Archive for June, 2007

The reshuffle phoney war

Day after the handover of power and that means reshuffle time. There’s always an air of excitement and anticipation waiting to see if we’ll find out first from our contacts or via the news bulletins (its always the latter) who our new minister is.

But the reality is never as much fun as the preparation. Each reshuffle I’ve observed from inside the civil service has followed the same formula:

  • Lots of ‘planning’ in anticipation of the changes
  • Plenty of energy expended by people running around being busy
  • A few cagey fellows intimating that they are ‘in’ on the impending announcement (they aren’t, ever)
  • Staff asked to stay late/come in early to provide cover for the announcement so it can be published onto the website at a millisecond’s notice

Then:

  • People sitting around waiting for something to happen, wondering why they were kept from their evening out/dragged from their bed at first light
  • Dawning realisation that the announcement will be made at a reasonable hour (what a surprise)
  • Still plenty of nervous energy being expended around us, ‘getting things ready’

In the middle of this maelstrom, sitting serenely, are the webbies. Their fingers poised above the keyboard ready to unleash one of a few biographies prepared earlier. Suddenly, the BBC confirms the cabinet, and we publish.

Much later, of course, somebody always asks us if we are going to publish the announcement on the website. Today was no exception (wish they would actually check the site once in a while).

If that all sounds rather dull, it isn’t. A change at the top is an exciting time. Today was no exception.

Many of the staff popped down to see Lord Falconer off at midday. He’s been popular with the staff and it showed today when he got a rousing round of applause (even my Dad likes him and he’s a dyed in the wool Tory) . He looked touched by the send off and for once was lost for words.

So one Lord Chancellor exits, another enters. Tomorrow we’ll be once again poised to scramble up announcements about the rest of our new ministerial team as we find out.

Who knows what ideas they might have that affect my work. Perhaps one of them will want to start blogging?

Time for government 2.0

Changing of the guard at Downing Street today. A day of high emotion or long-awaited good riddance depending on your persuasion – but certainly momentous whichever way you look at it.

There is much expectation in the media about how things might change – faces at the top table, machinery of government (please God, not us this time…), presentational style, priorities etc etc.

No doubt there will be a flurry of activity for those working on government websites over the next few days if departments change their names and sites need to be rebranded (or worse still, new ones created at short notice).

But I hope this might be an opportunity to take stock of the enormous amount of effort that is going on in the digital space in government and an attempt to make sense of it all.

There are plenty of examples of departments using social media tools for engagement, Mr Brown’s campaign team attempted to make use of them too – pity they ran out of steam so soon into their campaign…, the team at Number Ten have been keen innovators of new methods of digital engagement as well.

Website rationalisation is beginning to clarify the future role of websites (Directgov = citizens, Businesslink = ahem, businesses, departmental sites = corporate / media). Better search engine optimisation will hopefully be an outcome of this and make it easier for the citizen to find what they after.

Online marketing campaigns have a pretty clear role in the mix.

More recently, better use of public and citizen generated information has come under spotlight too.

As I have said previously, at the moment website rationalisation (read: closing loads of websites) looms large in most peoples’ minds. But its not about that. Its about improving channels to customers, creating opportunities to engage in conversations – find out what people really think and attempt to demystify the business of government (with a ‘g’ not a ‘G’). It’s just that it doesn’t really read like that at the moment.

What’s needed is a clear understanding about how this all fits together. Not necessarily a ‘strategy’, but a simply expressed framework that clarifies the roles, audiences, channels and tools available to civil servants to help them in their online engagement activities.

Mr Brown’s advisors showed that they saw the potential of using social media tools for engagement rather than simply publishing online in the political arena. Hopefully this realisation will translate itself into a clearer push to explain how government should use digital communications channels in a more cohesive manner.

Do you use social media tools for staff engagement?

Some of the obvious benefits for an organisation deploying social media tools are using them internally – making it easier for co-workers to collaborate, share and communicate.

There are plenty of good examples around. Not least across government where internal wikis and blogs are pretty common place – though there is a lack of consistency in their application. Just like the real world, some organisations get it, and others haven’t quite woken up to the opportunities yet.

The benefits of internal wikis and blogs are obvious. But what about using other social media tools. How about replacing the online staff directory with a Facebook / LinkedIn type application? (maybe MySpace is one example too far in this context).

Our own staff directory is creaking and high maintenance to update – hand coded html pages that can only be searched using the browser find function. Not very user friendly. Our friends in the IT department have been working on a database driven replacement for a while now with some success.

But the raging success of the civil service group on Facebook (13,365 members and counting) makes me wonder, shouldn’t we stop trying to build tools from scratch when users are more than happy using the far more flexible functionality of social networking tools to create profiles, connect with like minded people etc?

The opportunity to join or create groups related to your business area, professional interests, technical specialism, social activities etc is very compelling.

Jeremiah Owyang published a list of social networking platforms that organisations can deploy to create new communities a while back. Has anybody got experience of actually implementing something like this across an intranet? Love to know your experiences. Anyone got thoughts on the viability of this? Is it simply a case of plugging a few boxes into the network and designing a web front end?

Of course, the obvious  answer would be to just give everyone access to Facebookto et al and allow the communities to find themselves. But that’s not feasible at the moment for a host of reason. However a social media platform deployed across the government secure intranet (GSI) that would let all civil servants greater networking opportunities would be nice. The current GSI directory ain’t much cop either…

civil servants love Facebook

It seems you can’t move without falling over media love-ins about Facebook recently. Both user numbers and column inches (what’s the online equivalent – page impressions?) have grown exponentially in very short period of time.

I personally wasn’t too taken with Facebook to begin with, I’m not alone. I joined out of curiosity as when they opened up registration to non-students. But it seems that I am a bit too old to appreciate it – nobody I went to college with is on there. It was a bit of a disappointment for me and I am sure that my (considerably) younger sister in law was only feeling sorry for me when she invited me to be her ‘friend’ after my discovery. Continue reading

links for 2007-06-17

on the wall of the Public Office

on the wall of the Public Office

Saw this statement on the way out from the workshop (illustrating a point from one of the case studies). Hammered home the point to me that website rationalisation is about them not us.

At the GC expo today

Spent an entertaining few hours today at GC expo. The show is mainly for IT bods rather than webbies but there were a few creative design and build agencies there who were good to make contact with, suppliers such as Adobe were demonstrating how to make the most of their products and there were some interesting presentations – such as Francis Irving from My Society and Paul Hodgkin of Patient Opinion talking about online citizen engagement.

After lunch I took part in a workshop exploring how public services could be reengineered around the customer. This was supported by some insightful observational video of five families experiencing public services in real scenarios. Fascinating stuff and stimulating discussion around improving the minefield that citizens often find themselves in when negotiating the myriad of frontline service providers. Called The Public Office, I recommend visiting the website to view the videos and the supporting information. No doubt you will hear more of this in the near future.