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Column: Measuring the Value of Social Media in Government

Friday, August 28, 2009
The more time I spend examining the use of social media within government, the more I think that measuring the value it brings is a near impossible task.

I didn't think that way at first, rather, I thought that its value simply defied quantification. But the more I reflect on the situation the more I realize that we can’t quantify the value because we still rely heavily on traditional empirical standards. Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating doing away with empirical approaches but rather simply stating that social media is still so new to government that it would be premature to expect to accurately capture its value in a spreadsheet.

I am not really sure how to approach this line of reasoning, so please bear with me while I think a couple of examples through out loud.

For example, how does one measure the value that the single Government of Canada-wide wiki (GCPEDIA) created when I switched departments? Two important things happened while I was in that awkward position of awaiting transfer papers to be completed – you probably know the spot, the place where your new boss is anxious to get you rolling and your old boss is either trying to squeeze every last drop out of you or is otherwise ignoring you completely. First, since I had already fully integrated the wiki into how I was working, I was able to seamlessly carry over all of my ongoing research. This was incredibly valuable to both myself and my new department because I was working on similar issues (e.g. use of collaborative technologies in government). Second, I was able to physically start pulling the pieces together for my new role given that my predecessor had also fully integrated his work into the wiki.

So here is the dilemma: how does one articulate the value created by GCPEDIA in this example? It can never be a line item on a spreadsheet because, first, there is no easy way to attribute a dollar value to it, and second, because there is confusion over whose spreadsheet it should go on. Do we assign it to my previous employer who realized the benefits of me not having to spend as much time managing my departure and thus was able to continue to work right up until my last day? Do we assign it to my new department? Do we assign it to Treasury Board, who provided the tool that facilitated the creation of this value? All, in my opinion, very good questions.

A second (related) example: How do we measure the value of the National Inventory for Bridgeable Students, in the last 30 days, the most popular landing page within GCPEDIA? Again, this is something that simply could not have happened without GCPEDIA. So who does this inventory generate value for? Students? Hiring managers? In what department? Is it quantifiable?


I’ve got a little scheme, I hope you are interested

Like I said above, I am simply not comfortable with trying to quantify the value of social media within government yet, that being said, I am willing to qualify it. So in the spirit of purposeful story telling I would like to pull together as many of our stories as possible into a small package (which I will make available on GCPEDIA) that we can share with others so that they might better understand what we have accomplished and what we hope to continue to accomplish in the future. Moreover, if you have tried to use social media within the government and have found your effort fall flat, I would like to hear about that experience as well because there may be an opportunity there to do some learning.

I am looking forward to hearing form you.

Cheers.

Column: Enabling the Web 2.0 Worker

Friday, August 21, 2009
I am working on a presentation that, among other things, provides managers with strategic advice on how to enable Web 2.0 workers. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you. I would also like you to leave me your comments, given that you are Web 2.0 workers, around what would better enable you to do your job that I didn’t outline below?

Trust your employees with your IT resources

Provide your employees with unfiltered access to the Internet. If you want them to take full advantage of the richness of information available to them on the web, they need to be able to immerse themselves in the content. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to access something for work, only to be blocked by the firewall.

Once you have opened the door though, don’t let them wander the halls aimlessly. Have conversations about how we can make better use of the Internet, and in doing so, build a common understanding of what is appropriate and inappropriate use. Whatever you do, don’t misunderstand “common understanding” to mean “your understanding,” the learning here should flow both ways. Challenge them, and allow yourself to be challenged, because things are changing.

For example, think about the implications of this interesting statistic:


No one would dare tell someone they can’t go for a smoke, but people are told daily not to participate in social networking. Yes the two are different activities, but they can share certain social elements. Now I don’t want to get bogged down into an odd discussion about smoking versus social networking, but in my mind if you are allowing one and banning the other, you need to be able to articulate the differences because the truth of the matter is that social networking is far more popular (not to mention healthier!) than smoking


Make time to learn about social media / web 2.0 (and everything else that gets pulled in) with your employees

Social media offers new ways of working collaboratively, and that will take some getting used to. These types of tools are still new in the government and there is a lot of learning ahead.

You may initially feel that figuring out exactly how to interact with others and manage relationships in a virtual environment is challenging. Be open with one another and discuss issues with your colleagues as they arise. Remember that these tools offer tremendous opportunities to share with each other, break down silos, better engage our colleagues and to change our work culture for the better.

Moreover, unless you work specifically in the area, most of us likely don’t have a thorough understanding of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP), Official Languages (OL), Public Service Values and Ethics, Accessibility, etc. So why are we so quick to point our fingers at new collaborative technologies and declare that they will never work under these frameworks? I think that it is unfair to place the burden for that lack of understanding on the tools themselves because the tools don’t cause the problems; they only bring the problems to the forefront where they become considerably more prevalent. So discuss the implications of all of these frameworks when considering, designing, implementing and using new collaborative technologies, and be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, if there isn’t a zone of agreement between the two, that perhaps it is the frameworks that need modernizing not the tools that need antiquing (Oh and then don’t be afraid to step up and start working on updating whatever you have found to be in need of an update).


Give them the tools internally where it is safe to experiment

Behind the firewall is a lot safer than outside it. Inside there is coaching, learning and room to wiggle whereas outside there is media, public perception, and little room to maneuver. My advice to you is wherever possible, create conditions which are more likely to foster successful outcomes because if space behind the firewall isn’t provided people will ultimately venture outside it.

So provide the tools internally and encourage colleagues to learn how to use and appropriate the technologies to their work within the work context, and encourage them to be open and innovative in their approaches. Furthermore, don't punish them for failed attempts. There was probably a great deal of learning that lead to that failure, learning that may help you avoid mistakes in the future, and more importantly avoid them outside the firewall.

If someone in your organization proposes to implement a new or complimentary tool, encourage them to articulate their argument, to document it and champion it. This does a couple of things. The first is that it teaches the proponents about the processes involved in seeing something through while also (hopefully) building up their tenacity and resilience. It also provides everything you need when approaching senior managers for support. But in so doing make sure you take care in your approach because you want to be a virtuous schemer not a block in the system.

Finally when implementing, try to find a way to deploy quickly and at low cost, don't make them wait and don't spend millions, the technology changes too fast.

The truth of the matter is that what I am suggesting is by no means a novel approach, but simply taking full advantage of the opportunity that lies in using an established process to try to bring in something new.

If you make this a war, it will be a war of attrition, one where everyone loses

Focus on the attitudes you want to foster within the workplace without getting caught up in generalizations based on generations or you risk alienating people. The last thing the public service needs is more alienation.


Your Thoughts?

Again, please leave me your thoughts; they will ultimately help me provide better advice to others. Thanks in advance.


Update: Come Check Me Out August 26 in the NCR (Part II)

Monday, August 17, 2009
Hey Everyone,

For those of you who got in contact with me about the Scheming Virtuously presentation on Aug 26 in the NCR thanks for your interest. The presentation will be going ahead, it is taking place at 11:00 am at Place du Portage in Gatineau. Only one small problem, the room only accommodates 10 people, and I have more than 10 RSVPs.

Conundrum.

I will contact you each individually to let you know if you will be able to attend or not. For those of you whom I have to say no to I apologize and would encourage you to keep your eyes on the blog for a second opportunity. I have also arranged to get a video recording of the presentation, so if everything goes well you will be able to view it (and share it) right here on the blog.

Cheers.

Column: Sometimes You Strike Out

Friday, August 14, 2009
This is more of an unfinished thought than a full out post, and given the context, perhaps that is more fitting.

One thing that I’ve learned repeatedly during my time in government is that you can't always knock it out of the park, especially come summertime.

Vacations, on top of vacations, on top of vacations make it incredibly difficult to hit that home run. Generally speaking, one of two things happen: either the people you need to work with aren't around when you need to work with them (which includes yourself) or you get swamped because you're expected to cover off other people's work during what is supposed to be the "slow period".

I have experienced both this summer. First, I've been caught in the out of office loop. You know what I'm talking about, you send an e-mail to someone in your department whose out of office reply points you to another person, whose out of office reply then points to another person, whose out of office reply points back to the first person you sent the e-mail to. Second, I have been asked to cover off work that I didn't anticipate and that took away from the time I needed to be able to do my own work.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming anyone for taking vacation, nor am I complaining about having to do some additional work. What I am saying is that it can sometimes make things more difficult, and that perhaps we need to do a better job of collectively managing and scheduling our vacation time while making better use of summer students who are sometimes, but not always, underworked.

I wish I had some good pieces of advice to share but the truth is sometimes you strike out, and despite being ready to stand and deliver, for me this is just one of those times.



Update: Come Check Me Out August 26 in the NCR

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Hey Everybody - just a heads up that I will be doing my Scheming Virtuously presentation for HRSDC on August 26 in Gatineau (Ottawa / National Capital Region). When discussing the logistics I asked that they provide the opportunity for people outside the department to participate as well.

So, if you are so inclined to come, please let me know. I would love for you to take in the presentation, share your thoughts and insights, and have a conversation about how we can all scheme a little more virtuously.

So, send me an email, leave me a comment, or send me a tweet indicating your interest. I need to build a list of people who plan on attending and provide it to the organizer. Please signal your interest to me before Wednesday August 19.

Once I have a complete list and the details re:time/location I will share them here and via email and twitter.

(If you have already let me know via one of these mechanisms consider yourself on the list)

Cheers.



Weekly Column: The Evolution Will Be Social-ized

Friday, August 7, 2009
This column was inspired by Gil Scott-Heron's famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. I have embedded a video below and you can get the official lyrics here. What you will find below the video is my rendition, which I lovingly call, The Evolution Will Be Social-ized.



The Evolution Will Be Social-ized

You will not be able to maintain the status quo
You will not be able to unplug, turn off, or silo up
You will not be able to lose touch with your citizens
Nor keep your approaches rooted in aging norms
Because the evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will be social-ized
The evolution will not be brought to you by procurement
Out of the box can't fix outside the box
True solutions lie not with the companies
Making profits from the sales of technologies
While the tools change from day to day
Underlying behaviours are here to stay
The evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will not be handed to you by the
Deputy Minister, the Assistant, or the Secretariat
Although we hope they play a role
The evolution will help us collaborate
The evolution will help us communicate
The evolution will position you in the global marketplace
For talent, because the evolution will be social-ized

There will be plenty of pictures of you and other champions
Spreading the word at every turn, employing the soft talk or rant
Or celebrating the small victories that are so damned important
Remember that telling these stories is essential
To release our social potential
Because the evolution will be social-ized

There will be no pictures of the obstacles
Getting in our way.
There will be no pictures of the obstacles
Getting in our way.
There will be no pictures of those who breed division
Nor those who take the time to speak but not listen.
There will be no slowing us down now
Soon you will run out of time to learn how
To engage in this new world, stop hesitating
Things are almost in full swing

Hierarchies, closed communications, and knowledge
As power will no longer be so damned relevant, and
We can work together without the need for territory
While fear of reprisal ceases to be obligatory
Not to mention good ideas dead in the water
Closed systems, formerly leading them to slaughter
The evolution will be social-ized

There will be no more clockwatching from 9-5
The rules change, and now it is the open who survive
Bureaucracy can no longer be blamed for our woes
We are starting to see what is right before our nose
The paradigm has shifted, continued relevance
Is simply not something we can leave to chance
The evolution will be social-ized

The evolution will not, die, fizzle or fade
Real people, real outcomes, not a game to be played
Stakeholders on all sides, inside and out
Changes so fundamental from within and without
The evolution will loosen a tight grip
The evolution will enable new leadership
The evolution will put the onus on us all

The evolution will be social-ized, will be social-ized
will be social-ized, will be social-ized
The evolution is no longer the frontier
The evolution is here.