A Citizen’s Perspective of GTEC

Last week I attended the 2014 Government Technology Exhibition & Conference (GTEC) for the third time in three years. I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited twice to speak, and once to live-blog the event. Yet, I’ve never published my perspectives on the event itself.
Today, I will remedy that oversight…and please don’t forget, this is just my perspective. One of a highly engaged citizens who wants nothing more than progress in how we govern.

Citizen involvement

This year’s theme was “the government from the outside-in,” and as a citizen I thought there would be more…well…citizens lol. Where the problem lies is that citizens don’t really know about events like GTEC, and may not even understand why they should know about them.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to get involved and understand the value of events like these. I’m also quite grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given with GTEC. They’ve been nothing short of complete professionals in granting a restaurant waiter the opportunity to share his story. What I am saying is that I’d love to see more citizen voices take part in GTEC, and I hope to work with the steering committee to make this happen 🙂

I should note that GTEC 2013 and 2014 featured Open Data Speed Dating which brings together Data Curators (e.g. individuals who are responsible for Open Data Sets/Portals in government) & Data Enthusiasts (e.g. social entrepreneurs, and people like me). These sessions have been organized by members from the #w2p community (more on that later) and its purpose is to bring government and citizens together. This idea should be expanded.
That is why I kindly ask GTEC and Canada’s Treasury Board to allow for a “Citizen-led stream” at GTEC 2015. One that would culminate with Open Data Speed Dating. I would gladly organize this stream gladly and work collaboratively with the GTEC Steering Committee to find the speakers and develop the content. 
This stream would showcase how social entrepreneurs and engaged citizens work at the grassroot. This would be a tremendous opportunity for government, technologists, and citizens to come together and share their perspective.
…this would certainly NOT be a series of “gripe” sessions. This would be an opportunity to trigger “co-creation” between technologists, citizens, and public servants.
All that would be needed is one room at GTEC, one solid internet line, and I would take care of the rest. Please let me know your thoughts 🙂
It’s all about Change
My original perception was that ALL bureaucrats were exactly as their stereotype suggested. Now, my perception is that NOT ALL bureaucrats are like the stereotype suggests. I adopted this new view in 2012 when I attended my first GTEC. I had an inside look at the bureaucratic culture…warts and all. But, I also had the chance to meet the #w2p community. These are individuals within the bureaucracy who are actively working towards creating a collaborative and open government.
I had no idea public servants like this even existed.
I now say that these people are climbing Mount Everest without Sherpas and my job is to make their job easier: to show that the public hungers for the same change these #w2p’ers are working towards. Much of my work since 2012, including the Open Government Tour, has been geared towards working collaboratively with these individuals. They are the reason why I do the things that I do.
What I’ve come to realize is that the bureaucratic culture is no different than that of any other large enterprise. The vast majority of employees do their job as described, while a small percentage of them are passionate, intelligent, and innovative people. Seth Godin would describe them as “linchpins.”

The difference between the bureaucracy and a large enterprise, though, is that in government’s case these people don’t appear to be given as many opportunities to share their knowledge and explore their potential.

Much of this can be attributed to the “Clay Layer.” A term I first learned at GTEC 2012 used by public servants to describe that “thing” that prevents the government from growing and adapting to change. I’ve made it a personal mission of mine to help eliminate or bypass this clay layer.
Perceived Tone
Over the past three years I’ve seen a growing trend that I find unfortunate. Granted, I know I’m not the targeted audience for the conference (that audience being public servants), but I remember seeing in 2012/13 numerous sessions where innovative government programs and passionate public servants spoke about their projects.
Now, I see mostly vendors, “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” and maybe that’s what public servants want, I don’t know. But what I loved about my 2012/13 experience was learning about these great programs and initiatives coming from inside the government. Passionate public servants were being showcased and validated for the hard work they’ve done. And giving credit to those trailblazing internal leaders is an important element when it comes bringing about massive cultural change.

What was also particularly endearing was seeing government teach itself. It was kinda like witnessing a large study group where students learn from their peers instead of their teacher. I’m not saying you don’t need the teacher, but the peer-to-peer approach shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Oh, one more thing…security. The issue of security was raised a number of times this year, and I know security is an area of concern, but there’s this quote or or proverb (I have no idea where I first heard this) that I find relevant here: “The man who is looking for a fight usually finds one.”

So much of our resources are spent fighting those “evil-doers” and they constitute such a small percentage of the population. I was told that one of the reasons why security is always on the forefront is because government keeps getting hacked. Getting hacked = costly lawsuit. So, the security focus is an answer to prevent lawsuits from happening.

Allow me to suggest an alternative: Adopt Privacy by Design principles and investigate the question “Why are they hacking us in the first place?” instead of knee-jerking to “we need more firewalls!”
It is a little disconcerting to see so much of our resources allocated to bandage solution and the technological equivalent to Robitussin. Let’s find the root cause, find a cure, and move on instead of being caught in this loop.

It is getting us nowhere fast.

Richard PietroRichard Pietro considers himself as an Open Government Fanboy in an attempt to create Civic Engagement as Art. Richard’s Twitter handle is @richardpietro and you can learn more about his work at MyEinsteinJob.blogspot.ca.


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