Canadian Public Service Renewal aka #cpsr

Public Service Renewal seems to be on many government-types’ lips these days. The impending retirement of many senior civil servants creates a substantial demographic problem for the public service. But there’s another side to “renewal” beyond just hiring more people my age (but please please please, hire me). It’s about renewing the talent and passion and innovation in the public service. It’s about unleashing the creativity of employees already in the public service as well as those entering. One of the best places to see that creativity and passion is on Twitter.

The #cpsr tag is used by people discussing Canadian public service renewal and innovation within the Government of Canada. While there are certainly internal discussions taking place, Twitter provides a place for public discussion of ideas from public servants largely acting outside their official capacity.

Increasingly, my generation is accustomed to Twitter-like things. Not everyone uses Twitter, but we expect to be able to communicate, find information, and try new things. We expect ideas and innovation to be rewarded, rather than just time spent going through the motions. We wish we could work for Google, not because of the workplace perks (I think they have a slide) or generous compensation, but because 20% of engineers’ time is allocated to working on passion projects. Employees are encouraged to tinker, and experiment, and try new things. For Google, this has been a win-win, employees stay engaged and Google gets commercially viable products such as Google Suggest and Adsense for Content.
I don’t expect government to turn into Google overnight, or ever, but there are signs of slow change. The Clerk of the Privy Council Office recognized the need for government to use new tools in his most recent report on the public service. He has also joined Twitter (@WayneWouters for English tweets, @WayneGWouters for French tweets). It’s a nice start, and I’m not as critical as some, such as this excellent post, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Wouters doesn’t follow anyone, and it’s unclear whether he is actually reading anything that other users say, or monitoring #cspr #goc or #gov20.

Real renewal will depend on embracing interactivity, openness, risk-taking, and passion. That’s what it will take to bring out the best in existing public servants and to attract the truly gifted of my generation. It isn’t about job security or compensation. That will attract good people, but not great people. As a taxpayer, I want my government to be staffed with innovators and risk-takers. I want a Google-ish government, and I understand that for every resounding success (Google Adsense) there will be a failure (Google Wave). I’m okay with that. What I fear most is risk-averse mediocrity.

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