Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Only professional scientists can do science, only professional journalists can do journalism, only professional policy makers can create good policy - not anymore

I attended the Australian Science Communicator's new media forum last night, participating on the panel as a Gov 2.0 Advocate, along with a distinguished group of science communicators and academics.

One view expressed on the panel was that while scientists should communicate basic science to the public, the uninformed masses should not be involved in reviewing or doing science.

This reflects views heard in other professions over the last ten years - that bloggers should not do journalism or critique journalists and that the public should be kept at arms length in government policy development as they don't know enough to provide a valid contribution (explaining why some resist the use of consultations and policy co-design is rarely used across Australian governments).

This viewpoint by intelligent and highly skilled professionals is not, in my view, surprising. Anyone who has dedicated years of their life, slogging through universities degrees, post-graduate studies and climbing the job ladder knows they have earnt the right to do what they do. Anyone who hasn't put in those hard yards is often viewed with suspicion, even disdain.

This is partly a recognition that there's 'secret knowledge' and expertise required to undertake some of this work, however it can also be partially ego-driven - experts often define themselves by their expertise as it feeds their sense of value.

The changes in the last ten years have permitted many who don't have formal learning or specific career experience to learn about and contribute in fields such as science, journalism and policy creation. This can threaten some experts (who are often quite public about the divide between professional and citizen activities)

However for many others it presents opportunities to broaden their reach, tap into wider collective expertise and to build knowledge and understanding. This in turn can lead to greater influence and better outcomes - even greater funding or profits or positive social change. Greater understanding can also reduce the fear of 'otherness' and concerns and suspicions around elitism - which have dogged certain groups, such as scientists, in recent years.

Even more than this, people who are not acknowledged as experts often can provide a different view of challenges and different approaches to solving problems that sometimes experts, who can become locked into a particular professional worldview, or lack relevant broader experience, cannot see. This can lead to breakthroughs or new realizations.

Regardless of whether individuals support or oppose this trend of 'encroachment' of 'amateurs' into formerly elite fields, the trend is real - isn't it better to harness it rather than resist it?

After all history has demonstrated the fate of organisations and individuals who resisted social trends. They generally are not with us anymore, or exist in much diminished and niche forms.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stop talking about engagement and get on with it

Guest post by Steve Davies

Yesterday I spend a little time getting involved in the ACT Government Twitter Cabinet. The focus was on Canberra beyond 2013. Lots of ideas and views exchanged. Through sheer serendipity one of my views on life struck a note with our Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher. So the next Twitter Cabinet will involve school kids.

The idea has also been picked up and supported by a few other MLA's.

 Make sense strategically = building capability by the way. Which, in my view, is precisely what organisations should being doing internally.

 So why am I sharing this with you?

 What this practical and timely real world example illustrates that we really can just 'get on with engagement' - as opposed to talking about it. Effectively that is what the technology does. Let people get on with engaging. 

And there is no reason why that same approach can't apply just as much within organisations. Regardless of size.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

ACT government Virtual Community Cabinet on again today at 12.30pm - follow the liveblog

The ACT Government has scheduled its next Virtual Community Cabinet (VCC) meeting for 12.30 today.

This is the third VCC held by the ACT government and has the theme "The Canberra you want to live in past 2013".

I'm collecting the public discussion via the liveblog below (and by RSS) - which means you can also watch the discussion here. or watch and participate on Twitter, using the hashtag #actvcc.

Note you will require a Twitter account to participate and your comments are published publicly.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

This week's social media score - Public: 3 Organisations: 0

This has been an insightful week for organisations using, or considering using, social media with three successive events demonstrating how far power has shifted to the public and illustrating how Australians companies are struggling to engage effectively online.

First up was Qantas with its poorly timed "Qantas luxury" promotion. Qantas launched the Twitter competition by inviting the public to tweet their idea of travel luxury using the hashtag #qantasluxury.

However Qantas appears to not have recognized that the tens of thousands of negative comments levied against the organisation since their shutdown represented a deep seated frustration and disillusionment with the company. Even though Qantas had hired four additional staff focused on monitoring social media the week before.

Within minutes of Qantas's tweet announcing the competition the public hijacked the hashtag and turned it against the company, using it to vent their concerns and frustrations at the airline.

This was picked up by traditional media and covered widely, turning a small ($1,500 in prizes) competition into what was called a national PR disaster for Qantas.

Next was Nissan, whose online competition, managed through their Facebook page, went pear-shaped when the winner of the competition turned out to be good friends with one of Nissan's staff running their social media presence.

While the competition was totally above board, with the winner selected objectively by finding the most car graphics on websites, unfortunately the winner's friendship with the Nissan staff member made it appear otherwise.

Nissan themselves were very upfront about it - indicating that while they congratulated the winner they'd have preferred if he hadn't won, but he'd done so fair and square without breaching any competition terms.

In this situation Nissan's approach did a lot to mute the concern, however it demonstrated the issue of friendship networks. If you're a staff member operating social media channels for an organisation it is highly likely you have many friends online. So what do you tell when a new company competition launches? You let your friends know online so they can spread the word and increase the competition's reach. Entirely above board, however risking a backfire if your friends can gain advantage by being first into a competition.

Third, and most significant, has been the social media backlash against the Kyle and Jackie O show following the comments of Kyle Sandilands regarding the deputy editor of after her article about the reaction to Kyle and Jackie's TV special (which rated extremely poorly).

The backlash, much of it under the hashtag #vilekyle, has led to around a dozen companies deciding to withdraw their advertising from 2DayFM and sponsorship from the Kyle and Jackie O show - even the Federal government has now withdrawn all advertising from any show hosted by Kyle Sandilands.

Over 15,000 people have signed an online petition calling for advertisers to drop support for Sandilands and a number of people (myself included) have called for Southern Cross Austereo to let Sandilands go. Whether they will or not remains to be seen, however the loss of significant sponsors and advertisers will place significant pressure on the company to reconsider Sandiland's contract and on air presence.

All three examples above this week demonstrate different risks in social media.

Qantas failed to monitor and accurately assess the public view, selecting the wrong social media approach to attempt to rebuild its brand. Nissan made an easy misstep, selecting a competition mechanism that raised the risk of someone close to a staff member winning a prize, however by handling the situation in a proactive and robust way minimized the damage and emerged largely unscathed despite initial public concerns.

The Sandilands incident (which remains ongoing) demonstrates how public outrage can translate into the need for rapid organisational action, both through advertiser withdrawal and the attempts by Sandilands and Austereo to apologies for his behaviour (albeit fairly weak apologies that have not satisfied many online). In this case even though Sandiland's comments were made on radio, not on social media, the backlash occurred online and neither Kyle nor Jackie O, nor their employer Southern Cross Austereo, were prepared to engage with the public online response, whereas many of the sponsors and advertisers did, helping to minimize damage to their own brands.

None of these events impacted the government or public service - and in fact there's never been a significant social media disaster due to online engagement by public servants or agencies in Australia (I don't include media attacks on public servants such as by News Ltd on Greg Jericho) - however they all have lessons for government agencies to learn.

It is important to recognize that being absent or unresponsive online and in social media is no protection against public outrage (as the Sandilands incident shows), and failing to monitor online sentiment is a recipe for PR disaster (as Qantas demonstrated). However if organisations act with good faith, communicate and engage actively (as Nissan and several advertisers from the Sandilands issue did), they can minimize the impact of social media gaffes and build strong online relationships with their customers.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

In traditional organisations, innovation often appears to happens at the wrong end of a gun

When I think back over the most well known innovation successes over the last few years, and I am not specifically referring to the public sector, an aspect that springs out at me is how often these innovations occurred during a major crisis or due to a funding crunch.

In other words, these innovations frequently happened when organisations were placed at the wrong end of a gun.

It appears to me that often these innovations only occurred, or were allowed to see the light of day, because the pressure put on organisations by environmental or internal changes altered the perceived risk of innovating to be less than the perceived risk of not innovating - "the ship is sinking anyway, so we might as well try something different.

This raises several major concerns for me. Firstly that some organisations are incredibly resistant to innovation and can place themselves, or their management, into unviable situations by not beginning to innovate soon enough.

Secondly if the leadership of an organisation can see this conservative at work but wish to see innovation occur they may draw the conclusion that they need to place the organisation in significant distress - cutting budgets or hoping for (stimulating?) an external crisis that threatens its future viability.

This places enormous stress on individuals, with all kinds of negative consequences.

Isn't it better for organisations to proactively institutionalize innovation and change processes? Become capable and willing to change before a crisis occurs? To make innovation a key strategy for organisational adaptation rather than a last resort when system failures are already well underway?

This would involve changing the view of innovation to be an activity that is rewarded as a behaviour and activity, rather than being one that is punished, except at the organisation's "death's door".

A few organisations have successfully integrated innovation into their DNA as a core driver of their success. I hope more do so in the future and, at a larger scale, more societies as well.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pfft - who needs to understand social media to be a social media advisor

Over the last year I've observed a couple of good and bad trends in governments around Australia.

The first - the good trend - is towards the recognition that social media is a valid and significant channel for government communication and engagement. This has led to the creation of a new type of role, the 'social media advisor', separate to online communications functions (which primarily concern themselves with traditional website production and content management).

The creation of these social media roles recognises there is a difference in the skillsets needed to manage one or more static and internally owned websites, compared with curating and co-ordinating a range of fast-changing external and internal engagement channels.

However alongside this needed job specialisation is another disturbing trend which causes me significant concern.

A number of those being employed in these new social media advisor roles don't have the mix of skills required to hit the ground running. I've heard of people with little or no experience with professional use of social media being employed as social media advisors simply on the basis of their personal use of these channel and therefore presumed competence.

I don't blame the people who take on these jobs and then work hard to learn the skills they need, it is a great opportunity working in a leading edge field. However the approach raises issues for me as to whether those hiring social media advisors are as yet clear on the skills needed to perform the role - or are clear on what their organisations need to fulfil these roles most effectively.

While agencies are generally sincerely committed to the integration of social media into their engagement mix, there are few employment consultants who can help them quantify their needs, identify suitable candidates and assist them in hiring the most effective people for these jobs.

My concern is that agencies, despite the best of intentions, may end up taking more significant risks, may lose internal momentum or even face social media stumbles - as has been the case in the private sector when social media roles first began to appear.

So how do we as public servants help address potential skills gaps and the resulting risks?

I would recommend that agencies talk to each other, share their goals and discuss the skillsets they need for these roles, they should bring in appropriate interviewers to help screen applicants and begin developing a career path for social media practitioners - with roles for rookies and experienced people.

They should also directly and indirectly lobby employment agencies to upskill to understand their social media needs and build their ability to identify appropriately skilled people for social media roles.

Most of all, they should get their new social media staff across all the great work done in other agencies and in the private sector, across all the governance and advice now available and encourage them to network with their peers across government (including attending the various community events such as Gov 2.0 lunches and BarCamps).

Hopefully what I am seeing is simply part of the growth pains for social media as agencies integrate it into their DNA.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't forget to register for the Gov 2.0 lunch in Canberra on Friday

If you've not yet registered, there are still a few tickets left for the Gov 2.0 lunch in Canberra on Friday 25 November.

The event will feature a presentation from Dominic Campbell, a leading UK digital government specialist and social innovator with a background in government policy, communications and technology-led change. 

Learn more and register here.

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Should Australia's political parties have open government and Gov 2.0 policies? (NZ Labour does)

The New Zealand Labour Party have released an Open Government policy, proudly claiming it as first in New Zealand.

The policy focuses on transparency of political offices as the core principle, but also commits the party to producing a comprehensive "Open Government Charter‟, based on a set of principles developed by NZ Labour MPs in consultation with members of the public.

NZ Labour's policy includes provisions for Cabinet papers and other documents to be publicly available once decisions are made without people having to request them through the Official Information Act. Their policy also states that a Labour government would initiate a review of the Standing Orders and look at how to ensure better public input into the legislative process, including through the use of new technologies.
In particular NZ Labour's policy states that,
  • Online engagement by public servants should be enabled and encouraged. Robust professional engagement with the public benefits government agencies, public servants’ own professional development, and the New Zealand public. 
  • Public servants should be able to use social media in their professional role, and the government should provide protection and guidance/advice around how to do so effectively.
And that a Labour government would,
  • Explore ways to expand the use that government makes of the Internet in engaging the public to feed into policy discussion and government direction.
  • Develop a trial of online voting in local government and general elections.
  • Publish the Hansard in a standard, open, parsable, format, so that it can easily be re-used and republished by anybody for any purpose

Interestingly, while there's been Government commitments to open government and Gov 2.0 across Australia, I was unable to locate an explicit Open Government/Gov 2.0 policy on Australian Labor, LiberalGreens or Nationals websites, although to be fair there are scattered mentions of supporting public engagement in governance and of strengthening FOI laws.

I wonder, should Australian political parties have explicit policies for Open Government and Government 2.0 with commitments to the use of online media and support for online engagement by public servants?

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Brisbane City Council launches open data datastore

Brisbane City Council has released an open data public sector information datastore, allowing the community to access and reuse a range of council data under Creative Commons licensing.

While not the first council in Australia to do this (with Mosman City Council leading the pack), Brisbane is the first large metropolitan council in Australia to do so to my knowledge, joining a range of cities across North America and Europe.

Brisbane has launched the datastore with the Hack:Brisbane competition and is hosting an upcoming Hackfest next Saturday to stimulate usage of their information.

Hopefully other major cities across Australia will look at what Brisbane is doing and consider its value in their own jurisdictions.

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