Tag Archives: strategy

Great blogging on #localgovweb

Two great blog posts recently on the ever thorny issue of local government websites.

Firstly, Al Smith recounts his experience managing the refresh of Newcastle City Council‘s site. A remarkably honest and open appraisal of how it all went, and Al’s own role, it’s a great read and one for any local gov web manager to take a look at.

Secondly, Carl Haggerty – who is on blogging fire at the moment – has written a really thought provoking post on web strategy. He says:

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

Great examples of blogging being used to share experience, knowledge and ideas. More of this, please.

Bookmarks for March 8th through March 13th

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.

JFDI vs Being Boring

Light blogging recently, I’ve been gadding about talking at a load of events – which is fun and rewarding in its own way, but doesn’t really help with getting any work done, nor with writing here.

Last Wednesday I was at the LGComms seminar on digital communications, and had the opening slot explaining why all this stuff matters. I was on slightly shaky ground as I don’t really know all that much about digital comms, just the social bit. I’ve no idea how to run a proper corporate website, for example. Anyway.

My slides were the usual concoction, and they’re on Slideshare if you want them. My general message was that while the internet is undoubtedly important for communications, it’s a mistake to put all of this stuff in a box marked comms and assume it doesn’t affect or benefit other parts of the organisation and the way they work.

One slide I included was pretty new, and it featured a pretty crappy graph I threw together in Powerpoint:

JFDI vs Being Boring

Click it for a bigger version. The point here is that by taking a JFDI approach – to any innovative behaviour, not just social media use – you get a lot done quickly. The trouble is that it isn’t terribly sustainable, because it is often the work of one or two enlightened individuals and it isn’t terribly well embedded in corporate process, systems or structures.

The alternative is to be boring, and go down the route of getting the strategy and procedure sorted early, and developing activity in line with that. This is a lot more sustainable, as everyone knows what they are doing and what they are responsible for. There is a problem though, and that is that being boring is slower than JFDIing – your innovators might get fed up and leave, and your organisation might be perceived as doing nothing, when in fact it’s just moving rather slowly.

My take is this: it isn’t an either/or choice – do both. Just get on with it, choosing some small projects to prototype and feed the findings from that activity into the longer term process and system building approach. Keep the innovators happy by giving them some space to experiment, whilst building the foundations that will help the rest of the organisation understand and feel comfortable with.

Don’t let strategy and process get in the way of doing good stuff. At the same time, don’t JFDI and find yourself exposed.

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.

How councils can get started with social media

A sunday morning tweet from Tom Watson set my mind racing this morning:

Which is a very interesting question, not least for me as I have a considerable interest in loca government’s use of social media, as facilitator of the Social Media and Online Collaboration Community of Practice, the developer of the local government search engine and as the one-time author of a blog about using this stuff in local gov.

I actually think there are tremendous opportunities here, possibly more so than in central government, because at the local level, there is already a connection between the people and the government organisation, even if it is just through the collection of council tax, or the picking up of refuse. Local government doesn’t necessarily need to develop common ground with the people it serves, because the locality already act as a common denominator. Councils have a real opportunity to help develop the use of social media in a grographical area, to take a lead, say, in the definition and promotion of common tags to use so that locally generated content can be easily found and shared. The local authority could act as a convener, helping to draw people together online, including individual bloggers/photo sharers/etc, the local press, community groups and so on. I wrote more about this here.

There is plenty of good stuff going on already, but it is in pockets and I’m not sure how well the great work that is going on is being communicated to other authorities. Dominic Campbell is up to some terrific stuff in Barnet, and Simon Wakeman at Medway. I’ve written before about some of their stuff. Then there is Stratford, whose homepage features their Twitter feed, a flickr badge, and links to Stratford’s presence on various social networks, as well as a rather cool way to find out when your bins will be collected. Other councils are also starting to use Twitter as another channel to communicate their stuff – I’m collecting them here. Carl Haggerty at Devon has produced a plan for an externally facing onine community site for the people of Devon to use to connect, share and talk with each other, which looks great.

Lot’s of ideas were discussed at the workshop held by Simon Berry during his time at CLG earlier this year. I wrote up my thoughts in terms of using the social web to make local government a bit less boring. What was clear from the session was that there was tonnes of stuff that councils could be doing to revitalise their relationship with the people using the web.

So, after all that background, how can a Council dip their toes into social media waters?

First, start listening. Stop relying on Google Alerts and start using RSS. Maybe iGoogle, Pageflakes or Netvibes to start with. Subscribe to searches, but also to feeds for Flickr tags and groups related to your area, to delicious bookmarks that are appropriately tagged, likewise YouTube and other video sites. Start checking the local forums and noting where the Council comes in for criticism or even praise. Look on Facebook to see if there are any groups or pages formed around the area – if they are public then you can see what’s being said without having to join at this stage. Identify the people with an obvious love for the area, with genuine enthusiasm and commitment.

Next, start acknowledging and responding. Respond where appropriate in blog comments and in forums. Make sure that the Council’s message is being heard where people want to hear it, don’t rely on them checking your website for press releases or news items, or reading the local paper cover-to-cover. Make use of creative commons licenced images on flickr on your own website, and make sure you include a crediting link. Link from your site to those containing some good news, related to the local area.

Thirdly, start to engage yourself. Start public blogs for big council projects, so that people can be kept in the know – if they want to be – and can leave comments or ask questions, and then make sure someone responds to them. Maybe senior managers should blog too, to help get messages out that people can read without them first going through the filter of the local press. How about creating a blog to publicise the services that the council provides, by having a different team blog every couple of weeks about what they do. Create video content and make it shareable on YouTube, etc, encouraging others to display council content on their sites. Make the copyright on council content as relaxed as possible so that others can use it however they choose. Put meetings online, even if it isn’t live streamed, make them available as podcasts, put any slides on services like SlideShare.

Where should this all be done? Try and use existing services where you can. Don’t try and recreate existing networks where they are already working. If people are happy uploading to a flickr group, let them, don’t try and force them to use an online photo gallery you have just developed. In fact, rather than developing it, spend the money showing folk who don’t know about flickr how to use it. Likewise with blogs – you need a really good argument, in my opinion, not to just use WordPress.com. It’s just so quick and easy – and free.

Who should be doing this? In terms of listening, everyone in the Council. If that’s unrealistic, then at least someone in each team should be monitoring what’s going on, not just communications departments. In terms of acknowledging and responding, then officers with responsibility for what is being discussed should feel empowered to state the council’s position on relevant issues online – again they shouldn’t feel the need to leave it to the communications officer. As for enagaging, then anyone with an enthusiasm for connecting locally online should be provided with the tools to do so. Nobody should be forced into it, but those with a passion to spread the word about the good work they, and other council officers, do should be empowered to do so.

Another important point to make is that social media doesn’t take the place of other forms of communication and enagagement, and really ought to be considered an “as well as”. You’ll still need to do your newsletters and stuff, bu you might be able to integrate the two – maybe by putting links to your online content in your newsletters, for instance. It also mean that you still need to use face to face means of consulting – whilst online social methods can bring great results, it is vital to blend in the offline too, so as to ensure that you are not excluding anyone, and so that as many different voices can be heard.*

What is clear is that this stuff is not the responsibility of the web team, nor the comms team. It should be in service teams that the ideas should be produced and the comms and web folk should just provide the means for that idea to flourish. You do need to have the boss onside though, which is where notes from Cabinet Office ministers come into play.

* This bit added thanks to Lloyd’s comment below. Thanks Lloyd!