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May 7, 2012

Collaborative Revolution

The Natural Resources Canada Resource Wiki has set in motion a culture change at NRCan, enabling a more open, dynamic, innovative and collaborative way for employees to work together. 

 

It began on October 30, 2007, with a cross-country departmental Hawaiian Luau that launched a wiki to over 5,000 employees and began the shift to government 2.0. One year later, the Wiki has become a foundation for departmental knowledge; a meeting place for communities of practice; a white board for collaborative content creation; a tool for internal community consultation; and a vehicle for employee engagement. 

 

At the heart of this culture change are Web 2.0 applications. Their simplicity means that tools can be operational and into the hands of users relatively quickly and economically, unlike information systems of the past that took months and sometimes years of development. Web 2.0 applications do not have complex processes for managing information built in; instead they rely on broad social control and participation to be effective tools. It means that culture challenges are more significant and need to be dealt with up front and in real time. This phenomenon represents a shift in responsibility from the technical shops to the users in a way never before seen. 

 

Click on me now

NRCan hasn’t always been on the leading edge of horizontal collaboration. It has, in various forms, been contributing in science and policy development for 150 years. In spite of the collaboration taking place on many levels, in many pockets of the department, information remained difficult to access. 

 

In June 2006, Cassie Doyle joined NRCan as Deputy Minister with a vision of a department where science and policy integration is enabled and supported, and barriers to knowledge and collaboration are eliminated. The result? A department-wide renewal effort focussed on four major themes:

  •          common, departmental vision, mission and policy framework
  •          human resources renewal
  •          integration of science and policy
  •          collaboration technology to enable knowledge management. 

 

“It really helps to have the support of a champion like Cassie Doyle who understands the value of technology as an enabling function and the importance of the Wiki in helping us achieve our knowledge management objectives,” CIO Marj Akerley observed. 

 

With an engaged deputy minister at the helm, the team developed a provocative employee engagement campaign that included Ms. Doyle in an innovative podcast that had her walking across the wiki page welcoming employees to a new way of working together. “Click on me now to get to the NRCan Wiki main page,” Doyle announces at the end of her podcast. “Go. Start collaborating!” And with this, almost 100 percent of employees clicked through to learn more.

 

Business-driven approach

Pioneering a pathfinder approach designed to leverage existing business needs and capability, the Wiki was the first tool launched to measure the potential issues and challenges of using Web 2.0 technologies to improve employee collaboration. 

 

The Wiki 101 pathfinder was initiated in the spring of 2007, targetting employees with a predisposition to collaboration. Its goal: 101 users in 101 days. Within four months it grew to 260 users. Growth was quick and organic.

 

“The Wiki was treated as an open, relatively unrestricted environment,” notes Peter Cowan, Director of Information Management. “Employees were asked to come forward with their own ideas on how to contribute to and optimize the use of the Wiki. We supported groups with promising ideas and did not place many restrictions on users, but instead, provided a few guardrails and a general code of conduct to guide behaviour. For the most part, we were confident in the professionalism of our employees – and for us that worked.”

 

The next step was to develop a Collaborative Technology Business Case as a means to engage senior management and secure commitment and support for a four year, three-tiered approach to the implementation of collaborative tools. A tiered approach ensures a focus on the business value, allowing time to assess, analyze and learn through small scale, real business pathfinders before proceeding to broad implementation. The goal is to have a fully integrated Wiki knowledge base with a universally accessible suite of tools to enhance and facilitate collaboration by the end of Tier Three in late 2011. 

 

Wikis, blogs, instant messaging, social networking tools and podcasts enable informal interactions, reduce the need for travel, and make possible a one-department approach. And they are “green,” have the ability to revitalize the workforce and attract knowledge workers by positioning the department as one that embraces new technologies and promotes new practices.

 

Extensive consultation and research within the department, collaboration with other government departments, policy support from Treasury Board Secretariat and external engagement with industry experts resulted in a Business Case designed to enable knowledge management at NRCan through the implementation of collaborative technologies. 

 

Putting social in social software

All work and no play may be fine for some government organizations, but unconventional, fun, and often quirky initiatives have become the norm in NRCan’s approach. And, with the core team consisting of employees from across the department, ideas are bounteous. 

 

“The Luau theme was in recognition of the Hawaiian origins of the word ‘wiki-wiki’, meaning ‘quick’ in the Hawaiian language,” says Anna Belanger, senior advisor to the CIO. “We have a lot of fun working on this – and we have to. Changing the culture is much more difficult than implementing new te

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