Web 2.0 in Local Government

How and why should local authorities and Government be planning to exploit the collaborative features of Web 2.0? This article was originally published in IT Adviser late last year.

Web 2 in Local Government

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Utilising Web 2.0 in local government

Web 2.0 - opportunities for collaboration

I was asked recently to produce an article for ITAdvisor on the topic of Web 2.0 in local government, and specifically, the areas in which Web 2.0 could be used, the resultant benefits that can be delivered and the key issues to be considered in order to ensure that the technologies are implemented successfully.

This proved more difficult than I first imagined, not least because there is so much going on across the sector in relation to Web 2.0 initiatives that it became more a case of what I would have to leave out rather what I could include. Particularly in view of a fairly tight word count limit that I was asked to meet. So, apologies in advance to anyone who’s pet project I haven’t mentioned, but I hope I have done some justice to the scope and scale of the work going on across local government to utilise the collaborative capabilities in Web 2.0 technology to provide more effective services to citizens.

The full article is available as a PDF, but for those who don’t have the time (or inclination) to read, the following is a brief abstract of the key points.

Utilising Web 2.0 in local government

Simple guidelines for Web 2.0 deployment

1. Don’t think about Web 2.0 or e-government as being just about technology. It is about saving time and making life easier and more efficient for citizens.

2. Make sure you are resourced to cope. No point setting up a blog that encourages comments if you can’t respond to each comment.

3. Carefully plan your strategy if using blogs. If it’s a council blog, make sure it’s part of a wider communications strategy and not the domain of one or two keen individuals.

4. Consider the reputational risks of publishing un-moderated citizen comments in online forums or blogs. Don’t assume comments represent universal opinion.

5. Identify the audience you are trying to reach and use the appropriate channel. Not everyone has an account on Facebook, Myspace or Bebo, and not everyone has Broadband. Know who you are excluding and plan for this.

6. Ensure there is a staff policy for using social media sites during working hours.

7. Most Web 2.0 solutions are relatively cheap to deploy. If spending more than £100k on an enterprise solution you’re doing something wrong – or you have particularly complex requirements!

Not intentionally contentious points, though I’m sure point 7 will stimulate some debate!

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Building a collaborative workspace

I highly recommend the recently published white paper – “Building a collaborative workspace” – by Shawn Callahan, Mark Shenck and Nancy White. The paper goes some way to redressing the balance between Web 2.0 technology solutions and the skills, processes and techniques required to ensure the technology is used effectively. I’ve blogged on this topic previously (It’s not the technology…its the people that matter), but I think the issue is very elegantly summarised by the authors of this paper as follows:-

“Today we all need to be collaboration superstars. The trouble is, collaboration is a skill and set of practices we are rarely taught. It’s something we learn on the job in a hit-or-miss fashion. Some people are naturals at it, but most of us are clueless.

Our challenge doesn’t stop there. An organisation’s ability to support collaboration is highly dependent on its own organisational culture. Some cultures foster collaboration while others stop it dead in its tracks.

To make matters worse, technology providers have convinced many organisations that they only need to purchase collaboration software to foster collaboration. There are many large organisations that have bought enterprise licences for products like IBM’s Collaboration Suite or Microsoft’s Solutions for Collaboration who are not getting good value for money, simply because people don’t know how to collaborate effectively or because their culture works against collaboration.Of course technology plays an important role in effective collaboration. We are not anti-technology. Rather we want to help redress the balance and shift the emphasis from merely thinking about collaboration technology to thinking about collaboration skills, practices, technology and supporting culture. Technology makes things possible; people collaborating makes it happen.

This paper has three parts. We start by briefly exploring what we mean by collaboration and why organisations and individuals should build their collaboration capability. Then, based on that understanding, we lay out a series of steps for developing a collaboration capability. We finish the paper with a simple test of your current collaboration capability.”

I think you’ll find this a very useful resource in this period of “Web 2.0 hype” by the leading technology vendors.

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