Engagement can be scary, DG says

When it comes to e-government it isn’t the technology that scares public servants – it’s the thought of citizen engagement.

That’s what Jamshed Merchant, the director general of e-services for Heritage Canada, told an audience recently at the annual Information Highways 2003 Conference and Showcase in Toronto.

“Everybody will say engagement is important, but everybody is scared… about doing it in government. It’s one of the things I found fascinating in all of this.”

Merchant, who has worked at his current post for two years, said the government is more than happy to engage in e-business transactions with Canadians, but getting feedback from them is another matter. The director general said he first realized there was some resistance in this area when he pitched the idea of creating a Web site that would allow Canadians to access consultations from government departments and agencies.

Merchant said civil servants were initially worried about the amount of feedback they would get from citizens and how the information would be managed. Merchant’s idea faced further problems when it came to determining which consultations were going on in each government department and agency. He said staff had to literally go to each program area and ask which consultations were taking place.

Despite the fears and challenges, a pilot portal called Consulting Canadians has been established and can be found on the Government of Canada’s main Web site. The success of the portal will be evaluated in the spring of 2003.

Merchant said the resistance to using technology to gain citizen feedback is really about poor change management within the government.

“Making a change is really about people,” he said. “That whole area of change management is not given enough time or thought.”

The Consulting Canadians Web site can be found at www.consultingcanadians.gc.ca.