Since joining the federal government just over two years ago, there are three words I’ve heard countless times: community, collaboration, and innovation.
When I was in university, these words represented the next generation of thinking about business. Organizations that built up communities rather than “staff” experienced great productivity and an overall sense of enjoyment in the workplace. Those that focused on collaboration were able to instill business models that did away with the hierarchical, top-down tendencies in order to instill a sense that every person had a say in the corporate vision and future. Best yet, those that were innovative could become game changers in just a matter of seconds.
But then I heard those words used again. And again. And they sort of lost their meaning.
Why meaning matters
Words, as they stand, are worth as much as the material they’re printed on (unless you’re reading this on a tablet, in which case, pretend you’re holding a paper copy). What matters is the emphasis we put behind these terms. Not just the emphasis at the beginning, but also the emphasis during the follow-through and onto the final stretch.
Which makes me wonder…how do we show that these words matter today?
This is where you might expect the answer to come back as “none.” But, that’s not the case. In fact, we have a number of establishments that promote and reflect these words.
Communities, for one, exist throughout the federal public service. They exist broadly, through functional communities for communicators, regulators and managers, and also in niche areas for specialists in social media and public opinion research.
Collaboration: As with the abundance of communities, there are countless opportunities to collaborate and work with colleagues within and outside of a federal department. The GC2.0 suite of tools, specifically GCpedia and GCconnex, has made this collaboration exceptionally easy. All you have to do is sign up for an account and you’re ready to go.
Innovation, perhaps the most challenging or intangible idea, is also prevalent through the federal government. For my own part, my first experience with innovation in the public service was through Policy Ignite! Though informal, this grassroots initiative provides an opportunity for public servants of all levels to showcase their brightest ideas, with an aim of changing government. Today, this innovation has been made further possible through the creation of innovation hubs and labs across the government.
Evidently we have plenty of opportunities to build communities, collaborate with colleagues and innovate. So what’s the problem?
Like many of life’s challenges, it’s quite simple: we need greater participation. Not from the “early adapters” or “keen young public servants,” but rather from Joe in accounting and Sue from senior management.
Four steps to change
- Join a community: Find a community that is addressing real problems, either in your workplace or at a global level. Join it!
- Advocate on behalf of that community: Encourage that community to work collaboratively on a problem: create a GCpedia page or GCconnex presence. Invite junior and senior staff, and make sure they have an equal position at the table. Tell your friends. Tell your coworkers. Tell your boss. Tell your employees. Make sure everyone is aware of the work being done, and the value that membership can bring to the public service, and to individual public servants’ career paths.
- Create a new community: Find a new problem. Find like-minded people. Then build a new community that can work together to address that issue, and develop innovative solutions.
- Stop treating community, collaboration and innovation as buzzwords: These words will only stop being buzzwords if they go from the realm of conversation to action. So let’s stop adding these words to our PowerPoint presentations, and start adding them to our work plans and performance agreements.