Reinforcing the thin digital line

One of the benefits of my current role is getting to travel around Australia and meet many of the public servants working in the Government 2.0 and open government areas.

There’s some fantastic people doing great work, often hidden in the most unlikely places.

It has also made me aware of how few people there are in government with significant experience in this area, who have designed, launched and managed more than a few social media initiatives, or who have worked in the online sector for many years.

Across all levels of government in Australia I could name less than 40 people working in agencies or councils who have more than three years practical experience with Government 2.0 and online channels, and who are also sharing their expertise beyond their immediate teams.

I worry what would happen if even half of these people left government suddenly. The impact on the capabilities of agencies and the cost, in years and mistakes, in rebuilding expertise.

I call them the ‘thin digital line’. They are the group that stands between government in Australia and the next agency social media disaster.

Many of the people I know in this group are mentally tired. They’ve worked for years, often in digitally hostile environments, to build business cases and run pilots to demonstrate the value of online channels.

Few have reached senior public service positions, due to their focus and ‘troublemaking’, often combined with a love of the practical hands-on thrill of seeing their actions result in positive outcomes.

Fortunately there’s now a larger pool of people coming up through the ranks who are excited about getting into the digital arena. These people may have a few years professional experience with social media, but are more likely to be digital natives than some of us who have been involved in the online space for more than ten years.

They’ve internalised digital channels, but their knowledge of how to apply them in government agencies is still developing. They have skills and ideas, but sometimes lack confidence or experience.

If governments in Australia are to continue to embed Government 2.0 in business as usual activities, there needs to be a transfer of knowledge, experience and confidence from the ‘thin digital line’ and the group now following them.

I engaged in this kind of work last week, spending a day with a Commonwealth agency, meeting with with different teams to provide my experience and knowledge of the digital arena.

The people I spoke with were motivated, enthusiastic and empowered by their agency, with the permission to innovate in the digital space. However they still wanted independent confirmation to verify their good ideas, suggest refinements, risks, broader opportunities and build their confidence.

The day seemed to go very well and I have high hopes that the agency will be able to capitalise and continue to build its talent pool in this area. They’ll be doing some awesome things over the next few years.

If you’ve plenty of digital experience under your belt, I encourage you to do likewise.

Find an agency or team who recognises the importance of online, but wants a sounding board or independent verification of their ideas.

Help them, give them confidence in their own knowledge and abilities, provide that ‘expert opinion’ that allows them to justify their good strategy to a policy area or senior manager – or gently steers them past strategies that are high risk.

Reinforce our ‘thin digital line’. Help it to become a large embedded community of digitally capable and confident public servants, who can meet government online needs cost-effectively and quickly, then those who have done it before must share our experience.

The benefit to you will be that you’ve helped others to soar, potentially higher than you ever could.

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