After two exciting weeks in North America where I discussed social media in government, I found a somewhat quieter environment among our clients at the Gartner European Symposium in Cannes.
There does not seem to be a real sense of urgency. Engaging citizens remains a noble aspiration but few would consider doing it by reaching out to them on somebody else’s social network. With few exceptions, most seem to be banning access to social sites from the workplace, and there is very little done even in terms of social media strategies and policies, let alone any reflection on the pivotal role of employees.
Do not get me wrong here. European clients are as smart as North American ones, and they can be as articulate if not more. But they seem to be unwilling to challenge the status quo and to believe that anything can happen from the bottom-up and from the outside-in. Most feel comfortable in starting with tackling internal collaboration and – although they know very well that their employees are already using consumer social media – they’d rather ignore the impact that these media might have on internal collaboration goals. When it comes to external engagement, there is no room for individual employee’s initiatives, and any venture needs a political blessing. Unless the mayor, the minister, the governor say that government needs to use web 2.0 to engage people, they won’t.
Although I did not discuss this topic with any UK client yet, it is interesting to note how the fair amount of activity there is probably connected to the political push created by the Digital Britain plan and – earlier – by the Power of Information report. As usual, things take place in government when the hierarchy decides they do, but I’ve certainly noted in North America a greater propensity to explore new avenues, to trust knowledge workers, to step outside traditional boundaries.
So after two days in Cannes, my statement about North Americans being more likely than Europeans to get government 2.0 is even more valid. I hope my last day in Cannes tomorrow will give me hope, as I believe European citizens and government employees are using social media as much as their North American counterparts and denial will not help for long.