“At its best, innovation is more than a team sport – it is a networked, collaborative adventure.” (ideo.com)
Are you interested in the practical application of social networking? What happens when we move the ideas from theory into practice?
Innovation vs. established process?
July 13, 2009 at 3:46 am #75587
Christa M. MillerParticipant
Had a conversation today with someone who is intimately involved with both social media and government at all levels. At one point he brought up that even in progressive government departments, the desire to innovate still falls sway to old-fashioned procurement processes.
So when an agency (in my space, law enforcement) wants to start using more “Web 2.0” tools to reach out to community, other agencies, etc., how restricted will they really find themselves by “the way we’ve always done things,” and how can they get around that? Will it take years, or are there measures they can take now?
July 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm #75605
This is a really good question, thanks for posting it. I want to start my thoughts with a true short story.
When I was traveling and evaluating COPS community policing grants we had huge innovation challenges. Most cops thought community policing was a “greet and wave” sissy program, not real policing. This was a common theme.
Since several of our grants focused on organizational change, some of our local agency grantees directly challenged this “how it’s always been” mentality. One of our grantees had a whole group of cynical officers. One in particular, stays in my mind.
He was a hard core cop. Did not want to walk a beat, never. Well, he was assigned a street beat. He had to do it, so he did. He reported he didn’t like it and felt stupid. He didn’t begin to take it seriously until he started meeting the community, talking to the neighbors and had a hand in stopping some crime. This hard core policeman went on to refuse a transfer and a pay raise to stay on the beat.
What made a difference, despite resistance, was the actual experience. People can be fearful of what they don’t know and always find comfort in what is familiar. Change can create ‘pain’ and we all do a lot to avoid feeling it for a lot of basic reasons.
Right now we are in the middle of a major national change. Some will make it and some won’t. It is a time to be bold, creative, take risks and try new things. Much of what we have done in the past doesn’t work or work anymore.
I have to ask, “is how we’ve always done things worked?” Is it working now? I also have to go directly to the leadership of an organization, particularly in law enforcement. Leaders of any organization do make all the difference.
Another short story: A good friend of mine is a police chief. He is a huge community policing advocate. He became a chief in a town which had a terrible police chief, who had alienated the whole community. My friend’s challenge was to take the most anti-community policing department and slowly turn that ship around, without tipping the agency over.
It was truly an organizational and leadership challenge. He knew and fully understood community policing and luckily some organizational and collaborative methodologies we had worked on together. Some strategies he instigated immediately, others over time. It has taken several years to complete the change but he has done it. He knew what he wanted, knew what he was up against and had a strategy for changing it over time. He is still in that position and a great resource to other Chiefs.
That brings me to another way to speed change. That is by peer to peer communication. It can make all the difference in the world, when people see their peers trying new things and getting credit for it.
I believe the change strategies are both short term and longer term. Right now we are in moving faster than normal, so things will change faster. We need good solid ideas, great leadership, guts, talent and an ability to live with a certain degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. After all, so much of what we want to do has no history, but is so clear anyway.
Let’s see what some other people have to say.
July 13, 2009 at 6:20 pm #75603
Another quick thought:
Organizations are made up of humans and human behavior counts for a lot, regardless of the situation. If we remember we are dealing with a collection of human beings, it will help us understand how to influence change.
The other insidious variable I’ve run into all the time are issues of power and control. Many dug in people will resist change at all costs because of their investment in their position.
July 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm #75601
To me the application and use of social media software is all about information exchange on an informal basis; folks interact in areas of interest to them without a formal structure. No mandate for use. Social media software enables (or can be used to enable) the informal social networks that people use on a daily basis to get things done — the change to the paradigm is that those informal networks can become much, much larger with social media software. One could state that a use case for social media in interacting with the public or other agencies is information dissemination/sharing to increase interaction between information/service providers and simultaneously providing seamless links to more formal IT structures for more structured conduct of business. There are then many innovative ways to deploy and integrate social media software into a capability that is bold, fresh, and engaging to attract your audience/customer while relying on “the way we’ve always done things” to satisfy regulatory/statutory requirements. May not be the most elegant solution, but it can be done near term.
July 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm #75599
I’m convinced that social media can be a very useful tool in managing some complex program and grant initiatives. In fact, I’m pushing very hard on using social networking as a tool in grants management.
It would reduce grant related costs, increase accountability and collaboration, build community around the grant initiative across the country and increase transparency.
I have given this a lot of thought and believe it fits like a hand to a glove with the direction the Administration is taking.
I want to work on this type of project as I’m sure it will also help us evaluate results and wins and give the public a window into complex processes, which they need to have more confidence in all these new allocations.
July 21, 2009 at 1:55 am #75597
Christa M. MillerParticipant
That’s interesting Andrea…. I have had the idea in my head to try to get LE agencies to use social media to reach out to communities for support in funding new initiatives, whether it’s applying for government grants or simply showcasing what agencies themselves are doing (or want to do), building relationships with business owners who in turn might be more inclined to fund LE programs… some (Wal-Mart, Target) already do but I keep thinking social media would only strengthen those efforts….
July 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm #75595
There are small innovative things that one person can do within organizations and there are big implementations that involve entire departments. What I’ve found is that it’s critical to start small experimentations as a way to get people to ‘see’ the possibilities of change.
Two examples that I love are the L.A. Fire Dept’s use of Twitter – http://twitter.com/lafd and the Boston Police Dept’s use of Twitter – http://twitter.com/Boston_Police. Both simple ways to start sharing information in a different way. The Boston Mayor’s office also just recently built an iPhone app that allows people to take pictures of and report issues – whether potholes or infrastructure issues. All of those initiatives are likely managed by one person but start getting people to think differently about how they might share information and communicate.
August 5, 2009 at 6:31 am #75593
Hello, Christa –
Your friend was right to focus on procurement. That’s the very practical source of many problems in introducing social media. I had an experience this last year that was completely frustrating. A small unit of a state university wanted to try a sophisticated wiki for several purposes, among them, communication with the public. There was willingness to try it in the organization, but getting the idea past procurement was a problem.
Now, the following sounds pretty negative – but these problems may be present in any agency. You can’t be completely discouraged, but you need patience and good strategies to get around the obstacles.
First, the request to purchase Software as a Service (SAAS). We carefully researched the best wiki solution according to several criteria and focused on one that was hosted on the provider’s server. Almost all of these services – at least at the scale of a couple of hundred users or less – require advance payment. Advance payment? That’s like driving down the street and throwing money out the window, said the procurement officer. The vendor wouldn’t change their policy, nor would procurement. I think this issue could well be circumvented if the customer were a large enterprise or government agency with many thousands of users and ample bargaining power – but not one small agency.
Second, procurement staff are used to buying software like any other product – a tangible boxed set of disks. That’s easy: you order the product, have it delivered, pay by invoice. The idea of software as a service on the vendor’s server was impossible to get across – never mind how widely these services were being adopted, it just didn’t make sense in the procurement office.
Third was the issue of accessibility under two federal statutes. This has nothing to do with the old ways of doing things. It’s new, universal and difficult to implement. And it is a new dimension of procurement policy. Many agencies have been late in adopting clear criteria for meeting the legal requirements and have become quite sensitive to the issue because of litigation, specifically about access to websites. Many vendors feel it is not their responsibility but that of the customer. This is especially true of wikis and other social software because hundreds or thousands of users are uploading new material all the time and expanding the “spaces” used for projects, meetings or public dialogue. It’s critical that the vendor at least ensure that the core software contain the tools that assist the agency IT staff with the constant updating that’s necessary to make every part of a rapidly expanding site completely accessible.
It took about six months to work through all this and finally get approval – and this was only for a trial period to put the software through its paces and build interest among staff for using it. Then the current financial crisis hit state government, projects were frozen, cutbacks began – and, of course, this new service was the first to go.
The worst part of the old attitudes is resistance to change. A certain type of bureaucrat can instantly reel off a half dozen reasons why a new idea won’t work, just can’t be done.
Speaking of inventiveness about why you can’t do it – I won’t begin to get into legal interpretations of open meetings laws and how they can shut down the use of social media for public meetings. That’s another fight!
That’s what you have to be prepared to deal with. All the above issues will some day be handled easily as part of the new normal procedure. Maybe that’s already true in your agency. I sincerely hope so.
My best to you –
August 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm #75591
This is something fire departments must be encouraged to do. It is in my neighboring counties in North Carolina.
August 11, 2009 at 12:57 am #75589
I can tell I’ve been away for a little while. This is a really great discussion. Each person is making excellent, useful and pertinent comments.
It’s sometime funny that the first to go is the innovation, yet the innovation may be the most cost effective application of all.
I’m reminded how often we assume that people understand this new media when they don’t. People naturally go to their comfort zone and some of what we are proposing isn’t comfortable or known.
We need some very public and solid demonstration grants, I’m more convinced every day.
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