Steve Ressler, the founder of govloop.com, an online community of government innovators, will be speaking in Ottawa on November 22 at a new ideas for change conference called PS Engage. CGE asked him for his views on the importance of collaboration in a digital world.
When you hear the word “collaborate,” do you yawn? Do you imagine a fireside kumba-ya with guitars playing?
Yet, collaboration is all the buzz. You are hearing every day about new technology that lets you collaborate both internally with your employees and externally with your stakeholders: social networks, ideation software, enterprise 2.0, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and more.
All of this may sound interesting but doesn’t collaboration simply seem like something that’s “nice to have”? You are facing shrinking staff, shrinking budgets and the perennial “do more with less.” Do you have time for “collaboration”?
The answer is “yes,” collaboration matters. But it only matters when it is focused on driving mission and organizational results rather than collaboration for collaboration’s sake. It matters because it can help solve age-old problems that are the responsibility of government and that managers grapple with everyday.
Let’s give a few examples of why:
I was in Washington, D.C. when an earthquake happened. The phone lines became jammed and it was difficult to make a phone call. If you are the D.C. government, how do you get out information about the earthquake to citizens? And how do you even know what information to get out since you only have a limited number of employees who can survey the situation? Thanks to Twitter, every citizen became a journalist, reporting the status throughout the city, letting others know the status of roads and the Metro by pushing the information out. This two-way collaboration helped solve a very real problem: keeping citizens safe and informed during an emergency.
Government organizations are so large that it’s hard to know what others in government are doing. Thus the need for advisory groups, cross-functional panels, and more. I launched govloop.com, a social network of over 50,000 government employees, for this exact reason. Collaboration saves time and money. If you are launching a new program (whether a new Intranet or government Facebook page), wouldn’t you want to know how other agencies have tackled the problem – what worked, what didn’t – so you can avoid those mistakes?
Interest group collaboration
Your department or agency is working on its vision document, the 2025 plan. Often, the agency has a set process: in-person meetings internally at all levels as well as in-person meetings with a few key stakeholder groups. This isn’t a bad process but is it really getting innovative ideas, the ideas needed for change by 2025? By using collaborative tools, your organization can open up the collaboration to a broader range of ideas. Instead of the standard interest groups and the few citizens who attend townhall meetings, you can gather feedback from a broader set of stakeholders with a broader range of ideas.
As you move forward with collaboration, remember success doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not easy. I’ve seen many agencies fail to get the true value of collaboration because they didn’t invest the resources (time, money, expertise) and then got impatient. Or they thought that it would be a magic cure to their problems and wondered why they didn’t get feedback or answers when they asked.
Collaboration is not a one-time event but a continuous process of engagement. The first time you ask for feedback and suggestions from stakeholders, there may be a concern that you don’t really mean it. But after multiple engagements where you’ve talked the talk, it builds upon itself and starts to pay dividends: in a more effective workforce, in an engaged citizenry, and in efficient problem solving. And that becomes a long-term asset that is enormously valuable and keeps on giving.
Steve Ressler is the founder and president of govloop.com. To learn more about or to register for PS Engage: a tapestry of people and ideas, see www.psengage.org