With the Treasury Board Secretariat’s release of the Guideline for External Use of Web 2.0, it is likely more departments and agencies will be diving into Web 2.0 and social media.
The guideline has created quite the buzz both internally and externally about how the government of Canada is using these tools. As the government’s profile in this area increases, so will activity in the use of Web 2.0 tools.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Ottawa, a group of public servants is likely being trained on how to use a new collaborative tool. A lot of work will have gone into procuring it and expectations will be high that once employees start using it, productivity and outputs will improve. Sadly, once launched, its only users will be the mavericks, the early adopters.
Where’s everyone else and why aren’t they using this new tool? Training will have been put in place and made readily available in multiple formats. Lunch-and-learn sessions, one-on-one training, online instructions and videos will be at everyone’s fingertips, yet the take-up will still be slow. The project lead will be left scratching his or her head, wondering why so few have are making use of the tool. After all, they’d planned a strong communications strategy for marketing the tool and provided ample opportunities for training.
While training on the technical aspects of new Web 2.0 tools is important, few talk about the real key to collaboration and digital engagement: a conversation about values.
Public servants require training to make use of the tools that are out there, but training is the easy part. Many of the vendors and even the free tools (like Twitter and Facebook) have materials readily available to help with training. The hard part is training people to learn how to work together. And you can’t just train one party; all participants need to learn how to work with one another. This is particularly difficult because what you are really asking is for people to adjust their values. That’s asking a lot and if participants don’t understand that aspect – that values matter – then it will be even more difficult to achieve the goal.
In October 2010, the government of Canada saw an entire day-long conference devoted to the study and practice of collaboration – the first free, self-organized conference to focus on the topic. The day-long “culture camp” attempted to profile the importance of collaborative culture in the workplace. There have since been three more conferences on the topic and it raises an issue that many departments and agencies risk misunderstanding: it is not just a question of which tool, but also what values can best facilitate collaboration.
A collaborative, inclusive process is important because through it we can find better outcomes. A collaborative mindset will regard a good idea as precisely that – a good idea – regardless of the role, responsibilities or hierarchal position of its originator. We’re talking about a mindset that inverts the adage “information is power” and instead values the power of sharing information. These are all values that are typically foreign to the existing paradigms in the public service.
Much like mediation between conflicting parties, participants in a collaborative process need to be on the same page about the behaviour that governs their interactions. If one or more participants do not believe in sharing information or in providing a safe space to explore ideas, mistrust between participants will cascade and the process will break down. This is why a conversation about values is important at the outset.
Getting employees to share the same collaborative values will be a lot of hard work. But once on the same page, issues like training simply become a task and not a roadblock. And that’s the same message being communicated by the Collaborative Culture conference series – it’s about culture, not just the tool.
Tariq Piracha is a communication strategist with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.