Speech last night by Martha Piper, ex-President of UBC, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen:
In a speech at the National Arts Centre, Piper likened today’s public service to the declining popularity of the wristwatch. Everyone over age 50 wears one, but most Canadians under 25 don’t.
The wristwatch only does one thing, tell time, she said, and today’s youth live by cellphones or BlackBerries, which communicate, compute, organize, schedule, find information, make calls and even tell time.
“Like the wristwatch, you can no longer survive if you are isolated in your Ottawa office working on one policy at a time,” she said. “Instead, you must become more like the BlackBerry: performing more than one function, integrating the issues you are facing, being everywhere and most importantly, being in contact with the people you serve.”
Instead, she told bureaucrats to broaden their agendas, take risks, reach out and listen to the views of Canadians both “physically and virtually,” and earn public trust by “turning your wristwatch into a BlackBerry.”
Excellent analogy for the audience, since so many of us are BB-addicted. And many of public servants are in the wristwatch demographic too.
My focus is of course virtual- what would virtual contact look like? One approach is hinted at in this summer’s copyright consultations, using an online discussion or idea-generation vehicle to assist in policy development. Good that it happened, but it was still a case of “build it and they will come” rather than proactively going out and engaging citizens online in the spaces where they focus their attention. That’s a whole other enchilada.
Update: full text of Ms. Piper’s remarks is now available on the Public Policy Forum site in PDF form. A little bird tells me that from p. 10 onwards is recommended reading for bureaucratic types interested in online innovation.