Since we started our internal social networking pilot earlier this year i have been asked three main questions:
- Why are you using Enterprise Social Software in Local Government
- What value does it offer your organisation?
- Where next?
Let me take this three questions one at a time to help provide some context and my thinking as to why, what and where i see this type of functionality benefiting local government and potentially the wider public sector.
Okay, for me, social media and social networking is already and will become even more pervasive in the lives of the public and this will impact and influence how public services are delivered, developed and used.
With the increasingly use of mobile applications linked with the social connectedness of these tools, people are becoming more and more aware of what is around them, who is around them and how they can access information and services around them. Local today means much more than it did when even i was a little boy back in the early 80’s.
However with all this usage in people’s daily lives it isn’t often we use such tools in a professional capacity as an employee of an organisation, granted many people participate in environments like Communities of Practice, but these situations are not the mainstream approach. What people do use practically everyday is email and that is something which for most still lacks a professional approach by most. But i guess that depends on why you are using it.
For me however piloting the use of social networking enables people in an organisation to experience what most people only experience in sites like facebook in a professional environment. It will in my opinion help people (staff) grasp the concept of engaging people in online environments far easier than trying to explain and demonstrate how it can be done in more mainstream sites like facebook.
What is the value?
There are huge pressures on the public sector to engage with people and to involve people in the design and development of services. Without using new technologies in innovative ways we will never be in a position to truly engage people and more importantly enough people in that process to demonstrate appropriate engagement.
The lessons learned from using such tools internally will enable us to better understand the challenges faced with external engagement and online participation.
If organisations can learn how to effective engage with people online in internal environments we will all appreciate the benefits and pitfalls in managing such an approach.
In our pilot we have experienced a number of challenges as well as opening up new opportunities just by using the software first hand. Now i have used facebook for sometime now and it would have been hard for to have seen the kind of opportunities available without putting myself in that professional context of an internal social networking environment. Some examples of some of the potential uses of an internal social software platform.
- Staff directory – people finder, by subject, skill, interest etc
- Workforce data – qualifications and skills gaps
- Internal project management
- Alternative to email (refocuses email on more formal internal communications and allows conversations to be surfaced and searched – supports Freedom of Information)
- Internal helpdesk (ICT, HR etc – enables staff to self support and generates and more effective user community)
- Ideas development
- Collaboration with colleagues and partners
- Keeping staff informed (enables managers to keep up to date with what there staff are doing in remote or home based team environments
- Reduces the need for face to face contact and when required adds value to face to face contact/meetings
- elearning and peer to peer support
- Plus many more…..
We have identified a wide range of opportunities just by actually being able to use such a product internally and without fear of making a mistake in the public domain.
There are of course still people who are sceptical of such tools but the purpose of such as pilot is two fold. One is to demonstrate some of the benefits identified early on and secondly to allow people to experience a tool first hand.
The biggest question really, where next, well in my opinion bringing these types of tools into an organisation especially local government will provide a number of strategic benefits and the challenge is whether or not we are prepared to take that leap and do it.
Traditionally and my council is no different, the age profile of the organisation is top heavy, by that i mean we have a large proportion of people expected to retire without having enough younger people coming in. The reality is that younger people are already expecting to communicate in new innovative ways and if we don’t provide them with the types of communications tools that they expect we will face a challenge to keep these people engaged and motivated in the workforce.
We also have huge pressures as mentioned before to engage with people, i believe internal social networks can provide an effective “learning” environment for external online engagement and participation.
New roles around online community managers, which is a blend of project management and facilitation to some degree but in an online context, something which is completely new and requires new skills.
I think the immediate next step is to increase people’s access to and usage of these tools to enable people locally to understand how these tools can be used and how they can be deployed as part of their wider service delivery framework.
Ideally i’d love to continue the internal learning and enable the organisation to foster a new culture of learning and ideas as well as complimenting existing communications channels.
I previously posted this video but it makes more sense to post it in this post then it did in the last one. It is an interview of myself and Rob Gray (Blue Ocean IQ) by David Wilcox at LocalGovCamp talking about the pilot we have done here in Devon.