Using GitHub for Open Collaboration on Text Docs

On August 19 & 20, my colleague Tanya Kelley and I will be at OpenSym 2015 in San Francisco presenting some results from our recent research on projects that are experimenting with using GitHub to facilitate open collaboration. (This also builds on our work on the use of GitHub in Canadian public administration). Continue reading


The Briefing Note: ‘Proposed Options’ Section

If there is any part of writing the briefing note (especially the “for decision” note) that really seems to cause angst for people, it’s the “Proposed Options” section – and maybe not for the reason you might think. Generally, this section (see the template we provided a little while ago to see where this fits) sets out 2-to-4-ish clear and distinct options for dealing with a policy problem, and lists the pros and cons for each. Our experience has been that that hard part isn’t coming up with the options. And working through the pros and cons for each isn’t so bad, either. It’s how to write the pros and cons in a way that doesn’t aggravate your reader or weaken your recommendation that seems to be the hard part.

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Briefing Note Template

I’ve had several people ask me over the years for a briefing note template, so I’ve made this one available on Google Docs:

This template is modeled on a standard template used by the British Columbia Government, and additional commentary is based on the work produced by my firm, published in a White Paper titled “The Briefing Process in British Columbia”  written by Colleen Cunningham.  The full Google Docs version contains comments that guide you through the completion of the document. (The preview does not show the guide comments). Further reference to work on the briefing note can be found in another White Paper titled “Communication in the Policy Process”.

For some thoughts on writing the “Proposed Options” section of the briefing note, see this post on the topic. For an example of a briefing note ‘for decision’ in the Canadian federal government, see this post.

Dobell Keynote

Video Clips from

Climate Science, Civil Service and Civic Society:
The Long Haul to Low Carbon Societies

Rod Dobell’s keynote address to the recent symposium “BC’s Climate Change Agenda: 
Changing Culture, Sustaining Momentum and Building Careers” (January 21-22 2009, Victoria BC). The videoclips that were part of the presentation are below, and the presentation deck itself are also available (the the PowerPoint slide deck is here and the pdf of the slide deck is here.).

1. Rick Mercer’s Parody of Crackberry Addicts: not at all germane to the topic, this parody was intended as an alternative to kvetching to everyone to put their Blackberry away.

2. Surprise! Andrew Weaver and the Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice (as told by Al Gore): Andrew Weaver cites the Arctic sea ice — 2007 evidence way outside the scenarios in IPCC—people don’t realize how stunned were the climate scientists. Here, Al Gore tells the story of the shocking summer of 2007. Just think – an ice free Arctic Ocean by 2012!

3. Institutional Aspects: Governance Issues – David Keith talks about geoengineering, and how we are applying science and engineering to the climate crisis … but it’s not clear that we have a handle on the implications.

4. What is Web 2.0 Anyway? For the past 15+ years, the Internet has profoundly change our lives – and changed us. Now the Internet itself is undergoing its own transformation with the adoption of technologies collectively called Web 2.0. This second generation web is characterized by 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. If Gutenberg’s revolution was centred on the mass production of printed texts, then the innovation in Web 2.0 lies in its facility to allow anyone to become a virtual pamphleteer.

Web 2.0 Vocabulary

Web 2.0 Vocabulary

Gov 2.0:  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. (While the term “Web 2.0” is somewhat new, the literature in computer-supported cooperative work (cscw) and computer-mediated cooperation (cmc) systems is robust. The application of cscw and cmc to civic engagement and policy development has a shorter history, but one which Whitehall Policy Consulting and its associates have been at the forefront of. In our opinion, Web 2.0 is siply the current manifestation of this long history of cscw and cmc.).

Web 2.0 technologies – such as blogs and microblogs (e.g., Twitter), 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 principle 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 that coordination function into the infrastructure.

5. Is Web2.0 Just a Fad? Clay Shirky (at TED Oxford, July 2005) says this is the way of the future, will entail massive readjustments in institutional life; we can see it coming.  This is your future.  We—you—might as well get good at it.  To deal with problems like climate change, public servants must do so.

6. Implications for Public Servants: Clay Shirky (at TED Oxford, July 2005) again. We will face the challenge of detecting merit in a setting of unconstrained individual contributions.  How to know when an unaccredited source has contributed something credible, usable?  How to filter a signal from the noise of all these individual contributions together.

Web 2.0 Vocabulary

In developing a presentation and a proposal centred around the idea of Web 2.0, I created a Wordle of terms associated-with / that-define Web 2.0:

Creative Commons License
Web 2.0 Wordle by Justin Longo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that the user provides. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Words and concepts were derived from a number of sources. To make some words and concepts more prominent in the Wordle than others, I simply used my judgment to force increased frequency on terms and concepts that I thought were more important than others.

I would really appreciate any feedback on this – especially with respect to two questions:
1. Any complaints about the frequency / prominance of some terms? For example, is “Silverlight” too prominent? (I think it is). BTW: “Tim Berners-Lee” is prominent partly out of respect and partly because of his critique of Web 2.0 being nothing new.
2. Any obvious missing terms (and the corollary, terms that really shouldn’t be there)?

Here’s the source text for this.

How to Intellingently Ignore Unimportant Information

A four minute excerpt of a longer address by the great Perri 6.


Most information management systems being sold to governments are designed for providing access to more information, faster. However, a good information management / decision-support system better allows you to intelligently reject information not useful for making decisions. I’d slightly nuance that a bit – the trick is to keep all the information, but allow the decision maker to focus on the crucial bit.

Later observation (December 10 2008): at a conference in Ottawa, I asked one of the chief hucksters for these “more and more” information systems firms whether he thought Web 2.0 was failing to help us “intelligently ignore unimportant information” (IIUI) – his response, not surprisingly was that it allowed us to do precisely that. I’m not saying that Web 2.0 tools cannot or do not help us in IIUI, I’m just puzzled over whether they do, and how.

The full audio is available at: The Digital State at the Leading Edge Conference February 22, 2007 (Ottawa).

See also: E-Governance : Styles of Political Judgment in the Information Age

Congressional Budget Office: innovations in presenting uncertainty?

The CBO Director’s blog has an entry on “Long term projections for Social Security: innovations in presenting uncertainty” where he highlights the innovative use of what are essentially the “fan charts” used by the Bank of England over ten years ago (which at least incorporated shading to delineate the probability distribution):

CBO Charts

Bank of England Charts

Plus ca change …