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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Minding Gaps and Building Bridges

We have a problem that cripples, we're scared to achieve
We get shown the way but too scared to believe

I spent a lot of time around people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Generally, I can tell the hustle from the core beliefs and know how to probe in just the right ways to flush out cognitive dissonance in a conversation.  Like many, I've gotten pretty decent at telling when the swagger is faked or forced.

What I find, then, is that Jaydahmann hits it on the head.  We all know that confidence matters.  Some are better at faking it than others.  Some feel they have a confident shtick they can pull, others constantly doubt they come across as tough enough - many feel constrained because that art of laying on charm, talking sweet but with edge isn't in their toolkit.

We do a lot of telling people they have to have confidence, they gotta dig down and find it, take some bashes along the way and only then will they be able to stand their ground.

It's not the right approach.  Confidence can and should be nurtured along with every other social skill; discipline, punctuality, listening when someone else is speaking.  These aren't innate abilities, they are learned.

Do we have enough positive opportunities for all of our youth to confidently pursue their dreams, based on confident collections of experience and knowledge?

Can we do better?

What would a space and a program that works like this look like?

I do believe we'll be finding out soon enough.

Friday 7 March 2014

The Value of Your Time

"Time is money."
    - A common phrase

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept gaining currency in the world of business.  The basic idea is simple - people want to feel good about their purchases; the notion that, by buying a product or service from company X, they are contributing to a social good is appealing.  Plus, individuals are more forgiving of the inevitable scandals or glitches when they can see through a company's actions that they have the right intent.

CSR, it's important to note, is different than traditional charity.  We tend to view charity as handing sums of cash to worthy causes.  Those donations can go to physical assets like technology or buildings; they can also be spent on bringing in outside expertise to do things like management consulting or communications planning.

Which brings us to one of the frustrating but opportunity-rich conundrums of our time.  For specialists in fields like government relations, law, organizational transformation, communications and the like, their time literally is money - they bill by the hour for consultations, not by the project.  If they're going to dedicate any of their time to something - even a mentorship opportunity - they (or their CFOs) will carefully calculate the value of that time and the impact it's expenditure will have on the company's bottom line.

So it works like this - if a high-priced consultant spends some of their working hours offering free advice to, say, a struggling Not-For-Profit with a great mission but inadequate skill sets, that's seen as lost earning for the company.  Not a good investment.

That's because, again, time is money.  This isn't to say that a company may not want to support a community-oriented service provider; most of them, in my experience, do have a pet project that they'll give monetary donations to on a regular basis.  
Time is money, but when it comes to charitable giving, the emphasis is just on time - not money.  Why?  It's because money is a thing, it can be shifted around as you please.  Time, however, is a finite commodity, especially when it's tied to a specialized skill set.  Companies would rather write a check than donate consulting hours.

Which is a shame, really, because what a lot of good, well-intentioned not-for-profits and grassroots groups really need is expertise.  As they don't have a lot of money (dependent as they are on charitable donations), they don't offer overly competitive salaries.  That, unfortunately, limits their ability to hire the best talent.  

After all, we keep telling people that their time is valuable, the moreso the more skilled they are, so it's natural for highly-trained individuals to scale upwards for financial compensation.  It'd be a bit like a Jacob Barnett going back to Grade 10 math for a User Generated Content (UGC) whiz to work for $15 an hour for a food bank.

Which leads us back to CSR.  If companies really want to do some good and ultimately, see their cause of choice get to a point where they don't need donations, the trick isn't to give cash, but to give time and training instead.

It's the teach a man to fish thing.

Not long ago I sat down with Bianca Wylie, a brilliant community consultation expert working for the firm Swerhun (who I'm more than happy to promote, because they're amazing).  I asked Bianca what Swerhun's end goal was, what they wanted their legacy to be.  Once she realized I wasn't looking for their "value proposition" but how they would define victory, her answer came fast and with perfect clarity:

"We want to put ourselves out of business.  When every community group, NFP, government agency and citizen knows the tools of the engagement trade and don't need us, then our work will be done."

People like Bianca and firms like Swerhun don't do projects - they empower communities.  When their work is done the people say "amazing, look what we can do on our own!"

If smart companies see that dedicating a bit of their team's time to capacity- and skill-building among the more disenfranchised members of our society is not only good for business, but will reduce the cost of public services (and therefore, the cost of government), they'll recognize it for the win-win it is.

And governments, instead of flowing money down their current bucket-funding model can invest more of their time in facilitating coordination and cooperation between their various stakeholders, helping to foster a social system instead of the series of disconnected silos we have now.

Really, this is the only way we're going to solve our current fiscal, training and engagement imbalances.  

It's the right thing to do.  It's the smart business thing to do.  Best of all, we'll all feel better for the act of giving back.

And there's no better time to make the shift than now.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Neither Left Nor Right

The political right likes to say they would/do run government like a business.

They must make poor businessmen - or at best, antiquated ones.  Their "hard" approach has been proven to be maladaptive to the needs of today's complexity.  

Of course, so too has the "everybody be friends" approach generally equated with the political left.

Which is why it would be a step backwards to polarize our system into a unified left vs. unified right dichotomy, as they have in the States.

The goal isn't to beat the other guys, to force them to be like you or to give in and be just like them.

Integrated operations, like a social nervous system.  That's the way forward.

But you don't have to take it from me - it's what all the actual management consultants are saying.

Too bad we have economists for leaders - they seem maladapted to committing the sociology required by the times.

When we stop vacillating left and right, we can get back to moving onwards and upwards.  That's where the future is.

The Armageddon Poncho

Some people fear the Zombie Apocalypse and dedicate all kinds of resources to building the Zombie Firehouse.  From a psychological point of view, this is about fearing the intentions/capability of The Inscrutable Other and trying to firewall them off from yourself.  

I have no fear of others and therefore no concern about an impending zombie apocalypse.  I do, however, enjoy the concept of post-apocalyptic survival.  This is a different kind of anxiety, one that focuses on being prepared to weather unpredictable circumstances in a volatile world.  The exact opposite of standing ground behind castle walls; it's about portability and adaptability.  

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With this in mind, I have an ever-evolving Emergency Preparedness kit that I call The Apocalypse Backpack - partially as a nod to CSIS, but also to recall my younger years as a globe-trotting backpacker when I literally did live out of my bag.

While I have an army surplus poncho that I enjoy (it works as a poncho, a tarp and a lean-to) it's not exactly what I want.  

My dream-poncho is thicker and more resistant in its texture (like oilskin, except not as greasy).  In addition to buttons down the side for fastening, my poncho would be more like the Russian model to the right with a third set of buttons extending down from the hood.

This version would also come with a similarly-buttoned poncho liner that would also work as a blanket or a ground mat.  It would be nylon-lined on one side for durability and water/wind-proofing.  The other side would be all about warmth.

I haven't found anything quite like this on the market - if you see something, let me know.  If it doesn't exist, here's a great opportunity for someone to craft and pitch a great element protection/sleep system that would keep you dry, keep you warm and work together with a bit of rope to make a good tent to curl up in with a sleeping bag.  

A good thing to have on those long, "winter has arrived" nights.

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What #TorontoIs: Were I to Guest on @JimmyKimmelLive...

I'm a natural problem solver.  It's in my nature to connect dots and look for opportunities.  The bigger the conundrum I'm presented, the bigger my envisioned solution gets.

So Rob Ford made some headlines with his Jimmy Kimmel appearance, bringing his (and Toronto's) woes to the global stage in a fresh way.  What will Toronto do next, some ask, waiting for the next punchline.

That's the opportunity.  Here's what I would do with it, were I invited by Team Kimmel to provide a citizen's perspective on Toronto.


I wouldn't go in blind.  I'd go back, watch every reference Kimmel had made to Toronto and look for material to work with.  I have a rough idea what I'd want to look for already.

Before leaving for L.A. (he'd be welcome to pay for my trip) I'd to to Tilley Endurables and ask them to donate a blazer (first checking with Team Kimmel on Jimmy's size).  I'd go to Tom's Place and get a tie - a nice one.  These would be gifts for Kimmel.

Then I'd spot-check potential site-vists in town that I'd want to visit if I were to do a personalized tour of my Toronto.  A hotel room, some places to eat - those I'd want donated.  I'd also make sure to hit CSI, MaRS, Queen's Park, Riverdale Hub, Forest Valley, Kensington Market and probably a visit to Lawrence Heights, where I'd set up a mini-concert featuring some of the remarkable artists there.  

I would also hit up some of the amazing social catalysts I know for chats, knowing this would be a great opportunity to promote their work on a broader scale.

One of these artists I would invite to come with, just so they can have the experience too.  There's nothing I enjoy more than showing talented people of limited means that the restrictions they endure aren't fixed.

I'd also have some words with Tourism Toronto, but we'll get to that later.


This would be a chance to own Jimmy in the way that he owned Ford, but instead of an intervention, I'd stay laser-focused on selling Toronto.

I wouldn't dress like a magician - I'd wear my own Tilley trousers, shirt and blazer.  I'd tell him where my clothes came from and where they were made.  I'd then have my friend come forward and present Jimmy with the donated blazer and tie; a gift, Toronto-style.  

Then I'd hand him a little envelope and tell him we'll get to that at the end of the visit.

He'd probably want to talk about Ford and Toronto's take on him.  This would be my hook.

I'd tell him that Ford's no irregularity - we Torontonians, we love our substances.  Then I'd take a sip of water, and ask him if it was mineral.  

Whatever the answer, I'd segue into a little sketch piece I call Dr. TorontoLove that would be a bit creepy, hilarious if you get the references but lead into my key hook.

L.A. may have its Scientology, but in Toronto, we're all about sociology, including our favourite tool of conversion - social media.  Yes, we're Hollywood North, but we're also a burgeoning Silicon Valley North (sorry, Waterloo, but I don't live there!)

Toronto is at the cutting edge of citizen engagement; we're a bastion of Open Government; we are an example of citizens, activists, hacktivists and public servants working together to make a better city and beyond, a better world.  Why?  It must be something in the water.

Then, I'd be sure he knew I'm not from Toronto, but from a great little city in Eastern Ontario called Cornwall.  I'd tell Kimmel I brought a video with that featured a face he might know giving a personal tour of Cornwall and invite him (and his audience) to watch it.

I'd show them this.  Maybe he'd even want to guest, too.

Then I'd get back to the envelope.  It would contain passes for two - Jimmy Kimmel and a guest - to come to Toronto and take a personalized tour with me as their guide around Toronto as I see it (reinforcing the fact that Toronto is a prism of the world that can be seen through multiple lenses).

Here's the catch.  Jimmy's fans would have to compete for the chance to be his road buddy on this trip.  

They would do so by going to Tourism Toronto's website and answer a simple questionnaire that would feature one question: name three famous Torontonians who have never been mayor.

That would be it.  I think we could get it done in 10 minutes, even less 'cause I talk fast.

Kimmel would love it - he's a positive guy and likes success.  His audience would love it, too, because it would be engaging and give them opportunity.  Toronto would benefit from some positive publicity and the opportunity to build one little negative into a whole lot of positive.

I'm game if they're game.  What say you, Team Kimmel?  Want to be part of Toronto's solution?  Drop me a line, let's talk.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Russia's Conscious Revolution?

"I'm proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth," she added.  "And that is why, after this newscast, I'm resigning."

We've seen a little bit of this phenomenon here in Canada, haven't we?

Of course the truth knows no nationality - it transcends borders and is only obscured by partisan lenses.  
But like a tough virus, it never dies, only festers, until the infected organism evolves and adapts to its presence.

The Opposite of Responsible Journalism

The linked story about the machinations behind the Toronto Star's Rob Ford addiction stories is worth a read.  It demonstrates the tough balancing act reporters like Robyn Doolittle and their editors go through in trying to tell stories, but also maintain those stories' integrity.

Then read this rant by Christina Blizzard.  It's important to note that Blizzard is a columnist, not a reporter, but so far as the public knows there's no difference between the roles.  Which is a damned shame.

Reporters (if they are responsible journalists) will try to find balance in a story, to represent all sides. 

It's the story, not their take on it, that matters.

Columnists, however, only offer their opinions, which can be based on as much or as little information as they so choose.

Blizzard's bugaboo for the day is Chrysler's decision not to accept provincial funding because the matter has been politicized.  She mentions the fact that Opposition Leader Tim Hudak decried such funding as "corporate welfare" (a partisan dig that casts as much dirt on Chrysler as it does on the Liberals), but only after rambling about how unfairly Hudak is blamed for such irrelevant matters as baldness and climate change.

This is as childish an approach as Rob Ford's taunting the Toronto Chief of Police to arrest him - the intent is to polarize the conversation into such ridiculous extremes that objective assessment and conclusions are impossible.

Let's deconstruct some of her other points:

Is the assumption, then, that without the Green Energy Act that prices would have fallen?  What's that based on?  What specific line-item costs have directly impacted hydro bills over the past ten years?  What of all the other complex factors that impact the cost of electricity, like aging infrastructure or increasing demand?

Doesn't matter - doesn't fit the narrative.

Nothing about companies looking to reduce overall cost and maximize profit, period.  Nothing about moving to places like Bangladesh where below-poverty wages are permissible and human rights aren't enforced.  Nothing about plants being closed and more work put on fewer employees.

Why would there be?  It doesn't fit the narrative.

Much like the Fair Elections Act, Blizzard's take on the Chrysler funding issue seems to be a solution (Liberals are evil, ignorant or incompetent, Hudak is maligned) in search of a problem.  This may be emotionally satisfying - it may even sell - but it is not responsible journalism.

Nothing about Chrysler looking for any excuse to cut corners; certainly nothing about Hudak taking whatever partisan position suits his purposes.  

Blizzard's been around long enough to see first-hand that they're all playing political football - it's a game that gets played with our money, but our democracy, but who cares?  Niggling realities like that don't fit the narrative.

Thankfully, at the end of her column she opts to open up her colour box a bit and recognizes that there could me more to the story that a simple narrative.

But that comes after playing a lot of political football.

Bizzard gets singled out for criticism because of the blatant partisan spin of her article but as we all know, there's more than enough criticism to go around.  Even the more contentious reporters (and politicians) are ready and willing to spin a story in a way that stokes fires and sells papers/encourages donations.

Maybe Blizzard's readers know they're getting a one-sided rant when they read her work; maybe they're actively seeking emotional validation for anger at the system.  It'd be nice if the Sun clearly advertized this fact, though.

You can love what Blizzard rights or hate it (and she's likely gunning for just those two reactions), but whatever you're emotional response to her columns, they are not responsible journalism.

Come What May the Road Goes On

Caught in the Act: Government, Opened

Change to Be: The Raven Quotes

What's the difference between a con and a trickster?

Cons take things away from you.  They think you're a sucker, an easy mark - emphasis on easy.  

Tricksters work really hard to help you question the limitations you think you have.  They give you something - quite often, the same tricks of the trade they used with you.

With that in mind, read the poem below.  Make sure to follow the instructions at the bottom and remember - when you change your perspective, there's always room to reach higher.

Seldon Crisis: Quebec and the Idea of Canada

For all their Machiavellian wiles, Canadian political planners really suck at behavioural economics.  

Here's the thing - for his condemnation of Québec's separatists (and socialists), the truth he's been pulling from their political playbook for years.  Think about it - he focuses on grievances, promotes traditional values (with the implication that anything smacking  of social flexibility or changing with the times is sinful) and isn't above using divide-and-conquer tactics for partisan gain.

Which is exactly what the separatist movement has done.

It's important to note that Québec isn't like Russia, nor are they aspiring to be.  I don't believe there's anywhere near the same level of stigma and vindictiveness in Marois' Québec that there is in Putin's Russia against any minority group.

But the province has a tradition of leaders that score wins by demonizing the Rest of Canada and anyone who challenges Québec's mythical pure laine-ness.  Divide-and-conquer leaders develop a grievance-focused populace.  Under this frame, nobody's interested in solutions; they're more about outsourcing blame and fighting for perceived entitlements. 

Québecers I know desperately want the same thing that everyone wants - to belong, to have agency, to make meaningful contributions and to have those contributions valued.  You'd be surprised how far, in aggregate, little things like using an "é" instead of just "e" will take you.  Things like that show cultural competency, which is something the federal government is funding right now.

On the whole, Québecers are all about community and everything that comes with it; collaboration, support, creativity, fun, engagement, sustainability.  They embrace culture, wherever it comes from, even when they're being told they're own culture is threatened.  Issues of sustainability like poverty reduction, education, housing and environmental protections matter to Québecers because all of those things are about building community.

Which is why I cringe at the whole Québec/Rest of Canada frame.  It implies Québecers aren't real Canadians in the same way that Team Harper has criticized critics of the Oil Sands development as not being real Canadians.

Canada isn't an ideology, nor is it a tribe or series of tribes.  At it's best, Canada is even more than just a nation.

Canada is an idea - that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  It's IDIC - strength through diversity, not through unity.  Unity is a by-product of having a vision to believe in, not a wall to keep people in or out with.

We have so much opportunity in Canada right now to get things right on a massive scale, if we pull together.  Open Government, the Knowledge Economy, Innovation, Cultural tourism, citizen engagement and empowerment - the list goes on.  

Canada can and should be the world's leader in internal best practices and external outreach.  We've been disrupting the head-thumping international status quo since Pearson introduced Peacekeeping.  It's always been our best destiny.

We've strayed from that path for a number of reasons, but we're reaching a Seldon Crisis of challenges that are forcing us back on track; economic sustainability, the democratic deficit, a loss of influence on the foreign stage and a dearth of fresh ideas and innovative growth, a public loss of faith in faith in what Canadians stand for and politicians who don't know who they answer to.

It's all coming to a head, whether our leaders see it or not.

I have faith that Canada can shed the chafing skin of convention and grow into a new, more mature, more responsible role, but I'm not counting on this movement forward to be led by the top.  

The issue isn't whether Canada needs Québec or Québec needs Canada - it's that we can do more and do it better when we respect everyone and work together.

If I Had a Million Dollars: a Pitch to Patrons

    - Number Two (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)

If you want to know what I'd do with a million bucks, you gotta read all the way through.  It's a small price to pay for that peek into my vision though, isn't it?

What does a million dollars mean to you?

It all depends on where you sit in the economic spectrum.  For the vast majority of Canadians, a million bucks is still a lot of money - enough to live a whole lifetime on.  For a thin wedge of the ultra-rich, it's subway change; they can drop a million on a piece of art or a vacation without batting an eye, because they've got lots more on hand.  They live in the billion-dollar realm.

But what does a million dollars really mean?  What's the value of wealth?  Wealth isn't about having more, per se - it's about exclusivity.  Fine clothes and cars cost more, but at the end of the day, they're clothes.  Vacations on beaches in Tahiti are fun and exotic, but really - they're beaches.  You can go to a beach in Canada, or in Florida, for less expense.  

The reason the super-rich buy super-expensive variations on what normal people can buy is because it sets them apart.  Wealth really is a country club mentality.

In addition to this, there's legacy.  It feels good to do good things for a cause or a community (it's an oxytocin thing), but there's also an element of carving one's name in fresh cement.  Hopsitals, museums and crisis centres have wings named after generous donors.  Sponsorship funds are named after the altruistic individuals who fronted the cash to make them happen.  People at all points on the economic spectrum love that stuff.

What is a a sustainable society worth to you?

What do Occupy and Davos have in common?  Both have said that our existing economic system is unsustainable and is leaving far too many people behind.  The difference, of course, is that while the Davos crowd says this in cherry-wood boardrooms over fine cognac while wearing expensive suits, the Occupy crowd was saying this on the street, everywhere.

The Canadian government has been pulling its hair out, trying to entice capital-hoarding corporations to invest more in technology, labour and other economically beneficial activity in Canada, without much luck.  Young Canadians are increasingly working several jobs to try and stay afloat, resulting in less time for building families or engaging in their communities.  

As the most skilled and most competitive youth go to where the money is, a lot of good Not For Profits are failing; they don't have the funding to attract the best fundraisers, policy-planners, organizers and advocates, meaning that a host of essential front-line service providers are atrophying.  

That, combined with the service silo-effect that results from highly competitive funding programs and a reduction in available capital means those front-line services (and the people who depend on them) are suffering.  Also - we're getting no closer to structural solutions.

This is key, because a growing number of social entrepreneurs are all about structural solutions.  These are thought-leaders, individuals with visions that extend beyond individual services or projects and tackle some of the meaty, underlying challenges we face as a society - poverty, civic engagement, sustainable healthcare, so on and so forth.

Thing is, these passionate, highly-skilled community builders aren't in it for the money.  Some of them choose not to get into the government grant-seeking game, realizing the exercise is largely about tailoring asks to narrowly-set parameters rather than building cross-sectoral solutions.  They want to think big and solve big and silo-based funding doesn't fit their vision.

Angel Investors?  How About Visionary Patrons?

Making a case for money is a costly enterprise - it requires highly detailed business plans, a tightening of message and focus and immutable targets and trajectories.  It doesn't allow for a lot of iterative failure, which is unfortunate, because iterative failure is key to sustainable success.

But there are people out there who've done all that - they've made cases, built projects, forged partnerships and delivered solutions on the small-to-medium scale that have literally changed communities.

Imagine, if you will, what one of these though-leading community builders could do with a million dollars.  

There would be no strings attached to this money - it would be entirely up to the individual to spend it wisely and openly, recording costs and activity through an open portal.  The general public could "like" the project, offer comments and promote what they thought was beneficial.  

Who would provide this million bucks?  Super-rich patrons looking for community-minded thought-leaders to support.  It'd be the same as investing in a hospital wing, or perhaps more like supporting the work of a Picasso or a Mozart.  They created brilliant works thanks in no small part to patronage support.

Why would super-rich patrons hand over a million bucks to complete strangers?  Because there's talent that needs support, because it would be gratifying to have their name attached to a community catalyst and because they can, while others can't.

What would the process be?  Less competitive and narrowly focused than a Dragon's Den or an American Idol.  It would function more like a crowd-sourcing campaign; catalysts seeking funding would write a letter, produce a video or create a piece of art or a project outline that lays out their vision and answers the basic question - what would you do with a million dollars?

It'd be as much about investing in a person and their approach as it would be a specific project.

Managing money isn't easy, of course - it's why so few people have so much of it.  To provide financial guidance and support, you'd want to have an agency these recipient community-builders could turn to for assistance.  

Can you think of any organization better suited to do this than MaRS?  They do a good job of the reverse (helping entrepreneurs crystallize their plans to maximize their changes for funding).  They have the right mandate and right accountability mechanisms already in place.  I know the talented support-people there would love the opportunity to help thought-leaders organize their spending even more than helping them find it.

Beyond that, the money would be a gift from wealthy patron to socially enterprising community builder.  
It requires a certain amount of trust, this; and certainly, some of that money would go to personal activity like paying bills, trips and hosting parties for peers.  Those are valuable expenses, though, when it comes to sustainable living and building community.  The catch and responsibility piece for the recipients would be the need to post expenses online, maintain a blog about their work and thoughts and absolutely, regular recognition of their sponsor.  That's only fair.

You'd also want to have a mechanism built in so that individuals who felt overwhelmed along the way could return money if they decide it's too much responsibility.  They could donate it to a list of charities supported by their patron, who would still end up winning.

It'd be a bit of a risk on the part of the patron, sure, but again, to them a million bucks is chump-change. I think we'd also find that the best patronage-recipients would have an eye towards sustainability, meaning they'd make damned sure whatever projects they begin or enterprises the start develop internal capacity to stay afloat.

So, I said I'd tell you what I'd do with a million bucks; here's a rough crack:

1)  Pay off some debts/a chunk of mortgage.

2)  Give myself a salary of $100,000 for three years; the intent of going six figures is to match the public salaries that get mentioned on Ontario's Sunshine List for comparative purposes.  I would then allocated $20,000 of that annually to charitable donations in the name of my patron.

3) That online community portal everyone talks about but nobody's investing in?  I'd do that.  The framework already exists, I'd just need to actualize and market it.  I've got an idea of how to monetize it without becoming beholden to funders; that would come in to play.

4) Related to this, I'd catalyze a proper, visually-designed asset-map of community players, resources and projects happening out there - first in the GTA, because I live here, but that model would provide a template investors could understand the benefit of.  Then we can expand from there.

5) I can't do all this on my own - I'd bring on a small team of dedicated staff (admin, outreach, coding, comms, etc.) but just as important, I'd proactively seek out and arrange project-based partnerships with individuals and organizations that have the same vision (essentially, put ourselves out of business by empowering individuals to internalize the skills and experience we bring to the table).

6) Sustainable funding - at this point I'd be looking to take money worries off my table permanently so I could spend more time creating sustainable projects elsewhere.  I have ideas on this front, but would be looking to partner with others who specialize in fundraising, sustainable social enterprise, etc.  Let's turn that million into something that will last forever and benefit a growing number of people

7) Specific projects that would be co-designed with communities and co-delivered with organizations like Shoppers Drugmart, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, the Canadian Training Institute, etc:

 - community educational programs and products including:

* Emergency Prepardeness (plus starter-kits for low-income families)

* Civic literacy courses co-designed with/offered within communities

* Design Thinking primers

* Help connect and empower the crop of community empowerment centres with a "teach a man to fish"/train-the-trainer mentality

* A series of short videos and info-graphic heavy products informing people (in various languages) about everything from how government works to paternal rights and responsibilities to the role of police and how to interact with them to how to start a business

* Free and well-promoted sessions and tools for public servants and political staff on social-emotional literacy, leadership, capacity building, program management, etc. I've already got the partners itching to do this and if it's free, online and positively recognized, it'd be impossible for the clay layer to stop the Peaceable Revolution

8) Existing partners and projects I'd support and help expand:

* Why Should I Care - under their brand or not, we really owe it to ourselves to make it as easy as possible to understand the issues and the decision-making process that shapes them. This would involve co-design with communities, university student groups, etc.

* Walk Along, Real Time Crisis, NotifEYE and others - I can see exactly how all of these great outreach, personal support and peer-support tools can be tied together into a seamless strategy that benefits the front line, the Emergency responders and ultimately, everyone.  It'd reduce costs, too.  If I could get in cover the costs of connectivity, I don't think anyone would object

* Open Government, Accessible Data - this is the future.  Let's get there faster.

9) Build Capacity, Build Bridges

- I'd take on a couple of amazing young people from low-income communities and help them in every way I could to reach their full potential.  I'd bring them to events to meet people they wouldn't otherwise meet, help them learn to navigate the confusing communication and "brand" protocols in political and corporte circles and nurture their own ideas towards development.  Ideally, it would come to a point where they wouldn't need me and would be in turn building bridges for their peers.  That's how society is supposed to work, isn't it?

10) I'd clean up this blog.  I get lots of positive comments on the content and generate a lot of conversation, but there's always comments about the format.  I've just never had the spare cash to do much about it.

Why would I undertake all of this?  Because I want to, because I know others want to see it happen and because someone has to take the bull by the horns.

More than this, though, here is my big motivation, the driving force between everything I do.  I have a family member who suffers from mental illness, a combination of anxiety and depression.  For a long time (and sometimes even now) I have been really hard on this individual, frustrated with mood swings and isolationist tendencies that were harmful to others.  I took out my frustrating on them, directly.

Mental illness can be like a physical disability; it impedes one's ability to function in society.  We don't see it, though there's no physical manifestation like being in a wheelchair or walking with a cane. 

Mental illness expresses itself as behaviour, which we respond to as it as such.  It's a bit like giving sugar to a diabetic - without knowing it, when we stigmatize mental illness, we become part of the problem.  Realizing this was my come-to-consciousness moment; like a splash of cold water I realized that how I was responding to this loved one was part of what was making them sick.

When I realized this - when I dove in to the research and scaled upwards to see the scope of the problem - I made a promise that if I had to change the world to help my loved one be better again, that's exactly what I would do.  

But I can't help them unless I help everyone around them and that's something I can't do alone.  None of us can.  We can only do it together.

So am I worth investing a million bucks in?  That's for people with that kind of disposable income to decide.  As with any movement, the first stone to move will cause an avalanche, which is why we call social change movements.

All I can do is bring forward a vision and work as hard as I can to implement it.  The rest, dear reader, is up to you.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Canadian Winter, Partisan Blindness

Knowing people on the inside of  the top three parties, I can tell you this isn't an unusual sentiment.  

There's a definite feeling of being at the front lines of democracy, the line between Canadian Values and the barbarians at the gate (or in government).  Partisans both paid and wanting to be paid work hard, they take public beatings and do the sausage making that no one wants to know about, though they eat the sausage heartily.

Here's the thing - partisan politics is convention, not law.  Canadians don't elect Parties, they elect Parliamentarians.  Not the name on the ballot?  See a separate section for Party of Choice?  Exactly.    

Parliamentarians hold government to account.  Government is the crown - Ministers don't even have to be elected.  The way the system functions now, it's like the over-eager volunteer is acting like the boss and getting mad that their contributions aren't being recognized or appreciated, when in fact they're working against the system.

This doesn't mean there can't be an on-paper place for political parties in Canada; lots of systems have been proposed and exist in other jurisdictions.  

But the reason typical Canadians aren't hard-core partisans first isn't because they're too afraid to pick a side - it's because they see themselves as Canadian and don't recognize that there are sides.  Ideas, yes, ideologies, yes, but the partisan tribe thing is insider-baseball.  

Which is why now is the perfect time for Open Government and Open Data.  It's a movement that is non-partisan, solution-focused and goes out of its way to be responsible and representative instead of strategic and confrontational.

Canada's already a party - it's the partisans who are hiding in the bathroom the bathroom.  

It's not every-day Canadians who need to be convinced to support Political Parties; it's partisans that need to be reminded what public service is really about.

The Responsible Society

I read this fascinating article on the parallel journeys of journalistic rights and responsibilities via the social catalyst that is Rob Ford.

The terms referenced in here - responsible journalism and responsible government really stood out, for obvious reasons.

As I find myself increasingly speaking on behalf of the Open Government movement and exploring how it is we've come to this particular crossroads of political/democratic accountability, I've peeled back the layers of history to really understand the foundations of our present.

Two plot points in particular seem to hold our particular narrative together - Magna Carta, which led to the first iteration of Parliament, and the introduction of the responsible government.

As part of a presentation I do on the Open Government/Open Data movement I reference The Peaceable Revolution - the movement that started in Nova Scotia and served to bring responsible government to Canadian shores for the firs time.

This, I say with all the gravity I can muster, is our Magna Carta moment - our Peaceable Revolution starts now.

It's a good, dramatic line, but it's also one I believe.  Not as a punch line, but as a concise way of capturing our current reality - in Canadian politics, convention has trumped law and neither government nor Parliament are, in practice, responsible to Canadians.  

At the same time, I've been trying to put the emerging Canadian narrative (or more accurately next chapter in our tale) into a framework that makes sense.  This frame I've called the Conscious Society - I've also called it the Just Society Redux, because I see what's happening now as the socio-cultural child of Pierre Trudeau's Just Society.

Essentially, it's about agency, ownership and a shift in focus from the competition-oriented, isolationist and obstructionist model represented by Stephen Harper towards one that is solution-oriented, collaborative and progressive.  Put more simply, moving forward together leaving no one behind.

And yeah, not gonna lie - I smiled when I heard Justin Trudeau seemed to be picking up that torch, all on his own.

I've also called it the Healthy Society, because society is like an organism - a networked intelligence, if you will, that needs proper circulation to survive.  Economics, mental health crisis, democratic deficit - and all the solutions to these things - fit together into a neat narrative.  

Personally, I don't care what the branding is, but I understand communications enough to know why one is important; people need symbols, emotionally-connective tissue to turn abstract policy frameworks and social zeitgeists into, well movements - things they can be part of instead of told about.

As the picture comes into greater clarity, though, it's that word responsible and it's orbiting terms accountability and values that keeps popping up.

Responsible government - one that's accountable to Parliament for its choices, implying the need to make responsible ones.

Responsible journalism - less fettered rules, more personal responsibility for right intent and action.

Responsible communication - which, in fact, is just communication, instead of what we tend to do now (message and sell)

Consciousness is key (you can't be responsible if you don't know how your choices are being made) but there's a step that comes before that - ownership, which also implies a certain amount of trust.

Both are about being responsible.

Call it the Conscious Society, the Just Society Redux, the Responsible Society or any other variation you choose, the two emerging truths are this - the pendulum is swinging back to "we" and sustainability is about empowerment.

It begins now.

Consciousness is Freedom (There's No Going Back)

Rob Ford may have changed out politics is done, but social media has changed how politicians are held to account.

And there's no going back.

Responsible Government

Responsible Journalism

Responsible Society

Responsible Individual

Living Consciously

These may all sound like bumper-sticker slogans or hopey-changey jargon, but these concepts are more like plot points in our unfolding human story.

There is power, and then there is responsibility.  One precedes the others in fits and spurts, trickling down in varying consistency from the dominant few to the empowered masses.

We talk of freedom, but too often what we mean is "consequence free."  That's how Rob Ford has tried to live; it doesn't work.  He's a man clearly not in control of himself and paying the consequences for his inability to own his behaviour.

The truly free individual is slave to no one, not even themselves.  They understand the pull of reactive and proactive drives like car wheels on a slippery road, finding the balance between rage and serenity.

Consciousness is freedom - and that's the truth.

Live Consciously: Rights and Responsibility

What do The Lotus, The Rose and The Apple have in common?

RIGHTS                                                                         RESPONSIBILITIES

   Right Understanding                                                        Open Data
   Right Intention                                                                 Open Government
   Right Speech                                                                   Responsible Journalism
   Right Action                                                                     Responsible Government
   Right livelihood                                                                 Responsible Democracy
   Right effort                                                                       Altruism
   Right mindfulness                                                             Consciousness
   Right concentration                                                           Discipline

You can't have one without the other.

But don't take it from me; I'm just piecing it together as I go.  Terminus was easy, but finding the opposite end of that - anyone have an idea?

    CSR: Compensating Public CEOs

    By and large, the people who go for and get these Public CEO/senior whatever positions aren't in it for the money.  You can make more in the Private Sector with less scrutiny.
    For the most part, these folks aren't in it for the money - like Don Drummond, it's legacy they're after.
    Which is why we need to think outside the box on this and not jump to uninformed, emotionally satisfying and populist conclusions. 
    Yes, public sector CEO positions need to have robust base salaries, but these don't need to be competitive with the Private Sector north of $400,000 or whatever.  The trick is to add value to the position beyond salary.
    Part of the package offering can be a fixed sum of "angel investor" money that these CEOs can give to causes or charities that maybe have to apply for "organization of record" and meet a certain sniff test that ensures it's not benefiting the CEO or co-dependent in any way. 
    Or, the bureaucracy could co-source a series of internal "fixes" that CEOs could invest in or take on as personal projects in much the same way as Toronto Community Housing sources projects from among their residents to dedicate a bit of annual funding to.  Think training sessions for staff, cultural competency programming, youth internship opportunities, maybe software upgrades.
    It could be a matter of CEOs identifying a cause or community as part of their hiring process that gets their above-salary money - say a certain CEO had a passion for development projects among a priority neighborhood or a Firs Nations reserve.
    Of course you'd need some carefully defined parameters on how this would work - those parameters could be co-designed with the CEOs themselves and with public input.  That's how Open Government and Open Data are supposed to work, anyway.
    Are there challenges and challenges to innovating a new model?  Of course there are - but less, I guarantee, than there are in our current configuration.  The point is we aren't limited to wages as carrots for talented executives.  In fact, the best ones get more excited about what they can leave behind than what they can take away.

    And the public would be a lot more forgiving if they understood that the intent is to ultimately benefit all of us.
    We are social creatures, after all.