Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How GCPEDIA will Save the Public Service, revisited

In March of 2009 David Eaves suggested that GCPEDIA will save the public service .  As a Canadian federal public servant and a GCPEDIA1 Administrator2, I'd like to believe he's right.

His main argument was that GCPEDIA has the potential to become the repository of much knowledge that will be lost (or at least not conveniently accessible) once the baby boomer generation retires. Has this been happening in the time since his article was originally published?  While I can't claim to be familiar with every article produced on the wiki in the last 7 months, I'd have to say: not obviously. I've watched with interest as Mitch Bloom has been toiling away at "Things you wish you knew as a new public servant‎" but I haven't noticed other similar examples (note: GCPEDIA is only accessible from the Government of Canada computer network).

Whether or not you agree that there is value in capturing past and present ways of doing for posterity (and given some of the reader comments to Mr Eaves' article, it's a contentious issue) I still believe that GCPEDIA will save the public service.

GCPEDIA is as valuable for what it is as it is for what it represents.  As a public service renewal initiative, it functions as a collaboration tool that can aid government employees in their work across federal departments and provincial boundaries.  And as a public service renewal initiative it proves tangibly that the Government of Canada sees value in Web X.x technologies by providing these tools to public servants nationwide—tools like GCPEDIA, GCForums, and GCconnex.

As a relatively new addition to the public service, I can honestly say that until recently I had serious doubt about the government's ability to move into the 21st century.  I never doubted there was interest in doing so, or a belief in the necessity, but as far as actually achieving this... well, the mantra I heard recited by many senior employees was a reminder of the glacial speed of government.  From my own early experiences, I was inclined to agree.  I arrived in 2007, and was promptly delivered a computer running Microsoft Windows 2000, Office 2002, and Internet Explorer 6.  Not exactly the recency that I was accustomed to from my experience in the private sector...

Don't misunderstand, I love the public service, but nothing really excited me about it until GCPEDIA.  I blogged about this excitement recently on GCconnex, along with my own pledge to try to help Mr. Eaves' prophecy come true:
I returned to the public service in mid-August 2009 after 9 months parental leave and was amazed to discover GCPEDIA and GCconnex, which seemed to have been getting underway just as I was planning my escape vector to Babyland.

I say "amazed" because before I left I'd had some heavy discussions with Pierre-Luc Pilon (and others) at the October 16 and 17 2008 YMAGIN UnConference about how great these types of tools would be for the GoC.  I never dreamed they would actually materialize, let alone afford me an opportunity to be personally involved. So fresh back in my chair at HRSDC, and with ~4 years of MediaWiki administrator experience, I applied for and was accepted as a sysop on GCPEDIA.  I'm thrilled to be able to put my experience to work
at work, and I'm eager to donate my spare work cycles to assisting your project or group.

If you’d like to get your knowledge up on GCPEDIA but are unsure about the markup and layout, please contact me. If you've got a good start going, but things are becoming tangled and complex, or you need to add something new, just write or call.  I’m more than happy to help you to whatever degree you'd like, from a bit of coaching to taking a lead in structure, design and coding.   I can teach you the markup, show you by example by formatting and arranging the data as you need it, or even edit it with you live and in tandem during a phone call.

Don't feel like you need to be an expert to get started on GCPEDIA.   This is, above all else, a collaborative tool.  Those with content but no software knowledge can help and be helped by users with the technical knowledge but no new content to share.

So... let's get started helping each other.
I can't imagine I'm the only one who feels this way.

I believe that GCPEDIA will save the public service not merely by storing the knowledge of those employees that it has lost, but by capturing and retaining the knowledge, involvement and interest of current and future employees.  If you've done any investigation into the qualities that make for an attractive workplace, you'll know that money isn't the highest consideration on the list.  In terms of long term retention, ranking higher is the quality of the workplace, satisfaction with the work, and highest of all, satisfying relationships with co-workers—a perception of connectedness and belonging.

This is the difference that GCPEDIA brings, that differentiates it from just another GoC software rollout.  We talk endlessly about silos.  Now, finally something that allows me to meet, learn from and collaborate with colleagues across Canada.  This platform is vital to members of Generation X, Generation Y and the upcoming Generation Z who will come to here to discover a government that embraces forward thinking and transformation—a government that finally offers the allure that has lured away so many others to the private sector.

I'm filled with much hope about what's to come in the next five years, but for long term prosperity into the coming decades, tools like GCPEDIA and GCconnex must represent only the current iteration of a progression towards an ideal.  Nothing we build today is capable of sustaining the future indefinitely.  In five years, what GCPEDIA has become and what it must change into should already be obvious to employees at every level.  If we can maintain, or even increase the momentum we've created today, we'll already have prepared to make the turn ahead, even if the ship itself can never steer as nimbly as we wish.
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1 - GCPEDIA is an internally-hosted, wiki-based document collaboration platform, running MediaWiki software.
2 - I have been a bureaucrat-level sysop on GCPEDIA since September 2009, providing content management, user education, and account assistance.