, this was a national effort – there were federal, provincial and municipal public servants from all over Canada) are not available to promote a truly innovative public service. There was a lot in the conference to suggest to me that public servants (in general) are not encouraged to take risks, speak their mind, or ‘rock the boat’ and that they are reminded early on that what they say can come back to them later on.
I think part of this is necessary structure. The role of the bureaucracy is to implement the policies brought to them by the political wing (ie. the elected officials). Thus, to a large extent, someone’s ‘innovation’ would be done at the elected official’s expense. It’s ok to think failure is ok when you face consequences for those failures on your own, but a little more shaky when someone else gets to wear your failures in the face. I suppose this is one reason why hierarchical structures have a reputation for being less innovative.
On the other hand, citizens are alot smarter these days. Technology has let them breach all kinds of conventional means. For instance, it is much easier and more effective to write my disdain for a particular policy in a blog post than it is for me to write my MP or send a letter to the editor in a newspaper. I no longer need a middle person to have my say, and my words can have wings without my government or the media even knowing about it.
Further, citizens are quite aware of the power that bureaucrats have to drive policy in government and they want access to that power. With the Coast ‘live tweeting’ Halifax Regional Municipal Council Meetings, I notice many references to ‘the staffers’ that are called on to advise, and sometimes they are called to task for their opinions or advice as well. Clearly, the public wants at their public servants and they are finding more and more proficient ways of getting to them.
In short, the climate for public service has changed drastically. Citizens can bypass many government processes using simple technology and create policy initiatives on their own – without support from government. With recent budget talks in the province, it leaves me with a lot of questions about the size of government, what government services and programs still remain effective in the 21st century and what infrastructure our society needs so we can begin to solve some traditional government programs on our own.