Social Collaboration in Government

A while back I wrote a blog post on Social Business in the Public Sector where I discussed a keynote presentation John Swinney, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, made at Public Sector Digital Scotland, where he:

… clearly set out the need and the promise of the digital age. To move from government programs that are what they are, and either match a citizen’s needs or don’t, to delivering the personalised services that each individual citizen requires.

I was reminded of this listening to him present the keynote at ONE Public Sector Scotland last week, where he discussed progress made, the importance of enabling public sector workers to be empowered to do the right thing for the individual in front of them, and the need to become “relentlessly person-centred”.

In my social business masterclass later in the day, I tried to visualise this concept. Pre-digital, government programs were “one size fits all”:

But in the digital world, the citizen should be able to select exactly the services they need from a menu on offer:

However, you can only go so far down this path through technology, by providing a single front end that unifies services – or even by integrating back end services to smoothly move the user from one web site to another to deliver a coherent user journey that takes the citizen to what they need without them having to understand the internal structure of the government agencies providing it. To truly deliver an exceptional citizen experience, you need the government agencies involved, or more accurately the employees within them, to collaborate seamlessly as well.

 

This isn’t just about coordinating applications across the government web sites. Or even simply about aligning policies and procedures across government departments. Rather the issue is that: not only does the public not care which government department, agency, or public sector body is providing the service they need, but they want to be able to access the knowledge and expertise of public sector employees without worrying about which bit of the government pays them.

The good news is that responding to this desire not only produces more effective government services, it can also create more efficient ones. Initiatives like the Government Digital Service and G-Cloud have made good progress in reducing the cost of public services while improving their effectiveness. Now it is time to take things to the next level. To move beyond common web sites and infrastructure to start to integrate government employees into a single ecosystem of public servants focussed on better servicing the needs of the citizen.

This isn’t a new concept, like it is in some commercial companies where competition not collaboration is embedded in the culture. Collaboration is natural in public services, but what is needed is a focus on exploiting the latest social collaboration technologies to create an environment where expertise can be reused instead of replicated, knowledge can be shared as a by product of users’ day to day activities, and inter-departmental collaboration can reduce the cost of delivering services.

Cross departmental collaboration, cross agency collaboration, cross public sector collaboration – and, indeed, collaboration beyond to include local government, the third sector, delivery partners and small & medium enterprises who can help to service the citizen’s needs. The first challenge for government was integrating services – the next is integrating people.

In IBM, when we think about how public services can be taken to the next level we build stories about how cross government collaboration could save costs and change the lives of citizens. Could we help departments respond to freedom of information requests faster and at lower cost? Could we make it painless for a citizen to complete their tax return? Could we make it easier to claim benefits by removing barriers while reducing the chance of fraud? Could collaboration between local government social services, the police and school teachers save the life of a child?

Now that would be something to be proud of.

 

Social Business can transform Public Sector

Further to my last post on social business in the public sector, I recently published an article on the topic on the Scottish Policy Now web site. It discusses some of the frequent patterns for success in social business, and interprets them in a public sector context.

It is becoming clear to me that, while rapid viral adoption of social collaboration can deliver a quick return for organisations, the long term transformational opportunity comes from changing your processes – making them more efficient and more effective by using social, mobile, analytics and cloud solutions.

This diagram shows just a few examples I put together…

The potential benefits are real. Achieving them requires a cultural change to make organisations engaged, transparent and nimble by empowering staff to improve business outcomes, and process owners to be willing to change the way the organisation works to deliver better outcomes. But it also requires the right collaboration tools that encourage the desired behaviour and integrate with existing systems to allow process improvement without wholesale replacement of systems.

However just creating a new social knowledge silo which employees can choose to use or not as they please is not going to create this sort of transformation either – commitment and leadership from the top is critical.

 

Social Business in the Public Sector

I've had the pleasure of presenting multiple events in the last year, in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, discussing ways of applying social business in the public sector (as well as meeting with many organisations working in the sector) and energy and expertise of the enthusiasts in this space continues to amaze me. While I understand their frustration at how hard it is to move a social business agenda forward in the organisations they work in, there is a growing appetite (indeed, demand) at the top of governemnt to drive the use of digital to deliver better citizen outcomes.

For these events, I reworked my digital engagement chart for the public sector, and as I listened to the other speakers it became clear that the message I use with commercial companies is even more true in the public sector. Successful external engagement requires a culture of social collaboration internally and the true value of external engagement comes when you can connect all your staff, across the organisation, to the insights you are gaining.

This week's Scottish Public Sector event organised by Mackay Hannah really highlighted these messages. Whilst its agenda ostensibly focussed on social media and the web site, the theme to emerge most strongly was collaboration across organisations and departments.

As Kyle Thornton Chair, of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “having a Twitter Feed isn't enough, it's what you do with the information you get back that matters.”

In the opening keynote, John Swinney, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, clearly set out the need and the promise of the digital age. To move from government programs that are what they are, and either match a citizen's needs or don't, to delivering the personalised services that each individual citizen requires. This goal, he pointed out, can only be achieved by joining up many public sector and voluntary sector organisations, sharing knowledge, linking processes, spreading best practices and creating a culture of collaboration.

When discussion got on the how to deliver those digital services, it was the mobile device not the web site that dominated the discussions. It might be true, as Colin Cook, Head of Digital Strategy and Programmes for the Scottish Government said, that “the critical word is SOCIAL not MEDIA” but you'd better deliver the media where people want it. There's little point in tweeting a link to your web page if it isn't readable on a smartphone.

So should you have a mobile web or mobile app? The answer is both, but each for its own purposes. Web sites must become responsive and mobile apps need to be rethought in terms of their relationship to the user, not the capabilities they deliver.

It's written before about the way multiple technologies combine to provide disruptive change, and this is often the reason adoption seems to happen suddenly and quickly when technologies have been around for a while (digital is hardly new, so why is gigital government suddenly happening now?). We saw it when Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (which are starting to be labelled SMAC) came together to enable the social business transformation. This is why whole industries seem to move forward in unison when the conditions are right – and at the moment, it is this happen with digital in the public sector.

Social Media gives the consumers a voice. Mobile devices enable digital interaction when you are not sitting at a desk. The economic downturn drives a need for governments to invest in delivering services at lower long term costs. Open data creates new ways of using multiple organisations to deliver services. Social collaboration enables employees to work together across silos. A perfect storm driving the digital agenda in government.

In Scotland, the devolution debate is providing the impetus for government to use these technologies to deliver a better citizen experience, providing an extra impetus that seems to be driving this transformation faster than in other countries. But around the world we are going to see dramatic steps forward in the near future as social business is applied to the business of government.

Tomorrow I'm back in Edinburgh for the Innovations in Public Sector event, and I'm really looking forward to participating in moving this social business agenda forward again.