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European Civil Servants Trying to Stay Relevant With Social Media

This morning, an article in The Guardian outlined some main points from the Digital Agenda Assembly in Brussels on how EU countries can achieve culture change in government, through the use of digital tools such as social media.

British-born Robert Madelin, director general of the European Commission’s directorate-general for information society and media, acknowledges that public sector organisations need to change and, in particular, to embrace social media. “As civil servants, we risk being left irrelevant if we do not do all we can to speed up how we work,” he says. “The old command and control ways of working, no longer works.”

Their vision is that if they harness social media, the power hierarchies will be broken down and policy creation will be a more transparent practice, which would build trust and involve more people. This in turn would completely change the culture of the government in Europe.

These are the six practices that Madelin put into practice at the European Commission in order to achieve this more democratized goal:

  • You can’t lead if you don’t lead. This means devoting time every day to social media. This won’t happen if you assume you must be at your desk, so make it mobile from day one.
  • Do it yourself: social media lacks authenticity if it is outsourced or automatic. “People can sense it if your Twitter or Facebook accounts doesn’t reflect your real personality and they don’t like it.”
  • Take ownership of the risks of junior colleagues. It’s important to give permission to others to innovate and make mistakes.
  • Self select a group of pioneers: don’t force social media on everyone, just work with the enthusiasts and demonstrate what is possible.
  • Don’t create an expectation until the approach is proven in your organisation: provide permission for the enthusiasts to do what they want to do – and learn what works.
  • Be open about experimentation: If you are open about your intentions and limited competencies people will step in to help make it work.

Do you think the European Commission is moving in the right direction?

What would you add to their action list?

Civil servants must seek to become digital natives to stay relevant

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William Blumberg

Great find Allison, thanks.

I am working on these two items from the articale with my project team:

  • Take ownership of the risks of junior colleagues. It’s important to give permission to others to innovate and make mistakes.
  • Self select a group of pioneers: don’t force social media on everyone, just work with the enthusiasts and demonstrate what is possible.

It is hard for them because they are so use to the normal and often slow processes of government that they struggle with innovation. However, the team is great and were picked because of their enthusiasm. I can teach them the skills needed but not the attitude.

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David B. Grinberg

Nice post, Allison. The only thing that raised a red flag for me was the point about allowing junior colleagues to experiment and make mistakes. The problem here is that one major mistake on Twitter, Facebook, etc., may go viral and severely embarrass an organization in the global media. Thus, the “make mistakes” part should occur offline until an employee is well trained and well versed in an agency’s mission and messaging. Thanks.

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Curt Klun

Lee Salmon has a terrific post about the external pressures that leaders are facing: VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity,) and Mr. Madelin’s quote points to the internal VUCA that leaders are also contending with. Perhaps hierarchical, process management is being overtaken by a new management structure, spurred by social networking that has the potential of advancing real-time networking/decision making, establishing common operating picture, and unparalleled data manipulation.

As far as I can see, two counterweights or bounds to this revolution are: 1) Authorities (accountability) and 2) Equity (fair process). Our federal agencies operate within the confines of the statutory authority that Congress has given them. This allows for internal as well as external (legislative and judicial branch oversight) fiducial accountability and a check on power. The second counterweight of equity that process affords is that in theory all are treated equally. As an equalizer, formal process provides avenue of service that all must pass, and deviation stands out for scrutiny.

I can see that social media facilitates informal leadership structure, communities of practice, and ad hoc task forces, but I don’t see how it can replace our executive structure without overcoming these counterweights.

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