Most appear to be unaware of the steps the Government has taken to integrate social media into business practices - mentioning the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and Declaration of Open Government provoke blank looks. Few have heard of the many civic tools and government initiatives that have taken place online - and even fewer appear to actually participate.
Some of these people are senior decision makers. Others provide advice and operational leadership in support of senior decision makers.
I find this a very disturbing situation for the public service and government in Australia. To me the largest and most damaging risk facing any activity is ignorance. When you don't know what you don't know there is rich ground for poor decisions, human error and missteps.
The situation provides opportunity for 'snake oil' salespeople - sometimes masquerading as well-paid consultants - to provide dangerous advice and poorly considered ideas about the use of social media which cannot be accurately assessed and considered where staff experience is lacking. These ideas have the potential to seriously damage reputations in the public service, agencies and governments.
Social media has been immensely popular in the community for at least five years and some government departments have supported internal collaboration through forums for at least twenty years.
Surely there has been enough time to expect more active learning by people who seek operational and strategic leadership roles.
There are a plethora of seminars on social media, volumes of information online and excellent case studies of Australian and international best practice.
Understanding where social media fits into the media mix for communication, engagement, collaboration and productivity improvements needs to stop being the preserve of a relatively few specialists and become a core capability, skill and toolset for many public servants.
Perhaps that is what is needed - to make an understanding of the strategic use of social media communications and engagement channels a core part of public service capabilities.
It certainly touches on a range of capabilities we already expect public servants in the Australian Public Service to master in the Integrated Leadership System. For example, at the EL2 level, looking at only the 'Shapes strategic thinking' capability, there are a multitude of ways in which social media enables and extends the ability of a public servant to perform their duties:
- Encourages others to provide input and comment on the strategic direction of the business unit.
(social media channels may be an effective means for supporting provision of this input)
- Communicates with others regarding the purpose of their work and the relationship between work unit objectives and organisational goals.
(social media channels may be an effective method of supporting this communication)
- Considers a wide range of issues and their implications for the business unit.
(to consider any issues presented by social media you must have a good understand of social media channels)
- Identifies critical information gaps and asks a range of questions to uncover valuable information.
(as a major channel for engagement and communication, public servants without a working understanding of social media have critical information gaps)
- Sources information on best practice approaches adopted in both the public and private sectors.
(there are many examples available of best practice social media use to address a wide range of business needs in both public and private industry)
- Scans the internal and external environment for new trends and recent developments that are likely to affect own business area.
(how can you effectively scan the environment today without monitoring social media channels and online peer groups)
- Gathers and investigates information and alternate viewpoints from a variety of sources through formal and informal means; explores new ideas with an open mind.
(social media leverages the capability to gather and investigate information and viewpoints - both formally and informally. The use of social media in any initiative must be considered with an open mind, based on best practice examples, rather than media spin)
- Draws accurate conclusions and presents logical arguments that address key issues.
(drawing accurate conclusions and presenting logical arguments involves understanding the underlying material. Public servants need a working understanding of social media in order to do this for initiatives which could be supported by its use)
- Explores various possibilities and generates innovative alternatives.
(social media is a key tool for exploration and the discovery and support of innovative alternatives)