DIGITAL STEP: Can we use the web to solve the big problems now?

#7 DecaySo, if the high water mark of social media in local government is tweeting gritting call-outs we’ll have failed.

Sure, getting those messages out represents a big step to what went on before but the achievement as I’ve said before shouldn’t stop at that.

I’ve pondered for a while what the next steps may be from my own corner of the digital allotment. Occasionally I look across at people like fellow local government officers Carl Haggerty and Phil Rumens who think big picture digital things and I sit back on my shovel and I ponder.

For comms people it’s getting involved with channel shift and helping an organisation score some savings while offering people a better service. Yes, but what else?

As barriers blur and the internet changes everything it’s fascinating for a comms person like me to think beyond the argument that press releases are dead.

There’s been a fascinating debate just recently by a post from SOCITM president Steve Halliday who suggested that digital in local government should be helping to solve ‘wicked’ problems.

What’s a wicked problem? It’s the term given to particularly uncrackable local government issues that tend to crop up in places like social care or planning.

In this world he suggests information sharing using a secure web to network could maybe bring professionals together to crack those particular thorny headaches. It’s a measure of how things have evolved that people are thinking of using this social media stuff to tackle the real grown-up problems.

On the question  of whether we should use digital to tackle these ‘wicked’ issues he’s absolutely right.

Then a few things that keep nagging at me like the clunk of a mobile phone left inside a coat that’s being put through the washing machine that asks you to do something about it.

Firstly, there was a bold call to action from Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves who at the #10by10wm event 12-months ago in Coventry told a room full of geeks to stop evangelising about social media but come armed with solutions… which incidentally may have some social media in them.

On that, he’s absolutely right.

And there’s a third snippet which has lodged in my head from former civil servant Gerald Power. He  said that to make a big difference you need to tackle the big problems in your organisation the really big ticket issues need to be tackled. Not the little ones.

On that he’s right too.

But all that Big Problem tackling would take time, effort and resources at a time when there is none. But if that Big Problem affected 100 of the 350 or so councils and cost, say, £1 million a year then would a one-off £50,000 project make sense?

Of course.

But who is there to identify the problem and scrape together the time, effort, collective will and resources?

The mantra of JFDI – just flipping do it – has taken us a long way but this feels too big and too important to leave to people working under the radar.

What’s the answer? I’m just a comms person fascinated with how we can use the internet better to make a difference. I’ll leave that for other people to ponder.

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  1. Some Departments are thinking outside the box.

    The DoE interacts with nurses by supporting an existing community and asking them to help share their problems and solutions, a recent one was looking at the problem of increased home care demand

    Also Hosue of Commons digital team invited nurses to tweet from the select committee, not only did this raise awareness of the work the select committee does it also gave the ministers insight into the diversity, or lack of it, around health politics in eduction as some of them were students

    Teaching leaders to use social media is becominf quite simple too, just show them via those they are supposed to be leading what it can offer, her is a great example of nurses using twitter to tell them why as leaders there nursing directors should be tweeting with them

    using social media is so effective, but you don’t always have to create it, or more typically “own” it; I’ve met several comms teams that don’t understand how to measure social media engagement or report success. because they can’t see beyond there usual measure of numbers (sign ups, clicks etc), and move to measuring value.

    I hope your blog raising interesting debate with your peers and that the above proves to be some ammunition if you need it!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nick and three really interesting looking links.I’ll take a close look at those. It’s good to hear of evidence where digital is beginning to make a difference.

  2. For effective online collaboration (a vital part of idea creation and development, through feedback as well as simply through the dialogue itself), there needs to be some key features:

    1) Recognition – relevant decision-makers need to use the platform, and be visible. There’s no point me spending hours thinking and writing stuff if no-one’s reading it, or if people are going to steal my ideas and not give me credit

    2) Empowerment – employees, whether public or private – need the backing that what they say won’t be held against them, within reason, with appropriate caveats that employees may not be representing their employer within a platform. There will be other ways of removing this fear of treading on other people’s toes, of saying things which may be novel to one person but old-hat to another, and of being seen to be critical of one’s organisation when the very fact that that person is making the effort to think and create is evidence that they’re trying to help.

    3) Formal avenues to progress ideas – posting ideas online, even if relevant decision-makers are reading – are meaningless unless change happens as a result. The routes that will be taken should be visible and accountable. The decision-making process (idea which ideas are taken forward and why) should also be shared, otherwise it can feel like a closed-shop and resentment will kick in, and usership decline.

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