GovLab Editorial Board Meeting Links, 8/16/13

(this is the full post from the truncated version published at http://www.thegovlab.org/govlab-editorial-board-meeting-links-81613/)

Today’s theme was “how can you have open governance if we don’t agree on the basic parameters?”

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” But what if people dispute the facts, or find their own facts hidden in the open data? How can we have open governance when we can’t rely on evidence to frame our discussions.

Is the Season for Climate Change Denial Finally Over? The Huffington Post: Three years after the National Academy of Sciences, a grouping of our country’s top scientists, declared “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks,” it’s hard to believe that there are still Senators who call climate change a “hoax.” But there are.
What’s with rich people hating vaccines? Salon: You may not immediately peg the woman in yoga pants sipping Kombucha outside Whole Foods as a science-denier, but she might be. The anti-vaccination movement, which posits — in the face of overwhelming empirical research — that vaccines cause autism and other diseases, seems to be picking up steam in many of the country’s wealthier, educated enclaves where parents are interested in living “natural” lifestyles.
(Warning: discussion contains limited references to Jürgen Habermas (between facts and norms) and Chantal Mouffe (agonistic pluralism).)

A late addition – not shared prior to the Ed Board meeting, but sent to me afterward by my colleague Rod Dobell – does a much better job than me of discussing the issue from a different angle:

Moment of Truthiness by Paul Krugman
In a well-known paper with a discouraging title, “It Feels Like We’re Thinking,” the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels reported on a 1996 survey that asked voters whether the budget deficit had increased or decreased under President Clinton. In fact, the deficit was down sharply, but a plurality of voters — and a majority of Republicans — believed that it had gone up.
I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.
And then there’s this, which is a reiteration of the adage “where you stand depends on where you sit”:
News Flash: Obamacare Haters Hate Obamacare, by Cass R. Sunstein
Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would postpone until 2015 enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called employer mandate, which will require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance or face significant financial penalties.
To the critics of the health-care law, the real lesson of the announcement is clear: OBAMACARE IS A DEBACLE. And to those critics, that is the real lesson of essentially every development in health-care reform.
No one should doubt that the implementation of the health-care law is creating serious challenges. Reasonable people have objections and concerns. But as with Durning-Lawrence [see the full post to understand this reference, and extension by analogy to the current setting], so with many of Obamacare’s critics, whose conclusions are motivated and preordained.
The same phenomenon can be found among people with diverse political views; it is hardly limited to those on the right. When public officials reduce regulatory costs imposed on the private sector, or decline to issue environmental or other regulations, left-wing critics often conclude that BUSINESS INTERESTS CONTROL GOVERNMENT. This is so even if the regulatory costs are likely to hurt workers and consumers, not merely some abstraction called “business.”

Policy Analysis is What Policy Analysts Do

What do policy analysts in government do (besides the cheeky definition above offered by Arnold Meltsner [1976: vii])? And more to the point, what do practicing policy analysts think they do, and what do they think they should be doing?

In my recent dissertation research, I came at this question by asking practicing policy analysts to rank-order five policy analysts archetypes – connector, entrepreneur, listener, synthesizer, technician. These archetypes, and their descriptions, were derived from earlier work by Durning and Osuna (1994), Meltsner (1976) and Morçöl (2001).

The ‘synthesizer’ archetype is ranked consistently high as describing the role and orientation of policy analysts, followed closely by ‘connector’ and ‘entrepreneur’, with ‘listener’ and ‘technician’ rounding out the rankings. For more information on that research and to see the results, a working paper is available at http://www.whitehallpolicy.ca/mitacs/?p=338.

All Our Ideas” is a research project that takes a hybrid approach to gauging attitudes and opinions that combines the quantifiability of a survey and the openness of interviews. As of February 2012, about 1,500 surveys have been created.

As an experiment in using the “All Our Ideas” approach, and to further look at how policy analyst professionals think about their work, an “All Our Ideas” survey has been created at http://www.allourideas.org/policyanalyst

All Our Ideas page

The Policy Analyst Survey at All Our Ideas

Each refresh of the page will present you with two alternative definitions (out of a total of 18) of what a policy analyst does, and you’ll be asked to pick one. If you can’t decide, that’s an option too. And you can also add your own definition.

Thanks for playing. The results from this experiment will be posted here.

Three Minute eBriefing: Towards Policy Analysis 2.0

What is Policy Analysis 2.0? This is the term we use for the application of collaborative social tools to the internal process of problem identification and solution generation. Whether that activity is formally called “policy analysis” or not, the purpose is to focus on the people inside an organization and how they can use social tools to share knowledge and collaborate. While social listening and community engagement are important aspects of social media – and a robust approach to policy analysis 2.0 should involve these aspects – the focus here is on connecting to the knowledge that already exists within the organization.

“If HP only knew what HP knows, we could be 3 times as profitable.” – Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett Packard.

What are collaborative social tools? These are web-based applications designed for use in a corporate context (as opposed to open access social tools like Facebook and Twitter) that facilitate collaboration without relying on existing formal workflows or teams. The tool might be a wiki (a document that any user can change or add to), a blog (a statement, paragraph or longer document that any user can comment on) or a related forum and platform. These workspaces can be used to pose questions, connect to knowledge sources, initiate discussions, or co-create documents. The key is that users can easily start conversations across their entire network, and other users can join that conversation, without the need for corporate approval or technical web support.

Problems that collaborative social tools can address? Social tools in the corporate environment are growing in popularity because they can address common problems in corporate settings: the overload of email, where you receive too much unimportant information and poor access to useful knowledge when it’s needed; meetings used solely to provide information updates; the re-creating of solutions, or the repeated discover of knowledge; answering the same question multiple times, asked by different colleagues; trying to find knowledge in the organization without really knowing what it is you are looking for, or who might know.

Additional benefits of collaborative social tools: new technologies can transform business operations and spur business process innovation, encourage collaboration across organizational and system silos, increase the efficiency of cross-organizational teams and ad-hoc working groups lacking physical proximity or established reporting relationships.

What type of collaborative social solutions are there? A number of software solutions are currently available, appropriate for use within corporate enterprises, but extendable to external customers, suppliers and partners. A leading source for understanding the tools available and  determining which is optimally suited to the particular setting is the Gartner review of workplace social software.

Important questions to ask in identifying a solution include: your current technology exposure, including your capacity to support a solution in-house; the nature of your organization, with variables like organization size and structure; your predominant orientation – i.e., outward-facing or internally-focussed; and your need for mobile support. Companies who have deployed collaborative social tools to drive employee productivity usually share one or more of these characteristics: a high concentration of knowledge workers; undergoing significant business change; and a geographically dispersed workforce, possibly working in different time-zones or irregular hours.

What are the downsides? Collaborative social tools are not a magic bullet, and are not suited to every situation. Organizations with rigid hierarchical climates can find the technology incompatible with their culture. Employees can reject the solution, fail to engage with the objective of sharing and collaborating, or find workarounds that subvert the objectives. Poorly designed solutions can simply result in information overload, exacerbating a situation the tools were intended to solve. Opening up the organization, and flattening the organizational hierarchy, can profoundly disrupt the organization. Leadership must be prepared for a transformation of the organization. And leadership commitment is also crucial in order to ensure widespread engagement.

 


Are you curious about how new collaborative social tools can be used in your policy analysis environment to improve knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst your team and across the organization? Justin Longo, Principal Associate with eBriefings.ca is available for an executive level briefing or to participate in a practitioner seminar to discuss the results from his recent research and how those insights can help you move Towards Policy Analysis 2.0. Please contact justin by email (justin@ebriefings.ca) or phone (250-686-7288).

Towards Policy Analysis 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges in Collaborative Policy Analysis

Decision-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 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 organizations and promote transformative governance.

“Towards Policy Analysis 2.0” is based on recently conducted research into the contemporary policy formulation environment in the British Columbia Government. In early 2012, Justin Longo (Principal Associate with eBriefings.ca) interviewed members of corporate policy units throughout government as well as deployed an on-line survey of BC Government policy analysts. His research was aimed at the question of how governments can deal with the challenge of policy complexity by supporting horizontal policy formulation, what barriers might stand in the way of the sharing of knowledge and efforts by public servants to collaborate with colleagues, and what challenges might arise as we move further into the collaborative social enterprise environment.

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; 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. A curious gender result also emerged from the data: women were found to be less supportive of knowledge sharing and collaboration than were men. 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, with the reach and density of one’s social network related to career length.

The significance of the findings lies in the implications for organizations to provide support for knowledge workers to make effective use of the organizational 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 difficult to locate 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. And the implications of the findings regarding gender must be considered, by looking at the culture and climate of the organization to determine whether it is having a negative impact on the ability and willingness of all employees to contribute. The potential power of organizational social networks, facilitated by an enhanced collaborative technology infrastructure, to bridge between the organization’s various sub-cultures is one possible path for helping to build the knowledge organization.


Are you curious about how new information and communication technologies – especially those under the heading “Web 2.0” – can be used in your policy analysis environment to improve knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst your team and across the organization? Or have you been using Web 2.0 in your policy analysis work, but are starting to wonder why it’s not working as you hoped? Collaborative web technology like blogs, wikis, social networking platforms and cloud sharing can enable the knowledge organization to reach new levels of productivity. They can also lead to information overload on the demand side, and can fail to engage knowledge workers as content contributors on the supply side.

Justin Longo, Principal Associate with eBriefings.ca, is available for an executive level briefing or to participate in a practitioner discussion forum to discuss the results from his recent doctoral research and how those insights can help you get started in collaborative policy analysis or navigate the challenges of Policy Analysis 2.0. Please contact justin by email (justin@ebriefings.ca) or phone (250-686-7288) to get started. The abstract above provides a sketch of the topic, but the content of a briefing or discussion forum can be suited to your particular interests.

‘Towards Policy Analysis 2.0’ Available for Download

A draft The final version of my doctoral dissertation is now available for download. This document will be was defended on December 18 2012 at the University of Victoria. The abstract is below. To download the full document, please enter your email address below and the download link will be sent to you or you can download it from the University of Victoria.

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Download Survey Data File

The SPSS data file (with some variables removed to avoid the risk of de-anonymization) that provides much of the empirical basis for “Towards Policy Analysis 2.0” is available to interested researchers. To download the file, please enter your email address below and the download link to the file surveyresponses.sav will be sent to you.

Please note that by downloading this data file, the following Creative Commons license applies: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License. If you want to make this file available to someone else, do not forward the source file to them; please direct them to this page: http://www.ebriefings.ca/wordpress/?p=614

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Digital Fishers Evaluation

We recently completed a summative and formative evaluation report on the Digital Fishers project:

The CANARIE investment in the Digital Fishers (DF) component of its NEP-67 grant to NEPTUNE Canada was intended to build a capacity within Oceans 2.0 to support ongoing interaction with a growing Internet-based community interested in contributing to scientific research into oceans issues. At the end of the initial capacity-building phase of the Digital Fishers initiative, the evidence suggests that the CANARIE decision to undertake that investment was well-founded. The development of Digital Fishers has both created a capacity to support ongoing oceans research within Oceans 2.0 and built a foundation for a number of very promising future activities that might also extend the high-capacity “big-pipe” CANARIE system into a range of important distributed applications. Among the benefits of this initial investment by CANARIE Inc is the potential to build – through both formal education and informal citizen engagement – a widening community of interest supportive of ongoing public investment in scientific research into oceans issues.

To download the full report, please enter your name and email address below and click on “Get the Link”. A link to the file will appear below [email-download download_id=”2″ contact_form_id=”541″]

New White Paper: Web 2.0 Tools for Policy Analysis and Policy Briefings

Where is policy analysis – that particular internal public sector communications function, that’s not limited to the public sector but is certainly endemic to it – heading in the context of Web 2.0? This White Paper concludes:

  • Policy analysis and policy briefings are core internal communications functions: policy analysis is a particular function in the public service, that operates at the interface between evidence and decision making; its fundamental objective the attempt to persuade the client to accept both the framing of the problem and the conclusions of the analysis.
  • Social and technological challenges are transforming how we manage the policy analysis and briefing processes: post-positivism requires new modes of collaboration and greater emphasis on persuasion; citizen engagement blurs the line between “inside” processes and “outside” processes; we need to understand these challenges if we are to effectively respond to them.
  • Web 2.0 tools for policy analysis can facilitate this transformation: moving from hierarchy to collaboration; perpetually-beta briefing notes – beyond “eventually perfect” to “always ready”; returning to the decision-support fundamentals of the policy process; addressing current negative incentives in the system; harnessing the power of public participation.
  • Barriers and pitfalls: do not entrust system transformation to enthusiasts; Policy Analysis 2.0 is a system to be managed, not a substitute for managing the system; the system can sabotage any technology that threatens it.

Part of the eBriefings.ca White Paper Series. Please contact eBriefings.ca to obtain the full document.

PolicyWiki Workshops: The Art and Craft of Policy Analysis 2.0

Workshop Premises and Objectives

For the past 15 years, the Internet has profoundly changed our lives – and changed us. Now the Internet itself is undergoing its own transformation with accelerating changes in information and communications technologies and the adoption of technologies collectively called Web 2.0. 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 Web 2.0 to describe recent changes in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that facilitate enhanced creativity, communication, collaboration and function. Web 2.0 technologies – such as blogs and microblogs, wikis, mashups, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking, content sharing and tagging – continue to grow in popularity and function.

Principally used for social activities (e.g., Facebook and MySpace continue to be cited as prime examples of Web 2.0 applications), Web 2.0 has also been deployed in a number of corporate environments for marketing and operations management (McAfee, 2006). Under the name of Enterprise 2.0, 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 Enterprise 2.0 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 Web 2.0 (i.e., “Gov 2.0”), it has generally been in support of communication strategies – principally internal, but increasingly external (e.g., Wyld, 2007). More robustly, Gov 2.0 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 Web 2.0 technologies to that specialized internal communications function – policy analysis and briefings.

The briefing function in government is at least a half century old. And while it is well established, the contemporary policy analysis and briefing process, as revealed in practice, shows several points at which the process of assigning and drafting briefing notes has broken down or run into challenges:

  • In the communication of the request from the political executive to the operational policy analyst, the hierarchical nature of these relationships and the number of steps through multiple channels can lead to distortion of the message and delay in delivery.
  • As the policy analyst strives to respond to these requests, they often work in isolation from the client requesting the information and from other possible collaborators.
  • As the draft briefing note returns back up the hierarchy, institutional incentives lead to delay in the process and minor changes of minimal importance.
  • And the distance between policy analyst and decision maker (mediated by several hierarchical layers) impose challenges for communication.

These problems in the traditional model of the policy process – communication distortion, delays in message delivery, isolation of the policy analyst from their client and other collaborators, institutional incentives and bureaucratic culture leading to further delays and low value-added, and challenges for in delivering briefing messages – are the result of adherence to hierarchical, sequential modes of work.

As with the movements towards collaborative knowledge work that are evident in many private sector organizations, it is our position that the public sector can benefit from moving towards similar collaborative models in order to address the challenges in policy analysis identified earlier, but also in response to increasingly horizontal challenges, desires for more coherent ‘joined-up’ government responses, and in response to the changing expectations of the next generation of public servants.

As an alternative to traditional modes for preparing briefing notes, we propose collaboration as the central idea around which the shift in process can take place, driven and facilitated by the adoption of a policywiki environment.

Think about the current policy environment: a policy analyst receives an assignment (which is first logged in a database by an administrative assistant) and starts a briefing note by opening a document template and filling in the various spaces: “prepared for”, “issue”, “background”, “discussion”, “options”, “recommendation”, etc. They work away on that document and, when satisfied with its state of completion (and constrained by a deadline), they forward it to their superior who reviews it and makes changes before sending it on to their supervisor, or returning it with a request for changes. This iterative process continues until the client who requested the briefing note receives it. This is the ultimate hierarchical system, and leads to the problems outlined above.

Orienting the process around the creation of a policywiki space can have a transformative effect on this process by creating a mechanism for collaboration.

In some respects, there is nothing radical about a wiki. Take a standard definition of a wiki: a computer medium that can be edited by anyone with access to it, that provides an easy method for linking from one page to another. In the traditional briefing process, the policy analyst who opens a Word template on a group server is essentially doing the same thing. But by organizing a policy analysis team in a wiki environment, and having those team members to explicitly commit to the process, we can have a transformative effect on the briefing process and move from this hierarchical situation to one marked by collaboration.

In by-passing the hierarchy and removing the incentive of those in the chain to delay the progress of the briefing simply in order to be seen to add value, a flat policy team should be able to complete briefings more quickly. By engaging a wide array of skills directly in the policy analysis team, such an approach can explicitly take advantage of the “long tail” concept. Lastly, the creation of a standing wiki environment can improve the speed and accuracy in establishing briefing teams as well as increase the material available from which they can draw. Perhaps one of the more important transformations from applying Web 2.0 to the policy analysis function will be the development of “perpetually-beta” briefing notes: instead of reactive “eventually perfect” briefings written in response to an emerging issue, the development of an inventory of “always ready” briefings adaptable to a specific request would return policy briefings to an earlier idealism.

Workshop Design

These workshops can be thought of as the second generation version of our “Better Briefings” Workshops.

The objective of these PolicyWiki Workshops is to expose students and practitioners of the briefing note process to a different mode of operation – the starting, constructing and completing of policy briefings in a collaborative wiki environment.

This is not just about learning a new interface or software environment. Moving from traditional hierarchical briefing processes to a collaborative process will challenge much of what we have learned in our academic and professional lives.

These workshops are designed to be conducted in a computer networked environment, where all workshop participants will interact with their workshop colleagues in the PolicyWiki workspace. Multiple iterations of briefing rounds will give participants the opportunity to work as a “policy wrangler”, “resource sage”, “gatekeeper” and wikifairy / wikignome. We’ll also look at the impact of wikitrolls and other disruptive behaviours that can make a policywiki challenging.

The particular software environment that the workshop is conducted in will be determined by the interests of the participants and the IT environment they work in (or will likely be working in). Whether the workshop uses Microsoft Office SharePoint Server with Collaboration tools, MediaWiki, SocialText or some other collaboration suite, the focus will be on how teams work collaboratively to produce better briefings, faster.