Thursday, December 09, 2010

What should a BC government data catalogue do?

In my day job, I’m part of a team of people who are working to bring the BC Government into the global open data movement. It is very fun, exciting work.

In  Citizens @ the Centre: BC Government 2.0, our public service has committed that people from British Columbia and around the world can access our provincial government data to improve research and decision making, and foster innovation in  information services through things like web and mobile apps.


A key element of this shift will be to create a data catalogue that allows people to access BC’s data. And so the question of ‘what should a data catalogue do?’ becomes pretty relevant.


Let’s pause there and say that what follows is a set of ruminations and thinking, and not an official representation of the BC government’s position, and that it could be subject to radical change. If anything, it’s an official representation of me trying to do my job (my official title is Executive Director, Citizen Engagement in BC's Ministry of Citizens' Services) by engaging people who are smarter and more experienced in a discussion about  what would be ideal for BC to be doing, and where we might have blind spots as our team goes about our work.  Really, this is risk management—I don’t want to miss some great opportunities and I don’t want to do anything dumb either. That said,  I hope you’re keen to dig in alongside us. Many thanks in advance.


Looking around at what’s been done with data catalogues to date, you see most of them working with a basic concept of data provision.  Toronto, Vancouver, Australia and New Zealand fall pretty squarely into this category, with Edmonton’s catalogue being among the most sophisticated. Other sites like also encourage data conversations by not only providing data, but also seeking some dialogue around the data through blogs and discussion forums. More interesting to me are data catalogues like that put an emphasis on data action by trying to connect ideas about using datasets to a development or analysis project. Equally interesting are sites like that seem to focus on data understanding by focusing a lot on visualizations of data sets, making them more understandable to researchers, policy types and other people who aren’t necessarily skilled in data manipulation.


We can sum these up as a series of intents or purposes for data catalogues: provision, conversation, action, and understanding. In my mind, while these overlap and build on one another, what you choose as your most important intent will have a big impact on the function and design of your catalogue.


So here’a  good time to stop and check—is this typology right? Is there another intent that’s missing that could extend what data catalogues can accomplish?


One thought that occurs is what I’ll label data relevance. Data relevance would try and personalize how data sets are presented, especially using locations. So you could imagine searching for an issue, seeing a location of an office that deals with that issue (so, search for health, see a hospital or a clinic or a local nursing school), and then present data that is relevant to that issue (see performance data or research data or enrolment data). Ideally, these data sets might even link to the specific place itself, so you could see the data produced at that location. This, I think, is what Tim Berners-Lee is talking about when he’s going on about ‘linked data’ or ‘web 3.0’—where data can find other data. We see this on the UK data catalogue, but the explanation about what it’s supposed to do is pretty fuzzy. I might be wildly off base in making this connection,  but the feel of where I’m going seems to be following Sir Tim’s line of thinking.


Looking at these opportunities, then, where should BC’s emphasis lie?


While understanding that provision is fundamental—if our data is no good or impossible to find, everything else is a non-starter—I don’t think that it should be BC’s emphasis. What I think I’d like is to prioritize our intents this way:

1.       Action—BC’s catalogue’s success will be primarily  measured by how many projects it sparks that make use of provincial data sets. As such, the site should be designed with focused calls to action that move people from exploring data into using the data in productive ways. It will use the social networking capacity of the internet to help  ideas connect with skills and other necessary resources to make things happen.

2.       Conversation—BC is in its infancy in providing data to the public in this manner. Having rich feedback loops that allow the province to sense demand for data, how it can be improved, and how it is being used will help BC get better at providing data. Luke Closs’s rough-in work for a new data catalogue for our Apps 4 Climate Action contest is a big inspiration—especially his ideas about how to triage a data set:

3.       Understanding –those skilled at manipulating data—software and web developers, economists, statisticians and researchers—are not the only people we want to learn about the data. Telling stories that place the data in context can help all kinds of people understand issues that are important to them, and help build understanding of the issues facing BC, and maybe what we can do about them. A great inspiration for this kind of approach would the Guardian newspaper’s

4.       Relevance—that we build on GeoBC’s geospatial strengths to start connecting data sets to places as early as possible. The resulting map interfaces could be incredibly powerful.

5.       Provision—that we get the basics right, meaning: a) anything we call open data is in a format that is machine readable; b) that there is robust metadata that explains the data's provenance etc; c) that the data is structured through standards in such a way that it is usable; c) that it is findable through a strong search function; and d) that data, over time, becomes automated in terms of updates and publishing, using xml feeds and APIs. In my experience these basics aren't necessarily that easy, and really getting these right will be an ongoing process rather than something that gets done right off the bat.

What do you think? Is this the right order? Something missing? Am I off my rocker?


Depending on the answer, the next step will be to start to imagine some functionality that could support these intents, in this (or whatever) order. I’ll take that up in a subsequent post.

Posted via email from CoCreative

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Inaugural Victoria Wine-Tasting Party!

Last weekend, Dave and I hosted our first ever wine-tasting party at our new home in Victoria. The night was a wild success, thanks to our amazingly fun guests. Thanks also to the experts at the Foul Bay BC Liquor Mart, as well as to the wine-matching cheese connoisseurs at Chiarellis, who did all the wine and cheese selections.

And now, with no further delay, here are the results!

The next wine party will likely be in January... so stay tuned for more results! ^_^

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Direction

As I was unpacking the contents of our new home, I came across a familiar, red tube that contains my more cherished drawings. Bracing myself for nostalgia, I opened it up to look inside.

...But instead of nostalgia, I found inspiration.

This nude, one of my favourites, was one I did back in New Zealand. Dave had pushed me to take a weekly class, if only to meet new people and to flex my long-atrophied art muscles. I was shy and nervous, but I went, and in pushing my own boundaries of comfort I produced some of my best work.

Sitting on the floor of my new home, beholding this near-forgotten beauty, I remembered how happy I'd been when I was drawing.

And here I am, once again in a new city, once again having gone too long without incorporating art into my life.

As such, I resolve to get involved in the Victoria art community. I resolve to unshackle myself from my comfort zone.

I resolve to get drawing again.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Backtracking: Movie Reviews part 5

Next 5 movies:

July 3, 2009: I lo
ve the movie, "Blue Velvet"! Tonight was my third watching, and I've seen more new layers to it... so cool! (B+)

July 25, 2009: I watched "Top Gun" for the first time tonight... man, what a BAD movie! Stalking as a form of courtship? "Enemies" only mattering insofar as their ability to supply blow-up-able planes to the "plot"? Dialogue that makes little sense at all? That undermining women on the job is acceptable, but undermining men warrants a (manly) hissyfit? No thank you. (F)

August 2, 2009: I am, apparently, the only person alive who does not find Judd Apatow movies funny. There's more to life than penis jokes, and I've seen better writing for female characters in pornography! Funny People is the biggest movie misnomer I've ever come across. (F)

August 6, 2009: I LOVED "Tropic Thunder"! Clever premise, fun writing, good acting and delivery... and an almost-unrecognizable Tom Cruise damn near steals the show in his best role ever! (A)

August 24, 2009: I really enjoyed the movie, "Day Watch"! It's a neat plot, where Light and Dark forces navigate our present, urban reality, and a war between them is about to break out. A little like "Constantine", only MUCH better, and... Russian! For a fun, dreamlike movie, check it out! (A-)

Winner of the Set: "Tropic Thunder"!

Winner so far: Unchanged! It's still "Blade Runner", with runners-up of "Be Kind Rewind" and "Tropic Thunder", in that order.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

6 things I've learned the hard way

So for the last year and a half or so, I've been busily trying  bring some new ideas into the organization where I work.  My colleagues and I have helped to create some really interesting projects that have moved the dial in terms of how public engagement tools get used in our provincial government. We've taken lots of risks and gotten some tangible, positive results. I'm really proud of what we've accomplished.

A big part of what I see as our success has to do with how we've come at our work. Inspired by folks who design products and systems for a living like the UK's Design Council , we made the assumption that in the launch of new ideas, highly detailed planning and extensive business cases can be unhelpful. Instead, ideas stand or fall based on how they perform when tested. So, if you have an idea, create a 'prototype', test it, get feedback and improve. Eventually you'll figure out it won't get you where you need to go, or it will show you you are downright visionary (or somewhere in between). Bonus: you won't have wasted piles of time and bucks in coming up with something that may or may not work, or is simply too big to fail.

 As a theory, this seemed wildly practical. Then I had the amazing opportunity to actually do it.

Practice is Painful

Some lessons I've learned along the way:

1) Prototypes aren't as easy as they sound

A designer colleague has this saying that I love: "quick and dirty is okay, but sometimes the dirty tends to hang around." We've had to get stuff up very cheaply and very fast. On the one hand, this wasn't so much prototyping as it was having to execute really quickly. On the other hand, it also meant that our first cuts were live, and we could try and improve on the fly.

The challenge here was that sometimes our users thought we were offering our final draft, not our first or second. Moreover, incentives within our organization to keep projects relatively secret meant that trying out early iterations was a no go.

As a result we endured some reasonable criticism. Happily, from an organizational change perspective, getting criticized can often be just the thing to break down resistance and catalyze the details of innovative projects (read: some of the 'dirty' gets cleaned up).

2) Ego is the enemy

Taking ownership of projects can be a real plus. It helps motivate you to put in the hard work, extra hours and push the envelope. It catalyzes creativity and a team. So ownership can be a boon for productivity.

But when ego starts getting in the way, there's a problem. Signs your ego is a problem? You're more interested in speaking opportunities than in getting your projects done. At night you imagine yourself as the great savior of your organization, a historical  visionary that will lead the way to innovation grace and wind up in a documentary somewhere. You are totally frustrated by the organization's inability to listen to you. You are completely overwhelmed by work because you believe you are the only one who can do the work well. If you're not doing it all, you hoard all the really juicy and interesting tasks for yourself.

This is will cause trouble because: 1) It means nobody else is learning except you; 2) You will burn out when your self-inflated expectations aren't met, and your project and change agenda will fall over; 3)When projects become closely associated with an individual rather than the organization, they are easily dismissed by decision makers, which will also hurt your change agenda.

I've been guilty of some or all of the ego behaviors above, and probably will be again. But what I've found out is that while having a vision of where to go with a project makes you strong, having an ego just makes you brittle. Fight ego off as much as you can.

3)  Something bosses need to hear: "Good, fast or cheap--now pick two."

Real enthusiasm for an idea from the executive ranks can be an amazing thing for a project. But said buy-in can lead to unrealistic expectations from execs. The discussion can turn into: "Great, we'll get a super duper project launched by the end of the week for free!" And depending on the project, you may be able to pull that off.

But if you find yourself in the realm of doing something complex that can't be done by the end of the week, I've found that using a trick taught to me by a systems guy I worked with in New Zealand works wonders. Ask the enthusiastic exec whether they have ever done any renovations to their house (the answer tends to be yes). Then introduce the renovation triangle, which has good, fast and cheap at the three points (this principle often applies to building stuff generally). You then elaborate on how you can pick two of the three--good and fast, but not cheap; cheap and fast, but not good; cheap and good but not fast. This tends to bring some discipline to the conversation.

3) Ideas are 10% or less. Everything else is fast talk and hard work.

I've found that when it comes to innovation, most folks want to be ideas people. And I understand why: it's fun to be brilliant and to be seen as brilliant (see point two).

But innovation isn't anything without action. This is the strength of the design led, prototyping approach, I think. But to keep organizations moving means taking on work people don't want to do, and keeping teams motivated through the inevitable rise and decline of enthusiasm around a project.

So reminding people of purpose and of already achieved awesomeness will help them stay motivated. Simultaneously being unafraid of grunt work helps send the signal that you are serious about making things happen, no matter what.

4) Taking on innovative projects means being regularly terrified and/or depressed. This is normal.

One thing I've learned about in spades is the emotional life of projects. The ramp up stage is full of excitement. Approval elicits elation. Launch is exhausting. Maintenance is full of uncertainty and/or boredom. And conclusions are full of nightmares of the whole thing falling over, ruined careers and general shaming by the higher ups. Sleepless nights can happen the whole way through.

If you don't anticipate or recognize this volatility it can really do a number on you. I've known lots of innovators who hamstring themselves because they are emotionally drained by trying to get things done. But this innovation stuff requires a thick skin and lots of patience. Otherwise, you'll be done before you even get started. Recognize what's happening, and pace yourself.

5) Getting a project out the door means choosing the imperfect. Sometimes the wildly imperfect.

The projects I've been involved with have not be as beautiful as I imagined them to be at the outset. Strange as it sounds, I'd like to make art with the work that I do. But being mature about constraints means understanding that isn't always feasible. It's more important that the project exists than be perfect. Because the next time, maybe you can be gorgeous.

6) Fire. Ready. Aim. It actually does create change.

The last thing I've learned is that this design inspired approach works. It really does. It's laid the foundations for a bunch of change that's helped benefit other parts of our organization. It's also help spark and draw together a community of people that want to do more work on similar themes. And it's starting to get our organization recognition as a leader in a rapidly advancing field.

The next phase will be about consolidating what's been created and building it out so that more people can do more work. We've learned a lot, and we can't lose that. Hopefully it will help make small innovations scale up to make a big difference.

Posted via email from CoCreative

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Conservative Party's War on Informed Decision-Making

As the Canadian readers may know, the Conservative government has inexplicably introduced a measure to sabotage its own information, and thus measurability, and thus accountability.

The move to make the Census long form voluntary undermines the reliability of the results by overrepresenting certain kinds of Canadians and underrepresenting others. Who is being underrepresented, you ask? Anyone less likely to respond to a voluntary survey -- First Nations and Inuit people, recent immigrants, youth, and the working poor, to name a few.

Having information on groups such as these is essential for decision-making bodies to advocate for, and target, the needs of a specific community. And without information, they are left guessing at a community's situation and needs, rather than knowing. To compromise the quality of Census data is to extinguish our ability to implement useful programs or policies to assist underrepresented communities, who are oft the communities most in need of said programs.

If this decision stands, Canada's government, agencies, NGO's, businesses large and small will all be unable to make evidence-based decisions, as our formerly-prized evidence will have been irreparably sabotaged.

This is a crisis, and I urge fellow Canadians to write your MP about this. I have done so just now, and the letter reads as follows:

Dear ****,

As a Canadian taxpayer, a patriot, and a member of your riding, I implore you to speak out about the Tories' abominable move to sabotage Canada's Census. The detailed information on the long form is necessary for NGOs, academia, businesses, and even government itself in making informed decisions. To make the long form voluntary introduces response bias, which means that some people (white, middle class 30+ year olds) are far more likely to respond than others, and in turn we leave behind anyone NOT fitting that mold. This is unacceptable.

Worse still, all other social surveys at StatCan (and possibly most other surveys in Canada) adjust for nonresponse USING CENSUS DATA. To compromise Census data is to compromise ALL these other surveys as well.

Moreover, this move was made by Clement with NO consultation, and will actually end up costing taxpayers MORE money. Plus, Clement is either tragically misinformed or outright lying to the Canadian public by claiming that the results will be just as good. ( As a professional statistician, I can assure you that this is simply not true.

Too much is at stake to sit quietly; all quantifiable knowledge of Canada is about to be transmuted into useless, expensive and inaccurate supposition. We are in the information age -- therefore, to sabotage one's own information is an unfathomably stupid move. I beg you to act on this.

Thank you,
Karla ***

Useful information :

If you are short on time, or uncertain in how you want to word your letter, please feel free to borrow some or all of my letter above. Regardless, WRITE YOUR MP to let them know we're not silent, nor complacent.

How many of us complain that the only time we see our MPs in action is around election time? Well, write them and give them a chance to do something for you!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Backtracking: Movie Reviews part 4

Next 5 movies:

June 14, 2009: I thought the new Indiana Jones flick was fun and cheesy, but I was irked by Shia Laboeuf's lack of chin. :-P (C)

June 16, 2009: I just finished watching a bizarre black-comedy art-flick "Johnny Suede" (C+), featuring a VERY young Brad Pitt!

June 18, 2009: I just finished watching "Caterina in the Big City" (A-), which is like an Italian version of "Mean Girls"... but with more spontaneity, more involvement of famiglia, and even the meanest girls are still kind of sweet. And then everyone ends up being friends. Recommend! :-)

June 23, 2009: I was totally charmed by the Israeli movie, "The Band's Visit". Egyptian police band ends up in backwoods Israel, amusing & good-hearted hijinx ensue, and the world reveals itself as being full of kind, wonderful people just trying to get through life. (B+)

June 29, 2009: I saw "Blindsight", a documentary about a group of blind Tibetan teenagers doing a climbing expedition of Mount Everest... it actually happened!! Whoa. (Fact that it happened: A+, the movie itself, B)

Winner of the set: "Caterina and the Big City"

Winner so far: Unchanged! It's still "Blade Runner", with runners-up of "Be Kind Rewind" and "Into the Wild", in that order.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Backtracking: Movie Reviews part 3

Next five movies:

May 24, 2009: I was utterly wow-ed by "Into the Wild". Great performances, EVEN by otherwise-weak Twilight-damsel. Fantastic music augments mood -- Eddie Vedder on lone acoustic guitar really hammers home the solitude the main character seeks. (A)

June 4, 2009: I recently enjoyed two obscure movies -- Blame it on Fidel (A), and Boy A (B+). Check them out when you are in the mood for two great end-of-childhood films!

June 10, 2009: I've confirmed, through rewatching, that "Blade Runner" is among the best films of all time, and is as visionary, textured, and brilliant now as it was back in the 1980s. (A+)

June 12, 2009: I had liked the movie, "Bug", up until the point where everyone went TOTALLY batshit nuts. (*Somewhat* nuts is fine, but there's a point when things stop making sense, and somewhere after that things stop being interesting...) I give it a D.

Winner of the set: ... come on, it's not fair to pit any movie up against "Blade Runner"! ;-)

Winner so far: "Blade Runner". Clearly.

Runners-up: "Be Kind Rewind" and "Into the Wild", in that order.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Backtracking: Movie Reviews part 2

And now for the next five movies!

April 28, 2009: I really enjoyed "Be Kind Rewind" -- it's a sweet and funny movie, with gentle turns and loving homage to classic films.

May 1, 2009: I was blogging and watching the movie, "Troy". I'll let you guess which one is occupying the majority of my brain cells... ;-)

May 10, 2009: I enjoyed "Star Trek", but I'm not sure if
it wasn't largely because of the very cute Zach Quinto...

May 11, 2009: I wanted to like"I'm Not There" (the Bob Dylan movie), but didn't. :-P I get the feeling that, to truly understand why Dylan was so important/controversial/whatever, ya had to be there...

May 16, 2009: I finished "Zwartboek", which is thus far surprisingly entertaining. Bad, but entertaining. Think "Showgirls" done a la Third Reich resistance.

Winner of the set: "Be Kind Rewind"

Winner so far: "Be Kind Rewind"! I adored this movie!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Backtracking: Movie Reviews

For those of you who know me on Facebook, you already know that I like doing mini-reviews of films. It's been awhile since I started that, and I often find myself tracking back in my statuses to see what I'd said about a specific film. So, for your enjoyment (and my records), here are my (brief) movie reviews!

Since I've seen a lot of movies since January 2009, I'll put them up five at a time to avoid information overload. Enjoy! ^_^

January 24, 2009: I really enjoyed the movie "Frost/Nixon". I wish airline travel was that posh nowadays!

April 15, 2009: I watched "La Vie en Rose", enjoyed it enough, but found it a little too moody and indulgent for my liking.

April 20, 2009: I just watched a really neat movie called "Joyeux Noel"... it's about the 1914 Christmas where the front lines of WWI unofficially called a truce and partied together! Amazing idea, eh?

April 21, 2009: I think that "Bridge to Terabithia" should be renamed to "My Girl: another sequel". Boo urns.

April 26, 2009: I just watched "The Man who Wasn't There", and think Scarlett Johanssen did a very good job of playing a young, awkward high school girl. :-)

Winner among these: "Joyeux Noel"!

Stay tuned for my next five flicks....

Friday, June 04, 2010

Ottawa Fringe Lineup!

It's that time of year again, where the wonderful world of the Fringe Festival descends on eastern Canada and makes its way westward. I can barely contain my excitement!!!

Indeed, one of my least favourite parts of living in the western-most city in Canada is that it is the *final* destination of the fair Fringe. I have to wait until September to partake! How sad...

And in my envy of Ottawa experiencing the Fringe in a mere two weeks from now, allow me to use my finely-tuned Fringe radar to scan the program and plug a few shows.
Anyhow, these are my picks, listed in descending order of priority. If any of these make it to the Victoria Fringe (in September! sob!!), I will see them then; if you see them first, I would love to know what you thought!

Happy Fringing to you! ^_^

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things I Learned about Breastfeeding, Part 2: The Experience

Wow, what a fantastic reaction from the last post! I was touched. :-) (And yes, even by you, Mr. Deepseated-Issues on comment #3... you're a valuable example of the attitudes a breastfeeding mum has to deal with.) :-) My thanks to all the commenters, and the readers as well.

My lovely boy, modelling his breastfeeding pillow. Tyra would be proud!

Anyhoo, as promised, it's time to move on to the more personal level of my breastfeeding experience. Here is what I have learned so far:
  • Considering that it is a natural process/skill, breastfeeding sure didn't come to me very naturally! While I think myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, it took me a long while to figure out what I needed to do, and what did and did not work well. Patience with myself was invaluable during this time.
  • Having a list of available breastfeeding resources on-hand was a real lifesaver. As such, I advise expecting mothers to make a list of supports they can call upon, should they need help at some point. Excellent resources include doulas, La Leche groups, mother babe groups, and public health nurses. I continue to rely on nurses or doulas whenever I run into trouble, and it's made breastfeeding infinitely easier and more enjoyable.
  • Even with the aforementioned supports, the first two weeks of breastfeeding are AWFUL. For the first few days, baby has to suck miniscule amounts of colostrum from the breasts with the force of a vaccuum cleaner, and it took awhile for both Will and I to learn proper latching technique. During this time, I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and in a lot of pain. However, by week 3, everything clicked and has since gone amazingly well. So, to all you moms-to-be, it *really does* get better! :-)
  • While I was having nursing difficulties, Medela silicon nipple shield was the best $8 I've ever spent, since it disperses the suction over more of the breast and thereby makes nursing easier on one's tender nipples.
  • The first few days go smoother when you can liberally apply pure lanolin cream; having to ration out minuscule amounts of the hospital-issue sample packs was an extra inconvenience I did not need. Were I to do this all over again, I would pack a tube in my hospital bag.
  • Also, bring a (sports-style) nursing bra to the hospital. Those hospital gowns are scratchy. 'Nuff said.
  • It's never too soon to start building a nursing wardrobe. I recommend the Ripe brand crossover top, which has been a fashion staple of mine throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. The Bravado nursing tank is also an excellent choice, if you don't mind showing off cleavage.
  • Breastfeeding pillows are good for more than just breastfeeding; we use ours for tummy time, dad doing bottle feeding, and general cuddling or chilling out. Don't buy one, though, since they're really expensive to buy but easy to make.
  • Breastfeeding in public isn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. Granted, I've only done it a few dozen times, and I do pick my locations carefully, and I do keep a cape on-hand for emergencies. All told, though, I've not encountered any tut-tutting grannies or leering dudes, which I'd been bracing myself to face on all sides.
  • Then again, during breastfeeding, I don't really notice much, other than my lovely son. It's way more of a bonding experience than I'd anticipated, and I know I'll miss it when he's weaned. The fact that I enjoy that time is a huge surprise to me.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, the breastfeeding situation between a mother and her child is different for everyone. It is important to try to breastfeed, and to seek help and support when needed; however, if significant issues persist after all help and support has been exhausted, it's even more important to dismiss any guilt you may have and carry on with other options (like formula). What matters most is that you are feeding your baby, and if anyone has a problem with the way you're doing it, it's their own hangups manifesting. So regardless of what your feeding relationship is, keep your head held high, believe in your decision, and when necessary, feel free to tell tut-tutters to sod off. ;-)
Anyhow, I hope some of these observations are useful to some of you out there! Feel free to leave comments about your own experiences, should you wish to share.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things I Learned about Breastfeeding, Part 1: The Context

Get ready for a long post; as it turns out, there's a lot to learn about breastfeeding! In fact, there is so much to say, I've split the topic into two posts. My next post will address my specific experience; but first, I will help frame this experience by elaborating on breastfeeding as a context.

I've discovered that the topic is highly political, so broach it with caution! As it happens, many people -- mothers, hospital staff, random people -- can suddenly become defensive, guilt-ridden, smug, or downright angry at the mere mention of breastfeeding. Worse still, these unprovoked blowups are not limited to one camp; the "formula's fine" crew and the "lactivists" can be equally volatile.

Paradoxically, though, breastfeeding NEEDS to be talked about! The fact is, there is a minority of women who are milky goddesses, able to easily feed their baby with no problems or help. There is also a minority of women who simply cannot (or should not*) make milk, regardless of how much help they get. The rest of us, and I'm guessing we're the vast majority, fall in the middle -- we're physically able to make milk, but we need help in figuring out this new and seemingly strange process. (It's not easy!)

Current (American) statistics indicate that the majority of mothers leave the hospital having initiated breastfeeding, but by 6 months, not even 14% are still exclusively breastfeeding. Such a dramatic decline is surely due to many factors, but it cannot be addressed, let alone solved, without first resolving the vitriol-fraught nature of the breastfeeding dialogue. Both sides need to let go of their baggage and resolve the following:
  • to agree that, thanks to modern scientific advances, formula is perfectly acceptable food for babies;
  • to acknowledge the numerous scientific findings proving the quantifiable nutritional superiority of breast milk;
  • to ensure that breastfeeding information and assistance exists for all new mothers;
  • to ensure that said assistance is ample, accessible, and that it is adequately promoted and supported by the medical and health communities;
  • to condemn public attitudes of breastfeeding being "gross" or obscene;
  • to support mothers, especially those experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding, in whatever solution is appropriate for their individual situation. This includes formula use.
  • to reinforce that while breastmilk is superior to formula, a breastfeeding mom is NOT superior to a formula-feeding mom!
If everyone were to shed their attitudes and find common ground, we could foster a culture that could give the support that moms need. We must trade in our judgement for compassion, our blame for solutions, our righteousness for humility, our silence for meaningful dialogue.

In sum, we must say "enough!" to the current "damned if you do, damned if you don't" paradox of breastfeeding; the job of raising a child is hard enough as it is.

And thus concludes Breastfeeding Politics 101! ;-) Now that you have a better idea of the current context, my personal/specific observations to come Part 2 may have more resonance. Until then!

(* due to taking medication, for example)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Motherhood Month 1: Stuff I've Learned

Our lovely little boy, Will, was born on Feb 17th after a mere 6 hours of labour. He arrived into the world healthy, hollering, and as long and skinny as a salami. In the month and a half since, he's become more adorable, more alert and interactive... though still not mastering the art of smiling. (He gently meows, though, so that's tiding us over for cute-factor.) ;-) We love him so, and are eager to get to know him more as the months and years pass.

So, what have I learned in the last month? Here goes:
  • There's a certain circle of Heaven reserved for people who, when visiting a family with a new baby, bring food. Bonus points if they do a bit of housework while there, or leave after half an hour.
  • Making and freezing food (lasagne, chili, pasta sauce, quiche) during the last few months of pregnancy has been a lifesaver on nights when I'm too tired to cook anything.
  • Second-hand and consignment are stores are AWESOME, since anything "baby" is WAY overpriced (and there's no guarantee baby will like that vibrating seat, or whatever).
  • A yoga ball is a good investment. It's useful for pregnancy exercise, labour positions, and for bouncing a fussy baby to sleep. (The $29 Zellers kind is fine, but make sure it's big enough to sit on comfortably.)
  • When browsing through adorable baby clothes, seasons matter. As in, DO NOT buy that sweet little summer outfit, sized 0-3 months, for a baby born in February.
  • In fact, resist purchasing 0-3 month clothes altogether. You don't need many outfits in this size (6-10?), since the kid is neither mobile enough nor spewing enough to dirty his clothes that quickly.
  • Baby clothes that do not snap at the legs/crotch for easy diaper access may be cute, but are of highly limited functionality. Avoid purchasing these.
  • Make sure you have 2-3 zip hoodies for the kid, to throw on before going outside. (This is MUCH easier than changing a whole outfit!)
  • While pregnant, make a list of baby-friendly stuff to do (such as mother-baby groups) that will get you out of the house. This will be a godsend when you crave adult human interaction during the daytime.
Anyhow, I hope this list is helpful for those of you who are expecting (or know someone who is), or was at least amusing for those of you who aren't. And if any of you have things you've learned and like to share, I'd love to hear your comments! :-)

Next up will be "Stuff I Learned about Breastfeeding"... stay tuned!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is 'public policy' an out of date discipline?

Sometimes I wonder whether my chosen field, public policy, is actually running out of steam as a discipline.

Here's my line of thought:

1. Public policy can be understood as the process by which decisions by public institutions (mainly government) are made for the benefit of the public. Policy is enacted through government programs and services implemented by public administrations.

2. Increasingly, though, government is not in charge of the issues that it wants to address. Homelessness, climate change, spiraling health care costs--all of these are critical issues of our political conversation, but government cannot 'fix' them, despite pretensions otherwise. Progress in these areas demands the efforts and resources of many different players. No one organization is going to save the world by itself.

3. This means public policies are a lot less important than they used to be. To be clear: it's not that they're unimportant. But they are only really powerful if they can be well coordinated with the action of other organizations, communities and individuals.

4. So the value of public policy isn't the policy. It's the ability to build relationships, trust and manage interests in such a way that leads networks of individuals, communities, businesses and NGOs towards a shared goal.

There are lots of examples of areas where 'policy' as it's classically understood  still has tons of sway. Tax policy and economic forecasting come to mind. But even those are simply tools in a toolbox that government has to achieve goals and influence change. Good tax policy is useful when it aligns with (or funds) programs and services that make a difference.

If I'm right about this, I think the most interesting implication is the shift it will demand from the public servants formerly known as 'policy wonks'.

Policy wonks are the privileged experts of the government world. They are impartial advisors to elected decision makers, and handle some of the most sensitive and secret of materials for their political masters. They know issues deeply, and through analysis and research, come up with the options that land on Cabinet tables. It's heady, influential and addictive stuff.

The argument I'm making is that in the future, wonkish expertise is going to be of lower value than the ability to leverage networks, cut deals, and align ideas, people and action behind the goals Ministers want to achieve. Policy analysts won't be doing much analysis. Instead, they'll be using collaborative tools like the web in tandem with well honed powers of communication, facilitation and imagination to do the work the public needs.

I'm curious what you think. I'm I saying something obvious? Or is there a real shift occurring that means 'policy' isn't that relevant any more?

Posted via email from David's posterous

Sunday, March 07, 2010

RIght on Canada, but what about Norway?

With all the marvelous and deserved flag waving and back patting that's happened after the Olympics, it occurred to me (after a conversation with my Dad, actually) that there is a story that deserves to be told that hasn't.


In the final medal count, they were fourth with 23, just behind our fair country's 26. But wait, compare some simple demographics:

According to Wikipedia, Norway has a population of 4.8 milliion. Whereas Canada's population comes in at roughly 33 million.

In fact, Norway was a top five Olympic finisher with a population roughly the same size as we have here in British Columbia.

This is remarkable, is it not? That a country that small could achieve so much?

Dear world press: please celebrate the achievement of the Norwegians. They might not win at hockey, but boy did they clean up everywhere else.

Yahoo! Canada Toolbar : Search from anywhere on the web and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now!

Posted via email from David's posterous

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Promise to the Impending HelgaHume

So with a mere few weeks before our mini-HelgaHume is due to arrive, I've been mulling over various theories of parenting, etc. The conclusion so far is this: I have no idea what I'm doing, nor can I (really) know anything before actually arriving there.

But I do know this: I am smart, full of love, and firmly believe in the value of holding onto one's sense of humour through adversity and struggle. While these qualities will not ensure flawless parenting, I'm reasonably confident they'll be useful as I try to figure this whole thing out.

In this interim, instead of anticipating details, I prefer to establish a philosophy and overarching modus operandi for how I'd like this parenting thing to go. So, here is the pledge I make to you, my unborn child:

I may not always be a "good mum", whatever that means. Instead, I will strive to be "good enough". As a good-enough mum, I will do my non-omniscient, non-omnipotent best to keep you safe, warm, fed, and emotionally and intellectually nourished.

I won't always be right, but I will try hard to always be fair. Unfortunately, fairness doesn't always mean a happy resolution for all, but at least consistency and fairness will teach you about compromise and justice.

I will avoid judgement of other parenting practises. Parenting is just too damned hard, and involves too many variables, to be able to hold others to a standardized set of rules.

While I will always be mindful of you, I will retain my own interests, dreams, and goals in life. By nurturing my separate self, I can be a better mother to you. I hope it also shows you the importance of independence, and that of recognizing and working to fulfill your own needs. In the end, only you are responsible for your own happiness.

I will try to really listen to you. It is important that you feel heard, and that you develop confidence that what you think or feel does, in fact, matter. This will take time, energy, and effort, and may sometimes translate to other things getting overlooked. Sometimes, feeling heard is more important than going to school with brushed hair or a clean shirt. ;-)

Also, since marriages have a much higher mortality rate than kids do, I warn you that there will be times that I put Dave and my marriage before you. This will not be a pleasant lesson, but it will demonstrate a strong and loving partnership of equals, which I deeply hope you will one day achieve.

As you reveal to me who you are, I will try my best to not let my personal biases and prejudices interfere with supporting you. No doubt you will challenge me to expand the horizons of what I currently appreciate, and for that, I thank you in advance (because I likely won't be feeling so thankful at the time). ;-)

All that being said, my bottom line is this: You must have A dream (which is up to you to develop, and can change and grow as you do), and you must vote. Everything else, we'll work out when the time comes.

I love you, little squid, and am very much looking forward to getting to know you.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Conan and Generational Change

So I'm on #teamconan.

I've watched him, on and off, since university (UVic Grad 2001). And he's been great. Pimpbot; Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the Masturbating Bear are all hilarious. More interesting still was how he came from being a behind the scenes writer-guy to getting out in front of the camera, growing into the role as he got experience. And now, as we know, he's been pushed out of his 'dream job' so that Jay Leno can return to the Tonight Show.

I don't have a real beef with Leno--he's funny for an audience that likes its humor safe, and is apparently a ratings winner in his traditional time slot.

But I'm squarely with Team Conan because of the important subtext of this story: generational change.

Conan is youngish (47), has played by the rules, and done everything he can to position himself to inherit Johnny Carson's chair on the Tonight Show, just like Jay did almost two decades ago.

But the old guy won't budge. And the old guys at NBC, looking desperately at their wallets, won't budge either.

My worry is that this is a portent of things to come.

In every sector of our society, from commerce to public service, teaching to trades, it's anticipated that retirements are going to hugely impact available skills. Young people have been told this for years, and many are ready or are getting ready to lead.

As these shortages begin to really make themselves felt, will organizations follow NBC's lead and bet on the old war horse? Or will new blood get a chance to take the reins of the big show?

Working out a way to avoid a constant, internecine, society wide clash between a tried and tested Baby Boom generation and the group of young people who make up Generation X and onwards, who think their vision of the world is best positioned to lead humanity out of the trouble it finds itself in, is going to be a major challenge. And to be frank, I'm not sure what to do.

In an ideal world, organizations allow young leadership to step in, but evolve a more knowledge focused mentoring role for its vital but older leadership--something like an Emeritus position. It'd be great to know who, if anyone, is trying new inter-generational organizational models on, hopefully with some real benefits to performance.

Posted via email from David's posterous