How to respond to criticism of Government’s Digital Transformation

This relates to my previous post: The Bureaucracy Will Learn the Wrong Lesson – Why Government Digital is still so shitty in Canada.

So the question now really is, “how to respond to this problem”, or sadly, “how to respond to this news article”. The problem is that there’s the easy way and the hard way. And the hard way would mean prioritizing this issue. Something no one really wants to do right now, I mean, honestly ask yourself if (as of right now, January 2021) you want the gov to be spending time fixing it’s problems with bureaucracy or would you rather they just focus 100% on COVID and COVID related stuff. Even someone as passionate about “Digital Transformation” as myself doesn’t really think it’s the best of times to address this. All that to say, I won’t judge people for taking the easy way out, you could even say I’ll try to have compassion.

The easy way out is basically to just do nothing. Not a real nothing, regardless there will be dozens’ of meetings, probably memo’s going out to Assistant Deputy Minister’s and what not, heck the union might get involved in the HR meetings about the implications of various headers in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. But in the end, nothing will be done, except maybe having an all staff meeting where folks are reminded of their obligations and how their actions outside of their work may have an impact on the goals they are trying to achieve, etc etc.

Fun fact, the creator of Effin’ Birds was previously a Public Servant

Like most other things in government and in many other institutions with a high percentage of Bullshit Jobs, a lot of time will be spent but nothing real or tangible will come of it.

And now, since it’s very easy to give out advice when you have little to no context and also have no accountability for what you post because you’re a random person on the internet, I’m going to do just that and give my unsolicited advice.

Take the punch.

That’s it. Just take responsibility and ownership for it and explain how you’re going to fix it.

It’s easy to say, and theoretically, it would be easy to do. If there was someone there to take the punch. But that’s one of the biggest problem with digital government, there’s no one ministry and now it’s only made much worse without a Minister for Digital Government. There’s no one where the buck stops.

Taking a punch isn’t all that bad.

No one, ever

There are so many disparate departments, each with their own “mandate”, each with their own problems and there isn’t a single authority who can take, or more accurately, demand accountability on these things.

Whatever department this site was for (I’m guessing ESDC since it’s Service Canada related) won’t want to take any responsibility for it. They may say they are following the guidelines put in place by another department (Probably finger pointing at TBS who would in turn point to many disparate documents on “digital first”). A whole bunch of people will chime in to say that they are working on a “Center for Excellence” on Digital Innovation that would solve this. Folks will argue and point fingers, but no one will, or even can, take responsibility and then actually go thru with it to make concrete change.

So what’s left? The only thing that’s left to fight for if you can’t have accountability, is protect visibility.

The only way that there will be real accountability and visibility is if these things stay in the open and are talked about openly. So in a sense, you may not be able to take responsibility and accountability for changing everything since no one has that power. But many people have the power to stand up to keep even a slight glimmer of visibility and transparency protected. For many folks, that’s the only real way they can follow the guidelines of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector of Respect for Democracy, Respect for People, Integrity, Stewardship, and Excellence.

You may not be able to take the punch and take ownership of fixing the problem, but you can probably take the punch for supporting visibility into the problem.

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

Doing Justice To Our Own Complexity

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, And Silence

Do we really need 5 stars?

If you look at most review online, be it Amazon or Google Apps they often look like this:

Lots of 5s and lots of 1s not much in between

I was going to post a picture of Amazon here, but it actually turned out to be way harder to find the lots of 5 and lots of 1 pattern there…. lots of people used 4….

I mean, I expected this blog post to be about how we should get rid of 5 stars and just do thumbs up thumbs down. And Netflix didn’t change their option to thumbs up and thumbs down because of this, just because it increased user votes:

So…. Not sure what the point of this blog post is anymore…. I guess 5 stars is useful in certain contexts, but you probably already knew that…

The First Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that “all existence is dukkha” with dukkha usually being translated to suffering. But can also be understood as being incapable of being satisfied. That while there is the “common” suffering of old age, illness and death, there’s also this yearning or craving for more that we can’t satisfy.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

We keep having these expectations and these hopes. We expect that this new shiny thing will bring us happiness, a new game, a new car, a new “thing”, a new relationship, a promotion, a bigger house, a vacation, etc…

But it never does. We’re always wandering and craving for these impermanent things and transitory states that are ephemeral. We continually grasp at the shadow of happiness, and are left disappointed.

Wisdom vs Knowledge

I feel like I write this blog post every few months. Or maybe I don’t actually write / publish it, it’s hard to know what I’ve been thinking about writing and what I’ve actually written((

At some point in life you start to learn about self actualization & self transcendence and the paradoxical way that self actualization leads to self transcendence. Somehow, having a better realization of one’s self leads to a realization that there is no real “self” without everything around it. We aren’t this “self” in a vacuum, we are part of something bigger.

It’s a bit like if you think about the human body as a collection of cells. While yes, the cells are all distinct and unique((Just as everyone named Chad is “unique”)) but really they form tissues that form organs that forms a body.

The cell has no concept of me. It doesn’t understand what a “Stéphane” is. And yet, there is no Stéphane without cells.

Anyway, the original subject of this post wasn’t supposed to be on self actualization and that, but rather on how often we come to learn things, usually waves hands in the air “deep meaningful things” about the state of the world, consciousness or ourselves. On how to be compassionate or on how to self regulate or on how we always alternate between the victim, the saviour and the villain.

But that wisdom is ephemeral. We forget. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we forget about the actor observer bias and we just muter to ourselves about their incompetence.

It’s not enough to “know” stuff. We need to live it. We need to integrate it in our daily lives. And to me, that is true wisdom.

Why I haven’t been writing much

As I mentioned, I haven’t been writing much recently. The problem with the essence of a blog is that it’s allegedly an online diary. Now that works well and fine if you’re on livejournal as ZergMaster69 and no one has a fucken clue who you are. But the problem is that on a blog you’re exposed((that’s from 2015, but I said basically the same thing in 2017 and 2018 and 2018 again, and 2020 as well)) (you can hover over the footnote number to see the footnote inline). In real life you basically have a few set of archetypes you present yourself to the world with.

Take for example who reads this blog, there’s 4 general category:

  • Family((Mostly my aunts [Hi!]))
  • Co-workers / former co-workers((There’s a bias here to former coworkers who worked at Automattic who potentially followed my blog vs current co-workers who mostly have no clue I have a blog))
  • Friends((Current “real” friends))
  • Random acquaintances((Folks from twitter, high school, university, politics))

Now the problem here is that these people usually get wildly different archetypes and perception on who I am.

Let’s take my most popular post((Now there’s a longer story to that since I thought my parents knew, since I told my dad before we got married and asked him to tell my mom. He clearly forgot, so, you know, they learned from family members who use social media, I’m sure that was a fun time all around)) by far, I think part of it is folks love gossip, and that shit is ripe for gossip. I can only imagine family members((again, probably mostly my aunts)) sharing that via their chat group((potentially via fax machines)). That post breaks the whole archetype I presented to family, (most) co-workers and (most) random acquaintances. I’m sure basically 0% of them would of guessed it.

I’ve mostly not mentioned anything related to poly since because well, again the whole archetype stuff. Unlike Facebook where I can pick and choose who sees updates((and I probably will do that to be honest)) on a blog, well, it’s all public. And let’s be honest, I don’t really want random family members to ask follow up questions on my recent heartbreak, then again, I don’t think anyone really wants to talk about heartbreak with family members no matter the circumstances….

Anyway, all that to say, fair warning you might have to endure some sappy emo shit on this blog for a bit.