Tag Archives: collaboration

LocalGovCamp 2014 thoughts #3 – collaboration is key

I found LocalGovCamp a really refreshing and cheering event this year. I’m going to spend a few quick posts writing up my thoughts.

Mary McKenna brilliantly facilitated an excellent discussion on collaboration – why it is needed, why it hasn’t worked that well up to now, and how that might be fixed.

Some great input came from FutureGov‘s Dom Campbell, who spoke about the some of the challenges trying to implement their Patchwork tool across multiple agencies.

There was also discussion of the limitations of the traditional approach to partnership working – overly bureaucratic, slow to make decisions, agencies working individually to deliver what should be shared objectives, really boring meetings, and so on.

What’s needed is a more agile, responsive and flexible approach to working in partnership to deliver shared outcomes.

This needs to mean organisations sharing people, resources, systems, data and more – and not just tick-box style partnerships.

What’s also vital to to this working are grown up conversations are needed about who can deliver what with the resources they have. This is no time for pride.

Link roundup

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Collaboration ground rules

groundrules_bSometimes to make collaboration work you need to set some ground rules.

It’s easy to say, “let’s start up a google doc!” – and imagine everyone leaping in to give their ideas. But it’s not so simple as that, especially if folk haven’t had the experience or confidence in this way of working.

Instead it’s necessary to have a think about how the collaborative activity might be approached, and ensure everyone is aware of the process you have selected.

Often this will be the case when the technology available is a bit lacking. As an example, a recent collaborative effort I started was based in a ‘Note’ within a group on Yammer. Notes are the collaborative writing part of Yammer, but they aren’t terribly sophisticated and won’t allow you to use formatting such as tables.

So, I spent a bit of time describing how to add ideas to the list. I came up with a fairly simple process that involved a bold heading for each new item, with two bullets points underneath for other related information to be recorded.

Without this introduction, people may have been unsure what to do, and so not bother, or even accidentally start hacking up what others had written.

At the very least, when working on a Google Doc with others, for example, I’ll put “No deletions!” at the top as a general rule to people.

Any other collaboration ground rule tips to share?

Link roundup

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Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

How the digital workplace is transforming office life

Great talk from Sharon O’Dea:

By moving information and services online, successful companies enable their staff to work from any location, and almost any device, so that work becomes what you do, not where you go. In this session, learn how the digital workplace supports more flexible working, reduces costs – and makes employees happier and healthier.

Google+ launches communities

Google+ is an interesting – if quiet – place. It’s not used by very many people, which is a shame, as the interface is rather nice and it features some really cool bits of technology.

Hangouts, for instance, are fantastic – on demand video conferencing which integrates neatly with Google’s other services likes Docs and so on.

However, because so few people are active there, it does feel a bit empty at times. When asked if organisations should use it as a space for engagement, I tend to say no – as time would be better spent working with the much larger existing communities on Twitter and Facebook.

Perhaps though Google+ is just a different space for doing different things. I wonder if it’s a better vehicle for collaboration than communication.

Take the new communities – basically the G+ version of Facebook Groups. You create your community, invite people in and then share updates, links, videos and so on just as you do in other similar spaces.

I’ve set up a ‘digital innovation’ community to test it out – do join in!

Here’s a video to explain more:

Communities are nicely integrated into other Google services – for example you can share links into your communities directly from Google Reader; and with a bit of fiddling can make a Google Doc editable by all members of a community. Of course, this being G+, you also have the ability to video conference via Hangouts whenever you want.

I have reservations about how useful G+ communities will be for public engagement activities. However, as I mentioned above, they are particularly suited I think to project working.

Indeed, the suite of tools that Google has made for collaboration, including Communities, the email based Groups, Docs, Hangouts, the wiki-like Sites – is fantastic and mostly free.

If you are a small organisation or team, and don’t have too many hangups about information security and so on, Google does pretty much everything you need to work smarter out of the box. Well worth having a play.

Notes on making collaborative technology successful

I spent an interesting morning at the Online Information conference on Tuesday – ably chaired by my pal Steve Dale – and the session I enjoyed most was about implementing collaborative technology in organisations – one example was from a big media and communications provider, the other a government department.

Here are some of the thoughts that the session inspired me to write down…

1. There’s always a disconnect between what the organisation wants and what the user wants.

This doesn’t mean you are doomed to fail – but it means you are if you don’t think about how to balance these competing elements.

Knowledge management is a classic example of this problem – the organisation wants its people to share their know-how so they won’t be missed so much when they leave. But maintaining their indispensability is a pretty important thing for employees who want to stay in work.

The answer here is, I think, not to pretend that the disconnect doesn’t exist – just manage it. Don’t try selling organisational benefits to staff – instead focus that on what’s in it for them. Find a way of aligning what the organisation wants and what makes the users’ lives easier and better.

2. Calling it something new is a bad idea. Just make it ‘work’.

Imagine you’re sat at your desk and someone approaches you, beaming, and announces that from now on we’re all going to start managing our knowledge! Or sharing our collective wisdom! Or collaborating!

My eyes are rolling just thinking about it. By giving an activity a name you separate it from other, existing activity. It becomes more work rather than just a new, better way of doing the existing work.

If people see something as a new responsibility or an additional task, they are unlikely to want to do it. Instead frame these tools as more efficient ways of getting the job done better.

3. Getting good engagement requires skills that not many organisations have.

One of the key ones is community management, which I have banged on about quite a bit before. Encouraging people to an online space and to get involved is exactly a community management activity and anyone trying to do it really ought to spend some time learning about it (which might be going on a course, but could just be spending some time reading about it).

There’s other stuff too like curation, social reporting, writing for the web, networking and so on… none of which are full time jobs but skills that are needed and roles which should be performed if you are going to engage users with your platform. Assuming the skills exist or that they aren’t needed will result in failure, I’m afraid.

4. If you find yourself in the position where you’re having to convince people to collaborate or share, you’ve probably already failed.

I do wonder sometimes whether allowing people to discover social tools in the workplace for themselves might make them more likely to take them up. It might make for slightly slower levels of engagement but I dare say they will be more sustainable in the long term.

There’s something here to learn from the success of Yammer in many organisations, which is often started up under the radar by individual staff members with no strategy or management buy-in. Because it belongs to the people using it, and it isn’t being imposed, it feels like a space people actually want to use, and there’s no need to convince people.

What I am saying here might sound a bit like ‘if you build it, they will come’. That’s not what I’m saying.

Maybe I’m saying ‘if you plead with people to come to something you’ve built, they will regard you and your thing with contempt’.

5. Don’t prescribe what people can do. Let them surprise you.

This ties in a bit with my first and second points but is more focused on activity and features. What I mean here is that if you launch a social system with the intention of it being a knowledge management tool, and people end up using it to manage their projects, then let them.

If instead of correctly managing the versions of various official documents within the strictures of your beautifully designed taxonomy, people end up discussing the ramifications of the latest restructure, then let them.

Telling people they aren’t doing things right is unlikely to endear them to you or your platform. Of course step in if people are behaving anti-socially or whatever, but by and large they them do what they want to do, and just be glad that they want to do it on your system. Once they begin to trust it and like it, they might just start doing some of the things you originally hoped they would.