Unblock Access – ‘Social’ is Key to Improving Performance

The issue of whether an organisation blocks or bans access to social media platforms has always been an interesting area. When speaking to colleagues in other councils who are not able to access, a common reason why access is blocked is due to a perceived fear that staff will simply waste time “messing about” or “chatting online”. It has been a personal desire to look for an approach which directly links the success of an organisation to the use of or at least access to social tools.

Without having any direct evidence – I’ve had to look to theoretical models and frameworks which help to explain the relationships between an organisations performance and the ability of staff to use and engage with social software, social media, enterprise 2.0, social business or whatever the current trend is for naming the variety of tools available.

Last week however a key part of the puzzle presented itself, in the form of a set of slides which I linked to in my previous post by Richard Veryard.

This is my current view is the all public sectors organisations need to unblock access to all social tools (external), and promote the use of social tools (internally) otherwise they restrict and reduce the chance for the organisation to improve its performance.

Given the current financial and organisational pressures facing the whole public sector, improving performance would be a key priority. The very least we would all agree that reducing barriers to improving performance should be a priority. This is where I now firmly believe that Social is the key to improving organisational performance.

I’ll try to give some context to my thinking by referring to some of the slides that Richard posted. I apologise in advance for some of the complexity in the following paragraphs  – believe me I have tried to keep it as simple as possible without losing the meaning 🙂

In “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations”, my observations and interpretation of some of his slides are as follows:

Slide 5 – Cognition only makes sense for individuals
As individuals we seek out data/information, in doing this activity we essentially bring a meaning to that data/information and in turn provide the interpretation  and therefore we create and often share an understanding.
Organisations can not perform the same tasks, as organisations can only aggregates the collective view of all people within the organisation by bringing together  – perception, knowledge, learning and intelligence. This in the past has been restricted either to formal systems which require facts and statistics and would not include people’s views and opinions. The social element to an organisation would be in the informal social networks facilitated by water coolers and coffee machines.

Slide 7 – The illusion of individual performance
Individuals perform tasks which are supported by a variety of systems, the slide highlights 3 examples, but in a public sector context, this is even more relevant. For example an individual local government officer has a complex system environment, which could include Peers, Press and Media, local demographic, local political influence, national political influence, training, policy framework etc.

Essentially an individuals performance is the result of the ‘systems’ own restrictions and ability to achieve and facilitate outcomes.

So what I’m thinking in relation to this is that when an organisation restricts the “social” element within it, it actually restricts the ability of the system and the individual to achieve better outcomes. By providing “social” tools the organisation gains access to a greater organisational intelligence. I believe that the Knowledge Hub would in fact allow the public sector organisational intelligence to grow and in turn help facilitate better outcomes across the whole sector.

Slide 20 – Intelligence Strategy
In my post Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet I share the vision for my authorities intranet/extranet and considering this new viewpoint, what that is contributing to is in fact the organisations Intelligence Strategy. The main benefit of integrating the Knowledge Hub into the core infrastructure of the council is the increased connections that it provides for each individual member of staff. It will provide them with a larger organisational intelligence system and my conclusion would be that this contributes directly to better outcomes for citizens and improved services.

In the second set of slides “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” – I have thought about the wider linkages to a range of core business activities and capabilities which are and will become more critical in public sector environments even if they choose to adopt a commissioning agenda.

Slide 23 – Tools for organisational intelligence
The key challenge for publica sector organisations are not related to individual issues such as business intelligence, social networking, knowledge management and even customer relationship management (CRM), but are in fact how you plan and architect the links between these kinds of tools to achieve and facilitate organisational intelligence.

So the main takeaway for me is that ICT can directly improve the performance and intelligence of an organisation – however an organisations architecture needs to be designed with this outcome in mind otherwise you will fail to deliver the benefits.


I would recommend that any public sector organisation who is blocking access rethink that decision and consider how there organisation facilitates organisational intelligence and improved performance.

On a practical level, staff who abuse access should still be subject to existing policies around employee code of conduct – but the potential for a whole organisation to improve its performance and increase its intelligence far outweighs the risk of one individual mis-using an internet connection, which they can also do via their personal mobile phone.


Public Sector Organisation Intelligence

I’ve been following Richard Veryard on twitter for some time and have found his tweets and blog posts very useful and thought provoking in relation to my role here at the council.

Earlier today Richard tweeted two links to some slideshare presentations related to Organisational Intelligence (I’ve embedded both of them below)

The first one “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations” is very good, it is high level and I suggest you take some time to go through this. I particularly like slide 27 which highlights 6 socio-technical capabilities that organisational intelligence needs

The second “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” looks at the IT role in helping achieve organisational intelligence and the new challenges IT people and departments face in supporting this transition. Slide 20 in my view reminds people that IT is about Information “and” Technology.


The act of participating, not the process of managing participation

I was reading an interesting post earlier today ( A Better Way to Manage Knowledge – John Hagel III and John Seely Brown – Harvard Business Review) and it triggered a number of thoughts in my head. Perhaps the act of participating is far more important to get right then the process of managing that participation?

My recent post titled The Governance Ladder attempted to align an organisations view of participation to their governance approaches, well I am now thinking that this is more and more the case.

I don’t think i need to add much more to the quote below really other than to say i think it is fundamental to Governance frameworks that you understand the difference between the “management of people and processes” and “the organisational itself that allows for effective decision making, participation, collaboration and knowledge sharing”

Knowledge management traditionally has focused on capturing knowledge that already exists within the firm — its systems rarely extend beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Creation spaces instead focus on mobilizing and focusing participants across all institutional boundaries. Sure, there are lots of smart people within your enterprise, but imagine the power of connecting with and engaging a more diverse collection of smart people beyond your enterprise. That is another source of the increasing returns in creation spaces — participation is not limited by the boundaries of the enterprise.

via A Better Way to Manage Knowledge – John Hagel III and John Seely Brown – Harvard Business Review.

How i see this linking is that a traditional view of Governance focuses on managing the people and processes much like knowledge management focused on capturing the knowledge, but that in itself made the process disengaging and often caused the failure of Knowledge Management Projects. I accept that governance does have to do this but it also needs to recognise the act of participating in Governance itself is much like participating in anything else, you need tend to think about “what’s in it for me”. If the process is all about the people and processes and not actually about delivering the right results and priorities then surely it is failing. The creation space aspect for me is about the culture of governance that exists within your Organisation or Enterprise. If this supports an open participative culture then i suspect that your Governance approach would be far less intensive and more Emergent and based on the people within the governance process.  I also posted my thoughts around Emergent Governance on the Devon Enterprise Architects Blog.

They also say in their post:

But for the most part the repositories and directories remained fragmentary and the resources didn’t get used. The folks with the knowledge were often reluctant to put what they knew into the database. The folks seeking the knowledge often had trouble finding what they needed.

I guess i see this as being an analogy to the coordinated Governance approaches that are required across large Enterprises.My thinking is still evolving in this area and the more i read the more fascinated i get as the direct link between participation and governance grows.

#khub – IDeA Knowledge Hub

Yesterday I attended the IDeA Knowledge Hub Advisory Group in London at the IDeA offices.

Before today my only awareness of the hub was based on sporadic conversations with Steve Dale, which sparked enough interest for me to talk to colleagues internally and see the opportunities for the hub to solve a wide range of business issues being raised in my council.

It really has the potential to transform how the public sector and in-particular local government can share learning and collaborate on improving services. It will mean some pretty fundamental challenges to how practitioners get involved in sharing experiences and practices that a peer community can promote as practice worth repeating.

But also the hub sets out a new direction for the IDeA itself from:

The IDeA supports improvement and innovation in local government. We work with local authorities and their partners to develop and share good practice. We do this through networks, online resources, and support from councillor and officer peers – quote directly off the IDeA website

The khub transforms that relations and reverses their whole business model to one which gives control and ownership of the practice, publishing and content creation to the local government sector. A model that in time could signal the end of the IDeA as we know it today. It would essentially reposition the organisation to one which facilitates the knowledge creation and supports practitioners through learning and training programmes. But also the hub in time could be even bigger than that and could lead to being part of a more open, transparent government and foster a real knowledge sharing culture in the sector and wider. All based around story telling and first hand learning.

So I guess you may be asking “what is the knowledge hub?” Well conceptually that is sort of straight forward to explain but at this point in time practically what it takes is some diagrams and some excellent presentations from Steve Dale and Ingrid Koehler.

Steve Dales slides

Ingrid Koehler slides on Social Media Strategy

The Advisory Group itself was quite small but mainly due to other commitments not through interest, although it did have some usual suspects in and around the social media movement.

What i think some of the major challenges will be in relation to the Khub is the change in the underlying culture that restricts or stops people from sharing practice worth repeating and individual learning experiences. This is essentially the challenge to allow conversations and people to connect in new innovative ways without imposing barriers or silos over them to restrict those conversations.

I believe that everyone in all parts of the public sector understand the need for improvement and the challenge in identifying where and how improvement might occur, but if we could create and foster a culture that made learning a natural and fundamental part of our work i believe the Khub would revolutionise the sector as a whole. We also recognise the power of the social networks (offline) we are all part of that help us do our work and contribute to our learning. The opportunity is to widen those networks and to use the technology to connect people to conversations they may not have had access to.

There are also challenges within each council or public sector body, as it isn’t always straight forward and easy to surface the current practice that happens on the front lines, as most practice is often documented by policy officers who then rework policy to try and drive improvement, this process however is flawed because of the time it takes to go through that cycle.

The opportunity the Khub could provide is access to “live” improvement and learning information. We would then need to understand how our processes could and should change to allow progressive change and improvement and the policy aspect needs to be more fluid and dynamic to enable the freedom for front line practitioners to continuously improve their services.

The whole thing is exciting but yet huge and overpowering at this point in time, the great thing about being part of the advisory group is that we can contribute to the development and see this whole thing grow from the bottom up.  It also allows those involved to see things happening and not continually get distracted by the huge opportunities and challenges.

We need to take one step at a time and the next steps are influence the requirements and inform the procurement process.

A continuous task for the group as a whole is the promotion of this project, well in fact this programme of work across the public sector. This truly is a “business project” and not a technology project.

There are so many things going around my head since leaving the advisory group yesterday, and i will write a few more blogs as my thoughts clear and i am able to make sense of them. but in the meantime I’ll leave the final words to Steve and Ingrid who were captured on video by David Wilcox – Social Reporter