The other day I posted about the challenges of creating good government sites, but how do we overcome these challenges?
Is there a way to use what we’re learning from observing the behaviour of online collaboration offline? That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do with our site redesign project. Not that I’ve really got anything to show you yet, since it won’t start to go live until November.
It all starts with sharing…
In Clay Shirky’s in Here Comes Everybody he presents 4 stages of social arrangements – sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism. It all starts with sharing. We cannot do anything in isolation, and yet, the most common complaint I hear in the government is that we don’t have enough resources. I hear people at Staff Retreats saying we must “break down silos” (whole groups of people working in isolation). Then what do I see? People building up empires. We must stop this! We must talk to each other. We must work with our colleagues, not just in our own branch, but within other branches in the same Department, and other web shops in other departments, and with other levels of government. Please stop worrying about who will get the credit. You will, trust me, or trust Tara Hunt; it’s the whuffie factor.
I believe that culture-change takes just one person at a time. So I walked out of my mini grey cubicle and started talking to my colleagues. All of them, or at least, as many as I could find. Some found me. At work. On Twitter. In the blogosphere. On GCpedia. By phone or e-mail. By referral. More found me when I started implementing our Comms plan before it was even written. I used the reverse need-to-know principal…Is there a reason I wouldn’t share this? No? Ok, I’m sharing it then. I’m presenting to as many committees and working groups as will have me. Never presenting a fait accompli, I would present what I knew about the web, what I assumed about our audiences based on the data I had available and sought ideas, knowledge and research papers from others who knew the content and our mandate better than I.
And working together…
Each time I present, a few people send an e-mail, pass along a name or a research document, or volunteer to be a guinea pig. Never before have I worked in such an open and inviting environment. It takes a lot of time to change even one neural network or mental model that people rely on to interpret the world around them, so I use the same slides and words in different orders and in varying levels of detail depending on the audience.
If you’ve followed Thomas Homer-Dixon around the world and back in his search for answers to some of our most pressing global issues in The Ingenuity Gap, then you probably already know that the world is COMPLEX! Not only is it complex, it is always changing. Working in a large organization means that it can take a long time to get things approved. Never fear, we’re not the only ones living in this complexity and uncertainty. Many have already figured out how to operate within in this environment. Some have even written about it. Google search ‘complexity theory’ or ‘systems thinking’. Read Getting to Maybe by Westley, Zimmerman & Patton.
All this to say that none of us can do or know everything. We know we need to share and work together. But it can be challenging just to get to a point of collaboration in a complex environment. What is changing is that we no longer can (or need to) know the answer to a question before starting. We just need to assemble the willing people who have the interest, time and capacity to work towards solutions.