posted 8 May 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 8
Ten new archetypes in network-age government
The concept of behavioural transformation from industrial-age to network-age government, while understood conceptually, remains difficult to grasp. Built on the work of scholars in the field of psychology and knowledge management, archetypes can help clarify this concept and in turn be used as change agents in uncharted territories. Elisabeth Richard describes the collaborative, iterative process involved in building these archetypes and sketches the main characteristics by which old-school and younger public servants collectively describe the main characters of a new odyssey.
Networking is shifting many governmental functions, producing new patterns for the creation of intellectual capital. As people, processes and institutional relationships are affected, a new organisational culture emerges. Indeed, networks alter time, distance and corporate memory, profoundly shifting the co-ordination role of government and leading to new patterns of political communication and participation.
Although all levels of bureaucracy are affected, most new behaviours and processes originate, albeit unconsciously, from the working level. Patterns surface from the observations of various groups in the e-government sector. They may appear in the form of metaphors, images that public servants draw upon to clarify nebulous concepts. Feelings and emotions then link these images to individuals belonging to a collective memory – this is when a metaphor becomes an archetype.
Archetypes embody the experiences of many employees. They convey the hopes and fears of a workforce faced with drastic changes, and they help unlock intellectual capital by creating instant recognition of the challenges, complexities and constraints facing the new generation of public servants.
The process of collectively capturing ten archetypes in a research project sponsored by the Telecommunications and Informatics Programs of Public Works and Government Services Canada to help prepare the public service for the new environment created by e-government led to an exploration of the undercurrents of emerging government structures (see textbox on the following page). It provided insight into the transformation of roles and occupations, which triggered a shared understanding of value creation at the working level – an essential step for public servants in adapting their behaviours from industrial-age to network-age government, and for managers in increasing understanding about the support they will have to provide. It that sense, archetypes create awareness, which is the first layer of any learning strategy.
Extensive change at the working level
A close examination of the impact of networks on the public service shows deep organisational implications. Competencies change and various skills, such as project management and communication, must be added to core capabilities. The advantages abound, but the depth and breadth of the changes create an identity crisis:
- Front-line officers are becoming advisers;
- Experts are drawn to the front lines;
- Programme officers are emerging as case workers;
- Cluster managers, unheard of five years ago, are coming into existence;
- Information synthesists are appearing in many back offices;
- Consultation staff must respond to burgeoning and savvy cyber-activists;
- Communications officials are faced with a multiplicity of target audiences;
- Policy officials are working with social entrepreneurs from the early stages of agenda setting;
- Common services employees are increasingly providing vital infrastructure and brand integrity;
- Regional managers are delivering services in a climate of ‘co-opetition’ and gain sharing.
From concepts to experience
Public servants have to deal with numerous concepts everyday, but so long as they don’t convey an inner human experience, these concepts often remain abstractions. We dream of removing stovepipes, yet until we experience the patience, persistence and imagination it takes to find our data mines, get permission to access them, implement the right taxonomy to explore them and bring back meaningful intelligence, and as long as change-management success stories are limited by editorial or privacy considerations and internal politics, our capacity to motivate change will remain restricted.
The ten archetypes of the network-age government allow us to overcome some of these obstacles. The evocation of these characters might seem trivial compared to the powerful engine of transformation already in motion. Yet this triviality, deeply rooted in day-to-day working life, is what makes the experience real. Meshed with the fundamental aspirations of public servants, these traits are important contributions to the innovation climate.
Taking the concept to heart
Leaders, poets and politicians have used metaphors throughout history as vehicles to circulate concepts to the masses. For example, former Vice-President Al Gore’s metaphor of the 1950s Interstate Highway System drove the information superhighway’s development in the 1990s. Conversely, the power of metaphors is such that it may constrain an organisation from adapting to a new environment.
With attributes of human behaviours and feelings, archetypes go beyond the concept of metaphors. Various researchers have described the use of archetypes, from a tool to carry us instinctively to spiritual goals to an expression of an organisation’s vision. Snowden has shown how archetypes, like cartoons, create an indirect way of characterising behaviours and connecting them with what really makes an organisation tick. Mark Stefik describes how the metaphors pertaining to the internet influence what we think it could become – a marketplace, a digital community forum or a digital library. He proposes universal archetypes like the warrior, the trickster and the wise old man to help readers envision the internet. For her part, Nancy White describes the influence of personal styles and archetypes in the dynamics of online communities. For Peter Senge, there are ‘systems archetypes’: generic structures or common patterns that are either helpful in conveying concepts or destructive when they reinforce difficulties.
In the front lines and back offices of e-government, new heroes emerge and character traits are being defined for this new odyssey. A collective tacit wisdom is emerging from our adaptation to the new environment. A new collective unconscious is being formed.
Metaphors are subject to many interpretations. The information-highway metaphor did not please everyone. Stefik’s archetypes are proposed as a means of reflection, while Snowden’s are produced in groups, drawing on a base of anecdotes and a collective body of experience gathered in the organisation.
The intent of our research was not to define ten intriguing archetypes that would thrive in Hollywood. The collaborative ten-archetypes-for-the-network-age-government project provided a step-by-step approach to imagining the digitally mediated environments for the emerging public-service policy and service-delivery tasks. The archetypes materialised from a natural set of anecdotes, rather than an externally constructed model. As Snowden points out, there is an important distinction to be made between universal Jungian archetypes in a story form like Star Wars and the daily heroes in a specific organisation. Approximations are useful on screen but can be limiting in a corporate environment. In many ways, the more they are rooted locally, the better.
The power of intuition
Although the government of Canada is considered a leader in the e-government arena, the roles, skills and competencies of those who deliver these services are still being defined. Public servants feel the transformations but can have difficulty describing them. As such, the process selected to sketch the archetypes triggered a variety of images – some archetypes, some stereotypes, others just plain ‘types’. These provided for a second, more precise wave of anecdotes and impressions, where intuition played a major role.
A careful mix of doers and dreamers from a wide variety of departments and functions is essential: Jung’s personality types are put to good use. In our project, five to ten public servants were selected for each archetype, either due to their experience or because they had a deep interest in the network environment.
The setting was informal: the boardroom selected was purposefully too small. Some days the table felt overcrowded, but the intimacy created increased the sense of informality. The spectacular Ottawa River flowed behind the large window and inspired insights to flow accordingly.
A preliminary round of telephone interviews allowed us to glean an initial set of anecdotes, main ideas and images; these were used for a contextual slide presentation to trigger the flow of ideas during the first group meeting. The archetypes that emerged from that meeting were not those of Greek mythology, yet they served as a reminder of the gods’ fire through the colour, stories, struggles and victories evoked. These characters were not archetypes, but they were types. They were validated as genuine and authentic by the group, and in turn triggered anecdotes. The material gleaned, therefore, was truthful to the experience of the roundtable participants.
The many faces of Mount Olympus
No matter how right-brained and creative participants were, the introduction of mythology in a pressured and structured schedule required some context. To explain the concept of archetypes, current pop psychology was more useful than 15th century depictions of Greek gods and goddesses.
In a continent where odyssey spells S-T-A-R W-A-R-S, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were efficient vehicles. The characters created a generation ago by George Lucas were built on the seminal work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Like Stefik’s archetypes in Internet Dreams, Star Wars characters lead us through a journey to explore new experiences. On this road, we meet the ‘wise old men’, the rogues motivated by money and the guides who facilitate our exchanges.
’types that work, ’types that don’t
In the case of the front line worker, the evocation of Ernestine – a blunt and self-centred character –helped participants to understand what the front line worker of the third millennium is not. In other cases, images created instant resistance, such as the information-synthesist archetype where a Mission-Impossible-type spy was suggested as a representative of the archetype following comments received during the preliminary interviews that pointed to the feeling of ‘stealing information’ that should otherwise be freely available and searchable. But this image hit a sensitive chord: the integrity of the public-service ethos was challenged.
An evocative picture of a 2001 G8 Summit in Quebec City demonstrator triggered a similar resistance. The picture was proposed to describe the context in which public servants deal with ‘network armies’, but triggered a discussion around the stereotyping of activists into unruly hoodlums. Participants often raised the danger of tipping from an archetype to a stereotype. Like Senge’s systems, archetypes can be a positive or a negative force. Jungian psychology explains that the archetype is a product of an inner force, a condition created by the environment, whereas the stereotype is a force imposed from the outside, an imposed mould.
Contemporary personalities were suggested as role models throughout the process. For example, one participant suggested that Peter Shankman, founder of the Geek Factory and described as “re-defining the art of networking” exemplified the character of the communicator of the third millennium. Although the suggested personalities helped define characteristics, their adoption is limited, unless they are very famous. As Snowden points out, in this type of exercise, the characters of archetypes should not be linked to individual personalities.
History was a safer source of personalities to draw from. However, in the case of the ‘conversationalist’ the image of Julie de Lespinasse, whose salon dominated the Paris intellectual and a political scene, had not carried through from the 18th century to our mini-roundtable’s collective subconscious. It is rather a description of her unique skills that struck, as astute listening and the ability to bring to the fore the right mix of voices are qualities that public servants strive for in a network environment.
Main characteristics of the ten archetypes
What follows is a brief summary of the ten archetypal figures that emerged from the research.
#1 The front-line worker
The new role of front-line workers varies between providing technical knowledge and helping callers, a shift from dispensing information on demand. They feel compelled into the help profession, where empathy, intuition, language skills and judgement are vital.
These workers alternate between pride and frustration, sometimes feeling appropriately rewarded for their value added, and sometimes feeling frustrated if the information they scan is overlooked and if access to basic knowledge tools, such as the internet, is denied.
On their journey, they meet the experts, the case workers and the information synthesists. Experts provide insightful and pertinent answers to clients’ questions, while their relationship with case workers is still to be to be properly defined: it is often a fine line between information and assistance. Some days, front-line workers wish they were synthesists to allow them to research information on their own.
#2 The expert
Experts can be ‘hermits’ yet influence financial movements when called upon to interpret the details of a new budget. They can be at the highest echelons of their scientific category and yet explain regulations directly to stakeholders. For some, it’s refreshing to be able to connect directly with the public; they love difficult questions enabling them to discuss their domain of expertise. Others choose to steer clear of telephone knowledge dissemination to do what they are best at: creating knowledge.
The ranks of level-one service providers are being backed by a growing number of experts trained for very specific subjects. As the level of specialisation grows, automated wizards and expert systems are considered.
#3 The case worker
As governments develop CRM solutions for their online activities, various case-management technologies are implemented, but not without resistance since these technologies have the potential to de-personalise interactions.
Case-management technologies can be ‘smart’, probe the end-user and give pop-up menus with options to consider. But to what extent can probing guides and avatars replace the human guides? Case-management technologies are also implemented on intranets, where employees can access their private information without an intermediary. Will end-users and employees become their own case workers?
#4 The cluster manager
Cluster managers are a new breed of workers and yet the centre of online government activities. Their horizontal approach blurs their reporting hierarchy and blazes new trails when it comes to delivering services between jurisdictions. Their principal skill is relationship management and their challenge is to defy governmental structures. They greet departmental representatives at their tables with a request to leave their departmental spin at the door. These workers seek stakeholders’ recommendations and ask for patience from their senior managers.
#5 The information synthesist
Information synthesists are proliferating but are still undefined. They may be described as road warriors, forcing their way through well protected silos of information. Those who know where the information lies, in what format and how it can be accessed quickly are the winners. These workers may also be described as caring professionals, whose sense of volunteerism ranks high with a strong public-service ethic of impartial information. They get irritated, but are not intimidated, by scientific jargon and conflicting terminologies. They have an arsenal of automatic taxonomy tools to track and classify information.
Their value fuels innovation in government processes, from product to regional policy development. Yet many organisations just don’t know what to do with these skills.
#6 The guerrilla PR
Government communicators are experimenting with the jiu jitsu of information. These workers must know about technology, ideas and current information before they become tomorrow’s buzzwords. They know that stories might break at the other end of the world while they are sleeping. They are not caught by surprise and have a few tricks of their own (with a little help from their favourite information synthesist): issue tracking and e-mail alerts.
With their blogs and a few clever Perl scripts, they are always listening and circulating trends. They serve their stakeholder groups with solid content-management tools. They find re-purposing their information into various formats goes a long way to serve the media in a multi-channel environment.
#7 The conversation acrobat
Even with resistance from many government departments, conversation acrobats are now in high demand. These public servants try to create a symphony from the clutter of the internet. They bring to government tables youth, anti-globalisation gurus and native women. They know how to use a personal note to warm the atmosphere, a tone of truth, however short, instead of a 30-line standard response, and open-ended questions, to stimulate the discussion and re-formulate ideas.
As much as they can, they use the network as a distributed structure of peers. They thrive under the wings of enlightened senior managers yet know to stay underground to avoid complications presented by lawyers and experts, whose jargon they have to translate, and they distance themselves from communications people; they are not a form of glorified outreach.
#8 The policy developer
Entrepreneurs bloom in the networked policy world, bridging national bodies and local communities. A few savvy ones operate in the public service, but often encounter resistance since entrepreneurship is the terrain of the elected.
Nevertheless, public servants develop policies and the network gives them access to the front lines where they can listen to actual regional stories of programme delivery and requirements. From this information, gathered using bilateral communication, policy solutions emerge.
Policy developers are energised by these new avenues, but require training to weed out harmful network circles from virtuous ones.
#9 The integrator
For two decades, integrators were those everyone loved to hate: the central agencies. With the network environment comes the issues of privacy, authenticity and brand equity. Integrators are now required to provide direction to various networks, set common operating principles and systems, and serve as a pool of expertise and learning. Their capacity to integrate knowledge bases from various sources to produce a result is their key skill.
#10 The regional programme manager
Regional programme managers make service integration happen. They are no longer mere transmission belts of programmes designed and orchestrated from headquarters but, as the local face of the Government of Canada, are active members of smart communities. Even though they have gained some independence from headquarters, networking tools brings them closer, in a sense at least.
As networking champions, the Canada brand depends on their ability to collaborate. They are proud of being the new model for successful urban organisation in the global age. ‘Co-opetition’, ‘gain sharing’ and ‘collaboratories’ are their favourite buzzwords. They manage programmes with people from various backgrounds and create a unified workplace from a patchwork. They accept accountability for the bottom line of their part of the business, and for their own continued employability and careers within the industry.
Having poured millions of dollars into networked infrastructures, the government of Canada is now hiring the next generation that will take over and apply these new principles. They will be joining the growing ranks of the ‘symbolic analysts’: those workers of the new economy who are masters at simplifying reality into abstract images that can be rearranged, juggled, experimented with, communicated to other specialists, and eventually transformed back into reality in an ever-growing patchwork of programme design and delivery models.
Just as biological evolution triggers inherent predispositions to human nature, the networked environment triggers a new set of skills and behaviours. As in any evolutionary process, images serve as guides. These are symbols for symbolic analysts. But then again, these symbols skip analysis and go directly to the heart. Like Hermes, the god of communication, or like Obi Wan Kenobi, the Jedi, they carry a subtle web of messages. They serve as guides for those whose ability to perform in this new environment will safeguard our wellbeing through the excellence of our services and policies.
1. Marshak, R. J., ‘Managing the metaphors of change’ in Organizational Dynamics (Vol 22, No1, Summer 1993)
2. Jung, C.G., ‘Archetypes of the collective unconscious’ in Collective Works of C.G.Jung (Vol 9, Part 1, 1968)
3. Snowden, D.J., ‘From storytelling to narrative: Archetypes as an instrument of narrative patterns’ in Knowledge Management (Ark Group, November 2002)
4. Stefik, M., Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths and Metaphors (MIT Press, 1996)
5. White, N., ‘It ain’t easy being green: Posting archetypes in online conversations’ (www.fullcircle.com, 1999)
6. Senge, P.M., The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Random House, 1993)
7. Maher, J.D. & Briggs, D., An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms (Larson Publications, 1988)
Elisabeth Richard is director, Government Partnerships, Telecommunications and Informatics Program, Government Services Canada. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
- This research was sponsored by the Telecommunications and Informatics Programs of Public Works and Government Services Canada to help prepare the public service for the new environment created by e-government;
- The ten archetypes of network-age government are based on observations arising from the author’s experience as manager of the Government of Canada Primary Internet Site when it was inaugurated in 1995. The new processes and competencies needed to enhance relationships with citizens through integrated and seamless information, enhanced service delivery and participation to the policy process were all evident at that time and quickly led to the substantial cultural change we are now experiencing;
- These portraits are based on real-life experiences of 100 practitioners who gathered in small groups over the summer and fall of 2002. The sketches were validated at a learning event held in March 2003 in Ottawa;
- The full report will be published shortly in English and French;
- The vivid images described in the report have been interpreted by a mime in a short video presentation, also available in English and French.