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June’s Teacambs

by on 2 July 2012

Hello everyone.

A big **Thank You** to Jane O’Loughlin from The Government Digital Service for coming up from London to visit us and speak at June’s Teacambs. Also to Jonathan James of Cambridge City Council for leading the discussion at our gathering – as well as to the 15 or so of you that came along. We were particularly pleased to welcome new colleagues from Cambridge City Council and from the East of England Ambulance Trust too. For those of you interested in a lighter blogpost on what happened, see my blogpost here. For those of you interested in the detailed content, three themes emerged:

  • The IT systems changes that needed to be made
  • The changing patterns of interaction from service users and the public
  • Trying to change the culture & mindset of staff

IT system changes

On the IT changes, one of the big considerations is around the blocking of websites. I’m aware of a number of employers that have a policy of blocking social media websites as part of measures to stop staff ‘wasting time’ on social media sites when they should be working. It’s understandable that they’d want to do this to try and protect themselves from the fallout from social media firestorms as well as trying to ensure staff do the work that they are contracted to do. Yet as I have written elsewhere, people have social-media-enabled smartphones. There’s little to stop them using such devices to get round workplace bans. Thus the employer is faced with the worst of both worlds: Not gaining the benefits of staff using social media professionally (because all the sites are blocked) while not reducing the risks of social media use (because staff are using smartphones). A people-management problem requires a people-management solution, not a technological solution that ends up resembling a blunt clunking fist to something far more nuanced. 

My recommendation to organisations is to make the IT changes, but also ensure that you are making the cultural changes in the organisation too. This means making staff aware of both the benefits and the risks of using social media. On the benefits, are there networks that you think your staff should be aware of? For example are your data analysts engaging with other analysts in other workplaces? Are members of staff in one area engaging with members of staff in similar roles in other jobs? Can they use social media to help each other solve problems and share best practice?

There are also issues like capacity, number of people interacting with your organisation using social media and more. Are your systems resilient enough to cope with these changes? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Changing patterns of interaction from service users and the public

It’s no longer 9-5 anymore. That does not necessarily mean that everyone has to work 24-7. There is a big opportunity to collect very simple sets of data on when people are using your services to shape how you deliver them. For example what’s the point on having lots of people in the office at 9am if few service users are contacting your organisation at that time of day? If the data says that lots of people are contacting your organisation around 7-8pm in the evening, does it make more sense to ensure that you have proper cover to deal with queries from those people?

Jonathan made an interesting contribution around how different groups of people are interacting differently with the City Council – in particular how some younger people are using different media to contact the same organisation. For some things, a Facebook message may work. For other things, an email. If it’s particularly serious it might warrant a phone call or face-to-face meeting. What do you do about people who do not want to use social media? In the drive to use new technology, we must not forget those who either do not want to or are unable to use social media.

Trying to change the patterns and mindsets of staff

I (Antony) declare an interest here in that I deliver social media awareness training. 

This for me is one of the biggest challenges for organisations. For the public sector, this culture change is similar to that of Freedom of Information – but much bigger. The driver is not a legislative change, it is a societal one. In my opinion, it is the middle managers who may find themselves struggling with this one if they try to shy away from the impact of social media and how people are using it. This is because those on the front line are likely to become aware of things quickly as they are the public face of the organisation. Very senior managers are likely to become aware of pressure from the top of Whitehall – especially on the back of new social media guidance from Cabinet Office. How quickly can managers in the middle deal with pressures coming in from above and below their hierarchies? 

There is also the issue of communications. This is something that will be coming up at The Mothership of Teacambs, TeaCamp London. On 5 July they will be discussing Digitising the Press Office. Feel free to go along and join them or follow the hashtag #Teacamp from 4:30pm on Thursday. My take is that communications teams will move from being ‘filters’ where all messages have to go through them, to becoming ‘internal centres of expertise’ where members of staff can turn to for help. To what extent communications teams and press offices proactively move to such a model, or are forced to do so by the sheer pressure coming from people using social media (and staff internally wanting to seize the opportunities) remains to be seen. 

 

This post published by Antony Carpen – all views & opinions are his (to ensure other TeaCambs facilitators don’t get into trouble with employers).

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One Comment
  1. Keith permalink

    Antony: A thought which has been growing on me since Teacambs goes something like this. At some point public bodies which use social media will trip over, be it deliberately or accidentally, from using it as a high-tech telephone tree to a full-blown interaction with a substantial chunk of the public. What you will then have is a heap of badly structured and poorly provenanced opinions (some of the most percipient apparently submitted by a dragon), which has been viewed briefly by one or a few staff (quite possibly out of normal office hours) and is held on proprietary computer networks with only rudimentary retrieval capability. How, then, can this be progressed into a traditional decision-making system, multi-person, hierarchical, file-orientated, amenable to subsequent accountability and available for FoI disclosure. I mean in principle – I’m not expecting you and Puffles to start defining the computer systems necessary to handle this. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t see printing it off and filing the print-out as a workable solution!

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