Reply to Research: web 2.0, local government and teenagers

I have been contacted by Helen Cleaves who is undertaking some research into Web 2.0 and the like.  She has sent me some questions to respond and muse over and she has agreed that i can share the response here for wider digest

Could you briefly summarise your role at DCC?

My role is around ICT enabled business transformation. I listen and talk to the business, understand what their aspirations are, identify core and common requirements and defines projects and programmes to deliver those requirements.

With the Bluewiki pilot you’ve developed your own social network for DCC. Do you see home-grown networks as the future for web 2.0/social media in local government rather than well-established products such as Twitter?

Yes and no – I do see a need for internal formal networks to exist to meet specific business issues and challenges, however i also see a role for mainstream products like twitter to compliment these tools and to widen the reach. However this will no doubt mean making sure everyone involved is aware of the footprint they create and where they store information

It is important to strike a balance between protected and secure internal networks and the more informal tools. We need to recognise that people may want to store relatively sensitive information in an internal collaboration space. We as an organisation need to be 100% sure that this space is trusted, safe and secure.

Do you envisage the Bluewiki being used externally in the future? How?

Bluekiwi is a pilot to help us learn and demonstrate the internal benefits of social networking and collaboration. I do see this reaching out to partners and perhaps community voluntary sector partners. I’m not convinced that we would want to go further than that at this point in time. The key is to not focus on the technology but to focus on the business issues. We do have a need to collaborate with our partners and those partners are very dynamic and can change and evolve quickly, far quicker than local government does. So we need to be able to provide tools that are equally dynamic and flexible. I do see a role for social networks of some kind in this space.

What is driving the development of web 2.0/social media innovation at DCC e.g. senior management, staff interest, service priorities, community demand, focus on young people?

To be honest, it started within services, who saw opportunities in the tools presented to them. I worked on trying to co-ordinate and bring some of this together and to create some kind of framework for people to work within.

The Chief Executive recently agreed to become Officer champion for Social Networking and this has focused more people on looking at what it can do. But we have yet to fully embrace it, as we are still learning about what we need as a council to really move forward. Culture, skills, understanding, awareness etc.

What is the business case for using web 2.0/social media?

In its simplest sense, the business case to allow staff to have access is to enable people to listen to what people say about us (very much like people looking in the papers to read what people write about us) But in some ways I don’t believe there is a business case to use social media on it’s own. I come back to what is the problem. If your problem is about reaching a particular audience and that audience is found online in a particular social network. Then the business case speaks for itself.

I would recommend people move away from the technology and focus on the problems. I love social media and web 2.0, but unless it will offer value to someone in my council why would i recommend using it.  see my post on rules and steps for local government

What problems do you believe web 2.0/social media is able to solve?

I get asked this a lot, like i am supposed to be guru on what all these tools can do for people. My answer is the best people to know this are the service experts themselves. If we allow people /staff to engage with the tools, they will find ways in which it can benefit their service or make things easier for people.

Some common problems which could be solved using social media (but to be honest other tools as well) are:

  • council photo library
  • alternate marketing such as video, podcasts etc
  • community discussion spaces
  • staff directory
  • staff skills audit
  • collaboration
  • knowledge sharing
  • connecting people

How have you/will you develop a knowledge-sharing/proactive communication ethos across DCC?

I think this is the question i am struggling with, but to be honest it all boils down to changing the culture of the organisation. This isn’t just because of the way we are set up, structured etc, but because local government in general is set up to be counter productive to knowledge sharing.  isn’t this the reason why the IDeA was set up to help encourage and stimulate knowledge sharing.

Everyone i know in local government wants to share knowledge better, but there is a culture in the public sector around knowledge and keeping hold of it. So whilst we can work on changing local cultures we will always battle a greater culture unless this is also challenged.

How is progress/success/impact of web 2.0/social media being measured?

We are still in the early stages and we are still learning about how to measure this stuff, but we should see this as no differnt to offline activities and therefore our approach to this should be no different

What, in your opinion, are the key barriers or challenges to using web 2.0/social media in local government? Libraries? How were these overcome in Devon?

First and foremost is Access to the sites, then i would say awareness of what the sites do, time to play and learn, skills, understanding, rules of engagement, policies etc.

Not all of the barriers are overcome here, we have managed to support the access issue, i am continuing to raise awareness and encourage other people to get engaged in the space so that they can learn from their own experiences.

Having our Chief Executive will help us tackle some of the issues but some are more deep rooted and therefore require significant thought and work to make sure we get things right.

What involvement do you have in Devon libraries IT?

To be honest, very little up to now.

To what extent have you been involved in Devon libraries’ use of web 2.0/social media?

I have spoken to them about the use of social media and they were very positive and have lots of ideas and thoughts about how they can move forward.

Apart from libraries, what other departments/uses do you see for web 2.0/social media in local government?

There is no reason why it couldn’t be used across all services, it does depend on which tools you are really referring to. Some tools can contribute to solving core and common issues across the whole organisation and this is where the greatest value will occur and the greatest benefits will be seen.

What web 2.0/social media products/applications do you believe will prove longstanding? Why?

I’m not really that good at guessing or suggesting which tools will stand the test of time, but what i will say is from a personal perspective the tools which meet the core functions of everyday life will have the greatest lifespan. But the reality is products always evolve and ideas will mean things will change.

I don’t think i would want to see something last too long without changing as i suspect it will lose touch with it customers very quickly

Have you had feedback from residents or library users regarding DCC’s use of web 2.0/social media to interact with them?

We have had some feedback from specific users where we have done consultations and some basic participation activities and they have been very positive. I wrote a post on participation feedback a while ago

I’ve seen your final ‘Social media & online participation guidelines’ on your blog. What are the next steps for this e.g. evaluation, training, communication, promotion, etc/

The next steps here are to communicate, communicate and communicate it to as many people as possible to make sure that this isn’t a policy about having fun all day on facebook, but does in fact specify the rules by which you can engage.

We also need to finish the Equality and Impact Needs Assessment (EINA), which all policies, projects etc have to go through here in DCC. EINA is a process which helps to assess the likely or actual impact a decision, policy, project or service has on different sections of the community (including employees).  It helps to place fairness for all at the centre of decision making, policy and practice.  By assessing the likely impact, we can take action to reduce or remove inequalities and unlawful discrimination, and promote equality better.

One of the challenges that has become apparent from my survey is concerns about online safety i.e. the risks associated with DCC employees interacting online with young people (under 18) using web 2.0/social media? How have you/DCC dealt with this issue?

This issue is and will remain a priority for us. We do need to be very careful about who gets involved. However we do have procedures in place which manages this in an offline context and we are adapting the best practice there for these purposes. A colleague Katie Bacon has developed  some policy and procedures on this topic

Another key issue is the perceived amount of time that using web 2.0/social media requires. What would you say to this?

Yes it does require time, but if local government is expected to involve people in decision making then we need to invest time and effort to do it. Some approaches using social media can save you time because you can reuse content and enable others to participate in spaces that are more suitable for them.  I would argue that what we are seeing is the true cost of developing services around people and localities.

What i think is important to recognise is that we are opening up a channel which is 24/7 and that requires managing expectations on all sides (staff, community, organisation)

What are your/DCC’s web 2.0/social media plans for the future?

I’d like to see more work done on the engagement side of things. I would love to see a formal approach to using these tools to listen, identify, participate, empower, engage and nurture people and communities to proactively contribute to shaping local service delivery.

BUT what i do want to do is to continue to solve business problems and look at all opportunities to solve them and that will increasingly include social media and web 2.0.

Do you believe that DCC is particularly innovative? Why?

Yes i do believe DCC is innovative, however i also believe we could be more innovative and more transformational with our innovation.  I’d say we were innovative because we have some good people who work for the council, just like other councils and organisations do.  The challenge for all organisations is keeping those people and connecting them to other innovative people so it can benefit from the wider pool of ideas.

What other local authorities are you aware of that are innovating with web 2.0/social media?

This increases all the time, every conference i go to, every new twitter account i follow. I don’t have a list, but i would recommend looking at Liz Ayan’s blog she has compiled a wider range of information on local government social media usage.

But a final thought, it isn’t the councils that are innovating it is the people in them. I’m sure that if they didn’t work there the council wouldn’t be innovating. But that is my view.