Why senior managers need to lead online

I wrote a thing for the Guardian’s Public Leaders’ Network:

The explosion in online innovation throughout public services is seeing more and more activity taking place on the net, whether via interactive websites, or mobile applications. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and problem solving on a scale unimaginable previously – and those in senior positions have to be a part of this conversation.

Open by default

Catherine Howe on the need for the organisations delivering public services to be open ones:

I have an underlying belief, and often unstated, belief that there is need to look at how we transition large organisations within the public sector towards a more networked state and that this transition does need happen in the form of positive distuption within these organisations as much as in the form of of external pressure to change. This involve compromise and an evolution towards a goal rather than a ‘big bang’ solution.

Great post, well worth a read in full.

6 objectives for public service digital engagement

One thing that really came out of the social media strategy seminar we ran last week was that it’s vital for an organisation to have a decent handle on just why they want to be doing this stuff.

I think we’ve reached the point now where most organisations understand the power and reach of emerging social technology, and get the fact that they ought to be involved.

For an approach to be truly successful though, you have to have some objectives in mind. It’s not enough to just do – knowing what you’re doing and why is just as important!

Another thing to consider is what it is that you want those you digitally engage with to actually do. It’s great having thousands of people liking your Facebook page, or loads of Twitter followers… but what are you going to do with them?

Here are some of the more obvious objectives for an organisation to be involved in the social web.

1. Engagement

Lots of people have their own definition of engagement, but just for the purposes of this post, I am talking about a more engaging method of communicating with the public.

I’ve written previously that social media activity doesn’t belong exclusively to communicators, but there is no doubt that there are real opportunities to improve the way organisations communicate using the web.

So using online channels to make people aware of the good work your organisation is doing is a perfectly valid objective – I’d just argue it shouldn’t be the only one!

A great example of this would be Coventry City Council‘s use of Facebook.

2. Open innovation

Perhaps a more interesting use of social technology is in increasing the pool of people contributing ideas and solutions to problems and the improvement of services.

Open innovation differs from traditional approaches by opening up the innovation process beyond the walls of the organisation.

The web provides a great platform for encouraging people to share problems and for groups to work together on solutions.

There are a couple of potentially great examples emerging in this space – DotGovLabs, which is currently an invite only platform, but which will be opening up a bit more in the future; and FutureGov‘s Simpl, which combines open innovation principles with an online marketplace.

3. Participation

The web provides a great opportunity to get more people involved. Too many participation processes in public services involve people being in the right place at the right time, and completely fail to fit in with the way people’s lives tend to work these days.

Using the web as a platform for participation makes it possible for lots more people to get involved. All those who don’t have the time to spare for a 2 hour meeting in the evening may well have 15 minutes spare when they are sat near their computers to contribute.

One great use of social tech to increase participation that I have come across recently is South Yorkshire Police who run their community meetings online in parallel with the offline traditional meeting with virtual attendees outnumbering those who turn up in person.

4. Collaboration

More and more, organisations involved in the delivery of public services are having to work together to ensure the best service is provided for the best value. This means sharing information and having effective means of communication -stuff which the social web was made for.

Too many public service partnerships are run on the basis of meetings, which are often monthly or even quarterly, and where too few people are able to get involved. Using an online platform to provide a space for discussions, online meetings and document sharing and collaboration makes total sense.

An illustration of this is action is the Essex Vine project, where Learning Pool provided a common platform for the Human Resources partnership in the county, and where common learning resources are shared by all, including a management training programme. Find out more here.

5. Crowdsourcing

Corwdsourcing is similar to open innovation, in fact it’s probably a type of open innovation. It focuses on spreading the net as widely as possibly in search of ideas.

Often this takes the form of competitions, where cash or other resources are provided to winning ideas to develop prototypes.

Two great instances of this are Kent and Medway’s Transformed by You project, and the open data competitions run by Warwickshire County Council.

6. Knowledge sharing

Number six focuses on the cross sector need for organisations involved in the delivery of public services to share experience and lessons learned amongst one another. Again, a key thing here is efficiency and making the most of scarce resources: if one council has been through a process, they really need to share what went well and what went wrong with others before they embark on a similar project.

Social tools make this really easy, and the outstanding example of this is the Communities of Practice platform, operated by LGID.

Any more?

There’s six from me. Disagree with any? Let me know in the comments, or add some of your own!

GovBlogging

Ingrid Koehler led a really interesting session at the weekend’s GovCamp about blogging in the public sector and how it might be supported and promoted (the session later went on to cover the excellent LGovSM twitter chats that happen on a Friday afternoon, convened by Louise, who also blogs).

One great contribution was from David Allen Green who blogs for the New Statesman as well as his own, extremely popular, Jack of Kent blog. He gave some great tips on writing engaging content, including keeping sentences and paragraphs short, and ensuring you are actively contributing to the topic under discussion, rather than just repeating others or trotting out opinions – advice I’d probably do well to heed.

Carl Haggerty – one of the best govbloggers we have – also contributed with some great thoughts on the use of blogging as a personal learning and knowledge tool.

Ingrid followed up with a great post on her blog:

It’s personal reflection. I’ve worked out a lot of things through blogging, the process itself has often help me achieved clarity. But other things that are great about blogging are community aspects – feedback, additional information, learning new things, reality checks and correction. And for that you need an audience, but not a big one. And many people (like me) find that having an audience provides some stimulus to keep doing it. But again, it’s not about big numbers.

It’s funny, because a very similar sessions ran last last year’s GovCamp, only it was a lot smaller. Clearly Pubstrat and I just don’t have the same appeal! Last year’s session was inspired in part by a post I had written on the topic:

…people blogging is important, and a Good Thing. There are a number of reasons I think this way – mainly that blogging is a great way to develop and share ideas, to create a movement, to develop a reputation. A healthy and active blogging community in a sector means that it’s a sector where there is a lot of creativity. It means that sector is an interesting place to be.

What’s changed in a year? I’d say that govblogging is growing. Public Sector Bloggers is being populated by more blogs than ever – to the point where there’s now almost too much stuff (see later on for thoughts on that).

Another important change is the use of the common blogging platform on the Communities of Practice. Predominantly a local government space, for the first few years of the platforms life, the blogs were pretty much ignored. Now lots of people are using them to share ideas, knowledge and experience.

These blogs, as well as being plentiful in terms of the number of posts they produce, are also well engaged with, and when I remember to copy-and-paste content across there from DavePress I find I usually get plenty of comments, which is great. It also provides a reasonably safe environment for those new to blogging, of course.

However, the Communities of Practice remains a fairly closed platform, and the fact that you have to remember to log in and check for stuff means it’s always going to lack a bit attention-wise. This should be fixed in the up and coming Knowledge Hub, which promises to be more open – where users choose it to be – and it will be easier for those of us with existing blogs to import our content automatically rather than having to copy and paste it as we do now.

I’m keen, and I know others are too, to support the use of blogging within public services. There is still a joy to be had in publishing, especially when you start to gain a readership and people interacting with what you write.

So what could be done to encourage others to get involved? I’m keen to see Public Sector Bloggers play a role here. We’ve added more and more feeds to it, and while it is by no means comprehensive, it’s also getting rather unwieldy. Some kind of categorisation is needed, I think.

I also suspect that it isn’t that well known. The FeedBurner stats show that 125 people subscribe to the RSS feed, with 24 subscribing via email. The Twitter feed has 785 followers, which isn’t too bad. I don’t think we have Google Analytics installed, so I’m not sure what the direct visitor numbers are like.

What could we do with Public Sector Bloggers to help encourage more blogging in the sector? Here are some ideas – I’d welcome yours, and any feedback too.

1. A source of guidance on blogging for public servants

There lots of stuff out there (including this rather outdated guide by me) and it should be too hard to pull together the whats, whens, hows, whys and wherefores of good public sector blogging, and to publish them on the site. Maybe it could be cobbled together to form an e-book.

2. A blogging platform

I’m not convinced this would help much given how easy it is to sign up for your own blog on WordPress, Blogger, Posterous or Tumblr (maybe there are too many options!). It might however take away some of the pressure people feel about having to post regularly to their blog, if they are contributing to one big one with lots of other authors?

3. Some kind of event

A PubSecBlogCamp? Or perhaps something more formal and workshoppy for those new too it. But would people give up time to talk about blogging in the public sector? Maybe not 200 of them, but perhaps a handful would…

4. Blogger mentoring

How about some kind of blogger mentoring, where a newbie blogger is introduced to a veteran, who can provide ongoing advice and guidance on posting, writing style and that kind of thing?

5. Better aggregation

This one is a definite I think. We need to go through the list, cull the blogs that aren’t updated any more and add some of those that are missing. Some kind of categorisation would be useful, whether in terms of the parts of the sector the blogs are written about or the themes they cover. Maybe a common search engine across them all to make finding content a lot easier.

As I said above, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on these ideas and any you might have yourself!

Social reporting at Cisco08 Public Sector Summit

I am having fun here in Stockholm providing social web backup to the Public Sector Summit – an event arranged by Cisco to discuss how technology and government can help each other.

We have quite a bit of activity going on, including the use of twitter and flickr – and shortly I’m hoping to be able to get some video up on YouTube. We also have a group blog, which you can find at www.cisco08.com. Everything gets picked up through use of the cisco08 tag.

As well as providing a platform for people to use to blog (which they are doing, fantastically) the blog home page also aggregates content from all the different social media services in one place. This is displayed on large screens around the venue so people can see what’s going on (a little bit of javascript refreshes the page every 10 minutes so we don’t have to run around refreshing each one!).

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in government at any level and the way technology can be used to swing by the site and see what you can pick up from it: and of course, leave a comment or send a message on twitter if you want to!

LGSearch update

LGSearch is something of an anomaly in my ‘portfolio’ of stuff I’ve made in that is actually works and is useful. I built it a couple of years ago while working as Risk Management Officer at a County Council. Essentially, I found it a pain in the neck to find relevant material online using traditional search engines, so I put my own together.

It’s based on Google’s Customised Search service, which requires you to provide a list of sites you want the search to be limited to. What I did originally was find an online list of all local authority sites and plug that in. This way, searching for a term generated results only from local government.

Later I developed things a bit further, adding in a variety of other public sector sites, such as those in central government, police, fire and health authorities and some of the organisations in and around government. Google helps here too: by categorising sites under the headings mentioned, users can then drill down into results by clicking a link to produce results from just, say, central government. Nice one.

The site has been pretty popular, with usage increasing as word gets around. Some councils have even embedded it in their own sites. There is a Google Group set up to manage requests for change, etc, which if you visit it, will show how terrible I am at keeping on top of it. Now I have some more time for this stuff, that will improve. There is also the list of sites searched, which could well be out of date. If you need changes made, email the list or just me.

Anyway, after all that introduction, I have today made a significant change to the site, long overdue, which has included various bits of social media to the search, including a load of blogs. These have all been added under the category of ‘social media’ so if you just want to search these sites, you can. The blogs added are (just pasting URLs as I am lazy):

Any heinous ommissions, let me know.

Public sector blogging in the Guardian

I had the pleasure of talking to Patrick Butler of the Guardian the other day on the subject of public sector types blogging. He did a jolly good job of editing down everything I said into one paragraph in his article:

There are still few blogging bosses out there, but as Dave Briggs, a blogger and full-time public servant, notes, chief executives are rapidly running out of arguments not to go online. When blogging is this easy, this cheap, and the potential benefits so great, he says, the question is not so much why blog, but why not?

Rethinking government news

Where do government and other public sector folk get their news from?

  • Info4Local
  • eGov Monitor
  • GCN
  • Kable
  • Individual government department websites
  • Any others?

I wonder if there is a possibility for putting together a one-stop-shop for news, aggregating the popular sources in one place. I’d also like to see conversations added to the mix, so the news items could spawn discussion.

There are a few models one could use:

  1. Digg, with user submitted news and voting for popular stories. Will people bother though? Could you automatically feed stories in via RSS? Would similar stories be grouped together? This option will include comments on each item though.
  2. TechMeme, drawing together the stories along similar lines. Lack of commenting might be an issue, and it’s a very complicated thing to get right
  3. OnePolitics, aggregating a set list of sources. Simple enough to get up and running, but doesn’t seem to sort content by topic.

Would appreciate any thoughts on this: Where do you go now for your news? Is there a need for such a site? Which of the three models would be of most use to government folk?