Stephen Grey in his blog said , amongst other interesting things…
“There will be renewed interest in how digital can save money by enabling new forms of internal collaboration. Thoughtful people have long argued that the real potential of social media in the public sector is in internal collaboration within and between public bodies. As CIOs and Finance Directors look to reduce travel expenses and improve staff productivity, expect to see more interest in tools like Huddle and Basecamp to support remote working beyond the GSI and on e-learning packages to deliver training. If smart folk can make the case internally for the productivity benefits of LinkedIn or Twitter, expect to see more strategic use of social media tools too. Likelihood of happening: 70%”.
From Stephen’s blog here… http://blog.helpfultechnology.com/2010/05/the-coalition-what-now-for-digital/
Here’s what we’ve been doing.
What would Internal Social Networking (ISN) look like in Local Government?
I suppose the most well known use of Social Networking is Facebook. Its use is ubiquitous, with most age ranges, genders and social groups having adopted the freedom of communication and collaboration it offers. Imagine if we could do the same, but just internally so only we ( staff in a specific local authority) could see and use it; privately as it were.
This is where we started from. Nothing special in that you may say and indeed there isn’t. Lots of companies see social networking as THE collaboration tool as its pervasive, efficient and addictive technologies make it easy to insert into an existing and functioning community; particularly a wired one.
Social Networking is useful for our modern ways of dispersed working because it’s so widely adopted by the individual that acceptance of its insertion into an organisation as an ‘internal only-ish ‘ collaboration tool ‘should’ be simple . And as it provides all the glitz and immediacy of the electronic age what is there not to like?
We sat down recently to discuss the structure of the site we are considering. We believe we don’t need a structure per se. Yes everybody who works for the County Council needs to be included; a sort of catchall I suppose and certainly an area where Internal communications can push out a corporate message but as for thereafter… We didn’t think so.
People would use the system in their own ways without us forcing the issue. I suggested the idea of ‘natural paths’. These are the paths that people carve into the landscape around a building or an estate. Because they are formed by the users taking shortest routes, they are placed – more accurately, they place themselves – where people want to go as opposed to where the architect thinks they should tread. These ‘natural paths’ are later formalised by developers as they pave the paths marked out by public use.
We want the ‘natural paths’ of our social networking site to develop in much the same way.
The exciting aspect of ‘natural paths’ is that left to their own devices the users will map out a network of how they want to work, perhaps do work, far removed from the forced silo effect of most local government, hierarchical, intranets.
Perhaps, after a few weeks, months or years – probably hours if the test site is anything to go by – we will see discrete groups developing, evidencing the matrix managed architecture most Local Authorities consider to be more effective and economical – though rarely used in practice.
Perhaps even the actual ‘social network’ of the organisation will become evident; maybe looking like a map of internet traffic across America. All multi centered, multi pathed with hotspots, workarounds and no hierarchy. And once formed these ‘natural paths’ can be supported and developed by the admin team – paved over as it were. Developed and augmented.
But first what are the business drivers?
First “Do No Harm” – as Google would say. Don’t destroy what already works.
The ISN should replace and augment services on our existing Intranet.
We have a people finder, a sort of directory of staff with contact, and other, information. We would want the ISN to replace and improve on that.
We are going to pre-load all staff members onto the ISN giving them all a basic profile of Name, e-mail, telephone number, place of work. This way the ISN system backs up our recent ID card roll out to add to the physical security of our organisation. Using this it’s possible to see you are who you say you are if you turn up at one of our offices without an ID card or have a dodgy looking card.
We have an existing well used marketplace where staff buy and sell their unwanted goods. We would replace that within the ISN.
By replacing both of these we only get back to where we are. So what other benefits can we realise?
Reduction in e-mails? At first we thought there would be a decrease in e-mails. Again if the test system is anything to go by e-mails will increase, at least in number anyway but decrease in size of content. Notification of updates in a group are currently being sent out via e-mail (we can turn that off either globally or individually) but that notification is just a short clipped message pointing to an update or a piece of content which has been uploaded as a document or a wiki. Content that can be shared or, in the case of a wiki, can be edited in collaboration with others, is held on the system and merely pointed to.
That brings us on to Wiki’s. The system we are using allows the use of Wiki’s. ( It even converts a discussion forum into a Wiki if you wish). We instantly found this useful – putting up technical solutions in the web team so anybody could see and reference them, and of course make changes if appropriate. Could we do that with the Intranet. Of course we could but It’s just not as immediate or even “friendly”.
The use of Wiki’s in Knowledge Management is profound. Imagine if a particular person has an expertise in a subject. We can now produce that information as a Wiki and it is up there for all to see, and, of course, edit as amendments are made.
The ‘Forums’ function is useful in many ways but especially to a group working on a particular project where the ‘back and forth’ of a project can be captured in an online shared discussion.
In our organisation we are moving towards ‘New Ways of Working’ where people will be distributed across the County, perhaps using their home or a ‘Touchdown” centre to work from. This fractured, even ‘homeless’ sort of working, breaks the natural bond between teams but ISN allows people to remain plugged into what’s going on any time and anywhere.
Obviously the use of ‘Groups” provides the ability to work in tight, discreet and collaborative units and to widen that group out when it suits. ISN is truly a collaborative tool.
All very grand but what about day one?
- Because it contains all available contact numbers the ISN will act as a phone book with an easy people search facility.
- Profile pages will have a mapping facility to indicate where the given address is.
- The ability for users to buy and sell unwanted goods – as is currently afforded by our ‘Market Place’ on our current intranet.
- The ability to set up groups, private or otherwise. With the use of groups and subgroups, like minded or similarly tasked individuals can bind together to form a more capable group . Connected, communicating and with a single purpose resulting in a more effective unit.
- The ability for groups to invite or accept others. This would be invaluable in project working where a project team made up of people from other, and disconnected, teams can work as a whole.
- The ability to share a document, either as an individual or a group each being able to edit at will that document.
- The ability for Knowledge Management (KM) to be developed from the use of shared documents (Wiki’s) and these wiki’s are searchable and usable by all.
- The ability to provide photo galleries for either individuals or groups.
- The ability to embed video from any source anywhere in the system.
Is there a but? Well sort of. With the international obsession with on line security ( and rightly so) the ‘but’ seems to be about the privacy of individuals and their on-line information.
We have seen it in the discussions about the image of staff members in the blog here…
How the local government individual confuses internal and secure with external and public I’m not at all certain, but they do seem to confuse the two. Or could it be something to do with how ‘the net’ (Intra or Inter) is perceived as being somehow the same i.e. public and therefore exposed and dangerous?
Clearly it isn’t but this seems to be an obstacle to be overcome before general, wide acceptance is the norm. Overcome it we will be – probably has been in fact. And this should lead us to a community which, though appearing more fractured in the new world of cuts and shavings, can somehow become closer than it ever was.
Very, very early days for us. We’ll let you know how we get on.