John Folk-Williams replied to the topic Innovation vs. established process? in the forum Social Networking, Leadership and Innovation in the Applied Setting 10 years, 8 months ago
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 –
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