Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why are many Australian government blogs failing?

I've just updated my list of Australian government blogs, checking the list I had is still valid, looking for others (frankly they're not that easy to find, you need to promote them and link to them from your sites guys) and checking the post frequency and level of comments.

My assessment is that Australian public sector organisations are backing away from blogging. Many are blogging less frequently. Some are shutting down their blogs altogether.

Compared to the growth of government blogs in the US, UK, parts of Asia and Europe, my conclusion, very reluctantly arrived at, is that many Australian government blogs are failing - with a few notable exceptions.

This really disappoints me. Blogging offers government a direct channel to citizens and stakeholders. It allows organisations to bypass traditional media gatekeepers, to present the fact, to dispel myths, to state their positions in their own words, humanise bureaucracies and directly source feedback and views from the community.

However I can understand why this might be the case.

In my experience there appears to be less support and greater barriers to blogging in Australian government than in some other western jurisdictions.

We don't have a Cabinet Director of Digital Engagement or a Memorandum from our executive Head of State that directs public sector organisations to engage online and holds senior management accountable when they don't.

There's a current culture of adversion to risk (as stated in the Ahead of the Game report) with very deep roots throughout the public sector. This leads to an unwillingness to say anything which might be considered the slightest bit controversial.

It is simply safer to not blog - there's no official kudos or reward for publishing.

What do we do to change this?

First we must directly confront the question of whether we need to change. Explain why using only the tools that worked in the 1980s simply doesn't cut it 30 years on.

We must skill, support and reward those who engage. Give them a more comprehensive framework of what is and isn't appropriate, how to moderate, how to handle dissenting views in a positive and productive manner.

We must ensure our managers remain willing to engage with appropriate risks, remaining frank and fearless, a culture that some have stated is no longer as evident in the public service. Our managers must be prepared, supported and equipped to engage with risk, not merely shut down engagement and hope to avoid it.

We must accept that often it creates greater risks when we don't engage than when we do. There have been many examples of how the lack of active engagement has increased the risks to government and the public sector.

Most of all we need to employ and empower motivated and skilled individuals - then get out of their way. Hire people with experience in online engagement and trust them to safeguard the interests of government, just as we hire experienced media people and trust them to speak to journalists.

We need to have these social media practitioners advise senior management on the right ways to engage on given issues and through which mediums and channels. To advise senior management of the demographics of social media - who uses it, how and why.

I am hopeful that Australia is just going through a short dip at the moment, that we'll see a reversal as more guidance is provided and the commitment of the public sector to digital engagement grows. After all, the public is not reducing its use of social media channels, it is newspapers and television channels seeing shrinking audiences as social media continues to grow.

However this dip might be elongated - negatively affecting government's ability to communicate - if we don't see a willingness to actively address the challenges and step beyond comfort zones.

7 comments:

  1. Craig
    Great post.
    Most sites (blogs, wikis) are not promoted and organizers wonder why they get no response. They desert initiatives when the site fails to attract adequate commentary.
    Sites need promotion (to targeted markets)in early stages (until some mass of members help drive the initiative).
    Take the local government information site developed by a friend (http://www.lgam.info/start). There are now 300 members and 1000s of useful pages of information due to diligent endeavours (hard work) and continued promotion, updating and listing interesting topics. Other site organizers could learn from this activity.
    There is also an initiative (that you are aware of) on OzLoop to drive the use of Web2.0 (social media tools) into Government. We need to take an initiative like this and focus its activities on a successful roll out (case study) for APS, then others might understand.
    Regards
    Keep Thinking Innovation

    ReplyDelete
  2. The greatest barrier to Gov2.0 is the Senior Executive accepting the challenges, despite the risks and possible increased chatter on topics they want not to address or discuss. I find the lack of interest is often offset by the insistence of asking 'younger' staff who must know everything about social media. These people might know how to chat on FB or Twitter or develop and maintain a generalist Blog, but do not have the common sense, based on experience, of what, when, how and why to communicate. Not all communication is good or necessary. Blogging is left to a small number who privately generate thoughts and wish to expose themselves to a wider audience than just work colleagues over coffee. And IT Security makes modifications to firewall security and browser security which at times makes proper social media engagement difficult when utilising company resources. A WofG approach is required instead of just asking each agency to develop and administer their own protocols.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article again on the reality of the Australian public service and the not so great understanding and use of web 2.0 technologies.

    This issue is definitely cultural and won't change unless the culture within many government departments changes as well. Changes will come but will take sometime to happen though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Govt Blogs fail for same reasons that Govt projects fail. Public Servants tend to avoid accountability like the plague. (Responsibility yes, Accountability no). And by accountability, I mean for ones own thoughts and opinions, as enhancements, refinements, or even challenges to "Official policy", because even if, no especially if, one is unable to articulate them, and defend them, then they aren't worth a pinch of poo... This goes from the obvious level of defending the "politics" of the govt in power (not that delivering a PS should ever have party political undertones) down to the standing by ones own convictions, and being prepared to accept and respond to criticism at an individual level.

    There is the "risk" of perceived dissent within the ranks, but equally, that should also indicate that there was true objective assessment (looking at both sides of an equation, rather than just quoting a mantra).

    That also goes to the mentality of "The bureacracy" itself - there is perception that "it shall be correct, it shall always be correct, and should never need to change or adapt". As a designer of "systems" I look to define sets of "Assessments" to justify design and implementation of "systems" - I use those same assessments as an ongoing check to determine if they remain "fit for purpose", or true to the original requirements. I see very little of that in Govt. ANd yet, in a lot of cases, this has been about dealing with "systems" that are now considered "legacy" and no-one can remember why they did what or why they did in the first place.

    I have sat in a room with 30-40 govt "enterprise architects" and tried to lead the conversation to the point where any one of the challenges the "rules by which they work". The inherent political correctness of the govt mean that even in a role where challenging the status quo is amost part of the job spec, people don't.

    You talk of better engagement when "more guidance is provided" - inspired and independent thought cannot be mandated, or legislated, it has to be there already and, yes, it goes against the existing culture.

    Whoops, in trying to post this, I have come across an arbitrary 4096 character comment restriction - that's like assuming one can engage a meaningful dialogue in "Tweets". Continued...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Govt Blogs fail for same reasons that Govt projects fail. Public Servants tend to avoid accountability like the plague. (Responsibility yes, Accountability no). And by accountability, I mean for ones own thoughts and opinions, as enhancements, refinements, or even challenges to "Official policy", because even if, no especially if, one is unable to articulate them, and defend them, then they aren't worth a pinch of poo... This goes from the obvious level of defending the "politics" of the govt in power (not that delivering a PS should ever have party political undertones) down to the standing by ones own convictions, and being prepared to accept and respond to criticism at an individual level.

    There is the "risk" of perceived dissent within the ranks, but equally, that should also indicate that there was true objective assessment (looking at both sides of an equation, rather than just quoting a mantra).

    That also goes to the mentality of "The bureacracy" itself - there is perception that "it shall be correct, it shall always be correct, and should never need to change or adapt". As a designer of "systems" I look to define sets of "Assessments" to justify design and implementation of "systems" - I use those same assessments as an ongoing check to determine if they remain "fit for purpose", or true to the original requirements. I see very little of that in Govt. ANd yet, in a lot of cases, this has been about dealing with "systems" that are now considered "legacy" and no-one can remember why they did what or why they did in the first place.

    I have sat in a room with 30-40 govt "enterprise architects" and tried to lead the conversation to the point where any one of the challenges the "rules by which they work". The inherent political correctness of the govt mean that even in a role where challenging the status quo is amost part of the job spec, people don't.

    You talk of better engagement when "more guidance is provided" - inspired and independent thought cannot be mandated, or legislated, it has to be there already and, yes, it goes against the existing culture.

    Whoops, in trying to post this, I have come across an arbitrary 4096 character comment restriction - that's like assuming one can engage a meaningful dialogue in "Tweets".

    ReplyDelete
  6. Continued...

    As I said, SM is a means to an end. I spoke with "G2.0" people recently, who bemoaned the fact that they would have to collate, and develop individual responses to 100s of tweets that had come in response. There is also a lack of understanding of the cybernetics of communication.

    When there is "feedback" - there is no contextual framework. There is no, "this is why this is important to me", or "I expect a response, acknowledgement, explanation or dialogue on this" - the medium does not "currently" led itself to establishing the framework of an engaged dialogue.

    What we are seeing there, is people that are struggling to keep there head around a finite amount of information. What we aren't seeing is strategies around using or seeing the volume, strength or diversity of feedback as a measurable entity over time to guage the success of the core business of "doing gov2.0". Taking a level of abstraction back away from the information. ( I have described this as a salesperson is geared to selling X to Y, a sales Manager is geared to increasing the sustained volume of sales of X, the marketing manager is geared to changing (improving) the rate of change of sales volume, and the CXO is looking at what external factors they can bring to bear, to facilitate changes in the rate of change (and whether it remains to "real goal) - they all head towards the same thing, just with different perceptions of the same problem. Getting the "Bureacracy" to accept that, will be one of the core challenges...

    Of course, the other related problem is that it would appear that parts of the public service see "Social Media" as an end, rather than just another tool, or a 'means to an end'. It's perceived to be a "box to tick", where "gov 2.0" is about having an RSS feed of your news page, couple with a twitter feed, whereas the true way "forward" is about moving content into RDF (semantic web) and moving web presences to more of a Web 2.0 framework, with Microformats and the like.

    Equally, some see the ability to be monitored and observed as a challenge to their ability. Perhaps this is rightly so (I am particularly reminded of, the recent comparision of PCHCR - personally controlled health care records. There is another $450M in funding for this, and around two more years (and much will happen within closed doors of NEHTA et al). Compare this with "Google Health", where some fairly smart people have been working on this for a while, or more importantly the US VA, who were given the "blue button" brief by Obama to allow ex service persons to download at the press of a "blue button" their own healthcare records. It took sixty days, and no extra money to implement, and now they are continueing the rollout to Medicaid recipients ) so about 50 Million americans have access to this already... Sometimes it's about listening to the "simpler solutions" or the "prior art". (There are issues around the security, privacy and validity of data, but that's another longer and more detailed discussion - one I actually explored around 15 years ago...)

    ReplyDelete
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