On Wednesday 4th July, GDS ran a 30 minute workshop called ‘Social media guidelines: So what?’ at Civil Service Live. In a slightly departure from the usual presentation style at Civil Service Live, we decided to mix things up. Louise Kidney explains what happens when you get Civil Servants talking.
If you always do what you’ve always done…
…you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Early on in discussions between the facilitators of our session, Alex Schillemore, Social Media Manager at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggested doing things a little bit differently. Which is how it came to pass that we ended up splitting the attendees of our 30 minute session into 4 groups, each group gathering around a flipchart and a facilitator at each flipchart focussing on a particular subject.
GDS loves feedback
We wanted to find out what affect the social media guidelines have had since their release back on the 17th May. We also wanted actionable feedback – something to take back to Professions, Civil Service Learning and to GDS itself that could prove or disprove the rumblings that were filtering back in more informal settings. So we picked the subjects people would be discussing at the flipcharts in advance, specifically in order to produce this actionable feedback.
Attendees were a mix of grades, and a mix of Departments. The split was entirely arbitrary and every group were on a strict 5 minute time limit in order to focus discussions. In total 40 people attended the session.
Barriers to using social media, facilitated by Alex Schillemore, Social Media Manager, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Common themes revolved around infrastructure. There are still issues with Internet Explorer 6 and almost everyone fed back that access to social media was blocked to them in their Department. Other common issues raised were culture issues, a perception that senior and middle management needed to be seen to be using it to lead the way and some clarity needed in why it should be used and in what circumstances.
Staff are still not sure if they have permission, don’t feel trusted, don’t think there is a wide enough understanding of the advantages and felt that what guidance there was focused too much on what was not allowed.
In order for us to remove some of the barriers then, it is becoming clear that people require clearer guidance, the message on permission has not reached everyone but most of all, there simply is not access to these tools – in some cases Civil Servants being required to create YouTube videos for their jobs that they subsequently can only view at home.
Positives and negatives in your Department, facilitated by Tim Lloyd, Head of Digital, Business, Innovation and Skills
The assumption that negatives would far outweigh the positives that came out of this section were wrong. On balance, there seemed to be equal weighting to both sides. Recurring themes focused around resource, pressure of additional channels, lack of control and managing information. Perhaps reflecting different groups comfort with using social media, other groups identified relevance of content to users on the channels being used and lack of context for the information being given out.
On personal usage, being outed, staff using it to push their own agendas and staff responding without the necessary knowledge were also mentioned. Some of the positive uses feedback revolved around image – being seen to be in the conversation and being seen to be an up to date Civil Service which was keeping up with other employers understanding and use. Speed of communication was mentioned, as was being able to bypass traditional media (although neglecting traditional media channels was mentioned as a negative by a different group).
The Q & A session on Twitter with Sir Bob Kerslake went well and the ability to respond was appreciated when it came to internal communications.
Implementing service delivery, facilitated by Lizzie Bell, Head of Digital Engagement and Publishing, Department of Education
In hindsight, asking about service delivery was perhaps putting the cart before the horse a little. So much feedback in this session focussed around barriers to using social media at all that getting as far as service delivery across social media channels was tricky. However, some useful feedback emerged.
Most Departments are using social media to inform and to sometimes surprising effect. One contributor mentioned that some of the highest viewed YouTube videos they had produced had been highly specialised content which at first glance may have looked pointless from a production point of view and this was confirmed by a number of contributors. There was a feeling that guidance was too high level and specific sets of guidance needed to be developed but also on the flipside of this, that too much time was spent sat around thinking of reasons not to do it while customers expectations rose in this area.
The overwhelming feeling was that GDS and other Departments who were using social media easily and well needed to publicise this more, provide good examples and good case studies and keep the conversation going.
Skills and tools, facilitated by Louise Kidney, Digital Engagement Lead, Government Digital Service (Cabinet Office)
After getting the initial comments about barriers out of the way and assurances had been given that they would have the opportunity to focus on these at a different flipchart, the conversation became interesting.
Common themes included 50% of the contributors having the skills to use social media in their personal life but only 10% actually having the opportunity to use those skills in their work area. One contributor explained that she ran a Skype network in her spare time and taught a group of over 70’s how to use these tool to connect with each other – but she had never touched Skype in her day job inside the Civil Service.
Regarding training, the 10% using social media had self-taught, particularly one gentleman who had gone to his grandchildren to find out. Interestingly, regarding skills gaps and training methods, agreement was reached that a combination of traditional training delivery centrally combined with some kind of digital champion network which allowed 1-2-1 training was needed – and that some Departments had already set this up to great effect.
Tools discussion revolved around Yammer predominantly. Discussion of tools needed which staff did not have access to was null, as the majority of contributors did not have access to even the basic social media tools.
All of this feedback will be grouped over the coming days into four areas: cultural change (including actions for management), infrastructure, what can broadly be described as empowerment (but which includes guidance) and training.
Cultural change issues will be flagged with the Digital Leaders network to be taken back to individual Departments and cascaded down as issues which need to be addressed. We will request that they feedback to us in 3 months time on progress and feedback back upwards.
Infrastructure will be passed to the ICT Strategy Board linking to their Overcoming barriers to using social media document recently issued.
All those receiving the outcomes from this session will be asked to provide an update on how they have acted on this feedback within 3 months and we will blog again, both on those outcomes but also on some the issues which were raised within this session.