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In New Zealand: Reviewing a Review

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I spent last week on a review panel looking at the performance of a New Zealand university’s web team. It was an illuminating experience – and a very positive one – but it got me to thinking about the how to operate within a changing digital environment. That’s pretty vague so let me explain a bit more.

If you work in an agile project management structure, then you’re used to working iteratively to build a product in increments. This makes sense because it saves money, time and angst not only for the team but especially for customers.

In government, shouldn’t we also consider what we do and how we do it to be iterative as well? Sometimes there’s a catalyst to changing how we work – think about the impact of a high-profile project or a new senior manager – but usually we’re just too busy to spend any time figuring out better ways to work.

But the world has changed. Take citizen engagement for example: this used to mean you occasionally sent a survey to your constituents via email or volunteers going door-to-door armed with a clipboard. This activity increased exponentially the closer you got to an election.

Fast forward to now and the expectations have shifted drastically: people want to know program details, progress on issues, positions on key topics, whether a pothole has been fixed, and the list goes on. Plus, now people expect government to listen to their opinions, find out their positions on key topics, ask what those topics are and co-create possible solutions. Engagement is now a 2-way, non-stop fire hose of information sharing between people and government. Imagine how different this is: engagement has evolved from token efforts at best to fully-considered, continuously-evolving interactions with people to improve government.

During this review, I was reminded of the movie Chicken Run, where the hero says “Flying takes 3 things: hard work, perseverance and…hard work.” [Yes, I know: I can always find a movie to reference.] And if you replace ‘flying’ with ‘web services’, you’ll get a sense of how well this university team is doing. But even within a high-performing team, there’s room for improvement.

For example, ideally we’ll all keep up with trends like:

But really, who has time to keep up across a really complicated landscape? So probably the biggest trend to embrace is sharing what you know so that others can stand on your shoulders. And standing on others’ to do the same.

Which takes me back to my original idea about re-thinking how we work in this online space: unless you make a point of taking a regular, objective look at how you approach delivering services and information online, you won’t pick up on these or other trends. Frankly, with too much to do and not enough time or people to get everything done  across the public sector – in almost any country, this isn’t just a New Zealand issue – we really need to make an effort to iterate and improve the way we work.

So while it’s fresh in my mind, let me get you started with a few ideas on the strengths of the review panel that I was on:

  1. get an outside view: other insiders may be working from the same assumptions so it would be really easy to miss issues or new ideas; maybe there won’t be any surprises but better to ask
  2. ask a critic: not someone hostile, but someone who can give you ideas about why they had a less than stellar experience and how to change that
  3. be open minded: don’t pre-judge ideas or assume what people will tell you, and don’t write off suggestions
  4. don’t focus only on the negative: you want to know what works well too so you don’t lose the positives
  5. talk to people: you could ask for written submissions but you could also invite people in for a talk; informal conversations add a lot of depth and detail to what people write
  6. ponder everything: fight the need for instant answers because every bit of info will add to your understanding of what’s broken, what’s amazing and what you could change
  7. look underneath the problems: find out why something isn’t working, not just what’s wrong
  8. say nice things: I think most people go into public service because they want to make things better, so recognize good work when you see it.

This review panel was a formal process but within my team at the Department of Internal Affairs, we’re also spending some time working through what we do and how to add even more value to the all-of-government online work. No reason why others couldn’t do the same.

Cheers
Susan

@SusanCarchedi
www.WebToolKit.govt.nz

Susan Carchedi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Shannon Kennedy

I loveee that “sharing what you know so that others can stand on your shoulders” is a trend!! Sharing of best practices is so critical to enhance productivity!!! Thank you Susan!

Profile Photo Christine Burke

Susan – what a thoughtful post! I think taking a regular, objective look at your approach (regardless of what you’re doing) will help keep you on track to meet goals. In the digital realm it’s easy to get distracted because there are a million cool things to try. Instead of doing everything poorly, focus on a certain key areas then testing trends to see if they’re successful is an effective strategy.