On Paying Attention Behind the Scenes
Why would we need a “behind the scenes” sharing event if we are working in the open?
The irony dawned on me just now, as I consider all the things that have me a little more on edge than usual (so that I can write something that might be remotely interesting.)
“Behind the scenes” is a wonderful initiative, really. Hosted by our Government Chief Info Officer, it’s in the spirit of opening up to share insights about work being done in our organization. The notion is that we’ll be asked questions that will provoke the kinds of insights you might not get anywhere else. The reality (I’ve seen some of the questions) is that some of what will be shared will be about things you should already have access to. But you don’t.
Granted, even if we were writing about our daily insights more, having our leadership draw attention to that would still be great. However, there isn’t yet a regular practice of getting out those provocative, helpful insights.
Of course there are some things being shared. The Exchange blog has some wonderful, regular content where you can learn about our people, and some of the things we are learning. One long, comprehensive, and thoughtful article came from my colleague Kim, who inspected and shared a tonne of learning resources.
She also shared this insight:
From this research, there were two standouts for me. The first is the desire to create content from scratch, rather than adopting existing content. This one stumps me as it doesn’t support the principle of taking what already exists, adapting, and enhancing it.
Before I went on parental leave (like the three months before), I was trying to: keep a community engaged in the mission; do (and teach) user research; look after people; plan a new physical space for my future team and all our clients (that pandemic shy people might want to visit), find people to replace me; fix our financial business intelligence; share insights from new tools… and I was writing about just about all of it.
And when I wasn’t trying to tell stories about it that used musical metaphors, I was crafting websites (with help from my skilled developer and designer team mates) and inserting insights about how we have success that might be helpful once I left…
This isn’t a brag. This is simply the work to do, I think: get hands dirty while digging in and sharing about the experience so others can follow. I learned this while getting us to the point of growing and being more in demand with the early adopters.
I was also trying to live up to what I now know are Kim’s expectations around building on other’s good work… and hoping others would follow suit.
It didn’t catch on though. The last code pushes I returned to from parental leave were my own.
I didn’t have the time or capacity to run iterations of the website based on feedback. I hoped for that from my tiny team that I was unable to train on Github… and that was left with a tonne of org change upon my departure. So, my bad.
Some people have told me it is useful since, but they tend to give me that feedback in a whisper, like the content is contraband or something.
What would have worked better?
I wonder if the content I offered was too covered in blood, sweat, and coffee (I don’t cry, generally, if there’s something I can do about a situation.) Like, there was just not enough waiting around for approvals for it to be official.
Maybe I worked too fast, did too much, and didn’t bring enough people along to help with the distribution and sustainability of the things I produced (especially important since I had a baby-induced expiry date). If a tree falls in the forest…
Perhaps the GCIO attention and voice was needed to help people see the insights as valuable. (Despite slightly cringing every time she would point to our work, in anticipation of more demand we probably couldn’t handle.)
Maybe there’s too much to pay attention to, and I’m a youngish woman so what do I know. Those Gartner articles are probably more right. (Barfing in my mouth right now.)
(It’s hard not to get cynical.)
Maybe our underlying philosophy about “people needing to learn by doing” is so true that any of the telling I’ve done just comes second. Yeah. It’s probably that.
What Value is Behind the Scenes?
For this behind the scenes thing, I have plenty to offer and very little space. With my reflections on what people might actually listen to, I’m giving careful thought to what would save people the grief of over caffeinating (or crying, if that’s your thing.)
This work of modernizing government is hard. It’s a slog and its dizzying and emotional. No amount of writing will fix that. People are being asked to change while their kids are sick every other week. It is also critical to succeed while people suffer housing insecurity, food insecurity, health care crises, and climate extremes. We can’t fail. We can’t let the public service — that is largely unseen but so essential — topple under the stress.
I want to be able to say to my colleagues: “don’t worry, we’re here to guide you. We’ve got a path and we’ll walk it with you.” But the reality is we simply don’t have enough legs or attention to give. We have to choose who to help, and we have to say “not yet” to some. That process is not transparent (yet).
I also want to be able to say: “here is a walking stick. Trek a little in that direction and we’ll meet you halfway to the summit to get you through the hard parts when you’re ready. Also, here are some friends that have taken the path before. They’ll warn you where the bumps are.” What “ready” means is not (yet) obvious, and the walking sticks are a little questionable.
Regardless, I’m mostly looking forward to hearing questions and expectations related to what should be shared proactively in the open. I feel like this is one opportunity to help us prioritize our publishing, and to possibly avoid the heartache of wasting our words and sharing capacity. More, I think it’s a chance to express our collective intention to do that better.
Meanwhile, there is focused user research underway to discover what and how the internets should provide for people related to our modernization enablement. I’m grateful for that (and for the eventual replacement of my gritty brain dump site!)