Officeland: The Problem Solver

A privacy specialist for the Ontario government opens up about his job, his office and how he manages information overload

“As a rule, he or she who has the most information will have the greatest success in life.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Stuart Bailey is a private person – at least when it comes to work. In agreeing to speak with Unlimited about his job, for instance, he cheerfully and apologetically said, “I can only speak for myself, not for the government.” That’s because Bailey is an information management and privacy strategist for the Ontario Ministry of Finance, where he navigates the complex, sometimes intangible and often confidential world of data. Not that he’s necessarily trading in top-secret information – “I don’t have a lot of sensitive material,” he admits – but for someone whose work is all about managing, sharing (and sometimes not sharing) information, Bailey is sensitive to the challenges of describing what he does without saying too much. He gives it a try.

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Stuart Bailey’s official office at the Ministry of Finance

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Stuart Bailey’s official office at the Ministry of Finance

“My job is to help regular people in different program areas integrate practice and information into their daily work.” Huh? “Really, it’s helping people deal with information overload,” Bailey adds. Oh, right.

That could range from helping staffers manage email to helping colleagues understand the logistics and legalities around sharing information. “Storage is cheap, but finding it is very expensive,” Bailey says. A gigabyte of storage might cost only 20 cents, but a company will have to shell out another $1,300 or so to manage, share and protect that information. “It’s not just about an object sitting in a space.”

“The type of work I do is about understanding broad abstractions. Information,” he points out, “is always part of something else that you do.” In that sense, we are each de facto information managers, even though we might not consider this part of our real jobs. It is always, Bailey explains, wrapped up in our other tasks.

After earning a BA in cultural studies and philosophy from Trent University, Bailey went on to complete a master’s in information studies at the University of Toronto. Warm and engaging, his philosophy background quickly surfaces. “A large part of the work I do is – pardon me for lapsing into code – to understand basic metaphysics, entities, attributes and relationships. I have to operate in abstract areas. Privacy is not a monolithic object. It’s not a like a shoe,” he says. “A shoe will have certain dimensions, it goes on your foot, you can wear it in certain weather. But privacy could be a whole range of things.”

Bailey’s Virtual Office

Bailey, whose official mailing address is for the Central Agencies Cluster at the Ministry of Finance in Toronto, in actuality divides his time between three offices.

Bailey telecommutes from his couch-office

Bailey telecommutes from his couch-office

+ This office in the picture is where I’m stationed, but sometimes I work with the rest of the team in Oshawa. I also work at home. My employer has a great teleworking project and a lot of flexibility. I spend more time focusing on work and less on additional stressors like whether I’ll make it home in time to pick up my daughter before her daycare closes.

+ I have one computer and BlackBerry. It’s not like I produce a certain number of widgets a day. Where I’m located is sometimes not as important. I don’t always have to be tied to a desk, but I do have to ingest, analyze and provide comment on information for colleagues.

+ Yeah, sometimes I can’t find things. It’s like asking a ditch-digger where you put the shovel. Well, you can just find another shovel.

+ That’s a tennis ball on my desk. I bounce it around to relieve stress or think about things in a different way. Sometimes the best way to focus on an abstract problem is not to focus on it. You have to let the brain refresh and let your mind wander.

+ Those boxes are filled with paperwork. Although I work a lot with electronic media, I like the tactile quality of reaching for an article. I have to stay on top of new developments such as the use of wikis or policy development or a recent court decision. I make sure I don’t keep more around than I need. U

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