Building New Organizational and Technical Realities

Creating a new reality is hard, especially when it involves people. Yesterday my Google Reader feed seemed filled with stories on how complex it is to negotiate our technology/organization environment. And I thought Fridays were supposed to be slow news days... I'm providing excerpts and commentary and hope you will add examples of your own to the comments link. These issues relate to how we manage and mentor in an environment that is in the process of being socially constructed. We have control -- but we need to take it. First up: The Washington Monthly carries a spectacular article by Charles Homans (via TechPresident's Nancy Scola):
Talking with an IT manager who is bent on rewiring the government is a strange experience. When I spoke with Kundra [first and current Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the United States] on the phone recently about his plans for the Obama administration, he used the same vocabulary as the office tech-support guy who patiently guides me through toolbar submenus when I call about a problem with my desktop. The difference was that Kundra was walking me through how to debug a 233-year-old democracy, not a five-year-old Dell. "What we’re trying to accomplish is to fundamentally change the default setting in the public sector when it comes to information and transparency in general," he explained. "We want to by default assume that data is going to be public."
...and yet the article describes at least one case where the information being provided is actually getting worse. As officials figured out just how transparent some of the data was, and how effectively it was being used, they changed how the data was presented to make it less specific.
The imperatives of Government 2.0 were thwarted by the instincts of Government 1.0. Whether it will always be thus is the question hanging over the whole open-data gambit: whether the past decade’s worth of technological advances are enough to overcome habits that are as old as government itself. "Vivek Kundra has his work cut out for him," the Sunlight Foundation’s Clay Johnson says. "I have nothing but respect for what he’s trying to do. But it’s a hard job, and it’s going to take some time for this to actually happen right. I mean years."
At least the government works for us. Companies sometimes actually benefit from obfuscation. Trying to understand the services our broadband providers provide is always a confusing task -- true even in Canada. From Techdirt citing Rob Hyndman:
Canadian gov't hearings investigating broadband provider traffic shaping, the providers revealed a lot about their traffic shaping practices that seem to contradict what those same providers claim on their websites [while] selling connectivity. Even if traffic shaping is to be considered legal, shouldn't broadband providers be required to be honest about what they're offering customers?
And my favorite comes from Techcrunch and MG Siegler:
Amazon began remotely deleting books from Kindles this morning. Illegal books? Nope. Perfectly legal versions of George Orwell’s “1984″ and “Animal Farm”, purchased through Amazon.... Why? Well, apparently the publisher changed their minds about having digital versions of the books available for the Kindle, reports David Pogue.
Especially wonderful given the particular books in question. How can we make effective decisions when we seem to be building on sand? (The particles of sand being made up of shifting Technology, Organization, and People.) Perhaps our best option is to acknowledge that we are building on sand, and so use the "floating raft" foundation strategy developed by John Root for the first skyscrapers in Chicago (built on the wet and shifting sands around Lake Michigan). A floating raft foundation acknowledges that our understanding, the understanding of the people in control, and the technical state of the art are all in flux. Realize that the environment can change and be prepared to make adjustments, or better yet, take advantage. The architectural innovations of Burnham and Root are substantial (World's Columbian Exhibition aka Chicago World's Fair, the start of the Chicago skyline with the first steel-framed skyscraper in the world). Let the challenge trigger opportunities for greatness.Sanddollar

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