The Bureaucracy Will Learn the Wrong Lesson – Why Government Digital is still so shitty in Canada

Disclaimer: I’m not sure why I feel the need to say this, but, obviously, the thoughts below are my own and not those of any current or past employer / department / team / loose affiliation of acquaintances / pets etc.

There’s a interesting article in the National Post about how shitty the state of the Canadian Government’s “Digital Transformation” actually is. You’re welcome to read it here. But the source material Paperweight: a cautionary tale of onerous oversight and a A bleak outlook for public sector tech are really the star of the show.

An article which consists of 50% quoted material. Journalism at it’s finest.

While I have many many thoughts on the matters they touch upon there having had a “insightful” experience joining the government for 18 months from the private sector, I really want to touch upon the root problem here.

The root problem is that instead of reading the article, thinking over the points and seeing if perhaps there is some improvements to be made. Most of the time will probably be spent asking the 2 staffers to join meetings about the perception this gave off. Probably a bunch of reprimands. Some vague references to how it could impact their careers.

There will be many very well meaning people there as well. Some will say that you need to improve things from inside. That these kinds of things hurt “Digital Transformation” efforts, etc. But most of it will be total BS.

1. An ill-equipped executive class
2. Agile words but not agile implementation
3. A pervasive lack of urgency

Sean Boots on the state of Digital Government

The current system thrives on this facade of optimism about how great things are. If you follow along on twitter 90% of the tweets are public servants padding themselves on the back while posting meaningless quotes about how “The Digital Transformation will be Agile” ( Anything related to Shared Services, the Digital Transformation Office or the Office of the CIO is always prime material).

The saddest thing to me about the article and the blog posts is not what they show and represent (I’d even go as far as to say that both those blog posts are not critical enough based on my experience). But rather what the reaction internally will be. There will be no reflection on how to improve, rather the focus will be how to cover their asses.

There will be no reflection on how to improve, rather the focus will be how to cover their asses.

Me, just now

Now, before you get all smug and point to others’ failures like I’m doing in this quickly written haphazard blogpost, I think it’s worth taking a step back and asking ourselves why that is. Why do bureaucrats feel they need to cover their asses? I think it’s partly because that’s what “we” (The general public) have forced them / trained them to do.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Walt Kelly

It’s similar to what’s broken about politics. Our expectations, our discourse, our media, our knee jerk reactions.

I wish I had a clear implementable solution for this, but the best I can come up with is the same answer as to most other problems. We need more compassion. We need more compassion for others in all situations, including bureaucrats who don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the training, the environment or the incentive structures to make tough decisions. The problem is, that doesn’t give us that quick hit of dopamine that writing a shitpost dunking on public servants does…. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a mirror I need to go take care of.

Here’s a follow up post: How to respond to criticism of Government’s Digital Transformation

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