Civil Servants in Hell

A deputy minister – a career civil servant who had plotted a deliberate path from junior analyst to the heights of the bureaucracy – collapsed suddenly at a interdepartmental committee meeting and died (with his boots on, as it were).

While his colleagues were left to ponder how his departure would affect their advancement prospects, he found himself rapidly descending into the depths of hell. No Satan, Beelzebub or Melchom met him there – he simply slide quickly down a rocky, dark embankment and splashed into a fetid, putrid swamp. Gasping and grasping to find his bearings and remain above water, he was able to find a footing on some slippery rocks where he found he could just reach his mouth above the waterline if he stood on his tip-toes and craned his neck.

After a few minutes, wondering what he would do next, he noticed an old colleague – a senior DM who had mentored him on his way up, but had passed away many years before – to his left. He didn’t recognize the old man at first, but it was certainly him! But the old DM could offer no assistance as he seemed to be in the same position as his younger colleague – just able to keep his mouth above the water by craning his neck. And after a little while, he noticed that the older DM was repeating slowly – and with as little movement as possible – some familiar advice: “Don’t make waves …. Don’t make waves”.

The recently arrived DM, still pondering his predicament, did realize why he didn’t recognize his old mentor at first: it was the only time he had ever seen his senior colleague stick his neck out.

– originally told to me by my senior colleague Rod Dobell


Why is Encryption Not Widely Used for Email?

Granted, I rarely send an email that can be classified as “secret”, “sensitive” or “protected”. I can’t think if I’ve ever sent anything that was really sensitive, even when I worked in government. The most illegal activity I’m engaged in involves renting out our basement suite. So I understand the common explanation why email encryption is not used: most people just don’t see the need for secure email.

But when I get an email from my lawyer with the following:

The contents of this electronic mail transmission are an attorney and client communication and are therefore PRIVILEGED, intended to be CONFIDENTIAL and for the sole use of the designated recipient. Any use of this electronic message or the information contained therein, including reading, copying, disseminating or otherwise distributing it, is strictly prohibited unless you are the addressee.  If you have received this electronic message in error, please immediately notify the sender by replying to this electronic message and delete the electronic message from your computer. Thank you.  We appreciate your assistance in correcting this error.

do we honestly think this is secure? We do know this, right? That regular email is not secure.

But a recent “scandal” – based on hacked private e-mail communications between prominent American and British climate researchers that has got global warming sceptics dancing with delight – might serve to raise the profile of encryption. Those hacked emails are now available at and a good explanation of the context is at It also seems that the hacking wasn’t too sophisticated – one of the emails had the login and password of one of the account holders in their signature. But for a really good critique of the “Climategate” scandal, check this out: Climategate Explained

I interact with a fairly tech-savvy crowd, but I have yet to find a client, colleague or associate who regularly – actually, ever – uses encryption. So why is encryption not widely used for email?

Collaborative Policy Analysis

The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis 2.0

For the past 15 years, the Internet has changed our lives – and changed us. Now the Internet itself is undergoing its own transformation with the accelerating adoption of technologies collectively called Web2.0. This second generation web is characterized by the emergence of the Internet as a participatory platform, with the distinction between consumers and producers blurred. The shift from user-selected content to user-created content has significantly changed our on-line interactions – and has the potential to change our social interactions with it. In the presence of all this change, the public sector is seeking to adapt.

We use the term Web2.0 to describe recent changes in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that facilitate enhanced creativity, communication, collaboration and function. Web2.0 technologies – such as blogs and microblogs, wikis, mashups, social networking, content sharing and tagging – continue to grow in popularity and function. Principally used for social activities (e.g., Facebook and Twitter continue to be cited as prime examples of Web2.0 applications), Web2.0 has also been deployed in a number of corporate environments for marketing and operations management (McAfee, 2006). Under the name of Enterprise2.0, tools such as wikis and blogs have seen widespread uptake. Organizations have years of experience with a range of communication media – email, telephony, intranets and document management systems. What Enterprise2.0 seeks to accomplish is to reduce the traditional management function of coordination necessary in running large organizations and instead builds collaboration into the infrastructure.

Where governments have adopted Web2.0 (i.e., “Gov2.0”), it has generally been in support of communication strategies – principally internal, but increasingly external (e.g., Wyld, 2007). More robustly, Gov2.0 technologies can be deployed to: improve service delivery, improve operations and management and reinvigorate democracy. There has been little emphasis, however, in the application of Web2.0 technologies to that specialized internal communications function – policy analysis and briefings. Continue reading

Creating a Salish Sea Sense-of-Place

The use of the term “Salish Sea” region to define the watershed that drains the lands surrounding the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound has been approved by both the United States Board on Geographic Names and the Washington State Board on Geographic Names. With approval in principle by the office in British Columbia responsible for geographic naming (which represents a recommendation to the Minister responsible), the last barrier to official transboundary recognition of the name change is the BC Cabinet – which is expected to consider the recommendation this month.

Continue reading

Digital Fishers – The Taxi Driver Pitch

Eugene Bardach’s Practical Guide for Policy Analysis (2000) is a handbook for public policy practitioners that I use in my executive and professional development courses (see “Better Briefings Workshops“). Bardach uses a test, “New York Taxi Driver Pitch” to argue that your policy explanation needs to be clear, succinct and simple. This test, in which the analyst imagines trying to explain the problem and recommended solution to a taxi driver during a trip through city streets, is similar to my “grandmother test” (which some of my older colleagues call the “mother test”). I’ll attempt to make my Digital Fishers Taxi Driver Pitch here (good thing it’s a trip out to the airport, and traffic is moving slow):

The Neptune Canada project involves the construction of the world’s largest fibre optic cabled seafloor observation system off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This 800 kilometre long network of cables will be connected to a number of nodes on the seafloor. At each of these nodes, instrument clusters will gather live data from the ocean environment and that data will be transmitted to a database at the University of Victoria. The system will then provide free access to this data via the Internet to anyone interested.

A group at the University of Victoria recently received funding from CANARIE Inc. (Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network) for a project called “Data from the Deep, Judgment from the Crowd” to look at new ways to collect and analyze data from the Neptune project. One part of this project is called the “Digital Fishers” crowdsourcing component. Continue reading

Data from the Deep, Judgment from the Crowds

The Neptune Canada project at the University of Victoria recently received a $1M funding award from CANARIE Inc., Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network, in response to its “Data from the Deep, Judgment from the Crowd” proposal. is a partner in this project, leading the “Digital Fishers” crowdsourcing component under the direction of UVic’s Centre for Global Studies Senior Associate Dr. Rod Dobell. (a division of Whitehall Policy Inc.) brings leading-edge depth of experience in deploying Web2.0 principles and technologies in corporate, academic, civil society and civic society environments to facilitate social networking, data capture and collaborative knowledge creation. Continue reading