Thoughts on BBC NEWS | Facebook banned for council staff

Now this is a very interesting story, not just because another council has banned access to a social networking site, but because the lack of tackling the real issues.

A council is to ban Facebook on its computers after it was revealed staff spent on average 400 hours on the site every month.

Portsmouth City Council said it had decided to change its policy and block access to the social networking site.

It added the figures equated to each of its 4,500 staff, who have access to computers, spending between five and six minutes a month on the site.

via BBC NEWS | England | Hampshire | Facebook banned for council staff.

The headlines in many of today’s newspapers are interesting but in fact that are inaccurate and do not truly represent the real issues around “waste” in councils.

Now i am in full support of eradicating waste in business and in processes, but this is not a good way to go about it and in fact reduces the opportunities that could be realised by council by using such sites for communications and engagement activities.

What i would suggest the headlines should read which would truly represent the real factor behind this story is:

Lack of Management in Council leads to 400 hours a month being wasted

Now I get really annoyed and frustrated when i see councils make decisions like this because the real thing to concentrate on is the lack of management is that leading to this amount of time being wasted.

Why are we not focusing on the poor management practices or lack of performance management instead of the 5-6 minutes per employee per month on facebook.

It is easy for councils to focus and even target sites like facebook because they can monitor and measure usage through the corporate networks (unless of course people are accessing on their mobiles or via wifi connections)

BUT what about the other activities that could be classified as “waste” that we are not focusing on for example: phone calls, chatting with friends, emailing friends and colleagues plus many more including smoking.

It is quite sad that people are focusing on the technology when that is not the problem, just like technology itself can not solve business problems. What needs to happen here when these kind of decisions are made is to ask the question “What are we really trying to stop?” Is it time wasting? or is it access to social networks that councils don’t on the whole understand? i would suggest the latter.

There is a huge opportunity to promote such networks, in fact i am a member of a government funded and supported social network (IDeA Community of Practice) so i would ask what fundamentally is the difference between the two platforms from a technology point of view? How much council officer time is taken up accessing the community of practice and would this also be classified as “waste”? I feel that being part of that community saves me time in accessing information and research from other council staff and stops me emailing them or phoning them for the same information. This is what social networks can facilitate – information and knowledge exchange.

Now i’m not promoting facebook as such, but this is a decision which allows councils to make further blocks and banning orders easier unless they start to truly understand what is happening in online spaces where communities are alive and thriving and councils need to be connected if they want to understand the needs of local people in designing services. Would we consider a member of staff visiting a village hall and listening to community issues and communicating with them about council services a “waste” of time or would that be considered community engagement? If so then why ban access to social networking sites…