Archive for May, 2008

I get knocked down, but I get up again

I’m going through one of my, seemingly increasingly more, regular quiet periods here. Partly because I am actually busy doing work stuff that doesn’t give me much time to write here.

Not all the work stuff is easy to get to fruition, and over the last few months several small projects that I have had on the go have foundered for a variety of reasons. Getting knock backs is part of the game of course, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

But in the last two weeks I’ve attended two really inspirational events, on very different scales and with very different line ups of speakers.

The first was Nesta’sThe Innovation Edge‘ conference. Amongst the presenters were Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Bob Geldof. Tim famously invented the world wide web as a small side project around his day job. Bob Geldof, as well as being a former rock star and founder of Band Aid, is a serial entrepreneur.

Two things stuck with me from their talks.

  • From Tim: don’t be afraid to experiment and give people space in their jobs to try.
  • From Bob: learn to embrace failure it happens more often than success but you cannot succeed if you don’t know what failure feels like.

Now these two guys are at the top of their fields, and vastly experienced. You’d expect world renowned heavy hitters like them to say that. Its easy to agree with them, but a damn sight harder to apply.

Well on Tuesday evening I went along to an event run by consummate networker, the redoubtable Oli Barrett. A different kind of event in every way – smaller and intimate, but equally inspirational. The format was three excellent speakers followed by some speed-networking (Oli claims to have introduced this concept to the UK, but I won’t hold it against him).

Girl who knows everyone Emma Mulqueeny describes the speakers and their pitches much better than I could. But two of them, Caspar Berry and Shed Simove, both talked about the value of embracing failure and keeping going if you want to succeed.

Takeaways that I picked up:

  • From Caspar: Understanding and embracing risk is good. Don’t try to mitigate but meet it full on. Success is all about luck so the more times you fail, and the more you risk, the greater the more reward when you do hit gold.
  • From Shed: Just keep going, generate ideas and making them happen. Most will fail, only few will be successful. But the failures demonstrate to others an ability to make things happen and see them through, rather than just giving up.

How can we apply this to our work on government digital stuff?

At the moment, despite increasing interest, all this experimental social media stuff is difficult to sell to decision makers and budget holders. Its tricky to demonstrate the value to the business, what the return might be, the cost of investing in time and skills. Its all just difficult.

If you find yourself in this position, two words – keep trying.

One of those ideas is going to be a winner. But if you give up at the first hurdle, you’ll never know which idea.

If you are working on projects that you ar struggling with, please share your experiences – the failures as well as the successes – with your peers and colleagues across government. We all want, and need, to learn from each others epxeriences. To take the lessons and try and improve upon them next time. Perhaps we can all help each other.

Do we need to better explain what we do?

Last week I was presenting the results of some user testing and prototype design to a group of executives, including senior IT and marketing people.

The session went pretty well (it should have done, the work is robust and very high quality). At the end, the assembled group were pressed for comments. Two of them stuck in my craw:

“Can we be confident the site will work on my blackberry?”

– Hmm, multi-platform, multi-browser delivery of content. Well I’d never thought of that…..

“Is the site future proofed so it will do things like podcasts”.

– Aargh!

I left wondering, how much is it our responsibility to educate our colleagues about our role as webbies in understanding the various technologies, methods of delivery etc rather than just been seen as electronic publishers? And how much is it their responsibility to ensure they are up to date with changes in their working environment?

I’d love to invest a large chunk of my time in bringing people up to speed on the evolving world of digital communications, but I do have a day job too which makes this diffcult in a world of ever tightening budgets and pressures on headcount.

Is it wrong of me to expect others to invest their own time in improving their knowledge? After all, they have busy professional lives too. Methinks I need to divert some of my energies to some internal training….

Gadzooks! I missed my birthday :-)

As I’m going through one of my (reasonably regular) “neglecting the blog” phases at the moment I failed to recognise that somehow Whitehall Webby has made it to the ripe old age of one.

I started writing here on 29 April 2007, when I was helping the Cabinet Office to produce a report on government communicators’ use of social media. It was an experiment to demonstrate the opportunities of civil servants blogging (jury’s still out on that one I think…)

Since then I’ve published 91 pieces on the site, not bad considering I find it all so difficult, and had 336 comments (some of which, admittedly, are mine… ).

The most popular post over the last year has been the ‘about me‘ page, with over 1,100 views. However the posts I wrote on the civil serf affair got the most interest at the time (as most other government web related blogs experienced).

Over the last twelve months I’ve tried to to publicise examples of good government use of web, particularly innovative stuff. This includes the launch of the Ministry of Justice website, the Wales Office wordpress site, the Foreign Office’s social media big-bang, and more recently the excellent experimentation coming out of Number 10.

A common theme throughout my musings has been the role of webbies in government, and how we can organise ourselves into a group of experts who are recognised as such in Whitehall.

This thinking led to what has been my highlight of the last year – setting up the UKGovWeb Barcamp and bringing together civil servants, consultants, freelancers and others with the intention of encouraging the building of a community of committed people around government online.

So far thats bearing fruit. Many of us meet regularly at “teacamps” and colleagues in several departments are beginning to create self-organised groups in their organisations with the intention of working together to offer networking and training opportunities.

So, the future looks bright, and this blog has actually made it through a whote year – something I often thought wouldn’t happen.

End of term report completed, lets hope there’s another one next year.