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Pushing the Government Send Button – Risk in the face of social media

t has been fascinating to watch governments – particularly in Canada – grapple with the risk paradigm. The worry is all too real, unfortunately, that interacting and sharing of their expertise and experience could land a leader on the front fold of the newspaper or silently put a clerk or policy analyst into a box.

I see it regularly, in part through silence but certainly even by those who are dipping their toe into the crowd sourcing waters and working with us.

Let’s look at a couple of real-time examples:

– A Canadian federal government Deputy Minister started a blog over the last few months. Or, at least, the office felt that they had started a blog. It is on the department’s intranet and it does indeed look at first blush like a blog except that any comments from readers are sent to the DM through a comment page. They are never seen by the rest of the department. The communication taking place is one-way and the interaction is, at best, negligible, perhaps even damaging. I certainly applaud that the DM is openly communicating messages to their team, but it is not a blog. I can only assume that the DM is worried about what some of the team might say but in the process has stifled interaction and collaboration.

– A second example is a little closer to home for PubliVate. Our crowd sourcing engagements always yield fascinating (and useful) statistics beyond community building and great ideas. One of those is charting views of ideas. Each time someone views an idea it is recorded in our database. Our most recent engagement had a 2:1 ratio of non-attributable to attributable idea views. In other words, those “lurking”, not registered but participating looking (mixed in with those registered but not logged in) and learning from the ideas and dialogue taking place by registered participants, far out-paced those that were registered and logged in to the campaign.

Why? From our exit surveys and discussions there are a variety of good reasons. Skepticism around the commitment to change, anxiety around the cultural change and empowerment, and curiosity around this “social media thing” would all be part of the reasoning. I believe – and I don’t think this a historical moment in any sense – that the cultural change is the “silent majority” winner of the various reasons for lurking.

The culture of risk aversion is a significant, perhaps the most significant impediment to greater participation in social media, at least within the GC. The examples above are chosen deliberately to underline something well known, risk aversion is pervasive in government and continues to very much have an effect on a transition to anything that might resemble open government.

I would love hear about views on solutions and experiences in the GC and other government jurisdictions. My own take is that the solution recipe includes continued leadership at all levels but particularly from the top line, policy changes, sharing of successes, education, and...time…which also means…patience on the part of those, like me, advocating quicker change.


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I’m with you Geordie…I think it comes down to time and patience…which unfortunately is tough for those like us who want to move quickly. I think momentum will build and change will occur but takes time.