One week, two excellent events: #CBoCSocial and #FWD50

This post features my key takeaways and notes from two events I attended in November, here in Ottawa.

1. Public Sector Social Media (#CB0CSocial) –Where Canada’s social media leaders gather to discuss the most effective strategies for the most powerful media.”

2. Forward 50 (#FWD50) – “A three-day conversation on digital transformation held in Canada’s capital city, bringing together citizens, the public service, elected officials, technologists, and innovative thinkers from around the world.”

Both events were geared toward the public sector, albeit very different audiences were present for each. The first event (#CB0CSocial) attracted many communications folks along with those responsible for running their organization’s social media channels. The second event (#FWD50) had many senior government leaders, program and policy folks, as well those interested in the general advancement of government  through modern disruptive tech. Ideally, I would love to one day see these audiences overlap a bit more at each others events to build up cross-functional learning and reduce existing silos. I do realize however that with limited training/conference budgets it’s wishful thinking on my part. Nonetheless I found both events very valuable. Here are some of my high-level key takeaways from each along with general notes from specific sessions.

Public Sector Social Media Highlights

Increased focus on governance optimization

I loved seeing how public sector organizations have progressed in terms of their governance models for social. Many are now assigning specific responsibilities for social media engagement to different groups. For example, communications, general inquiries and program-specific subject matter experts are often working as a team but are responsible for answering different types of questions.

Internal capacity building

The strong emphasis on training was refreshing to hear. A few organizations even mentioned mandatory employee training, which I am a strong proponent of as I think digital media skill sets are still quite low within many organizations. Regardless of role, I think every employee within the organization should be at the very least aware of how they can contribute and/or participate in helping to achieve organizational goals using their own channels (fully acknowledging that most won’t – but some will). A few organizations are even adding a gamification layer and launching internal challenges to encourage employee posting (e.g. Ontario Parks).

Justification for opening new accounts

Opening a new social media account should always have a strategic justification behind it. Increasingly organizations are requiring their branches/ program areas to outline objectives, audiences, assigned resources, engagement strategy, editorial calendar and a measurement approach before a new channel is created. I couldn’t agree more.

Process formalization

Social media policies and guidelines have gone through a multitude of phases over the years but they finally seem to be moving from a “thou shalt not” approach to “we encourage you to participate, but please keep the following in mind…”. I’ve seen this sort of shift in tone work wonders across various organizations I have consulted with.  Most behaviour driven risk can be effectively managed through the creation of interaction protocols and terms of use.

Moving beyond Twitter and Facebook

While anything outside of Facebook, Twitter and increasingly Instagram typically falls outside the comfort zone of most federal government organizations,  certain municipal public sector organizations are dabbling in previously unchartered territory such as Reddit ( Toronto Public Library AMA )and Snapchat (TPL created a filter).

Sharing results

I absolutely loved how Ontario Parks shares the results of its social media engagement (different reports annually, monthly, bi-weekly and daily) customized for each internal audience. That’s how you get buy-in and rally the “troops” effectively beyond the team that holds the keys to the account(s).

Presentation on the roots of fake news

Louis Reynolds from the UK’s Institute for Strategic Dialoguepresented some fascinating research findings. Key takeaways were:

  • Trust in institutions is falling rapidly. Social has accelerated this decline
  • Nearly 6 in 10 people surveyed believe a search engine over a human editor
  • 1/3 12-15 year olds think information listed on a search engine must be true
  • Growth of new term: “Editorial absenteeism” – since many sources of news are driven by algorithms
  • Accelerating political polarization – here is an incredible chart from PEW research (1994-2017)
  • Digital citizenship – media literacy, critical thinking and citizenship in the online world needs to be mandatory from 5-18
  • Distasteful as it may be – we can learn from far right groups in terms of engagement
  • We need to be more willing to take action on less evidence

Facebook update

Facebook Canada’s Kevin Chan provided a quick update on what’s new at the biggest social platform of them all. Highlights included:

  • Looking at getting rid of ad farms and fake accounts using artificial intelligence
  • Partnership with MediaSmarts (digital literacy firm in Ottawa)
  • Working with Ryerson DMZ – on news innovation
  • Facebook has sent out a Cyber-Hygiene Guide + dedicated email crisis line to all page administrators
  • Commitment to ad transparency (testing in mid November). There is also a Canada Election Integrity initiative under way.
  • Doing lots of work in counter-radicalization. Worked with Public Safety Canada (P2P program) and went to universities to get students to give their ideas on how to counter radicalization.
  • Can do special mass reach initiatives in Canada during important public service announcements.

Twitter update

Twitter Canada’s Jennifer Hollett chatted briefly about some key developments and news at Twitter. Highlights included:

  • People increasingly go to Twitter to search for News
  • 79% look at what’s trending
  • #cdnpoli followed by #bellletstalk are the top hashtags in Canada overall. The former has 4.3 million mentions in 2016
  • Bana the Syrian 7 year old that was tweeting (with help of adult) brought a new level of awareness to this channel
  • Twitter now allows for 360 video via #Periscope360 (did this for a Justin Trudeau town hall)
  • Mentioned importance of regional hashtags such as #ableg
  • Encouraged taking  Twitter Flight School (free certificate course)

End of notes. Big shout out to Kabi and team over at the Conference Board of Canada for putting on this event.

Forward 50 Highlights

The amount of content at this inaugural event was staggering (especially since there was a multitude of concurrent streams).
Out of the sessions I attended here are my general key takeaways:

The perfect storm of digital government transformation is finally here

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Alex Benay (CIO) at the federal level and Hillary Hartley (Chief Digital Officer) at the provincial level (Ontario) speak about citizen-centric digital transformation of government. Combine that with an incredibly talented and driven team at the  Canadian Digital Service , senior Ministerial support (various Ministers were at this event), a 6-person 10-month rotating Fellowship program in partnership with Code for Canada, and you have the perfect combination of events to make transformation happen. I firmly believe that in 2018 we will see many pioneering digital government initiatives that will finally be noticed and appreciated by Canadian citizens.

Neat initiatives going on across government

  • The Canada Revenue Agency has trained 1400 employees in Agile and Lean processes
  • At Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada university students writing their Master’s thesis on Artificial Intelligence have been invited to speak to the department (reverse mentoring).
  • Great U.S example of open government in practice that we need in Canada:
  • Digital transformation calls for simple solutions to big problems like the OSAP calculator
  • Health Canada using social data analytics from Nexalogy to stay better informed on the topic of product safety
  • Really neat search for legal decisions (not indexed by Google) CANLI – Canadian Legal Information Institute – open law site
  • Canadian Digital Service early work: IRCC Design Challenge, Veterans Affairs (benefit application), NRCan building a digital service. Also has a presence on GitHub.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and inclusivity

  • Many universities now using AI to pick students
  • Targeting “the norm” leaves the majority stranded at the edges. We are a jagged spectrum
  • AI used in job applications tends to fail picking people on the periphery who are most likely to lead innovation and change
  • Challenge going forward for AI is going to be factoring in people on those edges, especially when it comes to accessibility. Need to plan to include the edge from the start
  • Machines that understand, recognize and serve diversity are better able to respond to unexpected
  • Talk of inclusion finally gaining the respect of hard scientists. Making the risk of prejudice, bias and discrimination manifest no longer a soft science
  • Mechanical objectivity is a myth. People used to think cameras were purveyors of truth
  • Humanizing automation:


  • Academia really needs to move to new research methods as big data cannot have the same process as traditional scientific methods of research. We still rely on the bell curve too much.  Medical errors (i.e. iatrogenic treatment) primarily caused by the misapplication of medicine due to reliance on bell curve, are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • New focus on small data and deriving big insights from it:
  • Thick data – data with context:

Other notes and fun facts

  • Need more “smart design” not just “smart devices”. For example, what happens if your internet fails on your smart device? IKEA’s solution:  included a regular manual switch on their smart lightbulb (hybrid approach).
  • Have I been pwned? – Great cyber security tool to check if you’ve been hacked.
  • The Crown in Canada has copyright of gov docs, whereas in the US it’s public by default.
  • The simplest safety related fix in terms of the recent fires in Spain was making better signs.
  • Official “cloud-first” announcement coming to the Government of Canada on April 1st, 2018
  • We have 17000 IT professionals in the Government of Canada. That’s equal to 1/3 of the Estonian public service. Imagine what we could accomplish if all of them had an open government mindset.
  • Canada is currently #2 in the UN open data barometer. 
  • The U.S Government Printing Office discloses legislative bulk data every 4 hours.
  • Canadian Digital Service is looking to double in size this year (at least 25 additional staff as well as a first ever, CEO)
  • Incredible response across Canada for the Code for Canada 2017 fellowships – 304 applicants
  • One day a high unemployment rate may actually be seen as a positive indicator as a result of AI driven disruption.
  • Estonia is in an incredible example of digital government implementation: 99% of services online, 900 connected orgs, 500 million transactions per year. Only marriage, divorce and selling your house are not digital…yet
  • Love this idea from Government of Estonia of moving towards “zero bureaucracy : invisible gov services” SMEs from around the world are welcome to take a look at:
  • Commercial rocket travel is just around the corner. You haven’t seen disruption until this takes place.
  • 1752 ideas came in as part of the GoC’s Innovation Agenda Consultation. Task is matching 1.2M companies with 19 government organizations that together encourage $2.4B of innovation money.

Memorable quotes/slides

  • “Techno-determinist solutions don’t work. People need to get it, buy into it and adopt it” – Harper Reed
  • “What we must do: Continue relentless attack on our [government] culture (i.e. be digital first, get out of our towers, engage and collaborate, be solution oriented, stop the linearity)” – Alex Benay
  • “Have someone at the table thinking on behalf of users all the time. This is our key role as enablers.” – David Eaves
  • “The most important digital skill to have is empathy”. – Multiple speakers
  • “A digital org is one that can operate effectively in our digital age” – Janet Hughes
  • “We need gov to open up data relevant to democracy itself, not just economic value, and mandate standards and access” -Alex Howard
  • “The silent public service is dead” – Multiple speakers
  • “Need to bridge service delivery with content and have comms involved in the process” – Multiple speakers
  • “We can’t do security in secret anymore” – James Stewart
  • “Open government without digital doesn’t scale, and digital government without open doesn’t last.” – Pia Andrews
  • “Release of data sets is not a substitute for a working access to information system”. – Michael Geist
  • “People cannot thrive when they spend their entire cognitive load surviving” – Multiple speakers
  •  “Good service means baking digital into everything we do…& relentlessly putting user first” – Scott Brison

End of notes. Big shout out to Alistair Croll and team for putting on this event.

Your Shopping cart