The butterfly effect

Ioana Finichiu

I’m a stubborn optimist. For me, that means I refuse to give in to the idea that systems are too big and cumbersome to change, that one person’s contribution won’t make a difference in a sea of pollution, that the status quo is rigged to win every time.

In my 12 years as a public servant I have at times felt a lack of connection with our ultimate objective (to serve the public) and I have seen what a lack of perspective can do to a team, to a project. Sometimes, my confidence that I have the tools and information I need to do my work (and do it well) has wavered. This is not uncommon, I’m sure. I am also really, really lucky: at every turn, I had people around me who reminded me of the impact we have and that the work we do matters.

About six months ago, a conversation with a friend struck me so strongly I am still thinking of that particular moment months later. As he was going over some difficulties with a project, I wondered out loud how colleagues could act so callously towards each other. His answer “because we lack empathy towards one another” was so dismaying, so shocking I physically reeled from it. Once I heard it I couldn’t un-hear it; I couldn’t stop seeing evidence of it whenever it happened. The implication is almost too much: if we act this way towards our colleagues, what does that mean for the way we act towards the public? We can do better. We have to do better.

By that time, I had already read James’ post, was following with great interest what was happening in the United Kingdom with OneTeamGov, and was connecting with a few folks this side of the Atlantic in hopes to start a Canadian chapter.

I fully identify with the seven principles that anchor the movement and it’s easy to see why so many folks from Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden (among others) feel the same. We all want to radically reform the public sector through practical action and we all believe that if we work together, across disciplines and teams and geographical boundaries – we are unstoppable.

One example of a (rather big) geographical boundary that came down happened in London in July 2018. The first OneTeamGov Global event took place: 700 people from 43 countries gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre to connect and share about their struggles with public sector reform – and equally importantly, to explore how we could all work together to improve our respective civil services. Realizing our struggles are so similar is quite shocking; we are more alike than different, regardless of the corner of the planet we call home. This makes me hopeful – surely, if we have empathy for people in a land far away, we can find our way back into it here, for the colleague a few offices down, the team mate two provinces away, a peer working in another jurisdiction.

I invite you to read about the experiences from OneTeamGov Global here, in the OneTeamGov Global blog collection. The joy, wonder, and enthusiasm is palpable and infectious, and I for one can always use an extra dose of optimism.

In Canada, we have been busy since the beginning of summer: we host weekly breakfast meetings in Ottawa, folks in Winnipeg and Vancouver have started regular meet ups in their cities, we facilitated an [unconference stream at the GC Open First Day and we continue spreading the word about the movement with every opportunity.

We are pretty relentless in our push to connect with people and help people connect. The status quo is no longer an option. We live and work in a networked age, where information and services materialize upon our (voice) commands, where we need to talk to folks on different continents to help us solve challenges, and where our public is hyper-aware and demanding we deliver well on the things that matter to them. I am fully confident we can do that as long as we act, and act quickly.

In this networked era, leadership comes from all levels – and while it may be difficult for hierarchical structures to adapt to and embrace distributed power, the sooner we do it the better the outlook. We need to empower those who want to make changes, whether they’re within or outside the public sector. The challenges we have cannot be solved by hunkering down, closing the blinds, and hoping the storm will pass. Change is not something that will happen to people or systems; it will not happen overnight, nor will it happen in a vacuum.

I’m going back to OneTeamGov Global, to a specific moment that helped bring us where we are today – one of those moments I think of as a butterfly effect. While there was a palpable buzz in the air about our upcoming day, a friend in Comox, British Columbia expressed his regret at not being able to join us for the event. Rather than simply acknowledging his wish to be part of the next event, he was challenged to organize it. What followed is nothing short of unexpected: bolstered by promises of help and a huge outpouring of support, he accepted.

So here we are, a few short months later, announcing the next OneTeamGov Global event. It will take place in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, on May 21, 2019. Frank will tell you why we chose Victoria, and I for one could not be more thrilled to discover this city, its culture, and its people.

It will take tremendous effort to bring this together. We are very grateful that our friends in the United Kingdom are incredibly generous with their time and resources – they are willing to share everything they created so we don’t have to start from scratch. It is, after all, what OneTeamGov is about.

We will need volunteers and supporters and funding partners. But beyond that, we want you to come and be a part of this change, we want you to bring your hopes and aspirations and challenges to this event. I promise you will at the very least meet others who feel the same way you do, who struggle the same way you do, who will help you the same way you help others. Together, we’re unstoppable.