New article: How political can public servants be online?

Public servants in the Westminster system of government are obligated to maintain a level of political neutrality in their personal lives. Existing case law and public service rules determine the limits that can be imposed on public servants when engaging in political activities generally, but it remains unclear how these rules can be applied to online contexts, where political activities are often much more open, public and networked than their offline equivalents. Benjamin Piper (National Judicial Institute) and I address this issue in a new article published with the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal. 

We draw on case law dealing with an employer's ability to regulate out of work conduct, and focus in particular on existing decisions addressing the uniquely limited scope that public servants are granted to engage in political activities, given their duty of neutrality, as enshrined in the Westminster system of government. We underscore the prominence of online political activities in Canadian society, and argue that despite certain draconian directives passed down from managers in the federal government, public servants must be granted some scope to participate in online politics. Given this, in the third part of the paper, we develop a framework that can be used to define the scope a public servant is granted to engage in the highly public and networked political activities that are increasingly the norm in Canadian democratic life.

The article can be accessed here and here.

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The Twin Faces of Public Sector Design - new article

Jonathan Craft (University of Toronto) and I have published an article in Governance that scrutinizes design thinking and its applications in the public sector. Responding to growing interest in design thinking in the halls of today's governments, this article provides both scholars and practitioners with a critical appraisal of the opportunities and shortcomings design thinking presents to public policy makers.

The article is open access, thanks to funding we've received from the Ontario Government. You can access the article here.

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Publication of Issues in Canadian Governance

I'm happy to announce the publication of Issues in Canadian Governance, a new text for public policy and administration courses in Canada. Co-edited with Jonathan Craft (University of Toronto), the book uses meaty contemporary case studies to explore core issues in Canadian governance, from the perspective of leading Canadian scholars.

You can pre-order the book here.

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Interview on The Current and CBC article on the Canadian Digital Service

CBC's Julie Ireton has been investigating the Canadian Digital Service, and today published this article, with a few quotations from me on the challenges that CDS is likely to face.

The Current also covered CDS today, again with some thoughts from me.

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Special Issue on Digital Governance in Canada

Happy to finally be publishing this Special Issue of Canadian Public Administration on Understanding Governance in the Digital Era. It was a pleasure working with the authors and my co-editors, Evert Lindquist and Jeffrey Roy. It's currently open access and ready for download.

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Launch of the Canadian Digital Service and a new paper on Digital Government Units

The Canadian Digital Service officially launched last week. First announced in March in the 2017 budget, many have been waiting patiently to learn what this unit will do and what powers and budget it will wield. Many of those details are still not 100% clear, or at least not public. What we do know (as per the budget) is that the the CDS will be housed in Treasury Board Secretariat and modeled on other central Digital Government Units, namely the UK's Government Digital Service, the United States Digital Service and 18f. This tells us something about the orthodoxy that the CDS will adopt - user-centrism, open source technologies, agile methodologies, a delivery-first ethos - but less about the governance structure that the CDS will adopt, given that these other DGUs diverge quite considerably in their on the ground implementation.

For some insight into the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for the CDS, and for Digital Government Units globally, you can check out this paper I've just released on SSRN: "Digital Government Units: Origins, Orthodoxy and Critical Considerations for Public Management Theory and Practice".

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New chapter with Mary Francoli in Permanent Campaigning in Canada

Mary Francoli and I have published a chapter titled "Permanent Campaigning and Digital Government" in Permanent Campaigning in Canada, a new collection published by UBC Press and edited by Alex Marland, Thierry Giasson and Anna Lennox Esselment.

Our chapter explores competing narratives of digital government reform. On the one hand, authors have argued that the digital age will bring forth a more open, participatory model of government. On the other hand, narratives of permanent campaigning and New Political Governance assume that in the digital age, social media and the 24/7 news cycle lead to a more opaque model of government, in which public servants withhold information, engage in branding campaigns and betray their commitment to the principle of neutrality at the heart of the Westminster model. Our chapter looks at the effects the digital age has had on the federal government of Canada to test these narratives. We argue that each theory is part right, part wrong, and conclude that theorists of digital government and permanent campaigning must do a better job of contending with each other's propositions in future research.

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