Blogue de Lyne Robichaud

01 juin 2011

Government of Quebec: The door opens to "conventional wisdom"?

In recent months, Government in the Lab’s team has been in communication with the office of Henri-François Gautrin, Deputy House Leader of the Government of Quebec, and his closest advisers. They have been working since October 2010 on an analysis mandate of the potential of the Web 2.0.

On May 2, they allowed their mandate to be announced via GovintheLab’s Newsletter (Open Government and Francophonie No. 3).

On May 31, they answered a few interview questions and provided details about their currents thoughts, and what they are preparing in upcoming months.

Please note that this is an upstream in process publication of information about the progress of the mandate. The French Republic announced the creation of Etalab, before budgets were defined and elements were all in place. The Government of Canada launched an open data / open government pilot project on March 17 and 18, 2011 (and included few new data sets). The new President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, said recently that he supports Stockwell Day’s initiative, and that he wants to try to pursue some of his initiatives in this area. Hopefully, the experience of providing upstream information will be positive for the Government of Quebec, and it will become a habit for departments and agencies to enable citizens to have time to interact in a creative process leading to new programs and policy improvements.

Responses provided yesterday by Gautrin’s team are brief, but they offer some hints, and announce steps to be undertaken before the delivery of the final report, expected in late 2011. There are still a few months from there to allow for communications and interactions with the Government of Quebec, to propose ideas and suggestions.

I see a progression in their thinking. I sometimes observe complicated skating figures in discussions, which will hopefully lead to recommendations on open data and open government. M. Gautrin’s team has been open until now.

The words "transparency, collaboration and participation" - mantra of the open government movement - were not really part of the vocabulary of Gautrin’s team, a few months ago. For example, I searched in vain for the word "transparency"(the pillar of open data and open government), in their documents, last February. How the Government of Quebec intends to become more transparent is not yet articulated. It would be helpful if this important element were to be shortly defined. If there is a concern at the Government of Quebec for greater transparency, this could be demonstrated by launching an open data and open government initiative.

The concept of communication was well established (last February). The interaction dimension with citizens requires, in my opinion, more analytical work. Gautrin’s team speaks of "conventional wisdom" (sagesse populaire), or wisdom of crowds, which is very good sign.
"Interactions with citizens: This is primarily to get feedback from citizens on policies and programs put forward by the government. It also allows managers to benefit from the conventional wisdom to put forward new programs or new ideas."
The door opens gradually, leaving more space for a co-production co-analysis, co-creation type of relationship between the government and citizens. Since the concept of interaction is present in the analysis, it provides a glimpse that work could be undertaken to define how this interaction can take place. For now, the analysis documents refer to social media such as Facebook. Hopefully, Gautrin’s team will recommend to use open data and open government platforms to develop a positive and creative co-production relationship with citizens.

It is not clear how the Government of Quebec will make the transition from the current relationship to a relationship based on participation and interaction with citizens. For the magic of conventional wisdom (or wisdom of crowds) to taking place, there must be a harmonious ambiance in collaborative teams, so that all parties feel comfortable and creative work takes place in respect of the Other. Flexibility is also necessary, to allow ideas and unexpected contributions to be listened to, and integrated into the process. To make this possible, government managers must be able to contemplate reality without branching off into denial. Interaction with citizens leads to more liability and responsibility. Interaction is a bidirectional relationship (preferably as equals, if creativity is to flourish). Therefore, elected officials and government managers also need to demonstrate liability and responsibility. See my series of posts on leadership: Observe and listen (Lesson No.1); Establish emotional links (Lesson No.2), Being conscious (Lesson No.3); Enlightened action (Lesson No.4).

Analytical work in progress could go further by evaluating mechanisms that create - through the wisdom of crowds - the idea of a government (that is to say at all levels of government, in all spheres, projects, programs and policies). What is the wisdom of crowds? (I call it collective consciousness or collective intelligence.) How does this works? How can it be handled in a conscious and effective manner? Henri-François Gautrin has been a physicist before his mandates as an elected official: he should be able to understand these issues.

The old scientific paradigm that defined matter as the essential reality has been replaced by a new model of quantum physics. Government leaders who want to effectively manage "conventional wisdom" or collective consciousness should be able to juxtapose the foundations of quantum physics to their vision: it would help them understand why interaction with citizens is so important, and how to develop it. "We are not in the physical world. The physical world is within us. We create the physical world and experience it in our imagination. Thus, we design, build, and finally, our ideas become reality”, explains Deepak Chopra in ”What Is The Connection Between Quantum Mechanics and Healing”. Thus citizens, using appropriate platforms and Web 2.0 tools, can be guided to solve problems. This is what OpenIdeo succeeds in doing.

Government of Quebec’s analysis should include, in priority, recommendations that focus on transformational leadership. The potential of Web 2.0 is not just a matter of technology. Non-technical issues are (in my opinion) much more considerable. There should also be analysis about appropriate behavior, which encourages interaction and allows for development of relationships. For interactions to take place, politicians, government managers and employees attitude need to be transformed. Training plans to use Web 2.0 should be provided. But there should also be training plans based on empowerment, to explain to elected officials and government employees what is conventional wisdom - what is its nature - , and how the government can foster individual, community and organizational empowerment, gain from its advantages and develop the relationship with citizens. See my series of posts: Components promoting individual, community and organizational empowerment, and what promotes valuing the Other.

For conventional wisdom to be actually put to good, it takes more than Facebook and Twitter accounts. Hopefully Gautrin’s team will succeed in explaining this and convince the rest of the government to follow them in a transformation project. A transformation in open government would offer the highest possible form of relationship between the Government of Quebec and citizens.

Months fly by rapidly. Will Gautrin’s team display enough agility and flexibility to take into account in its analysis the entire field of possibilities regarding the "potential of the Web 2.0"?

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