Prateek Buch
Jun 3 · 5 min read

It was the smiles, high-fives and hugs that made OneTeamGovGlobal in Canada so special. Here are my (detailed!) reflections on how the day unfolded, on friendships made and renewed, and on the practical actions we pledged to take back with us. And yes, the lanyards…

It started with a tweet or two.

This is how Frank, Ioanna, and their amazing colleagues began the work to bring people from all over Canada and beyond together for OneTeamGov Global 2019. From there, as Ioanna set out in opening this year’s meeting, the Canadian network of public service reformers grew and culminated in us gathering in Victoria.

Having been a small part of the amazing group of humans who made OTGG London happen last year, I felt moved to support and learn from my fellow travellers as they took the OTG story forwards, a la Candienne.

Warmly familiar, distinctly Canadian

In the run-up to the day itself, I was sure this event would feel both entirely familiar to anyone involved with OTG, and yet distinctly Canadian. Familiarity came from the re-use of ‘assets’ such as logos, website design patterns — and yes, lanyards* — but more from the informal friendly, welcoming tone of the blogs and tweets trailing how the day would go. The distinctiveness was in the prominent use of French throughout these communications, as well as hints as to the challenges and opportunities of Canadian public service.

That theme continued as the day began — posters reflecting OTG principles, dual-language naturellement, dozens of smiling volunteers in striking white T-shirts, and of course a blank wall where the agenda would go. Each familiar to OTGers wherever we are, yet subtly different.

Familiar, yet distinctly Canadian

The conference began in an undoubtedly Canadian fashion — a welcome ceremony performed by an elder from the Songhees nation, on whose territory we were meeting. He was joined by his granddaughters, who sang in praise of the maternal power that makes life so worthwhile, and performed a beat poem lamenting the loss of indigenous languages and culture that young First Nation people. I found this disarmingly profound — at once beautiful in its deep heritage, and tear-jerkingly honest about the challenges of living multiple identities. A unique moment that those present will never forget.

A moving, uniquely Canadian welcome, from the Songhees Nation

Following that was always going to be a hard act to follow, but an expertly-compared pitching session did just that. Again, a slight iteration on the exercise James led in London — radical ideas on public service reform written on a card, passed around severally and scored, with the highest-scoring ideas populating the agenda. Themes emerged around talent and people, the use of technology, and ensuring public services remained grounded in the lived experience of citizens as users.

The activities other that the parallel discussion sessions were great too, from a space to explore ideas not selected for the main agenda, to a quiet space for reflection, and of course Lego made an appearance too. All in all it was a superbly-organised event catering to all needs at least as far as I could see — including an excellent lunch!

Friendships made and renewed

“I know you from Twitter” was a common phrase, as we all put faces to names and @-handles — it was great to see folks such as Free Agents innovator Abe Greenspoon in the flesh, pictured here with internet hero and North American explorer Matt Jukes.

It was odd that it took a trip to Canada for Amy and me to chat properly for the first time too! But in every session, every conversation on the margins, I made new connections and refreshed old ones in a way that only this community can do — through the common ground of pride in public service, dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a restless curiosity to do things better, together. I was delighted to hear more about the Free Agents programme and how it’s evolving, about Canada’s School of Public Service that our own National Leadership Centre shares common ground with, and about the wiki-based intra-governmental knowledge repository that is GCcollab. I’ll be sure to follow up and enrich my knowledge of innovative, impactful public service.

Practical actions, renewed energy

By far the biggest value that OTG brings is the tireless commitment to taking practical actions towards meaningful reform. In the coming weeks, the UK chapter will see events such as Wellbeing Camp, Bureaucracy Hack and even more from the OTG-inspired DataJamNE, all of which sprang from micro-actions that are concrete examples of networks turning into real results. I was heartened and uplifted by the clear commitment to taking practical action in Victoria — each session I attended saw people raise their hands (I think it was Frank who said ‘raise your hands, it doesn’t hurt) to share, collaborate and catalyse change.

Of course, being the open, digital community that OTG is, even if you missed out on being in Victoria you can find notes on each session here and be inspired to make a change in your own corner of public service. I’ll blog separately about an action I took away from the first session I attended on aligning the public sector to address climate change, but suffice it to say that it typifies the maxim to ‘think globally, act locally…’

There are so many thank-yous and ponderings in my mind but I’ll leave them for another time — for now, know ye all who watch this movement from afar: this open, collaborative, iterative community is the future of government, it is global, and it is making a real difference.


*There isn’t enough space to retell the Saga of the Lanyards, as generations to come will know it. The full mystery shall remain known to only a few, but the characters in the play are:

OneTeamGov

UK policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and others working out how we can make government more effective. #oneteamgov

Prateek Buch

Written by

Data nerd, policy wonk, devoted father, sport fiend. Not in that order. Opinions mine, unless borrowed. #OneTeamGov

OneTeamGov

UK policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and others working out how we can make government more effective. #oneteamgov

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