So, you think you want social media training?

whiteboardIncreasingly, following a bit of a chat, it turns out you don’t.

I’ve been delivering training on digital tools, including social media, for a fair few years now. I’d like to think I’m quite good at it, and that those who leave my training sessions get a lot out of it.

One of the most frustrating things, though, is when at the end of some training, a learner will ask ‘so, will we actually be able to use this stuff?’ or ‘this has been great, but until I get these websites blocked I won’t be able to use anything I’ve learned’.

Gack!

What’s happening is that there is an acknowledgement within an organisation that they need some additional digital capacity, so they send people on a course. Trouble is, the strategy, or vision, isn’t in place for the organisation – so those skills are going to go to waste.

Instead, if you want to spend some money on this stuff, it’s better to spend it first on developing some idea of where digital fits into your organisation.

One of the first commissions WorkSmart has received has been to do just this. The original brief was for a series of workshops explaining how to use the popular social media tools. Discussing it, though, everyone became aware that there was a piece of work to do first.

So, we’re running an agile little project, made up of a couple of workshops and some online deliberation and collaboration. The aim at the end will be to have a draft strategy document, outlining how the organisation can use digital tools and techniques – including stuff like agile project management and user centred design.

Along with that there will also be a process defined for rolling this kind of capability out across the organisation, using internal expertise rather than bought in training. Hopefully this means that the learning activity will be scalable and sustainable, and most importantly of all, everyone will know why they are doing it.

Digital visions

I spend a fair bit of time talking to local councils and the like about taking a strategic approach to digital stuff, although usually it is mostly around engagement, and a bit of communications.

It’s important – simply to know what you want to achieve and why. As soon as you have those things figure out then it’s easy to choose the right tools and channels to help you get there.

Taking a strategic approach though doesn’t necessarily mean you need a bit of paper, with ‘strategy’ written on it. Sometimes just having thought about the issues is all you need to do. A quick look on Twitter or Facebook and it’s pretty straightforward to spot those that haven’t even done that!

However, there are times when a bit more of an in depth look at all things digital are required. After all, the bits of an organisation like a local council that are affected by the internet go way beyond just the communications team.

There’s customer services and all the transactional stuff – what commonly gets referred to as channel shift these days. There’s the democratic element, and the policy development process. The way big projects are managed and communicated can be transformed by the web. Every service delivery team could make use of digital channels to deliver that service, or part of it, or at least communications around it.

Given all of this, and the vital strategic role a council plays within a local area, having a digital vision is pretty important. There are several big agendas connected to technology which need to be considered.

What elements are required?

  • channel shift
  • digital engagement
  • mobile
  • publishing / content strategy
  • digital inclusion and broadband roll out
  • open data

I think these are probably best presented as some form of ven diagram, and there is bound to be plenty of overlap in there.

I’ve always like the phrase that ushered in the Government Digital Service – that of ‘digital by default’. The notion not that digital is the only option – but that it is always an option. Quite often when I have been called in to help out with digital side of a project or campaign, it’s been a bit of an add on. Being digital by default means building the online element from the get go – making it an integral part of a service or project.

It also means getting away from one of the flaws of the e-government era – that (necessary) rush to get government services online – which was to do the wrong thing righter. In other words, not rethinking how a service should be delivered in a networked society but just taking a process and sticking it into an online form.

We’re just taking on a project to deliver a comprehensive high level digital strategy for a county council. I’m delighted – it’s the sort of meaty, wide ranging envisioning work which is pretty scarce these days. It also offers a chance to think about what a truly digital local council might look like, and how it might work.

Part of the project will involve running a crowdsourcing exercise on good practice and what the future may hold for local government digital – rather like the effort I made back in 2009 which focused on websites. That’ll launch in a few weeks. In the meantime I’d love to hear from anyone who has been having digital visions in the comments, or by email.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Government IT costs – the bloggers’ view

Once again, the quality commentary on the latest reports into government IT spending is coming from blogs.

Simon Dickson:

The real story, such as it is, is the Committee’s apparent recognition that the current process – reliant on a small number of large suppliers being given over-spec’ed, over-detailed, over-sized and over-priced projects – is the ‘root cause’ of the problem. And it’s quite nice to see them challenging the Cabinet Office, about whether its initiatives are tackling that root cause, or just the symptoms (paras 10-11).

Paul Clarke:

Can it really be that a single office computer can cost £3,500? Read that again. £3,500.

No. Of course not. And it almost certainly doesn’t.

Charges made for desktop computing in the public sector are invariably composed of an element for the hardware, plus a rather greater element to cover installation, support… in fact quite a bit more. IT managers (disclosure: I used to be one in the public sector) can play quite a few tunes on this figure; using it to cover centralised development work, packages of software and all manner of other “hidden” costs.

Dan Harrison:

According to the BBC’s article on the report issued by the public administration committee, departments sometimes pay up to £3,500 for a single desktop. What this figure includes, who knows? Undoubtedly there are some howlers out there—some costs that need to be called out and reigned in. Big time. But comparing desktop costs both within government and with those that you or I would pay on Amazon is bananas.

Bookmarks for February 23rd through April 4th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Future of local gov IT strategy

Gotta love blogging local government types. Great post here from Warwickshire County Council’s Jim Morton about their developing IT strategy.

My favourite bit:

1. Embrace the practice of using ICT as a Utility: It is now possible to consume software, development platforms and infrastructure from the cloud which can potentially lead to many benefits. We need to understand where working this way will help save us time and money as well as avoid extensive development in re-inventing the wheel where a product or service can be used off the shelf. As an example our open data site is already provided using the Ruby on Rails platform as a service provider Heroku.

2. Warwickshire as a service: This is a (hopefully) catchy way of saying that we need to expand our initial work on open data to include as many of our data sets and services as possible i.e. build an open API for the organisation. The vision is that both internal and external developers will make use of the same building blocks for creating services applications and web sites.

3. Rational approach to information management: We need to overcome the historical and technical silos that we have built up around information to build single sources of the truth and gain a clearer understanding of the context around our data and documents. This will allow us to build more useful, accurate applications and web sites as well as providing clear understanding of which information must be kept safe and secure.

4. Use the web to extend the organisation: We need to move from an arms-length model of interacting with the public web via a curated web presence and individual point solutions for deeper interaction to becoming an organisation that is engaged with the web at a cultural as well as technical level. Staff at WCC need to merge the web into their everyday work-life in the same way that they do in their personal lives.

Update: just come across this illuminating interview with Socitm President Jos Creese:

The direction of travel has nevertheless been predetermined by irresistible trends on which central government cuts are a powerful catalyst. Networked citizens have high expectations of digital services. Professionals have realised that open data, open standards and transparency are incontestable requirements of the networked age. Digital innovation, joined up services, citizen-centricity and wide collaboration are all emerging quite naturally as every possible actor, from public and private entities to all kinds of people, are thrust into ever greater immediacy by the internet.

What is happening to local government is a form of coagulation. But it is happening slowly. It relies on internet infrastructure, so it must wait until local authorities have finished building their bits of the Public Sector Network, and the public sector as a whole has established a competent way of formulating open standards of interoperability.

Bookmarks for January 27th through February 19th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

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!