Archive for August, 2008

Interview with Municipalist

Apologies for the light blogging, I’m away on holiday and desperately trying to avoid touching computers (and failing dismally to date, apart from blog posts..).

Anyway, if you follow Craig Colgan (aka Municipalist)’s excellent blog, you may have seen an he recently published an interview with me about my experiences of public sector blogging. For those Manchester United fans who ever read Whitehall Webby, I can only apologise in advance (that includes you Dad 😦  ).

Correction: Craig is Municipalist, not the Municipalist. These superheroes….


Six approaches for social media adoption – 3. reflect

First of all, I’ve been really enthused by the interest so far in this short series of posts. Its always gratifying to see some evidence that people are actually taking notice of what I write. But in this case its particularly helpful – I’m throwing out some ideas and really relying on feedback to improve the model so that it can be of use to others.

So, onto approach three, reflect.

When I was kicking these ideas around eighteen months or so ago there was much less awareness of social media in government than there is now. Consequently there was understandable nervousness about active participation. I was trying to identify low risk options that would demonstrate the value of social media to officials.

Reflect in this particular instance means acknowledgement. A step on from simply listening, it means identifying network(s), activities/conversations or communities of interest, then raising their profile by giving them recognition. I guess a good example would be the number of times that Netmums has been mentioned by and across government in the last year or so.

Its not necessarily about granting legitimacy but simply demonstrating that government is taking notice and listening. Government is able to demonstrate that it is ‘switched on’ to wider public opinion. Hopefully this action can encourage future debate and response from people by the acknowledgement that their views will be recognised.

Of course there are some potential drawbacks to this approach:

  • Its not active engagement in debate
  • Activists may not appreciate being associated with government
  • Can unwittingly give legitimacy to groups that government wouldn’t wish to confer it on

On the other hand it can help to create a positive environment with activists / groups for future engagement and/or collaboration.

Importantly, this approach needs to be careful to give balanced recognition to parties with different or opposing views.

There is no real cost over and above the listening approach but the key here is that acknowledgement requires better embedding of using listening tools with policymakers – those who might advise ministers or draft speaking notes, letters etc. It won’t work if it isn’t close to the people developing the thinking about a particular issue.

Teacamp this Thursday

For those web people not away on their holidays this week, a quick reminder that its Teacamp on Thursday afternoon (21st) from 2pm to 4pm.

If you haven’t been before we meet in Cafe Zest on the second floor of House of Fraser on Victoria Street in London. Pop along and meet others interested in all aspects of government web. Its open to all, not just civil servants.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 2. listen

Listening is a much underrated skill, not just online but in the real world too (or so my mother keeps telling me when she whines on…).

In the social media space, and with all the noise going on in government about creating blogs and wikis, I think the value of using social media tools to observe the conversations taking place around us is rather overlooked.

Making use of the variety of personalised news services, blog searches, RSS feeds etc to create focused alerts around issues or initiatives could in my mind have the biggest impact on the way government develops its thinking. If all those in government who are planning social media initiatives did in the next year was help policy teams to set up well crafted and targeted news and blog alert systems, that would be a massive step change in the way we do things. Forget building blogs, wikis, social networks and the like – help them to listen.

Opening up officials’ eyes to the conversations taking place will help them to easily gain a wider perspective on what people out there are thinking and experiencing. Imagine the impact that could have.

The tools can also encourage collaborative knowledge sharing across teams and organisations – when items of interest are identified, they can quickly be forwarded on to others.

Many of the tools are freely available on the web and require little investment (other than time) to set up. And they’re pretty easy to maintain once up and running.

There are some potential pitfalls in embarking on setting up listening services:

  • You might need to resolve IT security limitations that prevent access to online tools and sources (this is the case in my department by and large – hopefully not for long).
  • Generating helpful and relevant RSS feeds takes some skill and time to set up, if they’re not carefully focused at initiation they can become a burdensome task, especially if the monitoring effort is not shared.
  • The free online monitoring tools can be a little inflexible and slow to return results from obscure sources (especially if using niche keywords).
  • There is not yet a perfect automated method of extracting and sharing the results in a user friendly format, like email.

Because this is a fairly new thing, the skills set is unlikely to be found internally and will likely require freelance resource to oversee setting up and training staff to use the tools.

So, the next option on my list is ‘reflect’.

It’s been a while – I fancied a change

I wrote the first entry on this ‘ere ol’ blog on 29 April 2007. If you’d told me then that I’d still be posting here (albeit sporadically) I’d would have laughed. In fact I wonder how it keeps going on a weekly basis, but I suppose that is the magic isn’t it?

Anyway, a lot has gone on in the last sixteen months or so. So much that’s been recounted here, and much that hasn’t. No doubt there is plenty more to come.

Then last weekend we moved offices. With a new view (see above) I thought it was probably time to give this site a refresh too. I’m no techie so I’m reliant on the templates that WordPress provides. I was glad to see there are many more to choose from since I started Whitehall Webby.

So I changed it. It could probably do with a bit of tweaking, but that can happen over time.

Anyway, that’s it. For now.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 1. do nothing

So I promised in my post last week to set out the six approaches to using social media tools that I developed during my work on the GCN social media review, The first is – do nothing.

Despite all the innovation and good examples of use of social media tools in large organisations over the last year or so, investing in is still a tricky decision for many. In government, budgets and headcount allocations are tight and shrinking. The return on investment of social media is largely unproven. Many large organisations are naturally risk averse.

So it would be a legitimate tactic at this point in time for an organisation to do nothing.

This isn’t necessarily a strategy of avoidance, ignorance or even procrastination. But it is a short term position and not sustainable in the longer term.

While the skills remain relatively rare and the investment in time and people to embed the skills high, its natural to take a back seat and watch others innovate so that you can learn from their relative successes and failures. As more and more good examples of using social media tools for business are evaluated and shared, a consensus on good practice will develop and organisations will become more comfortable with the idea of investing in this area.

Meanwhile, you avoid the pain of early adoption.

On the downside, user adoption of the conversational opportunities afforded by social media is much faster than for the early web. They may well expect to be able to engage with you before you are ready for it. There’s also the risk of being left behind by the speed of others’ innovation.

Doing nothing costs nothing in monetary terms but the opportunity costs could be high if the strategy is sustained for too long and you have to play catch-up.

view from my window

view from my window

Originally uploaded by Jeremy Gould.

We’ve been moving offices over the weekend and today I was in with some colleagues checking our kit all worked before the others come in tomorrow.

We’ve moved from Victoria Street to the old Home Office building in Petty France (two minutes away) but a quantum leap in terms of space, facilities and location.

We’re right next to St James Park and this view shows you are general location in relation to Whitehall – not too shabby I’m sure you’ll agree.

The only problem is that it’s at least two minutes more walk to Teacamp 😦

There are a few more photos of the place in my flickr stream if you are interested.

Reminder: teacamp tomorrow

I honestly thought we might not bother with informal meet-ups over the summer as many civil servants are off with school holidays and recess.

But I’m told there’s a fair few people planning to come along tomorrow (Thursday 7th) so if you fancy having a chat with other people interested in all things government web, then pop over to Cafe Zest – 2nd floor in House of Fraser Victoria Street – some time between 2pm and 4pm tomorrow.

It would be great to see you there.

Neil Williams hits the blogosphere

Another civil servant geek has started a blog, hurrah. Neil Williams leads the web team at DCLG, sorry Communities and Local Government. He’s a proper techie webbie too and has been involved in lots of cool stuff both in government and before he was lured into Whitehall.

I’ll watch his blog with interest, Neil has lots of great ideas and is active in the conversations taking place around Whitehall about the opportunities for government presented by all this social media stuff.

Six models / approaches for social media adoption or implementation

The title of this post refers to a piece of work I did as part of the GCN social media review about a a year and a half ago. Unfortunately it never got into the final document (and in fact it was cruelly taken from me and remodelled without attribution. But that’s another story….).

I’ve been revisiting it recently for all sorts of reasons and thought it would be worth posting up here, partly because of the conversations that have been going on recently about deploying social media tools in government (Emma’s musings about creating social media toolkits in particular), partly because I think its still relevant, and partly because – although I in no way claim the content of this work is original (it’s not) – its a distillation of my thoughts at the time that I thought may be useful to someone now.

This model is an attempt to set out six different approaches to using or deploying social media techniques; be that for a particular tool, channel, business need, or whole organisational approach. It is not meant to be prescriptive, neither does it necessarily describe a roadmap that must be followed from early stage adoption through to embedding organisationally. It is based on wide reading, observation and practice but – primarily – mainly – my personal opinion.

It really just sets out options, six in total. My concern at the time of writing was that government is good at the first or the last – either do nothing or do everything. Of course, this loses sight of the opportunities that the other options might present. So I’ll deal with each option separately – and I’m grateful for any thoughts or criticisms. After all, this has been knocking around in my head for a long while as a concept without sharing it widely and i’d welcome ideas on how to improve it.

So, the six options to the modelfall under three overarching principles: observation – interaction – initiation.

  • Observation: Do nothing or Listen
  • Interaction: Reflect or Converse
  • Initiation: Experiment or Embed

In the next few posts, I’ll set out what I mean by each of these options (ooh, what a tease).