Presentation at IPAC

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a part of my PhD research at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's annual conference. The presentation explored the barriers that can make it hard for civil servants in the welfare and benefits policy sector to integrate the social web--and the vast amounts of data it generates-- into policy design and service delivery.

It was a useful venue to discuss the research, as the crowd was more practitioner-heavy than a traditional academic conference is. Given this, it was a great opportunity to get feedback on the research from civil servants with a "real world" perspective on some of the issues the paper and my PhD touch on. One observation I made at the conference was that the conversation amongst practitioners around things like social media, big data (although no one was calling it that!) and open-book government has become much less one of "why?" to one of "how?". In other words, it seems that  a broad range of civil servants (or at least those at the conference), have accepted that the social web should play more of a daily role in their work as opposed to just being a tool for the communications department. Five years ago, a similar conversation would have had many more cynics dismissing the whole thing as a "waste of time" and irrelevant to the work of the public service.

This is encouraging, although it is still worrying that it has taken this long for the topic to become more mainstream and accepted, since another commonly held perception amongst those I spoke with was that while cynicism reigned in the past few years, government departments and agencies missed the opportunity to build the skills required to handle the massive amounts of data produced through the web. When things are moving as quickly as they are in the digital age, I'm not sure that governments can afford to take this long to accept new ideas and integrate them into their work. The challenge will be remaining agile while also satisfying the accountability requirements that can make it tricky for government to move quickly in new and untested environments.

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