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Don't Let Perfect Get in the Way of Good – Notes from Government Web 2.0 Conference

Welcome to David Colpitts, a new One Degree correspondent from the Ottawa area.  For his first piece for One Degree, David had the somewhat daunting task of reporting on a recent event in Ottawa – Government Web 2.0 and Social Media. David shares the highlights of the conference as well as his frustrations and disappointments, both with the conference as well as the role of Web 2.0 in government.

Government Web 2.0 and Social Media was a 2-day seminar that was supposed to be about “Leveraging Web Tools to Enhance Communication and Connectivity”

I had high hopes of meeting the government’s leaders in Web 2.0 applications.  Engaging in conversations on potential uses of the exciting new social media tools like Facebook, and Twitter… or even looking to the future and potential ways Canada can be the leaders on the new G3 network (see Phil’s article).

Instead, I was initiated into the “world of government”.  Apparently a place where:

  • the left hand doesn’t talk to the right hand
  • there are rigid rules and procedures you MUST follow to get something done
  • unless you don’t
  • and most importantly where they think “cutting edge” is a wiki

The table I was sitting at had a fellow from the Department of National Defence (DND).  He was pretty annoyed when the 2nd guest speaker from the Treasury Board (TB) was boasting how they had an internal facing wiki and that it had been live for 6 months. Turns out that DND has had wikis live on the web for over a year.  To the best of my knowledge, the difference there is that DND said, “Wow, we need this” and then did it.  TB said, “mmm sounds interesting, lets start a study and maybe do a pilot”.

What can we learn from this? Apparently in government when you’re looking at uses of Web 2.0, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

It actually got worse. When I suggested to the TB speaker that he release his procedure to other departments so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, he replied that the best course of action was to wait the 4 months until those procedures were approved. (As a side note, if you are from the private sector, I do not recommend opening your mouth at a government seminar.)

However, it wasn’t all bad.  There were also a few great speakers who had great content.


Daniel Shap. Lawyer.  His talk, provocatively titled "Protecting Your Network from Social Media", had a couple good points – the first is on that every web administrator should be aware of: the definition of “network”.  Networks aren’t just the PC, they are EVERY piece of connected hardware, including smart phones, laptops, iPods, and even USB keys.  Each and every piece of hardware exposes your network to risk.  A great point which I myself often overlook.

He also touched briefly on “ownership of data” – actually a lot of people discussed it, but he was the most coherent.  The general gist was that ownership of data is a pretty grey area, so if you are going to write a blog for (or with) your company, then you better get it in writing who owns what.

Daniel discusses some of these points in a video interview below:

Duane Nickull from Adobe.  This guy is clearly a professional public speaker.  He was the 2nd to last speaker of day two.  His topic was “how to make a blog”.  I was dreading his presentation, because several other presenters had talked about the same thing.  However, Duane was clear, concise, funny, relevant, and spoke to the audience.  Even though he was saying the same things as several other speakers, it was clear that the remaining attendees were “hearing” this information for the first time. I personally think that discussing new apps for adobe air would have been way cooler, but that’s just me.

Gerald Abshez, a representative from Wikiversity.  To the best of my knowledge (other than our host) he was the only speaker to sit through the full two days of the seminar.  Turns out that was a great move, because he was the fourth person whose topic was “how to set up a wiki”. He started his seminar with a “I made a major change to my topic because you guys have already heard everything I had to say”. There was genuine and heartfelt applause. Kudos to Gerald for staying to the very end and the Q&A session.

And the last highlight wasn’t a speaker at all. 

It was clear to me from the beginning of the conference that several different departments in the Federal Govt are trying to set up a wiki, but none of them are talking to each other (Hey, know what would be good for that?  A wiki.   Sadly this is not possible in the Federal govt because of “politics”).

Enter Veena!  She was a representative from the Ontario provincial govt. who is going through the same trials and tribulation – several different departments are trying to set up wikis but all have to conform to the rules and regulations set from the top down.  They set up a wiki to deal with it, and Veena, invited the federal employees to participate.  This also got applause.  Sadly I got the distinct impression from the crowd (mostly over 45 years of age) that Veena would likely be reprimanded for that.

Yes, that is the very definition of irony.  We are at a conference to discuss free exchange of information, and not only is a wiki open to all departments “impossible” in the federal govt, but when somebody from a provincial government invites federal employees to participate it is met with shudders from the 45+ crowd. Veena, if you read this, GOOD JOB, and thank you.

I guess after hearing that, I can say it’s probably a good idea that this seminar wasn’t about new social media tools because government has a lot to overcome before they can embrace the most basic tools like a wiki and blogs.

Editor’s Note: I know we have a few government employees (municipal, provincial and federal) who read One Degree.  Do any of you have any insights to offer?  Are tools being adopted differently and more appropriately in your group?  Or do David’s impressions reflect reality?   We’d love to hear from you!


  1. Kerry
    Kerry June 24, 2008

    I have to say that in my department we do a lot of pilots and asking for forgiveness from the central agencies later. If we always waited for Treasury Board for direction, we’d be looking at implementing 2.0 when 2000.0 was ready to roll.

  2. Sasha
    Sasha June 25, 2008

    In my department they are talking about bringing a social media site online at the end of June (isn’t that now?) and there has been no talk, email, mention, etc for the site. I have heard that the technology is very web 1.0 and that a new web 2.0 platform should be launched in September. At a recent seminar I posed the question of just launching the new web 2.0 social media site instead – maybe that is why we have not heard anything so far about the ‘new’ social media site.
    When it is finally released I’ll post another comment on how it functions.

  3. Brad Grier
    Brad Grier June 25, 2008

    Great article! Many not-for-profits and charities are unfortunately hamstrung by the same ‘inertia’ that government is; policies, procedures, approvals and politics.
    If you have confidence in what you’re doing and are prepared to be accountable, then the ‘ask forgiveness’ model is best. Otherwise, find another workplace 🙂

  4. Jennifer Bell
    Jennifer Bell June 25, 2008

    You guys were at the wrong event! I just got back to Montreal from Personal Democracy Forum in New York, and it was amazing. The Obama campaign is setting things on fire in the US.
    I’ll be blogging about it in the next few days, as soon as my feet start to touch the ground again….

  5. david
    david June 26, 2008

    thanks for all your comments. what do you think is slowing things down? i have a theory that there is a generation of directors that think knowledge is power (instead of more conventional thinking that knowledge is a tool) they have no interest using social media tools that share the “power”

  6. Susie Floresco
    Susie Floresco July 29, 2008

    There were no reprimands following Zeena’s invitation to our federal colleagues and several people followed up on it. We’re working on the best way to use all aspects of our web presence within our legislative framework. We’re working with a great community to do this.
    BTW, your age comments made me smile. I can see where you get the perception, but I think it’s negative to assume that only the young get this or care about it (saying it reinforces the negative, IMHO).

  7. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac July 29, 2008

    Hi, Susie .. thanks so much for leaving a comment! It is always great to hear the insider perspective and reports on “after the conference”. If you or your colleagues would ever like to share in more detail what you’re working on in the gov’t, we’d be delighted to have you as a contributor. Speaking for my corporate and agency marketing colleagues, I think we have things to learn from how the public sector is using Web 2.0. And hopefully ideas that we can share as well.
    Cheers .. Kate

  8. David
    David August 12, 2008

    Good to hear about Zeena, i was proud she stood up and made the invitation, but when i left there i was actually scared for her job.
    I don’t think only the young “get this” i think the 35+ get it, if they need to. For the younger generation, its not a question of “getting it” it just “is” and always has been.
    I think it would be great if some of the attendees of gov’t 2.0 took Kate up on her offer and used onedegree as a place to shares the highs and lows of our government adopting web 2.0 . I’d read it 🙂

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