Time to break down the last barrier to social media access in government

Foreign Secretary William Hague answering questions on the situation in Libya and also on the Arab Spring on 9 June 2011 via Twitter

We’re not short of social media strategies in the government, neither are we short of social media guidelines for staff. But we are short of ICT access and on more than one occasion these social media projects have hit this same frustrating [fire]wall.

Organisations restrict access to social media for a number of reasons. The most common are concerns about creating security vulnerabilities, incurring spiralling technology costs, opening up reputational risks, losing sensitive data and suffering dips in staff performance (as they log on to watch the latest hilarious random video lulz).

It’s obvious that governments are particularly sensitive to these concerns and that this has caused them to be slower than other organisations to take advantage of social media. These days this lethargy is a problem for more than just digital teams; increasingly its policy and service delivery teams that are feeling frustrated by the blocks on their access.

Currently it is more common for access to be restricted than open. But there are a number of ways that the innovative people of the Civil Service have found ways to get the access they need –  be they in media, marketing, research, policy making, consultation, engagement, service delivery or even ministerial roles. These workarounds include:

  • Allowing staff to use their own devices – they would have it on them anyway but it does mean that they have to pay for it out their own pocket
  • Whitelisting domains – sometimes it is the stripped back mobile versions rather than the ‘full fat’ versions that get the OK
  • Permitting access through gateways, portals or virtualisation – it’s overcomplicating but it’s something
  • Monitoring and throttling usage – to encourage respectful use and keep costs down but breeds resentment
  • Requiring a business case – perhaps a bit over the top just to get real time information
  • Providing standalone machines – not terribly green or cost effective
  • Installing secondary browsers – to enable use of social web channels that couldn’t be accessed on the old browsers used as standard in depts

Continue reading “Time to break down the last barrier to social media access in government”

Crossover appeal… why we need to link GDS, GCC and ICT

'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett
'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett

March 2011 saw a bonanza for those of us with an interest in government information and communication technology marked as it was by the unveiling of the Government Digital Service, the publication of the ‘Review of COI and Government Communications‘ and the release of the new Government ICT strategy.

First came the Government Digital Service (GDS) which gave ‘Codename Martha‘ formal status, an official title, a boss, a timeline, and put money where before there were only words. Government will have its single domain and from this point onwards will be looking to deliver of all its services and communications through a digital lens. To prove as much, a crack (or SWAT for MLF Review afficiandos) team was introduced headed up by Tom Loosemore and a man close to my appraisal, Jimmy Leach, who are soon to unveil a proof-of-concept for the single domain, going by the nom de guerre, AlphaGov.

Next up was the ‘Review of Government Direct Communication and COI‘. This set of recommendations, pulled together in which the Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary Government Communication, called for the exiting of the COI and the creation of the Government Communication Centre (GCC) in its place. The GCC’s task will be to spend significantly less people and money delivering fewer but better marketing communications by amplifying cross-government themes over departmental campaigns. Propositions are to be sharper, ROI will be taken much more seriously and digital will underpin it all.

And last but not least we got sight of the Government ICT Strategy. And a very enlightened and on-trend ICT strategy it is too. In it are contained committments to open source, interoperability, green credentials, cloud, web, use of Agile and even democratic power shift (which is a boon for the likes of an old worthy like me). Another departure from the norm is that this document is mercifully brief, very clear on the actions required and very exact on when they should be done by.

Each release demanded attention in its own right. But the commonalities also ring out.

  • Money… set against the backdrop of the deficit, each sets out to save billions of pounds. £1.3 billion for GDS. £54 million for GCC. And an unspecified figure for Government ICT but a stated ‘presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100 million‘.
  • People… There will be fewer people and the staff remaining will work to new skill sets and efficiency and effectiveness goals.
  • Digital… is an standout common theme but not one that is inevitable. Yes, you would expect the GDS to have lots of digital, but for the future of government marketing communications to be so acutely spearheaded by digital and then for the ICT strategy to talk in such ‘webby’ terms is a real watershed.
  • Centralisation… At a time when even the US Military is restructuring itself as a network, each of these HMG developments seek to put more strategic and delivery capacity in the centre. That’s intriguing, and like the point on digital above, is a real step-change.

Each release appeared independently and has been picked up by different practitioner communities. Colleagues in digital may have read one release and not the others, and the same goes for communications and IT colleagues. But they must be conversant in all three.

The trick is to understand them not as three separate entities but as a trinity. None can achieve its ambitions in isolation of others.

Regardless of the new budgets, new team sizes or new technology, it is this blurring of lines between three previously separate disciplines that is the point and the most exciting challenge of the next 4 – 5 years.

Parliaments and ICT – going on from here

I’ve had an opportunity to – properly – go through the World e-Parliament Report, produced by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

As I knew it would be, it is an excellent piece of work. I think that the particular value lies in the fact that it looks at a range of possible applications of ICT and covers as many Parliaments as possible.

For me, the recommendations were also an important inclusion. Everyone knows the state of play and where the problems lie, but very few know how to make decisive steps toward addressing these challenges. The Report’s recommendations are clear and achievable and it will be interesting to watch Parliaments try to enact them.

And this tracking, I think, is crucial. Which Parliaments take up the challenge? Which make the best efforts with the limited resources at their disposal? Which are innovative? Which are conservative and static? Which are lazy and isolationist? I think it would be worth taking this tracking on another level and actually setting up some awards to be given out at the Centre’s annual Conference.

I would also like to suggest:
Continue reading “Parliaments and ICT – going on from here”

World e-Parliament Report 2008 Published

They say:

“The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Inter-Parliamentary Union launched today the World e-Parliament Report 2008. The Report was prepared as part of the work of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

The  World e-Parliament Report 2008 represents the first effort to establish a baseline of how parliaments are using, or planning to use ICT to help them carry out their representative, lawmaking and oversight responsibilities and to connect to their constituencies. It is also intended to advance a shared knowledge base among the parliaments of the world and to promote international debate on these matters.

The Report is based on the responses and comments provided by 105 assemblies from around the world to a survey on the use of ICT in parliament conducted between July and November 2007. It also draws on experiences exchanged during the World e-Parliament Conference 2007 and relevant publicly available information”.

I say:

“An excellent and very important piece of research. Significant, because it covers all conceivable applications of ICT by parliaments across the world. Well done to Gherardo, Jeffrey and Jane for putting it together”.

The Report is available at www.ictparliament.org.

A good year for… parliaments in the digital age?

Reviewing some notes last night and I found a list of ‘must-haves’ for parliament websites. I compiled it as a stream-of-consciousness in one of the sessions at the ‘Parliaments in the Digital Age‘ workshop, which was organised by the Centre for Legislative Studies (Hull University) and the Oxford Internet Institute. I promised I’d pass it on to the organisers, Cristina Leston-Bandeira and Steve Ward, but never got round to it. Before I do send it over I thought I’d put it up here and see if anyone wants to add to it or refine it (it follows at the end of this post).

The list will strike some people as like-soooo-obvious but they’d be surprised to find out that a lot of parliaments haven’t even got round to the basics. One parliament that has been working hard to go beyond the basics is the UK Parliament. It’s been under a lot of pressure to do so and progress has been slow. But like a model waiting to happen, Westminster has all the pieces in place – the technology, the budget, the staff. Mind you, having the bits is one thing, what will glue them all together is the political will. What till now has been a project led by officials, now depends on the involvement of MPs and Peers. It’s time to follow up on all the rhetoric.

I’m confident that after all the nervous caution, the 2007/8 parliamentary year will be a good one for the Westminster in the area of online engagement. I’m confident that they’ll ramp up their online consultations and get ePetitions in place. More significantly, I think we’ll also see Parliament finally figure out how to make blogging work for them. Continue reading “A good year for… parliaments in the digital age?”

Carrot or Stick? On Parliaments, ICT and Innovation

One of my last gigs for the Hansard Society was a presentation to the Global Centre of ICT in Parliament in Geneva. It was for a workshop leading up to the Centre’s full-blown conference the next day.

The subject of the workshop and my presentation was parliaments and innovative applications of ICT. Apparently I got a few people’s backs up. Good.

I won’t say black when you say tomato when you say tomato; my outlook is sunny; I’m not in-your-face. But, yes, while a lot of the presentations at the workshop were rosy, I delivered a downbeat critique of how parliaments have approached innovation.

Have a read at the transcript and let me know your thoughts.

Continue reading “Carrot or Stick? On Parliaments, ICT and Innovation”