I spent a day in Brisbane, Queensland, where I had a chance to visit government organizations at the state and local level and discuss with them about social media strategies. The attitude to social media suddenly changed between December 2010 and January 2011, when massive rains caused the Brisbane river to overflow and flooded most of the city. The size and severity of the event caused call centers and web sites to be overwhelmed with demand, and drove several government agencies to revert to social media such as Facebook and Twitter to send out information as well as to monitor how that was being used by citizens to share relevant information about how the situation was developing.
After the event, some organizations have changed their behaviors, for instance opening access to social media to all employees, while others have started revising or developing their social media strategies, realizing its potential value.
However in almost all cases I sensed a difficulty in keeping the momentum created by those difficult moments. Despite the indisputable benefits experienced during the floods, there seems a disconnect, or a discontinuity, between initiatives triggered to face the emergency, and more sustainable process changes to make the use of social media part of the normal course of business. While most departments are asking themselves the right questions about role-based policies, new business models, and balance between communication, monitoring and engagement, they seem to be unprepared to face and support the more organic, employee-centric evolution that characterize sustainable social media deployment and use.
While it is clear that most government organizations need a compelling event to make government 2.0 work – be it a natural disaster or major budget cut – they may go back to normal when extraordinary conditions do no longer hold.
There is no gain without pain. With social media, it seems that there is no sustainable gain unless the pain lasts long enough.
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I had the benefit of hearing Andrea espouse this theory before reading the blog and I have been contemplating it since. Upon reflection, I was reminded of a thesis put to me by a previous commanding officer more than 20 years ago. He told me that to get change, one needed dissatisfaction. Without dissatisfaction, there would be no change.
Perhaps what these natural disasters demonstrated was dissatisfaction with the status quo of emergency communications. The new technology, Gov 2.0, represented a way to alleviate this dissatisfaction and was thus widely adopted. Once the crisis passed, the need subsided. Change, no longer warranted, no longer drove the need for these tools. Is it possible, like fire hoses on their reels, some Gov 2.0 tools only need to be rolled out in an emergency?
Thanks as usual, Andrea, for a stimulating thought piece.
I like the change driver theme of your commanding officer’s theory John.
Andrea visited us at DPI the day before this post and I was moved by his observation of the drivers of change that led to some of the successful uses of social media by governments. Rather than list the successes of various “build it and they will come” Gov 2.0 initiatives Andrea pointed out a range of necessity or even adversity driven innovations in government service delivery that have utilised social media.
Rather than throw money at Gov 2.0 experiments many government agencies have had to find ways to deliver services with significantly reduced funds – child welfare officers with dramatically increased case loads using facebook activity of clients to identify areas of potential risk based on behavioural changes, employment assistance providers making use of linkedin networks and revenue collection agencies making use of publicly available information – all great examples of government service delivery being transformed by the use of social media. A degree of Schumpterian “creative destruction” in the innovation taking place perhaps…
Thank for your comments John & Gordon – I am sure there are other ways to make gov 2.0 stick. Just, I have not found those yet 🙂
I think there is an element of truth in John’s comments about pain begetting change.
However often pain is not distributed evenly in an organisation, leading to pockets seeking change and other pockets not recognizing or acknowledging the issues.
How can we distribute the pain, or at least the awareness of it, to stimulate change to occur and to stick?
There are some compelling points you have made here. If I deconstruct the natural disaster instances, particularly having managed through them at the time, the issue around the success being event driven, for mine, stems back to the true proposition of any service or product, and that is Demand.
This demand for information is what drove the use of Gov2.0 in these instances; What are the flood levels? What is the cyclone path? Where are the road closures? Are there flood maps?….. This didn’t stem from a government initiative it came from the greater needs of the community. The events themselves triggered a sense of urgency that created a demand that enabled bureaucratic road blocks to be surmounted. Case in point is the escalation of the @QPSMedia twitter and Facebook presences, these went from a trickle soft launch to significant membership/following in 24 hours, without significant processes and governance in place. Not saying there weren’t any, just not ratified, as this was a discovery process for the agency.
Now this isn’t something new to many agencies or organisations, as many grapple with organisational productivity issues that often require a short term sense of urgency to tear down silos and align to a common goal.
If we could understand the demand and give it some prioritisation thereby creating a sense of urgency , I think we will go a long way to providing sustainable Gov2.0 services that will continue to add value and in fact grow.
I think the challenge ahead for most agencies is truly identifying and understanding the demand /need and positioning it as competitive strategic priority that warrants investment and visability.