Civil Service Live: Amplifying Government

We’ve had a week to recover from the frantic Amplification of the CSLive event last week – Joanne, Lucy, Christian, Benjamin and I (Steve) were there under the amplified banner at the invitation of the Central Office Of Information, to ‘do the Amplified thing’ at their event.

The relationship between the civil service and social media is an awkward one, at best. Of course, many many civil servants are using social media platforms in their non-work life, but unclear policy statements on what they can and can’t do online makes it tricky for them to be ‘out and proud’ as civil servants, and very few are able to use social media services for work as anything other than a glorified RSS feed.

So what we ended up doing was 4-fold:

  • Documenting the actual sessions (Joanne and Lucy did an outstanding job of writing up and commenting on much of the stuff coming out of the keynote sessions, often updating them in real-time for anyone who wanted to follow online.)
  • Reportage from around the conference floor (Christian and Benjamin did a fair bit of this on the first day, via Qik, which gave a pretty fun overview of what was going on…)
  • Recording conversations that were happening outside of the structure of the event – trade shows are incredibly predictable affairs, but the conversations that go on in the corridors and over coffee often have far far-reaching implications, if only those blue-sky thoughts could be documented and built on. We did some of that, with civil servants of all levels
  • Informally consulting on – and demonstrating – the way that social media works, what it actually is, how things are found, how stories are followed and how information gets out.

The recorded conversations was, I think, the hardest element to get right - on the first day, a lot of people were, understandably, very nervous of being recorded. The initial idea had been to run a ‘diary room’ where people could candidly be video’d about the conference, their work, and anything else. That didn’t happen. Most civil servants are, on pain of death, instructed not to talk to ‘the press’ about what they do. We looked like the press. FAIL.

So we shifted it to conversations about social media, and then if they had anything they wanted us to record off the back of that, we’d do a little ‘interview’ – very friendly and controlled, nothing scary or job-threatening.

What I loved about these recorded conversations is how the people I spoke to accidentally answered each other’s questions. Those who were fluent in social media – particularly Jenny Brown and Nick Jones – explained their relationship to social media while working in goverment in terms that the rest of the interviewees – who outlined their issues and fears about social media – would understand and hopefully be able to implement. One of the best things about working with the COI is that they are right at the heart of all of these conversations. Most of the people I spoke to that were forming social media policies within their departments were doing so in conjunction with the COI. That’s great news.

So it would seem that we now need to build a platform whereby this stuff can be share AFTER the event between the people who contributed.

So here were the Audioboo interviews with those who had questions about social media:

Firstly, Darren Weale of the Home Office - a lovely bloke, who seems to get the potential of social media, but who outlines many of the concerns that Civil Servants have about its usage:

Maxine MacKenzie has more hands-on experience of social media at work, thanks to her working at Direct.gov, but again, is all too aware of the problems of ‘unmoderated’ communications when social media is viewed as a broadcast/advertising channel. Here comment that “social media isn’t just the remit of the comms team, but for everyone at direct.gov” is really smart (and once again, advised by COI):

Rachel Neaman of the Dept of Health was perhaps the most wary of the role that social media plays in disseminating information, working as she is on the swine-flu situation, trying to get medical information out to people that need it. In this 2-part interview, it’s apparent that she’s deeply committed to people getting the best info that they can, but I think that many of her fears about the way information is shared on social media platforms would be put to rest if she jumped in and started talking to people (her faith in newspapers to do a balanced job of getting the information out there seems scarily misplaced, having seen the misinformation about swine flu over the last few days.)

Which leads nicely onto the two people that I spoke to in the civil service who most fully seemed to grasp the potential for social media in both internal and external government communications – Nick Jones of the COI, and Jenny Brown, who works with the MOJ web team:

None of these conversations were being recorded elsewhere. The rest of the audioboos recorded – by me and the rest of the team – are findable on the audioboo site. Please feel free to take and embed any of them you find interesting and want to comment on - this stuff is out there to be discussed, to be shared, to be agreed with, disagreed with, quoted, and used to learn. The ongoing conversation will be exponentially greater than the sum of its parts as the web of information builds and commenters add value to each other’s findings

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