Okay. A deep breath. Pause, and breathe out.
The head is still buzzing with ideas. I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a conference, or I should properly say an ‘un-conference’ that has been attended by so many people that want to change things for the better. People giving up their own free time at the weekend to attend a conference on a Saturday.
I attended the UKGov Camp which I’d been alerted to on Twitter #ukgc10 and then joined http://www.ukgovweb.org/
There was no agenda. The sessions at UKGC10 were suggested on the day itself by those attending, literally just standing up and speaking out to the group about what they wanted to talk about. Ideas for sessions were written on colourful post-its, and then arranged on a grid representing the timetable. This took aroud half an hour to complete, and the first sessions kicked off at 11am.
With a range of topics covering;
- Security – How to break into government websites
- Data druids and real challenges
- Getting gov people to participate
- Local gov group hug
- Socitm web professionals
- Cloud culture
- Finding and filtering data
- Local websites
- Social internal comms
- Convincing execs in climate of cuts
- Transactional services and what does it all mean?
- Open gov
- Where gov money comes and goes
- Postcode war
- Hardwired state
- Google Wave
- User involvement in public service design
- Local data the ugly way
- Digital campaigns
- Data, drupal and open source
- Making council websites exciting
- Knowledge hub
- Transforming conversations into decisions
- Learn screen scraping
- Youtube collaboration
- How journalism is changing
- Using games
- Open data Q&A
- Making the political sell
- UK Snow
- Local gov engagement, social media, partnerships and business change
- Public consultations and social media
- Blogging in the public sector
There is also a wiki http://ukgc.wikispaces.com/ that’s been set up to document what went on during that day, with people writing up their own blogs and notes from all the various session, which I fully intend to read from end to end to get the most out of that day, and ensure that the debate carries on.
When I spoke with my colleagues about #ukgc10 I was met with blank looks, when I explained that the conference was on a Saturday the blank looks were quickly met with looks of astonishment, bewilderment and a lot of jaws gaping wide open and dropping to the floor.
- Why on earth are you doing it?
- Why are you giving up weekend?
- What is this Social Networking thing?
That was generally the response from my colleagues.
I also got a lot of strange looks at #ukgc10 from those people that attended.
I’m not a ‘webbie’. The majority of attendees at UKGov BarCamp ( my impression) were involved in running Web teams, Comms, Digital Engagement etc. I on the other hand work in Finance, it’s not sexy, it’s not Policy, it’s not forward facing to the Public. Everything I do is aimed at ensuring that my Department, HM Treasury and the Parliament have the most accurate financial figures to date to make informed policy decisions, that ultimately should benefit the tax payer.
So *why* was I doing this?
For me the question was quite easy. Whilst in my normal day job there is the desire to do my job to the best of my ability, I recognise quite easily that despite my best intentions that I could be doing more. Not only could I be doing more, but I could probably be doing it more efficiently, hopefully engaging and connecting up with colleagues throughout Central Government and start those idea’s flowing with the end result hopefully a smarter way of working leading to smarter Government.
What’s currently stopping me doing that now?
Whilst I try to deliver against my objectives, I try to manage my team effectively, I try to ensure that as a Department we offer ‘Value for Money’, there is effectively one main barrier to all of this.
- Actually lack of communication.
The culture of the Civil Service within Central Government (as that’s my stomping ground) is one of non-communication, non- collaborative working. Internally we struggle to bridge that gap between teams, between divisions, between directorates. This is further more exacerbated across Central Government departments. Departments struggle to work effectively together, but then again this happens not just within Government it can happen across large organisations in the private and third sectors.
We all work in our own self imposed silos.
I try not to.
I deliberately try and build networks with people outside my own team, outside my own division, directorate and outside my own department.
Outside the office I use Social Networking tools, such as;
- Google Wave
To name but a few. These tools are amazing in their ability to not only get people talking, but to get people engaged in issues, to get people interested again in the issues that matter. No matter, where your are or who you are you can effectively join the conversations and make contributions.
I have now found a whole new passion for communication. Through the use of Social Networking tools I’m becoming involved again, dare I say passionate and political about issues that effect us all? Through the simple power of communication we are seeing people standing up and making a difference, people finding a mechanism for getting their voice heard, the public wanting to engage with not only one another , but with authority, with government ….. and for me. That’s awesome.
I realised that I want to be part of that too. I want to truly embrace that and improve how we communicate and work together. However I realised that if ‘Government’ is to become more engaged with the Public, by pulling together a strategy on how Central Departments will ‘engage’ with the Public through the medium of Web 2.0 that’s not actually going to deliver the *real* change that needs to happen.
What I think needs to happen, to enable the real change, to bring us closer to that ‘Smarter’ Government model that engages with the Public is the following;
Government should be looking to engage with the Public – using Web 2.0 is an excellent starting point. But don’t just ‘Broadcast’ in these mediums. Engage, feedback, get the conversation going with the Public.
However, anything remotely connected with Social Networking & Media is usually banned from most Departmental Internet access.
Quite often Central Departments will have;
- A Twitter Account
- A YouTube Account
To which they’ll broadcast Policy decisions and initiatives to the outside world, but the very same people who formulated and wrote these polices don’t have access to these Social & Media Networks in the office. So if the Public respond to these postings, wanting to debate the implications of such announcements, the Policymakers aren’t able to see the discussions.
They aren’t part of the conversation that is happening ‘out there’.
I can’t help but think we are missing out here, missing out on what could be invaluable formal/informal discussions about Policy initiatives that could add *real* value.
We need to learn to engage using these mediums. Not to just broadcast.
Behaviours & Cultures within Government need to change – We don ‘t talk. We don’t communicate. We don’t listen that well either outside the organisation or to ourselves. So how do we enable this cultural change? I’m not pretending to anyone that I have all the answers, but I have seen what has happened to the ‘conversation’ through the power of Social Networking and I think that perhaps… just maybe that could be an enabler for change.
- Technological change must run alongside culture change, we need to encourage people to start joining up, making those connections and having those conversations.
- But we will also need to supply user guidance out there for our staff. It will be expected, but we should trust our communities to self-police themselves.
Shutting down access will only drive people to go external.
The use of smart phones has outpaced policy guidance, already there is a whole raft of Whitehall bloggers and tweeters who, in the lack of a strategy have gone external (me included). We don’t need to re-invent the wheel here in terms of producing whole swathes of guidance, as the existing Staff Code of Conducts/Handbooks should only need to be tweaked to include Social Networking.
One strong message that did come out of the day was that this isn’t about Social Networking anymore. It’s about combining the ‘Networking’ element of ‘Social Networking’ with the Knowledge Management of the organisation to deliver a viable and sustainable, self policing ‘Business Network’.
This term came from one of the attendees on the day (http://carlhaggerty.wordpress.com/ )who, working for a local council where they trialed a social networking tool, quickly rebranded it as a ‘business network’ to counter act claims of frivolity and timewasting. This went down well with management, and it really took hold with our discussion group.
Social Networking’ has evolved, it’s grown up. We are no longer in the Industrial Revolution, we are in the ‘Digital Revolution’ and need to improve how we communicate through ‘Business Networking’ if we are to truly engage across Government and to the Public.
The 70 page civil servants guide on Social Media doesn’t really address that(http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/participation-online.aspx). It’s more about using the existing tools, what you can and can’t do when blogging, tweeting publicly etc. It’s not about driving cultural change which is where the *real* benefits are.
If we can’t communicate better internally across government, then what hope do we have in delivering externally and listening to what the public want? Opening up access to a few ‘authorised’ individuals won’t drive through the cultural changes required across Government.
We should be embracing the culture of moving to ‘Business Networking’ , opening up access to our staff and changing the way we work, so that we can deliver more with less and do it smartly.
The ‘un-conference’ for me was amazing. To be surrounded by so many people that I’ve read about, read their blogs, I’ve tweeted to on Twitter was a tad bit surreal, and if I’m honest a little bit intimidating. I almost felt like the odd one out for not having Social Networking, Web design, Digital Engagement etc as my day job, but all that soon fell by the way side once I started attending all the different sessions.
We all spoke with the same passion, and a real desire to see things done better. I would have perhaps spoken up more if it wasn’t for my rather painful hangover from the pre un-conference drinks the night before.
There is talk about setting up a “Socialising Internal Comms BarCamp”, and that is something that I am definitely going to be involved in as it’s something that’s very dear to my heart. When it happens I will be hammering down the door of my own IT & Communications Directorates and dragging them along to this, because change is coming. There’s no avoiding it. It’s time we embrace that change and push through all the necessary changes in behaviour and culture to receive the benefits.
Technology & Security should be enablers of change, not barriers to change.