GitHub Tutorials at #CodeFest2014

I’m in my nation’s capital on August 14 and 15 to promote our projects on the Next Policy Challenge and the Use of GitHub in Canadian Governments. While I’m there, I will be offering beginner tutorials (like, really beginner) in the use of GitHub at the third annual Web Experience Toolkit CodeFest.

GitHub 101: Setting up and navigating will start with setting up a GitHub account, and move on to follow other users, watch some projects, join an organization and create a first repo. No command line, no Git, no deep principles of distributed version control. This session is for the true GitHub beginner – but by the end of this short session, participants will have faced their (legitimate) GitHub fears and be ready to interact with their designer and developer colleagues (well, at least not feel like a total n00b).

  • the PowerPoint slide deck for GitHub 101 is available here: GitHub 101 Tutorial (deck updated August 2015)

GitHub 102: Fork this repo! is for the new GitHub user who has lurked around the edges of GitHub for a while but whose profile page still shows “0 Contributions”. Building on the previous session (GitHub 101: Setting up and navigating), this session will focus on making contributions through GitHub.com and interacting with other users. Participants will “fork a repo”, flag an issue, issue a pull request, and manage pull requests from other users. It will culminate in each participant creating their very-own GitHub.io webpage. We’ll do all of this and not even peak at the command line. This session is for the true GitHub beginner – but by the end of this short session participants will have earned some props from their designer and developer colleagues and moved towards being a regular GitHub contributor.

  • the PowerPoint slide deck for GitHub 102 is available here: GitHub 102 Tutorial (deck updated August 2015)

Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #GitHub101 and #GitHub102

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Computer-Supported Policy Analysis, Past and Future

In a recent draft paper (available here, and below), I’ve speculated that enterprise collaboration systems in government can serve to expand the notion of who in government can contribute to policy analysis; and that open data can expand the idea of policy analysis to those working outside of government.

Comments are welcome from any reader. Note that this draft is currently under review and is intended for: Parson, Edward A. (ed.). forthcoming. A Fine Balance: Expertise, Evidence and Democracy in Policy and Governance, 1960-2011. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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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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Computer-Supported Policy Analysis and the Future of the Profession

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I am involved in organizing a symposium and publication project reflecting on the career of my long-time supervisor and mentor Dr. Rod Dobell.

I had originally meant to stay in the shadows, but I will now be presenting an original paper with the super-long title of “From Massive Mainframes to Massive Data, Databanks to #OpenData, ‘As We May Think’ to Thinking Machines: Computer-Supported Policy Analysis and the Future of Practice.” This will be delivered at the symposium on August 20 2011.

The draft paper is a high-level survey of the application of computer technology in support of the policy analysis function in western governments over the post-World War II period, and points to possible future implications for practicing policy analysts arising from continuing technological developments and as the consequence of three emerging phenomena: the massive data era, the open data movement (something I’ve written on recently) and anticipated advances in artificial intelligence.

It is a very rough working draft, but the basic ideas have been set out. If you’re interested, it can be found here. Comments are really appreciated.

Dissertation Proposal – Policy Analysis 2.0

Policy Tweets and Facebook.Gov: Assessing the Impact of Gov2.0 and Organizational Social Networks on Knowledge Sharing and Horizontal Collaboration in the Internal-to-Government Policy Formulation Process

Abstract: This research is aimed at describing the modern policy formulation environment and processes of knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst public sector policy workers, assessed in the context of several emerging factors: increasing adoption of Gov2.0 technology, evolving social network structures, evolving norms of practice amongst individual policy analysts and shifting organizational dynamics. Using mixed methods, the research will be undertaken across three perspectives: the individual policy analyst, the policy unit perspective and the horizontal, cross-governmental policy network perspective. The objective is the development of a theory of Gov2.0-supported policy formulation and a description of the “PolicyAnalyst2.0”.

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2011 Sylvia Ostry Prize in Public Policy

I learned yesterday that the following paper has been selected as the winning essay in the competition held annually in honour of Dr. Sylvia Ostry. Thanks to Dr. Rod Dobell, Jodie Walsh and Julie Longo for comments on an earlier draft, and thank you to the Public Policy and Governance Review at the University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance for this honour. This is the pre-publication version; the published version appeared in the Public Policy and Governance Review, Vol. 2, no. 2, p. 38 (May 2011).

#OpenData: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse?

Introduction

Governments collect, generate and compile vast amounts of digitized data continually – e.g., census and survey work by public statistics agencies (Dillon, 2010), or the monitoring of system conditions across a range of domains from the natural environment to public health (Hodge and Longo, 2002) – as a purposeful data-collection activity aimed at fuelling policy-oriented research. In addition, as governments do the things that governing entails – e.g., collecting vital statistics, administering the tax system, recording government operations activity, managing public infrastructure and natural resources, surveying and recording public and private lands, processing regulatory requirements or managing social service delivery – a wealth of digital data is amassed as a result (Cate, 2008).

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