Enabling staff conversations online

Last Wednesday we ran our first online staff webchat, allowing anyone in the organisation to put questions to representatives from the senior management team (including our permanent secretary).

Hardly revolutionary you may say, after all webchats aren’t exactly new and in the current ‘social media’ excitement in government, where everyone is trying to be the first to do something cutting edge, webchats look decidely old hat.

But there were very good business reasons why we did what we did and didn’t get diverted by something more vogueish.

Depending how you count them, we have between 80,000 and 100,000 staff, making us the third largest government department.

Reaching out to the them is difficult. We are a mish-mash of organisations that have come together, all with different cultures, different ways of working, different ways of communicating, and – crucially in this case – different IT systems.

Attempting to use web engagement tools across our intranets couldn’t be guaranteed to work. So we took a gamble and ran the webchat on the public internet. Unsurprisingly some people were very nervous about this, but you know what? People behaved themselves and the discussion went well without any technological or conversational difficulties.

Because of the variability of kit on people’s desks we went for a lowest common demoninator solution that performed nicely on older browsers and without any need for plug-ins or cool ajax-y functionality.

This wasn’t about the tools, it was about the need to communicate and the opportunity to use technology to attempt to solve the problem.

Its difficult from an initial look at the stats to know exactly how many staff participated in the webchat, partly because of the way our IT firewalls tend to use a small number of IP addresses for each physical location. But we know it was well over 1000 people, and maybe significantly more (we’re still working on digging into the data). That might sound like a small number but many of our staff across the country don’t have ready access to PCs and internet access

We had over 40 pre-submitted questions and 130+ asked during the one hour chat. 52 got answered on the day (not bad going in one hour!), with the rest being published on the intranet shortly.

All in all, a good first crack at reaching staff online. Proof of the pudding – we’ve been asked to run one each month from now on.

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  1. Excellent, we are much much smaller and the Board have their blog but I like the idea of live web chats. Maybe with a live Twitter feed being shown behind them 🙂

  2. There’s an idea. I was twittering in the room on the day but doubt anyone within the organisation was listening!

    • Mark
    • July 22nd, 2008

    Hmm, possibly an electromechanical device which is a gong linked to Twitter, when the negative comments reach the threshold then the gong rings.

  3. Like where you’re going with that!

    • Paul r
    • July 22nd, 2008

    We are a geographically spread organisation (Australian Communications and Media Authority). Your web-based approach would be fantastic here. Imagine the green benefits alone! Well done 🙂

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