Strategy stuff – a three pronged approach

Drawing together a few discussions I have been involved in recently about the different types of documents an organisation – such as a council – might need to put together to define its approach to engaging online, I thought it might be useful to set out how I think it could be done.

My initial inclination is always to dispense with strategy, to be honest, as process has a habit of stifling Good Stuff, and over strategising leads to attempts at control and general alienation. My second thought is that even if strategy is required, there shouldn’t be any need for anything specific for digital, as really it’s all the same – technology shouldn’t matter.

Realistically, though, at this stage organisations need to feel comfortable with what they are doing, and if that means having bits of paper explaining it all, then so be it. The important thing is to get those bits of paper right. I see a need for three types of document, each of which I will explain below:

1. Corporate strategy

A high level document explaining what the organisation wants to do, and why it wants to do it. Don’t make it tool focused, else it will go out of date very quickly. Keep it broad and general, as the specifics will be covered in the other documents. This should be the paper brought out to win arguments where necessary. Make sure people at the top of the organisation read it, and endorse it: it will be an enabler to get stuff done.

Issues it should cover:

  • How important does the organisation see the digital space?
  • What are the opportunities and risks, and how are they managed?
  • How online interaction fits in with other channels and processes
  • An overview of the approach: something like the classic listen, acknowledge, create, share
  • How are staff supported in their delivery of the strategy?

2. Staff guidelines

This is the bit which explains in clear terms what staff are enabled to do at work using the internet. There are plenty of good examples available on the web, from the Civil Service guidance, to the BBC, IBM and others. It performs an important role, and should be less about saying what people can’t do and more about encouraging and empowering staff to engage in online conversations.

This should set out how staff are encouraged to engage online, what they can do on their own, and what they might need to seek advice on. My general advice on this is:

  1. If the information or content is already published in some form or other, then it should be repeatable on blogs, in forum or whatever without the need to gain permission
  2. If something new is being generated, whether a viewpoint or a response to a question, say, then it’s best to get it checked out first
  3. If the staff member is at all uncertain, even in the instance of 1. above, get some advice

3. Individual project engagement plans

These form the nitty-gritty of the online engagement work, and there should be one for every digital project undertaken. While the other two documents I have written about are pretty high level – to ensure they remain relevant – with the plans, you can be pretty detailed and focus on activities. These plans should describe:

  • What the project is about, and how digital can support that
  • What the objectives of the digital work are
  • How those objectives will be measured – ie evaluation
  • What the roles are and who is responsible for them
  • How reporting will work
  • Which tools will be used and how
  • Some kind of timeline showing when activity will happen, for how long and how it will be shut down.

I reckon this three-pronged approach more or less covers the necessary bases. It would be interesting to hear how people are approaching this area, and how it differs to what I have written here.