Anti Social Behaviour
“If I had a pound for every time I had to remind you to do something I’d be a rich woman.” So says Mrs Localgov, arguably not without justification. Well, if I had a penny for every time I came across someone who had first had experience of being blocked from using one of the most powerful engagement tools then I could ignore my ‘fat cat pension’ and retire today.
Yes, I’m talking about social media and local government’s seeming inability or unwillingness to release the hounds and see what happens. As anyone who has seen the simply excellent Socialnomics video will know, social media and digital engagement is not something which is going away any time soon, and in fact will probably continue to become a more prevalent part of our residents lives as time goes on.
Why is it that councils are so against adding social media tools to the toolkits they have? Why is it that they are happy to let staff engage in just about every other way, but as soon as the word ‘social’ is thrown into the mix they revert to risk aversion mode? Here are some of the more common excuses thrown at local officers, with a few thoughts of our own in answer.
Not all local residents have the internet
True. Unarguable, irrefutable; this fact is usually the first point of defence when digital engagement is suggested. Many people don’t have a computer, and even some of those who do, do not have access to the internet.
However, this number is going down. It’ll never go down to zero, but as time goes on it is certainly sinking as fast as the confidence of an England cricketer. Broadband access is increasing across the country thanks to government pushes and private sector investment, and there are a number of schemes set up to bring computers to the public. Most libraries have computers, many council buildings have a terminal available and there are even payphones which allow you to have a browse.
But the biggest thing which is bringing the web to the people is the humble mobile. Smartphones are fast becoming ubiquitous, and are often seen as an essential item by those who traditionally are seen as on or below the poverty line. Just about every new phone released has access to the internet as a core function, so within a few years just about everyone with a mobile will have access to the internet wherever they are.
It’s against our IT policy
Having had to argue this one out myself, I will bet money that it’s a load of rubbish.
If you take the time to go through your own IT policy you will usually find something along the lines of “thou shalt not use any IT equipment for anything other than work use”. Understandable (if constantly abused), this rule is not unusual and not something which should be argued against.
But we are not using social networking sites for non-work related purposes here. We are using a tool to engage and communicate with the public, which of course is work use. Just because the word ‘social’ is in the name of the tool does not mean that it’s a laugh a minute play-fest. Let me use the right tool for my job!
People will spend all day mucking about on Facebook
I’m sure exactly the same thing was said when the argument was made to introduce the telephone to people’s desks. Then again when e-mail was mooted. Then again when broadband access to the net came up.
I refuse to believe that any of us have never sent a personal or non-work related e-mail from our work addresses. E-mail loops were and are a huge distraction at times.
Are we really expecting every officer to spend every second from start to finish concentrating solely on spreadsheets, project plans and reports? A lofty target perhaps, but unrealistic. We all spend a little time a day talking about what we saw on the TV last night, the football, a movie or a night out. We show pictures of our kids latest exploits, and just have a good old gossip. And do you know what? The jobs still get done.
I find that those who are more relaxed about this are also those who end up working above the call of duty regularly, putting the extra hours in when needed, offering the extra support and standing up to be counted. If they spend ten minutes looking at photos of a relative in Australia and updating their status, they will probably be likely to more than make this up in their own time.
And if it is becoming a problem it is far more simple to prove and deal with than just about any other form of time wasting. How do you track and record the timewasting of someone who takes half an hour to make every cup of tea, who spends an hour a day distracting people with gossip, who takes days to read a report? How much easier it is if this is done online: a simple report from IT as to what websites they are visiting and how long they are spending on them is easy and effective; and requires no more technology than is already in place.
People don’t want to use social networks to engage with public services
How do you know? Social networks have only been around for a handful of years – Facebook turns five this year – and it’s relatively recently that we have started to use them professionally. Saying that people don’t want to engage with us online is like saying that West Ham will be relegated after losing the first game of the season. It might happen, but just because they lose one game doesn’t mean they’ll lose the rest.
Likewise, just because people to date haven’t en masse engaged with every local authority online doesn’t mean that they won’t in future. I have started signing online petitions, joining lobbying groups and sharing local information online; the more I do, the more I do.
And there are plenty of examples of public sector organisations who have done this incredibly successfully, from Newcastle to Bristol to Coventry; funny how these get ignored…
It takes ages – we haven’t got the resources
Yes and no. To do it properly takes officer time, and to respond to everything can increase this amount of time by a fair bit.
But shouldn’t we be trying to do this anyway? If a member of the public raises something at a meeting, we should be dealing with it. If they call us, we should be dealing with it. If they e-mail us, we should be dealing with it. Are we saying that we aren’t going to engage in social media in case people tell us about our services and want us to do something about them?
A little bit of time taken to deal with issues early can save a fortune later on down the line; every bit of information we can gather to help us save time and money should be gathered. We can’t afford not to.
At the end of the day, there will always be reasons not to do something; but with social media and digital engagement there are far more and bigger reasons to get on the train than not to.
And for those who’ve not seen it and have a minute or two spare, take a look at this: