Today I went to Local Gov Camp – Yorkshire and Humberside to find out about social media in local government. The day was run on an unconference format which is quite like Open Space but even looser, if you can imagine that.
The first session was about a digital vision – where do we see technology in local government in five years? We watched a video from Cisco that was a little cheesy but I thought was interesting in the way that it depicted ordinary people and council workers having needs that were helped or supported by being better connected. There was the thought that “technology becomes interesting when it becomes boring because it disappears” and so becomes part of the scenery. That is a thought that I think is key – that technology should be pulled into service provision when it is needed, rather than the usual way round where a technology is pushed in to a situation because it looks clever. The best example of this is call centres. They exist because networking, call routing and CRM systems can be knitted together. Thus you can build a call centre, so people do. The fact that call centres make service worse doesn’t seem to figure in most people’s evaluation of them. The technology works so it is a success.
This was a session about putting social networking software onto a council’s internal network to give them functionality equivalent to Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and instant messaging all in one. It was interesting from the point of view, not of the technology but of the attitude to the policies around it. They have basically said that council staff can use it for whatever they like, work, gossip or the football scores if they want. It is designed to flatten hierarchies and allow people to come together who wouldn’t have been able to before. The hope is that while discussing Sex and the City 2, people will also collaborate with new people to innovate new ways of delivering council services, or even new services. Anything that breaks down walls to open up collaboration and innovation is worth a try. I wish the project success and look forward to seeing similar projects in the future.
The focus of this session was the new Let’s Talk Central web site. This is a site to allow the residents of Bedford Central comment, praise and criticise what is going on in their new authority. People in the session were worried that it would replace other methods of consultation, but it was designed as an addition, not a replacement. I liked it since it was a simple way to interact with the council and was not heavily branded as a council site. It was interesting to hear that the internal IT department wanted to deploy the site in the council web site initially, but the spec was too complicated for their CMS to cope with. Actually the site is not too complicated at all. Just goes to show.