If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.(Anon)Thinking digitally and thinking differently. Big ideas and big changes in direction for public sector. But fundamentally, we are at the crossroads, and I'm afraid depending on your area, we're there right now. Not in a few months when you've written a strategy and done some research, but right now. Times aren't changing, they have changed. And if you stick to the same business approaches that you've always used, I think increasingly you'll find your returns dwindling.
Yesterday, through talking to various people, I decided that the phrase social media is one I'm going to try and step away from. Thankfully, it seems I'm not alone. We are communicating digitally, shaping worlds digitally, enabling communication digitally and reconnecting communities digitally. Social media is, in most peoples heads, Facebook and Twitter. It's so much more than that. It's the software my mate's building to allow people to easily self publish. It's sharing your photographs and getting feedback and unexpected praise. It's asking the hive mind what it thinks about x, y and z and getting a quick and sensible answer and it's about philanthropy done on a very small scale but done by people like you and me.
What I'm getting at is, the platform almost doesn't matter any more. The foundation is the web, of course it is, the zeroes and ones that flow beautifully through the system, the packets that fly, the routes that mimic the nodes in the brain. But it's there and it will stay and it will endure. It's what we put on top of it that matters, how we use this and our motivations for doing so to a lesser extent. But to use all this possibility, this massive capability can be boggling and overwhelming.
I owe a confession here. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed too. I'm a geek and I sometimes still struggle to think digitally. I'm not talking about the fact that I still buy papers and books. I'm not talking about my ability to pick up 90% of software programmes and play with them until I understand them......an approach I apply to most of my life these days. What I'm talking about is the ability to incorporate digital communications into everything I do, to weave digital tech into the way I live my life and do my work. It should come naturally to me, and in some ways it does. But in order for you to weave digital into public sector, you first have to understand public sector. And understand it well, from the operations to the politics, from the internal politics to the unions. So, although in some ways I suppose you could say I am a digital citizen (I registered to vote online, I order those books online, I watch and become involve in conferences online, I talk to friends, arrange social activities, get told I've got interviews for jobs online), I am also right back at the beginning in some ways.
So, my conclusion is this. Effective digital engagement and communication has to start with something else the web does well - collaboration and crowd sourcing. Finding the experts in each of your departments who've been there while and know the intricacies, and collaborating with them in order to enable them to make the decision about which channel is the most appropriate to use to give out any specified message. Communications as a Department should be the hub of everything, but the spokes must stretch out into every single other Department, with that communication being two way, otherwise all expertise of one type will sit in the middle, another type at the end of the spoke and never the twain shall meet. Which is pointless, frankly, and does no one any favours.
So. Thinking digitally. Turns out it's not as simple as I first thought. Neither is communicating effectively and efficiently. Turns out, in order to communicate effectively externally, you must first be an absolute master at communicating internally. And that being a perceived 'expert' in one thing can be the most humbling experience of all, because it reveals in glaring technicolour exactly how much you don't know about absolutely everything else. So, this is where I become unpopular. Because I am in public sector and I'm working hard to try to join the dots. How is outsourcing to private sector with no experience of public sector going to work? Maybe the right question is, where are all the private sector consultancies and advisors who have experience of public sector?
And yet. Here is where I lie my hat.