Sunday, December 25, 2011

I'm dreaming of a Gov2 Christmas

While not normally a fan of Christmas, I was feeling festive today, so have translated several traditional Christmas songs into their Gov 2.0 equivalents.

If you have a Gov 2.0 song in your heart, fell free to share it in the comments below!

Jingle bells
Dashing through the net
In a collaborative open sleigh
O'er the barriers we go
Laughing all the way
Agencies on social media sing
Sharing data bright
What fun it is to engage and sing
A Gov20 song tonight

Oh, Gov20, Gov20
Gov2 all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a collaborative open sleigh
Gov20, Gov20
Gov2 all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a collaborative open sleigh, HEY

I'm dreaming of a Gov20 Christmas
I'm dreaming of a Gov20 Christmas 
As agencies share so citizens know
Where the data catalogs glisten, 
and agencies listen 
To hear citizens discussing as they grow

I'm dreaming of a Gov20 Christmas 
With every blog post executives write 
May your governments be open and bright 
Sharing all your Christmases as a right

Gov20, Gov20, Gov20 rock
Gov20, Gov20, Gov20 rock
Gov20 swing and Gov20 ring
Listening and sharing up a data tonne
Now the Gov20 revolution has begun

Gov20, Gov20, Gov20 rock
Gov20 chime in Gov20 time
Innovating in Gov20 Town Square
In the free and open air.

What a bright time, it's the right time
To share the night away

Gov20 time is a swell time
To go collaborating in a open way
Giddy-up Gov20 horse, pick up your feet
Gov2 around the clock

Mash and a-mingle in the jingling data
That's the Gov20,
That's the way to go,
That's the Gov 2.0 rock

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Is inappropriate social media use really an issue for government?

With some of the concerns and processes I've witnessed in government it would be easy to draw the conclusion that hundreds or even thousands of public servants are using social media daily in ways that damage the reputations of their departments and the government.

Fortunately, a couple of articles I saw yesterday have given me a place to start to look at the realised level of risk of inappropriate social media use by trained and well-governed public servants.

The Australian reported Public servants' pay docked over Facebook comments and SmartCompany followed up with Bureaucrats disciplined over work-related comments on Facebook made on home computers.

Both articles referred to information from the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (DHS). Over the 2010-2011 year four DHS employees had been investigated and found to have made inappropriate use of social media (well, one case referred to private email use, but let's let that one go).

I was intrigued by these articles as, to my knowledge, they represent the first time that inappropriate social media use by public servants at a Commonwealth level has been reported in the media.

To quote the Smart Company article,

The Department of Human Services says there were four code of conduct cases involving the inappropriate use of social media in 2010-11 - three related to work-related comments posted on Facebook from the individuals’ private computers. 
The other case was about material sent from the employee’s private email account.
“The incidents all involved work-related misconduct that contravened their Australian Public Service obligations,” the department said.
According to The Australian, one worker had had their job classification cut, the second was given a 5% pay cut over 12 months, and the third was reprimanded.
The fourth employee no longer works for the department.
I am very glad to see that this inappropriate conduct was managed effectively using existing business policies in government - noting that the DHS has made great steps forward in the social media space, establishing a social media policy and working to ensure staff are aware of it and how it aligns with the APS Code of Conduct.

I am not quite sure what the staff concerned did, this wasn't explained, however as there's been no major media blow-outs from the actual incidents, I'm going to assume that the transgressions were relatively minor - bullying, inappropriate language about work colleagues or similar breach activities, rather than leaks of Cabinet-In-Confidence documents, naked photos of colleagues released online or similar major public indiscretions.

Given we now have a public incident at Commonwealth level, I decided to use it to do some evidence-based analysis on the actual risk of inappropriate use of social media to agencies.

Let's start from the top.

It has been reported that DHS had four employees go through a formal code of conduct investigation based on their personal social media activities in 2010-2010 (and again we're letting go that one of these four was actually related to email use - not social media).

Now I happened to have been able to find out from IT News that the DHS conducted 197 formal code of conduct investigations in 2010-11. These four social media-related investigations accounted for 2% of these investigations by the DHS in that year.

Broadening this out, DHS has about 37,000 employees, so the four employees who were investigated equals 0.0108% of their staff. Note that's not 1% of staff, that's one-hundredth of one percent.

In Australia around 59% of people use social media personally in some form (62% of internet users, with internet users being 95% of the population). Let's be conservative and estimate that only 40% of DHS staff use social media personally - well below the average for all Australians.

On this basis there are about 14,800 DHS staff members using social media personally. Of these, four were reported to be using it inappropriately and investigated. That's 0.027% of the staff at DHS using social media personally. Again, that's not 2.7%, it's 27 thousandths of one percent.

So  27 thousandths of one percent of DHS staff estimated to be using social media personally during 2010-11 were investigated for code of conduct breaches.

That's not many, but let's go deeper...

Nielsen has reported that Australians are the most prolific users of social media out of all the countries they measure. We spend, on average, 7 hours and 17 minutes using social media each month.

Let's assume, again, that DHS staff are below average for Australians, that those DHS staff using social media are only spending 5 hours using it each month. On this basis, with an estimated 14,800 DHS staff using social media, their personal use for 2010-2011 would be 888,000 hours (37,000 days or just over 101 year of continuous use).

In those 888,000 hours there were four reported code of conduct investigations - that's 0.00045% of the time spent online through the entire 2010-11 year, assuming they each were an hour in duration.

If you assume DHS staff are average Australians, the percentages shrink dramatically further.

To sum up, the information from the DHS suggests that the risk of social media misuse by public servants is extremely low.

There were no indications of significant impact due to the four incidents, therefore I assume that the consequences were minor.

So on the basis of an extremely low risk and minor consequences, the risk of social media to a government Department (such as DHS) is negligible - and easily mitigated through appropriate management procedures (a policy, guidance and education).

So for any agencies still hanging back from social media, consider the evidence, the mitigations you can put in place, the potential benefits of engagement AND the risks of not using social media (reduced capability to monitor key stakeholders/audience views, inability to engage citizens in the places they are gathering, no ability to counter incorrect information or perceptions and so on).

You might find that your current strategy of non-engagement is far more risky.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

50 million reasons to engage in Gov 2.0 co-creation and collaboration

Rose Holley is one of my heroes.

As a Digital Librarian at the National Library of Australia she has led one of the most effective, long-lived and under-rated Government 2.0 initiatives in Australia for the last four years.

As one of those responsible for the digitalization of Australia's newspaper archives (so far over 50 million articles), the online system she helped create has now seen 50 million lines of newspapers corrected by the public. That's over one million lines per month and a crowd sourcing effort proportionate for Australia (over the timeframe) as Wikipedia is for the world.

This project has run on a shoestring, with little promotion and no advertising. It works because it empowers people to contribute to the public good while also satisfying their personal needs. It trusts people to do the right thing, via a supportive context and light governance.

Sure these are just corrections of digitalized newspapers - where the automated digitalization process has failed to accurately read and transcribe letters and words. However it is also a collective record of Australian history, of families, of culture and of our development as a nation.

Given that the National Library's efforts have seen over 10,000 people per day updating newspaper records, with the most prolific person having corrected over one million lines - only two percent of the total - and negligible incidents of malicious sabotage - this is crowd sourcing at its best, right here in Australia.

The process used could be replicated for other archives of Australian public records - the National Archives, Parliament and every agency with a stock of paper files that have been approved for public release, but are too expensive for governments to transcribe.

Perhaps we need a central set of tools that agencies can use, perhaps a central site where agencies can load their scanned public documents. Either way, this is an opportunity begging to be exploited, a chance to do good for the country at little cost to government.

I hope it will not be ignored.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A time to reflect and review

A change in seasons, change in circumstances and change in structures is always a good time to reflect on situations and review the current state.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting and reviewing following my honeymoon and, looking around at some of the other long-time Government 2.0 supporters in Australia, it appear others have as well.

There's been some excellent signs that social media use is starting to be recognized as a mainstream phenomenon in Australia - from the APSC's normalisation of social media in the Code of Conduct, the establishment of more Gov 2.0/Social Media in Government groups in states, the initiatives at all levels of government (when Census and the police use social media you know things are changing!), the growth of Govspace and data sites, growing skill levels in a number of agencies and the expanding bubble of government social media events from conference organizers (guys, time to refine your forums).

At the same time there's still some resistance, poor understanding and mixed leadership on the use of digital channels to improve government performance. Apart from a few long-term skeptics this is now mostly due to competing priorities, resourcing and low familiarity with how social media can be used within government guidelines with appropriate risk mitigation strategies in place. Though I must admit that I have not seen an agency choosing to not use social media develop a mitigation strategy around the risks they are taking by not engaging online.

Many agencies still block their staff from monitoring forums and blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube channels where their key stakeholders are actively engaging. This cuts them off from an essential source of policy and service delivery intelligence - although the incresing prevalence of personal devices means people can remain connected and effective. Ironically the rise of smartphones, tablets and micro-laptops has also called into question those who still claim that workplace access to social media should be technically blocked to reduce time-wasting. Sorry guys, the world has moved on. If you believe your staff would waste time on social media use management techniques, not technical blocks, to manage these potential performance issues.

While there has been increasing willingness to use digital channels for consultations, collaboration and co-creation, the expertise base across Australia is still lacking. There's little in the way of effective formal education for would-be 'Social Media Advisors' or best practice techniques for online engagement. We've seen individual best practice examples, but limited codification of the underlying techniques and processes, the practitioners' toolkit if you will, necessary to systemise success.

While there's still much to be learnt, debated, trialed and implemented as business as usual in the government social media space, there's also now more hands available within public services with the interest, passion and skills to push things along. Government 2.0 has edged closer and closer to business as usual and is likely to get there at some point in the next year.

That has made me deeply consider my own involvement in the space.

Note I don't have any intention of stepping back from advocating and supporting Government 2.0 approaches. In my view these approaches are the basis for how a 21st century government needs to operate to be effective, woven deeply into most core activities for all agencies.

However for a long time i have felt that the value I've added to the space has been much greater through my 'non-curricular' activities than through my actual jobs in the public service. I feel I add more public value through sharing knowledge, providing mentoring and advice, training others and supporting people across government to understand and consider Government 2.0 techniques, help them design, debate and implement appropriate frameworks in their agencies and provide advice and support in implementing and normalizing activities, than in my day job.

On that basis I have realised that I am at the stage where I can add more lasting public value working from outside government agencies than from within one at a time.

As a result I have decided that in 2012 I will be leaving the Australian Public Service - but not leaving public service. I will be exploring options to add more and greater value from 'over the wall' back in the commercial sector, where I have spent over three-quarters of my career.

I have met many good people in the public service, as well as a few of the other kind, and I'd like to thank all of you for what you have taught me during the five years I have spent 'inside'.

I hope that I have also managed to share some of my own experience and knowledge with you.

I haven't actually resigned from the APS yet, there's some loose ends to tie up in the new year. Also I intend to keep writing this blog - I believe there is still a need for something like it in Australia - and will remain active in the Gov 2.0 community, hopefully more consistently active than I have been able to be.

So this isn't goodbye, it is simply a new kind of hello.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reporting news is no path to sustainable journalism, controlling the message is no path to successful governance

Below is a copy of a comment I have posted to the ABC The Drum in response to an Alan Kohler article, Big media inquiry, little industry change.

I thought I'd repeat it here as it covers some of the changing landscape that government communicators are facing. I recommend reading Kohler's article (or at least his initial premise) first.

Note that the implications, of a society that can report news as it happens, where it happens, significantly alter government's ability to control news distribution. Essentially governments can no longer rely on controlling the creation or distribution of news, about themselves, about their programs and initiatives, about public events or about disasters. We need to evolve new models for influence and curation, to become the 'central point of truth' if not the single point.

Anyway, my comment is below (with a few tweaks for poor iPad keyboarding):

Alan, I value your views (and not because you are paid to give them), however in this area you've based your argument on a false first premise - that news reporting has intrinsic value.

The basics of news reporting, collecting facts, arranging them into a story and distributing this story publicly, existed long before any form of professional and paid news 'caste'. The process, like story telling, is a skill that many people have.

With the means of news collection and public distribution now so close to costing zero as to make no difference - a phone with a camera, a keyboard and an Internet connection, news is essentially free. More than 2 billion people (add another billion when including mobile devices) have the tools to collect and report news, as it happens, wherever it happens - with global distribution.

As people now spend a majority of their lives within a metre of their connective devices, there is no longer the need to pay journalists to ride or drive around cities and countries to collect news, transport it back to a central location to transcribe and then distribute it through chains of distributors.

The value paid professional journalists can add to news is in expert analysis. This requires three additional skills to news reporting that are rarer and more expensive to procure - curation, expertise (in analysis and distilation of themes) and communication skills.

These skills have, and will continue to have value.

Unfortunately they are skills that most paid journalists, who are often trained in communication, PR or journalistic skills, lack. They do not have the indepth subject knowledge or ability to quickly determine facts from factoids - though they often have the communication skills (they sure write pretty!)

For journalist to survive as a guild, rather than as an activity, unlike reading and writing (scribes) or adding up (computers - which was a human job title until the 1950s), it must change the basis of the people it attracts and promotes through the profession.

Journalists must either sink into the depths of entertainment (those who write pretty, but offer no insights into world events) or rise into the world of expertise (with an ability to offer solid insights and analysis of events, using their expertise and curation skills).

Simply reporting news by chasing eye-witnesses, copying social media comments and photos or representing corporate and government media releases, is no path to sustainable earnings in journalism.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Social Media in Government - Day 2

I'm attending the full second day of the Social Media in Government conference, however will not be liveblogging until after morning tea as the first two presentations, on The Line (FaHCSIA) and the Don't Turn a Night Out into a Nightmare campaign (Health and Ageing), both represent areas which I've blogged about before.

I am, however, catching Tweets as they occur.

Below is my liveblog for the rest of the day...

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reflection on Tenille Bentley's presentation from Day 1 of Social Media in Government

Tenille Bentley, founder of Socialite Media is now presenting on trends in engagement by people.

She says that the amount spent by state government on online engagement vastly under-rates the proportion of people's media time spent online (around 41%).

Tenille is illustrating the falling reach of newspapers and as their circulations decline, how their ad rates are going up, asking why?

Se says that social media presents an opportunity for government to re-engage with the community and target specific audiences, as a large proportion of the community is adopting social media, whether government likes it or not.

Tenille says that social media management is a skillset in its own right and believes a social media presence requires 100% focus to manage effectively.

She says she understands how overwhelming social media can be, particularly with the range of channels, and recommends keeping an eye on the top four channels - Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

Tenille says that each channel reaches a separate audience and is used in a different way.

  • Twitter - BBQ conversation, Very Powerful (about 1.2M Australian users - keep an eye on Tweetups)
  • LinkedIn - Business Conversation, Speed Networking (2.2M Australian users - business focus)
  • Facebook - Smart Casual Conversation, 80/20 rule, Business Page (10.5+ Australian users)
  • YouTube - Information, Entertainment
Tenille says it is important to look at how consumer behaviour has changed. For example, 20 years ago few people cared about organic eggs, now people want to know where their eggs come from and how chickens are treated. Consumers have changed - they want to see what goes on behind the scenes, why they should be associated with you, before becoming brand loyalty.

The circle of trust is critical - Talk -> See -> Like -> Trust -> Try -> Talk - Tenille says that just as we engage in small talk to size up people in a meeting before engaging and trusting, consumers (citizens) need to engage with organisations in conversations before they trust them.

She says the first thing organisations need to do is to be seen on social media channels, as people are already talking about you. If you are not seen you are doing damage to your brand and reputation.

Tenille says that next you must be engaging actively - don't simply link your accounts together and send information blindly (like linking media releases to Twitter, Twitter to Facebook, etc). Consumers look at your social media presence and assess whether it is in their language and then whether you are really engaging in conversation.

She says that a social media channel with no conversation is unhealthy, and consumers will see this and judge you accordingly.

Tenille says that once you have built trust through engagement, people will either try (your product or service) or talk about you (online and offline) - this is where ROI comes in, which can be very hard to effectively measure, but can be seen in the actions of the community.

Tenille says that people only go to organisational websites when they want to learn more about an organisation. For an organisation to proactively get information to the community it needs to create connections, engaging with consumers through channels such as social media and she says that if you position yourself as a thought leader in your industry people will start coming to you for advice.

Tenille says that the web has gone past the point of being optional for organisations. If you don't have a website, people won't trust your organisation is credible. The trend is towards social media going the same way - people look for whether organisations are engaging actively with their customers. Very soon an organisation without an active social media presence will not be seen as credible.

Temille says that people spend 7.8 hours per week on social media and fanning two of their favourite brands per week. Neilsen reports that 73% of online Australians prefer to engage with their favourite products, brands and services through social media. She says the 'smoko' has been replaced by the 'socialo'.

She says she often gets asked about the return on investment for social media - she asks them, what is the return on ignoring?

Tenille illustrates her point with a case study on Dominos - who had a negative video appear on YouTube and responded with a media release and traditional media engagement, however sales kept falling. Finally they convinced their CEO to create a video that went on YouTube - moral: don't rely on traditional media to address an issue discussed via social media. Respond in a like way.

Next Tenille is using QPS Media's use of social media during the Queensland floods as an example of how government can use social media, becoming a trusted information source, build engagement and address issues quickly - countering misinformation and also feeding traditional media. She says it also improves situational awareness.

Tenille has also showed examples of Barack Obama's campaign use of social media and how NSW Police has used social media for recruitment and community engagement. She says that focus groups from NSW Police have indicated that people trust information coming direct from the police more than they trust the media. She says that the NSW Police Superintendent has said that social media allows police to highlight the good work they do in the community.

She's now talking about the Best Job in the World campaign by QLD Tourism and how much attention it drove on a relative small budget ($1.2 milion) - receiving over 8.4 million unique visitors, 36,000 video applications, over $400 million in media value and estimated to have reached over 3 billion people.

Tenille is now running through how to use the top four.

She recommends that for Facebook that organisations design a professional landing page and post in a measured way. She says 44% of people unlike a Facebook page because it is updated too frequently. Tenille says they update the Socialite Media Facebook page twice per day, LinkedIn once per day, Twitter 5-15 times, plus conversation management.

For Twitter Tenille says it can be used for sending short messages to a bunch of people publicly, to a specific person publicly or to a specific person privately. As it is short you don't get to ramble.

She says Twitter can be used to monitor your brand and monitor and share industry/topic news, generate leads, promote events, drive traffic to a website.

Tenille says that LinkedIn has a solid corporate profile, with an average user age over 40, income of US$100,000 and professional background. LinkedIn receives 1.2 million comments and posts to groups each week and there's 2 billion people searches each year. Business pages now allow comments, providing greater utility.

She says that many recruitment agencies use LinkedIn as their first port of call for finding staff.

YouTube is good for education and campaign releases and Tenille says it can be integrated into other channels, as a medium where "a picture paints a thousand words". She says ensure that you upload clips, that you post both professional and 'candid' (less professional) videos - which humanise organisations. She recommends linking to clips that support your message.

Tenille says that organisations need to tell people about their social media channels and, not link them together but ensure there are clear paths between their channels.

She says that organisations should define their social media goal, strategy and 'angle' - including assessing their risks, putting them into scope with what social media represents (not overstating risks that aren't really risks applicable to social media).

Tenille recommends that oganisations listen first and be responsive to audience needs, that social media is used consistently and effectively - quality, not quantity.

She says it takes about 80 hours to develop a full social media strategy, pre-planning and approvals take around 75 hours.

Tenille reckons it requires 26% of people's working week to manage social media.

Tenille says that she focuses on education first, to ensure organisations understand whether social media suits them.

I'm now off to the office for the day - will blog more of the event tomorrow.

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Reflection on Mia's Facebook presentation from Day 1 of Social Media in Government

I'm only here for a few presentations today at Informa's Social Media in Government conference, so are blogging rather than liveblogging the presentations.

First up this morning is Mia Garlick, now at Facebook and previously with experience in Commonwealth Government and with Google.

She's talking about using Facebook in government.

Mia has started by talking about how Facebook is a social graph for for connections between people & between people & organisations.

She says that researchers recently tested the six-degrees of separation

Mia says there are 800 million users globally of Facebook - counting users as those who check into Facebook at least once per month. Over 10 million Australians are in that group and over 50% of these users (globally and in Australia) access Facebook daily.

Mia says that Facebook has several valuable uses for government including for identity, engagement and advertising.

Identity refers to representing agencies online. Mia says the best approach is to create a page. She says that the page mechanism includes an option for government organisations via the Corporate and Organisation option.

Mia says it is important to understand the difference between a profile and a page - profiles are for persons, pages are for organisations. Profiles are multidimensional, when people friend each others' profiles they see each other's information.

Pages are unidimensional, when people fan a page the page owners don't get to see the fan's details.

Mia says it is important to curate pages. She says that Page administrators cannot turn off comments as Facebook is about engaging in social behaviours, not avoiding them. However people can create blacklists of words and profanity filters to manage comments and develop a policy and terms of use for the page. Mia says that administrators can also mark comments as spam or abusive.

She also says it is important to get senior executives across what is acceptable commenting. She says she has had senior government officials contact her asking for pages to be taken down as someone commented that "the government was stupid". She essentially said - let it go, people say this kind of stuff from time to time, does it really hurt you or reflect on them?

Due to the nature of Facebook, people don't often see your page - they see snippets of content in their newsfeed. Mia says it is important to ensure these snippets are interesting and engaging to make a Facebook page effective.

Mia says that the number three thing talked about in Australia on Facebook for 2011 was "Census" and number six was Victorian floods" (in their "memeology" list) - showing that government cannot ignore the channel as people are using it to discuss topics and issues that government is deeply invovled with.

She's now talking about South Australia's Strategic Plan and how they used Facebook to support engagement and feedback.

She says that while in government we are used to writing a large report and releasing it in a consultation with a list of questions, many people don't engage well or respond in this approach as it is overwhelming and they have limited time. The South Australian government broke the Strategic Plan into bitesize chunks they wanted feedback on and released them individually for people to respond to. Mia says this was very effective for South Australia, with over 1,300 comments received for one particular chunk and over 500,000 citizens reached via Facebook, with 10,000 participating.

Mia says that the South Australian government recognised that they engaged a new group through Facebook that they could not reach through traditional engagement mechanisms.

She's also given an example of Facebook advertising in Canada and how it can target specific demographics or geographic locations quite effectively.

Finally, Mia is highlighting the Facebook 'Coming together' page on peace which provides a view of how people are connecting and engaging across wars.

Mia also says that around 80% of Facebook users are using privacy setting in Facebook, which helps to create a separate between work and personal identities.

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How should public servants report online volunteer work?

Last week the Department of Human Services changed its policy regarding staff who participated in volunteer activities - unpaid work undertaken on their own time.

The Department decided that, in order to protect against potential conflicts of interest, public servants had to report their volunteer activities to their Manager and seek approval to do it. Approval would last a year, after which time the employee would have to go back to their manager and ask again.

The story was covered lightly in a few news sources, including the Sydney Morning Herald in the article, Public servants told to seek approval to volunteer.

Putting aside the discussion over whether a public sector employer should exercise this level of oversight and control over the personal lives of their staff (a conversation for a different forum to my blog), I am concerned about how well this policy might work in the face of online volunteerism.

I haven't read the policy myself, however I wonder about the treatment of online volunteer activities, such as moderating an online forum or Facebook page for a volunteer group, building a website to support people in an emergency, curating Twitter conversations, managing an online chatline, curating pages in a wiki, correcting text in digitalized newspapers, adding records to genealogical databases, tagging photos for a museum, checking wavelengths to detect exoplanets, or establishing donation tools and encouraging friends to donate their own time and money.

These activities might be ongoing, or taken at extremely short notice - such as during an emergency. Often there may not be time to brief managers and seek approval. People would face the choice of either not volunteering (a net loss to the community) or volunteering their time and services and defying the policy.

I can personally think of five different volunteer activities I have undertaken online - just since returning from my honeymoon last month. Over a full year I might be involved in 30 or more separate online volunteer activities.

Real-world activities, such as manning a soup kitchen, painting a community centre or caring for old people may be easy to observe, quantify and classify as unpaid volunteer activity, however I am very unsure about how any agency policy might effectively cover the growing range of unpaid online volunteer activities in which people are now able to engage.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Collective protests highlight a 21st Century crisis for traditional government

What do the the Arab Spring, Anonymous, the Occupy movement, Iranian election protests, Anti-Putin protests, the #VileKyle push and the #Qantasluxury incident all have in common?

Each of them was a demonstration of collective action by groups of people without a clear hierarchy of leadership against traditional hierarchical organisations.

In each case the traditional organisations threatened found it difficult to respond in an effective and proportionate manner, with responses often slow and creating greater hostility to the organisations involved.

The traditional organisations around today draw from the US railway corporations of the 18th and 19th century, which were some of the first commercial organisations to develop a 'modern' management model involving strict hierarchical structures and the division of resources into specific responsibilities to be managed (siloing if you prefer).

These organisations, which any manager today would clearly recognize, were designed to coordinate the information, resources and effort required to deliver enormous infrastructure projects - continent spanning railway networks.

Given the modes of communication and management available at the time, with most information moving at the speed of a horse and most previous organisations limited in size to a few locations, family-based ties and people who could turn their hands to any of a more limited set of skill, the railway corporations were an innovative and effective tool for delivering the outcomes desired. They coordinated the efforts of tens of thousands of workers, hundreds of experts, and led to some of the first large companies that a modern observer would recognize.

Two hundred years on, most organisations still use very similar methods of organising resources - hierarchical constructs with coordinators at the top, managers in the middle, worker bees at the bottom and an assortment of specialists and experts who slot in their skills as required, with appropriate compensation.

Governments were particularly enthusiastic adopters of hierarchical models due to their massive scale and increasing responsibilities. They rapidly organised their machinery to take advantage of divisions of responsibility and labour.

As more and more non-family organisations began arranging themselves into the hierarchical model, governments and corporations began to discover it was easier and more efficient for them, with their strict structures, to engage similar organisations. Corporations created trade 'treaties' or merged their resources into even larger management constructs, governments created legislation that could more effectively regulate trade through dealing with significant corporations and redeveloped its own internal procurement processes to favour hierarchical suppliers.

These steps, together with the fact that hierarchies were a more efficient organisation model for the time, led to our modern society, where the hierarchical model of resource management is dominant, well-understood and still considered the most efficient and effective way of arranging resources. After all, most other models would no longer suit our state and national legal systems or our international trade relationships and ownership structures.

This approach to hierarchy has become a self-fulfilling and propagating approach. The legal and economic environment of today, or at least up to very recently, put strictures on non-hierarchical organisations, limiting their size and complexity. This, in turn, ensured that the main hierarchies, governments and large companies, could compete and cooperate in a congenial environment.

These hierarchies had clear leadership structures - a President, Prime Minister or General Secretary, a Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director or Chairman - and they interacted with each other through clearly defined 'channels' of communication. Level to level, officer to officer. This made it easy for deals to be made between them. CEOs met Prime Ministers, Presidents met General Secretaries and the minions met their counterparts to do deals all the way down.

However with the rise of the Internet the environment has changed. Suddenly information can be distributed rapidly, frictionlessly and with great accuracy. Organisations can coordinate resources and manpower without enormous corporate hierarchies and infrastructure. Small teams can create global products, overturning the business models of large corporations and entire global industries.

Strict hierarchies are no longer clearly the best form of organizational structure, no longer clearly the most efficient or effective approach to marshaling resources or coordinating human activity.

This is posing an enormous global challenge for what are now traditional organisations. When customers are no longer limited to geographic competitors, when small and nimble organisations can adopt novel non-hierarchical structures to better marshal resources from any timezone, the dinosaurs begin to stumble.

However commercial 'entities' (traditional hierarchical structures) are not the only ones affected. Governments are also under enormous stress, with their strict hierarchies struggling to develop the systems and approaches needed to rapidly, proportionately and effectively engage, service or contend with non-hierarchical groups challenging their policies, structures and legitimacy.

With traditional lobbyists and companies it was easy for governments to engage. There were clear hierarchies for both state and non-state players and effective protocols could be put in place for meetings at level, systems for complaints, reviews and agreements. However when faced with a collective movement, fueled by a common feeling of rage, disempowerment, hope or other emotion and coordinated and concentrated effectively through online tools into outpourings of dissatisfaction, authoritarian, communist and democratic governments alike have failed to effectively engage or respond in a proportionate or effective way.

Whether a mayor seeks to meet the local leader of the Occupy their town movement (or just calls them a leaderless rabble) or a Prime Minister seeks to meet the national leader of their civil uprising (or just calls it an unsupported riot led by drug dealers and foreign terrorists), the pattern is the same.

The hierarchical government fails to effectively engage as they cannot identify a structure they recognize, another hierarchy. They apply tolerance, then security constraint and then force and they then lose or face diminished legitimacy.

In some cases the loss of legitimacy causes their fall and the fall of their government structure. In other cases the organisation continues liming along, but begins to slowly fade, waiting for the next encounter and the next, until it finally fails as a state or manages to adapt itself to cope with the changed conditions.

The question that remains open, in our hierarchy dominated world, is what will this adaptation look like. Governments remain an important tool for coordinating national and international relationships, resources and activities. They reinforce each other, no populated area of the globe can survive in today's hierarchical world with no government, although many different flavours are 'allowed' to exist.

How will government hierarchies adapt to collective activity - cations by leaderless, hierarchy free, adaptive groups with superb intelligence sharing and resource-coordination capabilities? Will they force movements to nominate n'leaders or 'representatives' who speak for their movements and can make binding deals? Or will governments find methods to adapt themselves to engage and, where necessary, fight and win, against 'faceless' foes and frenemies?

The jury is still out on this verdict and the evidence is still being presented. However thus far governments in most parts of the world have failed to develop effective, nonviolent approaches to contend with amorphous, leaderless collective movements.

While the internet exists in its current form, an international system for frictionless information sharing, coordination and amplification, governments will have to continue to work hard to adapt themselves, or change the rules, to contend with continuing leaderless protests and movements.

It will be a fascinating - and bloody - war between traditional hierarchies and amorphous, adaptive 'organisations'. However the policies and approaches used to engage, and the method of resolution of this war, will shape the next stages for human societies for many years to come.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Building a learning culture

Continuous learning is a way of life for me, I can't recall spending a day where I didn't attempt to broaden my knowledge or understanding on a topic I'm interested in - and I have broad interests.

Coming from a background of working in, and operating, small and medium businesses, the ability to continually learn is a tremendous advantage - even a necessity. You simply don't know what you might have to turn your hand to next. So the more you know about every area of the business and the more general knowledge and experience you have you more ready you are to deal with challenges effectively and rapidly when they occur.

I've noticed that many people I come into contact in the public sector with seem to take a different view of learning, the "on demand' model, where they'll only seek out information at the point of making a decision.

I think this is partially a product of a large organisational culture, where individuals can afford to specialise in a particular narrow discipline. It is also influenced by strong hierarchical structures and siloing, and by the way the public service rewards effective work.

Ultimately though, I believe it is more a product of how individuals have been shaped by their own personal educational journey and experiences. Cultures attract those attuned to those cultures - they can influence how people operate over time, but it takes a long time for a culture to change a person's learning style and behaviour.

So why bring up learning styles at all?

Because something that worries me, and has worried me for quite some time, is how hard it can be to get many people to learn about the new approaches available to help them achieve their goals - do their jobs - more effectively.

I've run a number of training courses with public servants and those who attend are willing and able to learn - they're smart people - however the people who show up because they have a paper on the topic to finish in a couple of days, or don't attend these courses and rely on an 'expert' to tell them what they should do, seem to be missing major opportunities to develop their own capabilities and be ready to address new challenges with a pre-prepared set of tools.

I worry about the number of people who don't anticipate what they might need to know before they take on a particular task (particularly when related to social media) or those who are 'learning on the job' when they don't have to be (I have nothing against learning on the job generally, it's a time-honoured tradition of the upwardly work mobile).

Maybe the best way I can put it is - you don't go and get a relevant degree AFTER coming in for the job interview, so why set yourself up to do the research and obtain the knowledge of a topic after it has become part of your job if you don't have to?

If you can predict that an area is going to be important in your profession in three months, six months, a year or even five years, start learning now.

If you start when you are expected to start delivering runs on the board, you may have left it too late.

In relation to the internet, social media and Gov 2.0 I reckon there's a lot of tricks being missed by public servants who haven't begun their learning journey, but face significant changes in how their jobs will need to be delivered. I'd like to see broader upskilling now to prepare for current and future needs.

And those who claim there's not enough training available (and I am one of them) are partially right - there isn't.

However if you have a personal learning culture you don't wait for the powers-that-be to prepare the courses for you, you go out and seek an education from peers, books and the world's biggest university - the internet.

Are my impressions fair?

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Are you allowing others to steal your agency's oxygen online?

A favored term amongst political operatives and advisors is 'oxygen,, the share of the public discussion a politician, government or issue manages to obtain.

Sometimes the goal is to have the largest possible share, starving other commentators and viewpoints. Other times the goal is to to minimise the share of oxygen a viewpoint or issue gets, shutting down or sidelining it.

There's two things you need to capture oxygen, or deny it to others - good 'lungs', access to the channels needed to 'breathe' it in or out, and a willingness to use your air wisely - to speak out where necessary, contributing to public discourse actively.

These characteristics function as effectively online as they do in offline media - admittedly in a messier and less constrained way. While the internet does provide infinite amounts of airtime for those who wish to present a viewpoint, whether, how soon and effectively an organisation presents its own viewpoint can have a great deal of influence in shaping the subsequent tone of the conversation.

This is well understood by lobby groups, companies and not-for-profits - who actively establish and build their online 'lungs' and are prepared to speak and help their constituents speak up on issues of importance to their agendas.

Politicians too have been reasonably active at establishing their own lungs and voice online - now essential tools for any political career.

However many government agencies still appear unwilling to take the first step, to claim their own lungs online, establishing channels and accounts that they can use to monitor and, where necessary and relevant, engage the communities that they seek to influence - or that influence them.

Agencies who are unwilling to claim their oxygen online will increasingly find themselves suffocated by other organisations and individuals who do. Where agencies can't influence debates, present the case on behalf of governments or end up at the receiving end of perceptions distributed and amplified online, they stop being effective agents of government and managers of change.

If your agency is still resisting building its online lungs and voice, remind your senior managers that their role is to support the government implement its policies on the behalf of the public, not to stand on the sidelines and be acted upon - suffocated - through lack of access to oxygen.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Why open data and public collaboration is important for 21st Century democracy

Beth Noveck, formerly the White House Deputy CTO, has published a fantastic paper on why it is so important to evolve democratic systems for the 21st century, and providing details of how a range of governments around the world are doing so.

The paper is titled "Evolving democracy for the 21st Century" and is available from her blog.

Through a combination of improved transparency and accountability, the public release of data in reusable formats and the willingness to openly collaborate with individuals, not-for-profits and companies in using that data and thinking from outside public services to develop new policy insights, governments today have the most significant opportunity in over a hundred years to reframe their relationships with their constituents and draw on the wisdom of the crowd to improve policy outcomes and services.

 I hope the opportunity is not squandered.

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