Bye bye BIS (Hello Involve)

I’m saying goodbye to my normal day job in BIS. But not forever. As part of our commitment to outreach and learning from other sectors, I’m going to be spending the week with participation organisation Involve.

So starting tomorrow (who said working weeks have to start on a Monday?), I’ll be heading a bit little further east in London every day to join the team, with a few key objectives:

– to see what I can learn and apply from their work on embedding engagement;
– to actively get involved in that;
– to help them celebrate their 10th anniversary.

I’ve been aware of the organisation and the work they do since my policy days, so I’m excited to see what I get up to. I’ll be blogging about it here and on the Involve blog, so watch this (and that) space!

First impressions and reaching out: on podcasting and blogging BIS science

“First impressions and reaching out” is the title of our second BIS science podcast, following on from our first released during National Science & Engineering Week. This “episode” focuses on science policy advice with reflections from Leila Luheshi, a science policy maker on a secondment undertaken specifically to see how science advice filters into the policy making process, and the initial reflections of Sir Mark Walport, and what can be expected from his time in office as Government Chief Scientific Advisor.

Interestingly, he doesn’t see too many differences with the Wellcome Trust (perhaps “yet” is an operative word here, as Leila pointed out to me on Twitter), while Leila herself thoughtfully reflects on the differences – both unanticipated and not – with her academic role. It was great to see her blowing some misconceptions – eg around joined up working – out of the water.

Indeed, what’s hopefully coming through from both of our episodes so far, are those surprising snippets that humanise policy makers, and shed new light on roles and responsibilities. I hope others agree.

But, this particular podcast is also interesting for me, as it shows how things have moved on since my time working on the last Public Attitudes to Science study. My ex-colleague Karen also appears, giving a bit more insight into the science and society review, but also detailing what to expect from Public Attitudes to Science 2014! There’s an appetite for blogging that research, much earlier in the process this time round, and I’m sure that social media will feature both in the research itself, and in spreading the word about its results.

Impactful digital engagement?

BIS flickr imageI’ve blogged before on what impacts of digital engagement we should be measuring. For me –  with ongoing policy engagement in particular –  I’ve been especially interested in seeing if we could measure the impacts on both individual policies and the teams who develop them.

In response to commitments made in the BIS Digital Strategy, we’ve just published our first (and second) detailed case studies with more to come.  They both give a fairly evenly balanced view of what is possible through online engagement – and it’s interesting to see in the science and society example (which I have an added interest in given I’ve seen that site develop from the policy side)  that what may have worked before can’t always be guaranteed to keep on working.  But as we’ve been working on the case studies, and going back to other teams to assess where they’re at now, it’s great to see that there were real impacts, beyond the usual suspects of shares, likes, views etc. including:

  • Tangible effects on the types of evidence collected during a review – with one team commenting on the high quality of responses and evidence obtained;
  • Allied to that, real-time monitoring of responses proved useful in adapting thinking on an ongoing basis.  It was felt that – as responses came in within hours, as opposed to the months associated with traditional consultation processes – it was easier to get a feel for the themes that were emerging.   It didn’t happen in these particular reviews, but this is potentially valuable in terms of exploding myths before they become an issue;
  • The digital approach seen as a more open and transparent approach to policy making;
  • Digital approaches actively considered for the future by the teams themselves, and more widely by others around them.

There was also a noticeable tangible increase in teams’ digital skills, with impacts including:

  • Teams taking on responsibility for monitoring and evaluation on an ongoing basis;
  • A recognition of the value of listening and monitoring as a tool which could potentially inform approaches to briefing;
  • One individual having a defined digital engagement objective
  • Transferring those skills to new teams.

It wasn’t specifically mentioned, but in many ways the individuals involved in projects become ambassadors for digital – they may be asked to talk to other teams about their experiences, for example.

I’m very aware of the dangers of drawing many conclusions from  relatively isolated examples and there’s no guarantee that all teams using digital for a specific project will continue to do so.  But, all are promising signs that digital can be effectively incorporated into policy teams’ day-to-day activities.  Let’s see what our next batch of case studies bring – but in the meantime do let us know what you think.

From leaders to landscapes: the government digital strategy

This week has seen the publication of the Government Digital Strategy that will see government use of and approach to digital transformed over the next few years. Action will focus on:

  • Improving departmental digital leadership

  • Developing digital capability throughout the civil service

  • Redesigning transactional services to meet a new digital by default service standard

  • Completing the transition to GOV.UK

  • Increasing the number of people who use digital services

  • Providing consistent services for people who have rarely or never been online

  • Broadening the range of those tendering to supply digital services including more small and medium-sized enterprises

  • Build common technology platforms for digital by default services

  • Remove unnecessary legislative barriers

  • Base service decisions on accurate and timely management information

  • Improve the way that the government makes policy and communicates with people

Obviously, I’ll have a direct interest in the last point, and I look forward to seeing how our abilities develop further.  As is the case with GDS, they’ve opened up the process, and their blog has focused on how the strategy was delivered as a website, and it’s great the way that video case studies and arguments are integrated into that, with this one featuring Martha Lane Fox and others arguing the case for the role of the digital leader and the need for board level commitment to change.

And that board level commitment is needed so that policy makers can begin to really take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital..  That’s backed up by some real commitments to train senior managers.  And, in the video for that set of Actions we hear directly from the person who developed the Prime Minister’s dashboard that’s been in the news this week.

Reading back over Martha’s initial  review of Directgov which sparked this whole process off two years ago, it’s obvious that the real work to implement her vision is only just getting underway. GOV.UK has just been an appetiser, and the next year will see individual agencies make the transition, while the move to improve and digitise transactional services will begin in earnest.  It’s particularly telling that, while more of us are happy to shop and bank online for instance, the strategy’s accompanying research shows we  haven’t embraced the same tools for dealing with government.

But for me one of the most fascinating bits of the strategy is one of the documents that accompanied it, and what it tells us about the attitudes towards  transactional government services: the digital landscape report.

This graphic shows broad groupings of where those of us who don’t use government digital services online tend to sit.

Figure 9

I’d like to see more detail on this particular piece of analysis, but  there are some interesting similarities with attitudes to science that I’ve discussed before, with degrees of confidence, interest and engagement.  The real usefulness of the groupings though is if we can take a further step and work out what their those broad attitudinal tendencies tell us about how people can be persuaded to change.

And if I’m relating this back to myself, then I’m probably closest to a category 6 confident explorer – but my reason for not using government online transactional services isn’t there – I’ve just never needed to yet.  Hopefully by the time I do, this strategy will mean that it’s a painless experience.

Online Policy Making or reviewing the reloaded matrix

Ade from GDS has been blogging about her work on online policy making, initially setting out the reasons for consultation, and following that through with a request for further examples in the categories that she’s developed to assist thinking around how and when Government engages. There’s just too much to say in the space below a blog, so I decided I’d post my response here instead.

So, to respond directly to Ade, I am a big fan of the case study approach, and seeing that formalised would be a real step forward in embedding digital engagement more formally.  One of the things we learned during our social media week activities  was that – despite the fact I can assure you government isn’t quite as silo’ed as you think it is – people don’t always get the time and space to see outside their immediate and associated policy areas.  So if they haven’t been ‘doing digital’ they tend to assume that the department is lagging behind.  Being able to show them examples from consultations to ongoing engagement exercises was effective at changing that perception.  So having a bank of case studies  – and giving those a prominent home – will go some way towards redressing that balance.  We all need to get better at doing that  in a systematic way.

So, I like the way that she’s tried to categories the types of case study – so moving beyond traditional consultation to include projects for:

  •  Generating ideas
  • Testing out new ideas
  • Creating/designing a document/service or deliver a project in collaboration with relevant stakeholders
  • Drawing on dispersed knowledge to inform policymaking
  • Getting detailed and focused feedback within a tightly defined framework
  • Addressing misconceptions and clarifying objectives through discussion and engagement

She gives some great case study examples from some well-known (and not so well-known) exercises in the categories where she has been able to identify them – I’ll talk a little bit more about what else I think she could have included below, but I’d add another couple of examples to those she’s used:

  •  In category 3, delivering a project in collaboration with stakeholders: that was the intention behind the approach taken during development of the Science and Society Expert Group action plans – with varying degrees of success and participation depending on the groups themselves.   That site has actually been through a number of iterations over a 4-year period – from its use as initial consultation site (with online engagement driven by the digital team within DIUS), to collaboration, and back to trying to test out new ideas – each with varying levels of engagement from the relevant community. Again, I’ll confess an interest in this site as I was in the science and society team, for the first two stages of the site’s development.
  • In category 4, drawing on dispersed knowledge, I’d include Focus on Enforcement, a younger cousin of the Red Tape Challenge.   As a project, it’s the online face of  a series of reviews on how regulations are enforced by local and national authority regulators, enabling people to share their experiences with those regulators.  It also veers into category 1, generating ideas, through its use of IdeaScale which enables interested parties to suggest (and vote on) ideas that future reviews could examine.  Like the Red Tape Challenge, the subject focus changes regularly, which has its own challenges for building relationships with online communities, while we’ve been less successful at driving traffic to the IdeaScale suggestion site – this may be to do with the fact that it requires registration to contribute, or to the fact that it’s simply not been as visible as it should be.

So what should case studies include?

People are probably bored of me referencing the Sciencewise programme – the non-digital public dialogue programme I used to support in my previous job.  Their approach to evaluation is a valuable one, however, especially its focus on actively using such a template for case studies which measure immediate impact of dialogue and engagement interventions, and which are routinely updated in recognition that impact can take place long after the initial engagement exercise has completed. For me it also gives more clues about how we should go beyond metrics to look at impacts on the people involved, the policy makers and the actual policy.

And, I think that gives a clue to how some the case studies featured in Ade’s blog could be further developed (with apologies to those who have taken the time to get them this far).  I’ve picked on one here to illustrate what I mean.

  •  The Red Tape Challenge Case StudyThis feels quite hurried, defensive, and tends to focus slightly on the negative aspects of running the site, without (as we do with Focus on Enforcement) acknowledging the challenges of regularly changing the focus and audience targeted.  The study doesn’t reflect the involvement of the various Departments over time, nor does it consider how the comments received have been used to develop and shape approaches to policy making.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two consultations and subsequent changes to policy that have happened as a result.  I think it needs to give the time period over which the 29,000 responses were received, and acknowledge the value of having such a large evidence base.  I’d also like to hear more about the approaches used to reach the relevant audience for each challenge, and any online partnerships or techniques used to encourage discussion.

What would I add?

So, for me (and I’m half wearing my ex policy hat here too),  as well as the really useful headings that Ade has used in her case examples, I’d like to see included evidence on:

  • Impact on respondents
  • Was this the first time that respondents have been involved in a government consultation?
  • How many new people were brought into the debate as a result of this new approach?
  • If the exercise hasn’t generated as many comments as hoped, the reasons for that.  That’s particularly important in a current exercise where we’re effectively asking individuals and business to comment on people who they’re likely to meet again, and whose relationship with the state puts them in a relative position of power.
  • How did individuals feel about participating, was it easy for them to get involved, and did they feel their voices and opinions were heard?
  • The policy team
  • Was this the first time the policy team or any of its members have engaged in this way? This could be an attempt at a proxy for measuring how far digital engagement has been embedded.
  • Would they be likely to take the digital approach again?
  • How likely those policy makers are to engage digitally on an ongoing basis?
  • The policy
  • Was the eventual policy shaped as a result of online interventions and suggestions?
  • What are the ongoing impacts of the engagement?
  • Joint learning
  • What the digital and/or policy team would avoid if starting the process from scratch?
  • Whether the approach has been modified or used again in subsequent projects
  • The Process
  • Initial mapping and analysis of how best to reach the desired audiences, and the eventual success in achieving that aim
  • Online partnerships developed to help promote the exercise, and facilitate discussion and active engagement around it. For example, in the BIS HE White Paper Consultation, The Student Room was partnered with, while policy teams were active in engaging on external online spaces.

Some of these are implied or included in Ade’s approach already, of course, and I’m sure that many won’t agree with some of my additions, or think that some of them don’t necessarily need to be shared beyond the digital team.

And, some of these are big asks, which would mean building in extra levels of monitoring and evaluation at the beginning of any engagement exercise: including these types of qualitative measures takes the focus off the digital element, focusing instead on the engagement.  More importantly, though, it talks some of the language of policy-makers to sell the benefits of the exercise in the policy makers own terms and language.  And including a commitment to evaluation right from the beginnings of any project could  – like with Sciencewise  – form part of an informal contract between digital and policy that emphasises the former’s importance, and begins to really embed digital thinking.  It’s easy to say this in a blog, but it’s proved less easy to do in practice.

Reviewing science and society

BIS’s science and society team have embarked on a review of their programmes and activities.  The first stage of that process sees updates to the Action Plans that were published as part of their expert group process.

It’s a little weird watching from the sidelines on this one, as I was involved in a lot of the  previous activity that has eventually led to this point – from the Science and Society consultation, through its analysis, and to supporting the Science and Trust Expert Group in developing its Action Plan (can that really have been published 2 and a half years ago?), and implementing some of its actions, for example through the Public Attitudes to Science Survey.  And I also have to thank that initial consultation process for my own (at that time fledgling) digital engagement, as I began to see what digital tools could actually do.

At the heart of the current review process is a WordPress-based microsite developed as part of that earlier work (my predecessor commissioned it from Puffbox, while I was at that point one of the team responsible for requesting that update from a previous consultation site, so it’s all a bit small-worldish).  The site’s suffering a little from age and a relative lack of flexibility vis-a-vis some of our more recent developments, but it still works.  And more importantly, it’s something I can just leave the team to update themselves.  The site’s currently open for comments and views, so if you are involved in provision of science and society type activities, or just generally interested, head over and see what’s happening.

Working with the team and comms colleagues, we’ve introduced the hashtag #BISscisoc2012, as well as simple inbox listening  to help the team keep track of comments that arise as part of the process. We’ll also be  encouraging those who are active online to discuss the action plan updates via their social media channels.  While this post is part of that, I won’t use it to add my voice to the debate about what Government should or shouldn’t be doing, as that wouldn’t feel quite right.  While we were actively discussed online, on Twitter for example, previously, it’ll be interesting to see how that conversation has developed, and is different from that of even two and a half years ago.

Digital day on tour

Our first digital day back in May had a completely London presence. But we’re a multi site Department. When advertising that first day, it was clear that the drop-in style meant we wouldn’t really be able to link up over an extended period, so in our intranet ads we offered the possibility of separate events in other sites if there was an appetite

We were approached by a couple of individuals and teams who suggested that we deliver something in Sheffield – this tied in with requests for training that had already been trickling in. Obviously, we couldn’t ship ourselves wholesale there, and as it was only going to be me attending for an afternoon, I decided, in collaboration with learning & development colleagues (itself a useful linkage) to make this event a bit more structured over a four hour period. That way, we reasoned, we’d be be able to maximise my time there.

So this time, I added in two bite-size sessions introducing social media, and why it’s important for us in government. They were bookended by two social media surgeries lasting an hour and a half and an hour. Reps from each directorate based in Sheffield were responsible for sending round the invites – so more direct, and a bit more personalised, than the London version where we advertised on the intranet first. This was backed up by an ad on the weekly department-wide bulletin board sent to everyone’s inbox.

We didn’t involve the digital champion network as overtly as before, but a few did try and help us spread the word a little further.

Our ads stressed the same three themes as the previous event as before. They also asked people to sign up to the four sessions in advance (so more like the traditional GP surgery that most of us are used to as opposed to the walk-in variety).

The day itself saw some good interaction and almost all the people who came along had no previous experience with social media. There were some insightful questions of reliability and validity of evidence gained through social media, right through to perennial issues of how to build its use into existing work. I think I got a much better feel for some of the barriers and preconceptions that need to be addressed before digital can be fully embedded as well. But that’s combined with real enthusiasm to know and understand more. Again that knowledge is useful. As is the evidence that monitoring online conversations seems to be a genuine hook for people – that backed up some of what I’ve written previously about how different attitudinal groupings will approach digital engagement.

As with one of our more successful surgeries in London the most dynamic interaction of the day came when one of our digital champions was able to share his experiences in using Linked In with someone who would benefit more from using that network than any other.

I actually knew some of the people in Sheffield having interacted with them in my policy days, so that added a nice extra dimension.

So what do I take away from this particular experience:

  • Don’t assume that silence necessarily equals lack of interest
  • What seems simple and intuitive to you and your team isn’t to those with no social media experience (I knew this anyway from my experience as an IT tutor while at uni, but this event reinforced that for me)
  • People can be genuinely concerned about giving themselves a higher profile through a tool like Yammer; that has obvious implications beyond organisational boundaries
  • Structure works too
  • I personally need to spend more time out of our London office – or at least deliver more regular distance surgeries
  • Only arrange a digital day when other team members aren’t on leave!


Reflections on #digitalday

And so the first BIS Digital Day has been and gone.

We decided a while ago that we’d have a day where we’d celebrate digital within the Department, but that we’d try and sell it slightly differently. We wanted to make it as open, inclusive and non-threatening as possible, along the way hoping to make the connection for social media in a private capacity and a work one. So, we had three main aims:

  • Reaching out to those who aren’t using social media already;
  • Celebrating the activities (both work and non work) of those who are already actively engaged online;
  • The introduction of the social media guidelines gave us a useful third aim – spreading awareness.

We thought about breaking the day up into bite size sessions on particular topics, but then realised that what had worked well with our social media surgeries was that they were drop-in, with people able to stay for as little or as long as they wanted. We weren’t going to be able spend much time beforehand promoting the day, so this also meant, theoretically at least, that people wouldn’t be having to find lengthy slots in already overcrowded diaries, and by extension excuses not to get involved.

So Digital Day became an open invitation to “do something new online”. Posters were put in lift spaces (again deliberately shying away from using any imagery related to a work context), and explained in an intranet story and weekly bulletin board. We also made use of the existing network of digital champions to spread the word, which they very kindly did, offering them a “cheat sheet” to give to social media newbies, and more experienced colleagues,with suggestions for things that people in both categories could do before and after the day. We sent the same to many of the colleagues that we have worked with previously.

Using those networks meant that we were contacted by a few people the week before – with requests varying from “I want to blog” to “I want to show you what I’ve been doing with social media already”, and “I would like to explore using social media for work”. We also smoked out a few people with quite interesting stories to tell of their experience to date. And some were even willing to share that.

We’re quite proud of our blog on Tumblr, initiated specially for that sharing -hopefully, the final result enables real voices to explain to colleagues why social media is as important as it is, and we’ll keep updating it to share more examples from both private and work use.

But, the blog features what I know to be a sub section of the digital talent within the Department. While some, like Louise explains here in her blog, are really comfortable with blurring their personal and private identities online, others don’t find that so comfortable. I’m personally ok with that, it’s their choice. As someone trying to promote digital engagement in a work capacity, just being aware of what people are up for is pretty useful in its own right.

Back to the day itself. We used Yammer to seed ideas and content, using the #digitalday hashtag, to showcase social media in a fun way, with the odd poll thrown in, and people using the #digitalday hashtag to explain why they were supporting the day. One of the nicest posts there was from someone who, after visiting us, admitted to initial wariness over social media, but realising that “it’s nothing to be intimidated by… a great way to share your story (personal or professional) with likeminded people“.

I don’t know if other organisations have, like we do, a core of very active Yammer users with a majority of people simply watching what’s happening online, and then responding offline to what they’ve seen online. So, I knew that even if I didn’t get people particiapting en masse today, we’d achieve awareness raising, or at least seed ideas in people’s consciousness.

We also hosted a steady stream of people, ranging from those who don’t know anything about social media, to people who have signed up to Twitter but don’t know what to do with it. The Yammer posts and intranet story obviously worked as I had a few discussions with people aware of detailed points within the social media guidance. We introduced people to LinkedIn, Twitter, explored Facebook privacy settings, and even discussed favourite apps. It was definitely a worthwhile idea to make the day more than about work use, and hopefully we’ve left at least a number of people enthused about what’s possible with online engagement more generally

I’m still thinking what my personal “do something new online” should be, so maybe I’ll make #digitalday stretch a little bit further. And by a happy coincidence, we’re planning to do a version of the whole thing again post Jubilee for our more northerly colleagues.

Social media surgeries

In some ways, the new government social media guidelines came at just the right time, giving us a hook to promote what we do within the Digital team. The digital champions are already a key part of that, as are social media surgeries that we have started to make a regular feature. We should really have called them social media coffee mornings, as we’ve situated them in the neutral territory of an internal coffee shop (goodness knows what the staff there will make of us if they get too popular).

It’s been a really interesting mix of people so far – asking incisive and insightful questions about how they can get started on particular platforms, how they can use social media for work, and indeed for personal use. One of the interesting aspects of one surgery was the presence of two of our more experienced champions. They added an extra layer of context, and were able to share their enthusiasm and experience too. The buzz was infectious and so had an added bonus in refreshing my own motivation.

So from that perspective alone, it’s an experiment I’d encourage others to repeat. Along with our surgeries we’re hosting a Digital Day next week – where we hope to showcase some of the great digital talent around the department – we’re uncovering some really interesting examples of how people are using social media in their lives outside of work. We also want to help and encourage others to get started in new territory – to do something new online. Tim has blogged about the rationale for the day here, but hopefully an extra benefit will be that it’ll do something to sell digital in ways that are relevant to individuals, so addressing some of how we get to different attitudinal groups.

The new Government social media guidelines

Have arrived. And just before I published my last post on how and why ACAS supports organisations to develop similar guidance. It’s interesting to see how the published guidance has progressed since it was discussed at April’s teacamp, and to see the other elements which have been included – including advice to Departments on creating the right technical conditions for social media use.

I’m a fan of the six overarching principles that have been used as a structure to the guidance, namely:

  • Communicate with citizens in the places they already are
  • Use social media to consult and engage
  • Use social media to be more transparent and accountable
  • Be part of the conversation with all the benefits that brings
  • Understand that government cannot do everything alone, or in isolation
  • Expect civil servants to adhere to the Civil Service Code (online as well as offline)

It’s a manageable and memorable set, that highlights both the reasons why policy makers (and others in Departments, or course) should get involved with social media. It also hints at the approaches that many of us take – going where conversations are already, and reaching out to form partnerships that can help amplify and extend conversations in ways that offline form of engagement simply can’t do. The personal/professional split that I talked about in my last post is also raised, and there’s some really useful advice about how the civil service code and its requirement for impartiality can and does affect engagement.

The engagement cycle (see below) is also useful and again reinforces some of the steps that we already take in helping people take their first steps online. There’s always a danger of ascribing value judgements to cycles, something which the science and society community effectively got round with their public engagement triangle. Still, it’s good to see a recognition that people can be encouraged to find a means of engagement that suits them and resonates with their own personal approach, rather than assuming that everyone has the confidence to launch in, and change the way they work immediately.

The foreword from Sir Bob Kerslake is a particularly valuable – perhaps the most valuable – aspect of this set of guidelines, and that visible leadership has been praised by others online already.