McCracken Rocks @ Service Lab in Canada’s Capital

Jan 11th, 2016

Grant McCracken visited Canada @Service Lab on December 8 & 9, 2015.

Pushing the boundaries of public service thought.

Here’s how.

As a Canadian anthropologist working in the US (consultant to Fortune 500 companies like Google & Coca Cola, and the White House, never mind author of “Chief Culture Officer“, among others), Grant took a chance on us.

I read Chief Culture Officer when it came out.  Loved it, & tweeted about it. He liked the tweet, we connected on LinkedIn and that was it.

Until I had the privilege of running Service Lab at Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada in October 2015.

Design thinking involves many different facets, techniques and approaches. OCAD’s design research techniques provide a great tool breaking down the process to explain individual techniques applicable to each design thinking stage.

Which brings me to Grant.

He runs culture and ethnographic boot camps.  Ethnography is a research technique for design thinking helping to discover the world.  I thought it was relevant, but not necessarily accessible in Canada’s public service.

So I connected with Grant.  We debated what made sense for Canada’s public service.  That included developing an ethnography boot camp specifically designed for Canada’s public servants.

If he was in the Nation’s Capital for the bootcamp, it made sense to tap into his vast expertise and create a back to back event.

So the concept of a lecture arose, and Grant suggested the topic “The Impact of the Artisanal Trend in the North American Economy” – the idea being to push thinkingabout economics & anthropology & culture into Canadian public policy making.

Thanks to the support of  ISEDC’s Small Business, Tourism and Marketplace Services team, and the Community of Federal Regulators (CFR) Grant came home to Canada.

A few blocks from his mother’s childhood home, he delivered an ethnographic boot camp tailored to public servants, then challenged public servants to explore the impact of the artisanal trend on the future of small and medium sized business across Canada.


Not sure yet.  Nearly 30 people attended the day long boot camp from multiple departments.  With over 50 people attended the lecture both in person and via webcast.

But when the Lab asked what people felt?

Here is what we heard:

“What at treat to have a day at the Service Lab with Public Servants from across the government.  I learned a whole new approach, e.g., ethnographic interviewing & this has got me thinking about how to approach my job as a policy advisor in a new way.  At a macro-level, it helped spur thinking about the future realities of the relationship between Ottawa and citizens.  More of this please!”

“Amazing review of ethnography and its application in the Government of Canada.  Looking forward to deep dive thinking on how client service might work in the future.  Truly grateful to the Lab for engaging and Grant for presenting the Ethnography Academy Thx!”

“We have to learn to suffer messiness before we get clarity; things get messy & stay messy to the end.”

Thinking different in public service is difficult.

Because conforming to the hierarchy of traditional bureaucracy is tough.

Innovation means taking a risk, probably failing, then starting again to succeed.

Thanks Grant McCracken for taking a chance on your country as it modernizes its public service.

Because thinking outside the silo takes courage.


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