Monday, March 30, 2009

Guest post: Supporting a major government project with social media tools

I am pleased to present this guest post from a colleague who has done a fantastic job of incorporating online tools into the government project management mix.

I feel that the work Nathanael Boehm and his team have been doing on the project is an example of how social media can improve the ability of government to support consultation with stakeholders and customers and to deliver successful outcomes.

Guest post:
Nathanael Boehm is a web user interaction designer currently working for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) on the project. In addition to web design he is involved in the project and contract management, training and social media aspects of the project. In this guest blog post on eGovAU Nathanael talks about why the team decided to use social media and how they did it.

The Vocational Education and Training sector in Australia is complex, with many stakeholders playing a role in delivering training information and industry regulation. Collectively they are known as the National Training System and the information infrastructure supporting this System is legislatively referred to as the National Training Information Service. This Service is currently provided by, a website developed by the now decommissioned Australian National Training Authority.

In order to accommodate current policy, stakeholder expectations and user needs, is being developed by the Department to replace NTIS. The new service is planned to be launched later this year.

The project team was firmly committed to following a User-Centred Design (UCD) approach. Due to the complex nature of the National Training System, this meant coordinating input and expert opinions from thousands of organisations and key personnel.

The method for managing consultation had to take into account all of the dependencies and linkages between Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), Registering/Course Accreditation Bodies (RCABs), State Training Authorities (STAs), the Commonwealth, legislation, National Quality Council (NQC), Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF), Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) and other players.

To solve this the centerpiece of the project team's thinking was the launch of the Project Blog which to my knowledge was the first ongoing Australian Federal Government blog.

There wasn't much effort or cost involved, we had existing web hosting infrastructure in place and web skills in the team. Therefore, over a few weeks, the team combined a WordPress theme with static information about the project and launched the Project Blog.

In the spirit of engagement we aim for a very personal style. Each blog post is attributed to a member of the team, not the team as a whole, with the main blog contributors being Jo, Marty, Jonathon and myself. We try to steer clear of government speak, jargon and acronyms as much as possible.

We're aiming for openness and transparency - people appreciate that they know what we're doing and where we're up to every step of the way. They also appreciate the insights into how the project is being conducted and it gives the Project team an opportunity to show both that we're working really, really hard and that we are talking to our stakeholders.

The blog has been well-received by our stakeholders and users. It allows us to broadcast useful information that would otherwise not be available through traditional channels, simply because we're not prepared to spam everyone involved with an email telling them how our training sessions last week went. But there's still value in that content and the blog allows us to leverage it.

The blog also provides a method for our stakeholders to respond. In addition to formal response mechanisms, like the interest registration form, they can easily post comments attached to blog posts. With Jo out in the field promoting the blog as part of her engagement activities the number of comments and visitors is rapidly increasing.

In addition to deployment of the blog we stepped up our external in-person on-site engagement activities - preceded by bringing on a dedicated stakeholder engagement officer. We have a Twitter account @TrainingGovAu, although that is a secondary channel. We're not really pushing it at this stage but we do use it to engage in the Twittersphere when needed and to provide an additional entry point to blog content.

In the last few weeks we've also started using DOPPLR to demonstrate how much on-site engagement we do around the country and to assist with coordination of travel with stakeholders. Although the incorporation of DOPPLR into our social media strategy is under evaluation, our goal is to let people more readily see when we will be in their region or city if they want to attend a system demonstration or training.

Yes it's hard work doing all this engagement - the easy option would be to lock ourselves up in a room for 12 months and just build the website. However that doesn't give the project team any satisfaction in our work or any assurance that we're going to deliver a solution our stakeholders will like or that people will want to use, in support of the policy and business objectives.

In summary, the project team cannot read our stakeholders' or users' minds. It is essential to the success of the project that we engage and consult broadly. Online social media has been a fundamental component of achieving this by closing the gap between the project team and the people we're delivering for.


  1. This is great news. It takes a fair amount of courage to actively engage with users, especially in an area where there is a rich diversity of views. Thanks for the update.

  2. Thanks for the post Craig,

    I think Nathaneal and his team are doing everything right in terms of openness, transparency and offering feedback for people to provide input.

    I'm curious about whether he has found many people commenting on the blog and/or following on Twitter? Have they actually been providing input through these channels?

    Are the Training crowd web2.0 savvy enough to engage this way?


  3. Hi Nige,

    I don't think you can really regard such an implementation as "social" unless there really is a social aspect present, and in our case yes there is definitely two-way communication happening through the blog and the Twitter channel. We get a few comments every day and it's starting to pick up as we continue to promote the blog. As for Twitter, it's generally push media with most interactions started by us tracking keywords and mentions of NTIS, etc and responding to those.


    Nathanael Boehm Project Team