“Contemporary Practice in Policy Analysis in the British Columbia Government”
Frank, Friendly, Fearless Friday Seminar Series
University of Victoria – School of Public Administration
Friday September 14, 2012 – 2:30pm
Tom Shoyama Boardroom, HSD A373
Abstract: Policy-making is hard, and it can often be made harder still when the issue or environment is complex. Profound uncertainty, rapid emergence and multiple issue interconnectedness are some of the features of a complex policy environment that challenge public policy makers. One approach to dealing with complexity in a public policy context is horizontality, the act of working across the various ministries and divisions of a government in order to harness the organization’s capacity and resources and direct them towards the solving of the complex problem. And one prominent mechanism for meeting the horizontality challenge is the promotion of greater organization-wide collaboration, knowledge sharing and active knowledge seeking amongst a network of knowledge workers. The emergence of Web 2.0 tools and approaches has raised the possibility that we have entered a new knowledge management era – Enterprise 2.0 – that can address the horizontality problem, facilitate the sharing of knowledge across government and promote transformative governance. Based on semi-structured interviews with policy analysts as members of corporate policy units, and a web-survey of 129 practising policy analysts in the Government of British Columbia, this research is aimed at the question of how governments can deal with the challenge of policy complexity by supporting horizontal policy formulation, and what barriers might stand in the way of the sharing of knowledge and efforts by public servants to collaborate with colleagues. From the web-based survey and the interview data, it appears that attitudes (which measures what the respondents’ values and experience tell them is the right thing to do), followed by norms (measured as what respondents hear from their colleagues and superiors as being important) were the strongest and most consistent predictors of the intention to collaborate and share knowledge. A third measure – perceived behavioural control – was weakest, indicating that while policy analysts may believe and be told that knowledge sharing and collaboration are the optimal path, they may not feel they have the authority or latitude to do so. It also appears that a policy analyst’s organizational social network is instrumental in being able to locate knowledge sources and collaboration opportunities outside of their immediate location. But there was little evidence that technology networks to date play a prominent role in facilitating a knowledge organization; in fact, the data indicate that policy analysts may refrain from sharing knowledge with colleagues using technology networks in order to avoid contributing to their colleagues’ information overload. The significance of the present findings lies in the implications for public sector organizations to provide support for knowledge workers to make effective use of the social network, technology and organizational capacity to jointly solve problems. The results point towards strategies for organizational leaders to promote and support a knowledge organization, and towards tools for policy unit managers and individual policy analysts to navigate the challenge of responding to complex policy issues in a world of too much information and not enough knowledge. Caution is advised that attempts to impose knowledge management technology solutions may face significant barriers where the organizational culture is not aligned with open knowledge sharing and collaboration. The potential power of organizational social networks to bridge between the organization’s various sub-cultures is one possible path for helping to build the knowledge organization.