Content, Stories, Networks, Relationships and Trust

I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot lately around the future of local government (a recent post here) and the “inevitable doom and gloom” [PDF Warning ] that awaits us all in the coming years. It really isn’t healthy to maintain focus on that future for too long, but It has made me think about what I’m doing and more importantly why I am doing what I do.

I’ve also been thinking and reflecting a lot about content, not just the traditional content you find on local authority websites but compelling content, content that provokes ideas, ideas that are contagious and then become stories, which in turn contributes to changing behaviours and transforms local services.

In my work at Public-i I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about networks and networks of networks and the power and potential of networks to help connect and reconnect people online and offline

In various situations I’ve been thinking and reflecting about relationships and the importance of trust. As people and organisations everything we say and do is a representation of who we are and it is only when we create relationships built on this authenticity that we can attract others and foster the bonds that will empower us to achieve truly great things.

In this post I’m going to try to bring this thinking together as it is very much all part of the same picture in my mind…

Content and Stories

Last week whilst in Brighton I spoke to Matt Bond (Cornwall Council) about stories and related things and he pointed me in the direction of Coca Cola’s new content excellence programme and the excellent videos they’ve produced which explain what they mean…

What struck me was the focus on stories, provocative stories as way to affect change. I recommend watching the videos yourself to gain your own insights but I’ve included some of mine below

Part 1

Part 2

Some of the key points for me are below, although the whole thing is very useful in a number of situations…however in the context of this post the following stood out…

  • stories provoke conversations
  • we need to act and react to conversations
  • technology can enable brilliant creativity
  • exploit existing community behaviours
  • story telling is at the heart of families and communities
  • we need provocations that will lead to bigger transformational actions
  • data is key to this and will become the soil of which ideas will grow
So our challenge is to not only transform our content around our services to make it easier for people to interact digitally, but also to transform our content so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Networks

In relation to networks I think about Citizenscape as a platform, it is aiming to address the heart of these issues, in the projects where it is used, it is really about fostering empowerment within communities and networks online and offline. I recently blogged about my views on this here. A particular quote which comes to mind in the context of this post is:

So when you consider this and then what Citizenscape states its value is, the value isn’t directly in the technology itself (although without it, it would be pretty empty) but in the connections, the networks, the communities that are now able to come together and share learning, to reconnect at a civic level to address local issues and problems. The key role for the platform (Citizenscape) is to facilitate those connections, without it those networks may not get the chance to reconnect.

So our challenge is to understand what networks and what networks of networks exist with our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Relationships and Trust

When I focus on relationships and trust, I think about an example that I was fortunate to see last friday at the DCCSMF (Social Media Forum), where a couple of local PCSO’s (Police Community Support Officers) came and shared their learning around connecting with communities. One explained how his use of social technologies as well as physically meeting people face to face helped build a relationship and trust within his community.
Devon Social Media Forum 2012

The another PCSO shared his experience which wasn’t about technology but in understanding where the networks were and simply connecting with them…In his case it was simply going to the local primary school at the beginning and end of each day to connect with the local parents. This approach has started to build relationships and trust.

The reality is and this is really obvious, but it takes time and more importantly effort to build relationships and trust and if we want to seriously address the challenges facing us over the next 8-10 years we need to start building new relationships, networks and fostering trust now to begin to have a chance.

I’ve said it before that it is all about people and that comes through explicitly in this great video by Simon Sinek called if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.

So our challenge is to develop those relationships and levels of trust and to connect them to the networks and networks of networks within our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

The questions ?

All of this brings me back to the future of local government and local public services.

  • Can we create content and share stories which provoke conversations that will lead to bigger transformational actions?
  • Are we actually capable of engaging with the content and stories as consumers and have conversations which trigger bigger transformational action?
  • We need to ask ourselves – even if we can identify networks and networks of networks and we can connect them, as members of those networks ourselves, are we prepared to engage in the challenges and are we capable of acting creatively?
  • As individuals and as professional people we will continue to develop relationships and trust – are we prepared to use it to change and influence the way our communities and networks operate, grow, develop and respond to the challenges facing us over the next few years?

Finally…

This isn’t a political question, this is question for every one of all ages.

I am personally reflecting on what these questions mean to me as an individual, as a parent, a husband, a friend and as a professional person – It isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be, it will be hard, we need to prepare for this and stand up to the challenge.

The alternative simply isn’t worth considering, we must imagine and create a sustainable future.

Location Based Architecture – Phase 1

Since colleague Martin Howitt first shared his idea about a location based architecture I’ve seen so many opportunities and areas in which it could add huge value.

So when I saw the latest developments within IOS5 and the new method for managing tasks across devices I naturally got a little bit excited.

Like Remember the Milk, Reminders can be set up to be location-aware. Thus, when you’re approaching your house, you’ll get a notification reminding you to take out the trash. When you get to the office, a whole new list of reminders will come up.

Reminders will sync wirelessly across devices using Apple’s new iCloud feature. This includes syncing with Outlook and iCal on the desktop.

I accept this feature has been in other apps like remember the milk and even to some degree foursquare and gowalla (albeit non task focused but information flow) but if you could add some additional workflow layer to get wider benefits this could truly transform the consumer and business user’s experience with a smart phone.

I’ve briefly blogged about stages and themes of social media development within organisation…

5) “check in” for content and services around me and for me

I am not currently aware of any council really progressing this aspect, but I know some are using services such as foursquare and Facebook places as a method to engage customers/citizens.

Essentially it is about using the location-based services as a means to access particular services or content. An example might be within libraries, someone checks in and then is made aware of a particular offer or event that is being promoted, a simple process really but it does take some planning and co-ordination across channels in order to maximise the opportunity.

An internal example here might be a public sector worker checks into a public building and is pushed tasks via workflow…….

6) “push notification” for content and services around me and for me

This is the only evolutionary step in these stages/themes as this is really pushing the previous stage/theme to a more proactive level and again building on the location-based architecture approach.

The main difference in this area is that i wouldn’t need to check in, in order to be pushed tasks, my smart device which naturally has GPS (ok this is a future thing as we need connectivity and devices to catch up), knows where I am and pushes a notification as I pass within a reasonable distance of a public building/space where I have tasks to complete.

Stages/themes 5 and 6 both require a significant underlying architecture and infrastructure in order to maximise the value and opportunity. This post is not the post to explain the infrastructure, that will have to be another time.

IOS5 is obviously a great step forward and as a current iPhone and iPad user i look forward to using this feature.

I hope however for the consumer market and developer community that other mobile platforms follow suit and look to embed these features into the operating system and exploit the users “location” to drive information and tasks directly to them.

The potential and opportunity could be increased further with a gamification layer, linked data but i need to think further on how these would actually work in reality.

For some this is just might be another mundane Apple update, but for me this signals a new opportunity and direction for location-based data.

 

Customer Service and Engagement – are they aligned?

I’ve read two kind of related blog posts this week and they got me thinking about the current culture in Local Government and the approach by many councils on customer service  and engagement.

From what I hear from other councils, progress is being made on rationalising services and centralising common functions to enable cost reduction and in the harsh reality we face redundancies. Now I’m not suggesting this is the wrong approach but I do wonder what the intended outcomes are for all of these councils.

I’m going to acknowledge up front that the scale of public sector cuts and the speed in which these are happening are also causing me a slight concern, not because I think they are wrong but because of the potential for decision makers to make knee jerk reactions to situations without really thinking or considering the longer term outcomes that the local government sector in particular has a role in.

Lets get to the blog posts, the first post Via CapGemini:  What can we learn from small businesses about social media and customer engagement? made me think about the skills and approaches required to do customer service effectively. This then made me think that is “good” customer service really something that the public sector ought to think about right now in the context of huge cost reduction and job redundancies…It took me a few minutes, to argue with myself and accept that Customer Service is essential and a fundamental aspect of delivering and contributing to cost reductions in the medium to long-term. I don’t believe we have a short-term approach available in this area. My view is that if you haven’t started a customer service programme of any kind then it is likely to be about 2 years before you start seeing any return on investment.

Coming back to the issue of rationalising and centralising functions etc…This can and does work, but I think it needs to be approached in a way that de-couples the layers of those functions so that only the relevant parts and the appropriate processes are actually rationalised and centralised.

For me Customer Service is not a process that can really be centralised or rationalised, it need to be main-streamed and embedded in the core culture of an organisation in order to really support success  – in local gov terms this really means cost reductions – and the following extract from the blog post sort of highlights my thinking.

There’s a counter that many people from our offices get their lunch from that also draws in a long line of people from the local area. Like most business districts the block is crammed with competition, all essentially selling the same product at the same price. And yet this little spot, tucked away on a side street, is always consistently busier than the competition. So what’s driving people to make the extra effort to reach this small corner of the city to buy highly commoditised products; sandwiches and coffee?

The business is run by just two people, one front of house and one in the kitchen. For the front of house they apply three key principles to engaging with customers;

  1. Know who I am; know my name and what I like / don’t like.
  2. Respond appropriately; consider my current mood. Am I looking for a quick purchase, do I have time to explore new products, do I have time to engage in a more lengthy conversation.
  3. Make me feel valued; make me feel like a valued customer and reward me for my loyalty (but make this sincere by building it over time so I feel like I’ve earned it).

SO the scale of operation is very different from local government – But let me explain my thinking….Local Government is being pushed to become even more local and connect with people and to ensure service users and wider citizens are involved in service design and decision-making, but how can this level of connection and relationship exist or even emerge unless we start to build relationships in new ways and understand what people really need.

The 3 principles are very relevant to Local Government Channel Management Strategies:

1) Know who I am – This is supported through approaches to Customer Relationship Management but also and probably increasingly through local engagement activities whether online or offline…We have already created relationships in many different contexts, but have perhaps not connected up the relevant information.

2) Respond appropriately – Ensure that the channel is able to meet a variety of user scenarios…quick reporting of a problem, to a slightly more complex application process…Whatever the channel it needs to respond, signpost and direct people through an appropriate and efficient process to meet their request.

3) Make me feel valued – I simply see this as acknowledging someone in a community has something to say and contribute to the design of services, we need to reach out to these people (offline and online) and ensure that their views are recognised and valued alongside others.

The second post again from the CapGemini blog : Are you willing to crowdsource your customer support to a p2p community? got me thinking about how customer service agendas need to be more aligned with our underlying democracy and engagement agendas.

When I read about engagement strategies, approaches and frameworks I always read about connecting with existing communities to ensure a long-lasting connection and relationship or if one doesn’t exist work on nurturing a community over time.

Now I am more than happy with this and it makes so much sense  – however have we in local government or central government connected this engagement agenda and the focus on connecting with existing communities with the customer service agenda and in some ways the Big Society agenda.

The following extract might help explain my thinking a bit more:

The advantages of integrating customer support communities into your customer service strategy include:

  • Increased credibility: Studies show that 44% of consumers trust people that are just like them (Edelman Trust Barometer 2010), and 74% of consumer purchasing decisions are affected by key influencers on social networking sites. Gartner shows that customers value advice of other customers more than that of a company’s employees. Real customers providing a service to other customers improves the credibility of information.
  • Expert Knowledge: Users with a strong interest in the product often have profound product knowledge and can provide detailed answers to even complicated issues. Especially with highly technical products these experts are closer to other customers than contact center employees because they face the same challenges in using the product. Dell’s IdeaStormcommunity, for example, addresses its customer’s expert knowledge and creative power by providing a platform for new ideas and suggestions around its products.
  • Lower cost to serve: Enabling customers to help other customers can also reduce the volume of direct customer contacts, thus reducing contact center resources. The transfer of customer service to online communities ensures 24/7 support which would create high cost to service when provided by conventional channels. Linksys by Cisco Systems for example stopped its email support one year after its community launched. Since then peer-to-peer support has replaced a large number of customer contacts (Forrester May 2010).

When I first read this part of the blog post, I wasn’t sure whether they were really talking about customer service or engagement or both and I’d missed the connection between them?

Anyway, I had started to think that the 3 main areas are also linked to the cost reduction agenda and whilst I am not advocating we make even more people redundant, one could argue that in time if our engagement strategies are successful, then we could look to create “community based” helpdesk and service support groups from within the community itself and support the over-arching customer service agenda.

After all this thinking I asked myself – are Customer Service and Engagement Agendas aligned and should they be to maximise the opportunities to government and communities?

This is merely a collection of thoughts at the moment and it likely to be some way off into the future before the levels of maturity around engagement reach a stage where government can have meaningful conversations about taking over some support and assisted self-service functions.

Sometimes I wonder whether I think too much 🙂

A new view of Corporate Web Management – The Competencies

In a previous post about the potential shift around the role of a Corporate Web Manager, I want to look at the type of competencies that this new role might be expected to perform in the (very near) future.

Just to recap I identified two different roles:

1) A “Strategic” Web Commissioner – This would in effect be the person who wrote the strategy, understood and documented the organisational needs and specified at a high level the requirements by which a commissioning exercise could take place – they would also be responsible for monitoring the value and ensuring it delivered the outputs specified. This role would also need to set and outline the standards as part of the requirements

2) An “Operational” Web Delivery Manager – This would essentially be the person(s)  responsible for the delivery of the platform. In the scenario above this could be an external organisation or a partners ICT department.

So the following represents a first draft of what I feel would be required for the Strategic Web Commissioner Role, it is divided into 5 main areas, I have also not added the additional details of what each bullet point relates to at this stage either.

You will notice that very little relates directly to the web itself. I do however feel that there needs to be a recognition that such a role would need a very good understanding of the web and social web in order to be truly effective. However I think that these kinds of things would be picked up in a person specification, which supported the following competencies.

Anyway it is very much work in progress, so I’d welcome comments and feedback.

Leadership

  • Direction setting – why are we using the web, what benefits does it offer the organisation etc
  • Influencing/ persuading – evangelising the use of the web
  • Horizon scanning  – what technology or business trends do we need to be aware of, complexity of organisational environment etc.
  • Decision making – getting things done

Planning and Programme Management

  • Requirements analysis – what we are delivering a web site for and what functions should it offer
  • Process analysis – which processes require changing for transactional delivery
  • Solutions design – what is the solution architecture
  • Programme and project management
  • Change Management and Benefits Realisation

Engagement

  • Stakeholder analysis  – understanding the aims and objectives of your key stakeholders
  • Customer/Citizen engagement – how can the web meet local needs
  • Service engagement – how can the web delivery service improvement and cost reduction

Procurement

  • Procurement Strategy – ensuring supplier independence, understanding market capability and aligning with organisational strategy
  • Delivery Analysis – internal vs external vs partnership vs shared service
  • Procurement management
    • Sourcing
    • Contracts and contract management
    • Performance Management

Monitor and Manage

  • Overall service performance management
  • Service management analysis – including feedback and co-design of services
  • Value Analysis – are we getting value

I think this is a big shift away from current web manager roles, although bits of it will be done – I believe the biggest aspect fo this will be in understanding the ever-increasing complexity of the delivery model which Councils will be moving toward in order to create a seamless and coordinated interface into the transactions and information.

The Future of Local Government Part 2 – Social Enterprise Council

I want to continue on the theme of my last post on the Future of Local Government and look at how this is shaping up and what we can do in government to enable it to happen more dynamically and effectively for the benefit of everyone.

So to recap briefly in my last post I attempted to outline the drivers and impacts of a number of significant pressures facing the public sector as a whole and came to the conclusion albeit not a radical one that Local Government will only be a conceptual layer of government that will only have a key role in decision-making and accountability – the service provision layer will be a mix of joined up public services, private sector, voluntary providers and some of it hosted in the cloud as part of the wider technology infrastructure.

So what I think I am actually saying is that we will be moving to a “Social Enterprise Council” model – this is not really new or even radical as you will learn as you continue reading this post. For the context of this post social enterprise means – those businesses that create products and services that help people in a variety of ways while staying true to certain moral and social principles.

It is important to remember that when I refer to a conceptual layer – what I really mean is that it will become harder to identify a single organisation responsible for delivering public services in a given area. As long as there are clear accountable links to decision makers and funding (where appropriate) local government will in all essence disappear and will just become part of the community and its capability to provide or support services.

I guess the most practical example for illustrative purposes is Lambeth Council in London who in February this year announced that they would become a “John Lewis Council”.  The article in the Guardian outlines the approach and benefits the council believes will be realised – in particular in states:

…Under the plans, being promoted by Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, Lambeth could borrow ideas from the way John Lewis is structured as it becomes a “co-operative council”.  While users of services run by the “co-operative” council would not become shareholders, the people of Lambeth will be asked to get involved in the running of all their services along the lines of John Lewis and other “mutuals”, with the possibility of financial recompense further down the line.

…Greenwich Leisure, an employee-owned company, is already running Lambeth’s leisure centres. Two Brixton housing estates are about to join a national grouping of tenant-run estates. Lambeth already has more tenant-run estates than any other London borough.

The Local Government Information Unit’s (LGIU) Blog made some comments on this approach in comparison to the Barnet “Easy” Council model.

I also have some reservations about the John Lewis model. Citizen involvement in prioritising services is absolutely essential and it is clear that user involvement is a key element of this model, but I am yet to be convinced that citizens would want to be involved in the actual delivery of services.

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public wold be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

I think back to a recent post of mine about the World of GovCraft where I comment on a video of  Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds….

….So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local. 

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

AS i said earlier the idea of a Social Enterprise Council is not new or radical – The challenge is how we empower people to actually care enough to take direct action, we need to go further and inspire through the 4 areas listed above and dig deeper into peoples motivations.

More importantly we need people to come forward and start asking about managing services –  only then will we really understand what is involved and what the unique local circumstances of each community/social enterprise offers.