This was first published in Government Computing
By all accounts, my former colleague in Government Digital Service, Tom Loosemore, ruffled some local government ICT feathers at SOCITM’s recent spring conference in London. At the heart of the debate seems to be the battle between the old “triangle of despair” (legacy systems, lengthy and complex procurement processes, PRINCE 2 management) and the world of iteration (alpha, beta, live, informed by constant user testing and feedback.)
This suggests that the battle is about technology - juggernaut proprietary systems vs Brompton free wheeling open source solutions. But these things are never about technology they’re usually about people, power and fear. But to understand the rumblings it might be useful to provide some context.
Having worked in a local authority I know that change is not new. For more than a decade they’ve been rationalizing and restructuring to meet ever more stringent demands from the centre. Even prior to The Gershon Efficiency Review, the 2004 National Procurement Strategy fed into local authorities CPA Audit Commission ratings. So efficiency savings through smarter ICT procurement and shared services was on the agenda way back then.
But in order to get the culture of local government you have to understand the dominant ideologies driving public sector reform globally for over 30 years. New Public Management was first identified in 1991 as a generic label for administrative reform in the public sector (going back to the early 1980’s). Broadly there are three themes that characterize NPM. Cut your costs while increasing productivity, decentralize your management responsibilities and create targets to improve performance.
A generation of senior local government officials know only this management model. These are the officials that delivered Audit Commission stars to their councils (thereby securing their central government funding) and Heads of ICT and procurement officers were often the heroes of those Audit Commission years delivering as they did huge chunks of the much-needed efficiencies.
But the almost exclusive reliance on NPM methodologies, has had its consequences, the results of which are being played out in these debates between the “triangle of despair” and the new world of iterate, iterate then iterate again.
At the same time as local government was doing what it was tasked to do, new ways of thinking were emerging quickly in the wider world. In 2007 Don Tapscott described these as the confluence of technological, social and economic forces enabling societies to fundamentally redesign how government operates, how and what the public sector provides, and ultimately how governments interact and engage with their citizens. This is the generation, including Tom Loosemore, that now leads Government Digital Service.
They have not experienced first-hand those Audit Commission years, the weeks of preparation proceeding the inspections with extensive staff coaching in corporate messaging to make sure there was a visible “golden thread of policy” from Bin Man to Chief Executive. These were years when failure was simply not an option, when risk was something to be resolutely eliminated (or suffer the career limiting consequences). The emphasis was on being best in class or family (by comparing your performance to other authorities with similar population sizes and problems) because that’s what you were measured and ultimately rewarded on. The leadership required to tick boxes is different to the leadership required to herd sheep.
Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz describes it as the difference between Technical and Adaptive problems. The former being known problems to which we have a known solution and the latter being something that we don’t understand nor know how to solve. GDS is in the world of adaptive leadership, comfortable with risk and collaboration while most local authorities still struggle with the constraints of technical leadership when going with the tried and tested solution (usually from a big systems integrator) sits more easily within their knowledge, structures and risk registers.
Heads of ICT in local government are often the gatekeepers to risk, inextricably linked to corporate reputation (think of the perils for a council of personal data on vulnerable children being exposed?) yet they rarely have a seat in the boardroom. Until Chief Executives themselves start providing leadership in this space, Heads of ICT will continue to procure technological solutions that don’t scare the horses (not least because scaring the horses is usually way above their pay grade).
And what about the people and power issues? Technology is disrupting everything, hierarchy, knowledge and value chains. In his SOCITM talk Loosemore suggested that in the future, Head of IT should not be the people to lead the redesign of public services to meet the public's digital expectations. I see that not as a criticism of Heads of ICT but more of an acknowledgement that current management ideologies in local government are a barrier that Heads of ICT struggle to overcome. And let’s not forget politics, which people invariably do in these discussions. If you think selling risk to your average local councillor is an easy task, think again.
Disruptive leadership is not just the task of the Chief Executive it’s a fundamental challenge to the political ruling class. If you need any proof of that, just think, when is the last time you heard a local council leader say “hey we spent some public money, we tried this, it didn’t work, so vote for me”? Change may be the new normal it’s just going to take a little time for the system to catch up.
FIrst published in Government Computing 07/05/2013
Recently I've been working with the Connected Digital Economy Catapult CDEC on their business plan and I’ve been looking at how they might develop their marketing and communications strategy. It’s been particularly challenging for me as I normally approach this kind of work in an entirely intuitive way (I have a particular aversion to grids, schema or strategies) probably because I’ve believed for a long time that if you do things with honesty, integrity and passion then you usually don’t have to do much talking about you or your products (because others do that for you).
In other words if you’re relevant and have standing in the conversation, then things like press releases become pretty irrelevant. I recently asked Charles Arthur the Guardian's Technology Editor how many press releases he received daily and how many he actually used (as opposed to content sourced online and through social)? Traditional communicators should take note of his response:
“On average over the past five years I have received 200 press releases a day. On average I use one of those a day in a story, whereas Twitter and Blogs are constant streams of stories and sources”.
People like David Armano was writing and visualizing this approach in 2008 as what he termed unconventional marketing. Chris Brogan added to the debate in his 2010 book Trust Agents (Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust) arguing that today’s influencers are web natives who trade in trust, reputation and relationships, using social media to accrue the influence that builds up or brings down business.
When working in my last job in Government Digital Services this was something that was implicit in the communications and branding strategy (and I use the word branding with caution here) most particularly in the work of Russell Davies who was responsible for so much of our voice in GDS. In his blog post The Unit of Delivery Russell sets out some of this thinking (and the challenges inherent in this approach for a lot of brands) arguing in a nutshell that “the product is the service is the marketing” or, put another way, build things that are so good people will want to use them and then you really don’t need to do much talking about them.
This is how we approached the creation of a single domain for government (GOV.UK) and it’s worth noting that GDS shipped a nation’s website catering for 30 million users a month without spending a single penny on marketing, communications or advertising. So it was never about hiring an agency to come up with an approved strategy with “key messages” for us to “land” but rather keeping focussed on our users who approved our decisions by using or not using the services we offered.
Harvard Business Review contributes a further iteration here describing three ways of approaching effective communications;
· Purpose (Why)
· Platforms (What)
· Partners (How)
Which seems to be a pretty neat update to the Who, What, Where, When and How of the traditional press release (invented in 1906 and which has hardly changed in structure since then).
The HBR approach is baked into the current version of the CDEC business plan so in deference to the requirements of a formal document I’ve drawn this diagram (badly I might add) which sets out how CDEC will be approaching communications and engagement (I’m glad to say CDEC have already engaged @Ellessonand @Mattrfox two talented design graduates from Ravensbourne to turn all our graphs and drawings into something a lot prettier which I will publish once they have completed them)
The diagram attempts to set out an agnostic approach to channels (whatever suits is whatever suits best) but three streams that run at the same time with different channels shifting in importance depending on context so our approach is broadly;
Establish the proposition and seek views from the wider digital community about the value that digital platforms and capabilities can bring (we’ve already commissioned some guest blogs on subjects like the Digital Copyright Exchange, Government as Platform, Open Health Data, views from the private sector etc. so watch this space in the coming weeks).
Embed those conversations by demonstrating value (CDEC should have some interesting outputs from their quick start projects that should demonstrate exactly what they are working on and what they and their partners have achieved).
Provide an opportunity to experience the work of CDEC collaborators and partners when the open theirr physical building in London early in the new year.
You might call it trust agent marketing (we do we do what it says on the tin) or you might just call it the product is the service is the marketing, but whatever you call it, if you like the approach and think you’d enjoy being part of the conversation why not take a look at the role of CDEC’s Digital, Media and Social Editor here currently being recruited.
And if you need a quick test of whether or not you are what CDEC are looking for, if you agree with the picture below, then the answer is probably not.
I was delighted to last night find myself unexpectedly in the Phoenix Theatre for the West End opening of Once (many thanks to Orin @wolfpaq for the ticket). I loved the original movie (released in 2006) not least because it was one of the very few movies originating during the boom years in Ireland that showed a different side to the cappu-latte culture that seemed to have sprung out of nowhere (notable exceptions of course being movies like Adam and Paul). Directed by John Carney with locations like Mountjoy Square as a backdrop, Once seemed to be definitely more Sean O’Casey than About Adam
It was also the first movie that made explicit how multi-cultural Ireland had become particularly with the influx of Eastern Europeans drawn to the country in search of a better life. So what marked the film out at the time for me was its genuine authenticity - not to mind some beautiful music written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who in 2008 won the Oscar for the Best Original Song for Falling Slowly.
First produced as a musical in New York in 2011, it went on to win 8 Tony Awards when the screen play was adapted by Enda Walsh in a production directed by John Tiffany. The adaptation by Walsh is a work of genius and he writes here (in a brilliant and funny article) in The Guardian about why he fell in love with the piece. I think he sums it up beautifully when comparing the New York production with the London version;
"Tonally everything has shifted around this cast; they have made everything so unaffectedly true, but there is something grittier than before - something that caputures a mood right now, maybe. It feels like this cast has been taken from the streets and found themselves sharing a love letter to a city that's been hurt".
What is most extraordinary (but I guess not too surprising given the pedigree of the creative and production team) is that for a production that originated in the US the show is most definitely totally rooted in Dublin City. My husband is a Dubliner through and through (I'm from Cork usually regarded with some disdain by Dubliners) and he found the language and tone resonated absolutely with him. The set is a tour de force in its effectiveness and simplicity and the cast are orchestra and actors in turn. It's a million miles from what you would expect from a traditional West End musical and all the more exciting for that.
It's a simple story about belonging and loss and love and as I watched flashes of other Irish works kept coming back to me like Translations and Whistle in the Dark, and indeed an infamous production of Plough and the Stars by Director Gary Hynes that had the literati in Dublin up in arms with its simplicity and austerity (and I would argue a similar vein of authenticity). But all stories too that dealt with language, culture, voice and the struggle to belong. For contemporary Ireland the notes of immigration will not be lost and it's quite something that the original author (though he wrote it during the good times) saw what was both the reality of that time in Ireland for the have not's while simultaneously foreshadowing the Ireland of today.
I don't mean to sound like it's bleak because the music makes it so joyful. What London will make of it I don't know (the critics seem to have welcomed it today with the Evening Standard describing it as the newest West End hit but I talk a lot about how important it is to be authentic if you want to really resonate and have some standing in the conversation (any conversation social or otherwise). I think it will appeal to a broad church of theatre goers who are looking for something different, something that rings true, moving and funny in equal parts, where silence is as important as dialogue. And besides, any show that opens with the line “so you fix my hoover and I pay you with music, yes?" has to be intriguing enough to make you want to experience it.
There’s no doubt that after months of cold and depressing weather a little sunshine makes everything better. But is something more than that going on in Dublin? On my visit last week there was a real buzz around the city that seems at odds with the endless gloomy economic commentary we usually associate with Ireland.
One noticeable difference is the vast improvement in service quality in the restaurants I visited. Levels of service during the Celtic Tiger years left a lot to be desired and I guess when the money is flowing you don’t need to care so much about your customers. But when you have to compete for every euro of disposable income, when you’ve have learned some of the lessons of boom and bust, it alters your perspective somewhat.
Good quality food seems to be a cornerstone which is all the better given the recent scandals we have endured around horsemeat and the like. And excitingly there seem to be entrepreneurs in the restaurant sector who are embracing social media in innovative ways.
One such creative is Joe Macken responsible for Crackbird (addicted to chicken is the strapline). If you tweet a reservation request 24 hours in advance using #tweetseats and a slot is available on the tweetseats table 2 of you dine for free. The chicken is fantastic and the potato salad to die for. And it’s cheap. You’ll find it on 60 Dame Street around the corner from South William Street (which seems to be undergoing a quiet food revolution).
I was lucky enough to be brought for a meal to The Rustic Stone where Ann O Dea and I enjoyed cooking our main course on hot volcanic stones adding a lovely bit of theatre to the eating experience. The quality of the produce was again second to none and if you find the idea of having to cook something on a stone a little daunting the staff hover helpfully nearby so you don’t feel awkward about asking a question. Ann very kindly picked up the tab commenting that if we had eaten in a similar restaurant a couple of years ago she would have been adding at least another 80 euro to the bill.
You’ll find Coppinger Row on the pedestrian lane off South William Street at the back of the Powers Court Centre and another gem. Mediterranean food with absolutely fresh produce and one of the best salad dressings I’ve ever had. Friendly staff and buzzy atmosphere and again it’s light on the pocket. (I didn’t try them but the cocktails are supposed to be fantastic).
And it’s not just in the heart of the city. My mum, sister and I took a trip out to Howth Harbour where there are some beautiful restaurants. We had lunch in The Brass Monkey again fantastic service, value and quality. I had a small bowl of chowder and fish and chips for 11 euro, which is pretty unbeatable. And of course the fish is super fresh with the added advantage of a view of the trawlers moored just outside.
On my last evening I wandered into Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer Street, a combination of amazing food hall, restaurant and separate wine bar down stairs. It’s located in what used to be Dublin’s Telephone Exchange and retains the Art Deco style. Popping into the wine bar it felt all a little more New York than Dublin and the place was hopping. The walls are packed with shelves housing fantastic wines. You pick your wine and then pay a corkage charge (but I am reliably informed that if you go on a Monday you don’t have to pay that).
And of course I couldn’t leave without having a bowl of the amazing chicken wings in Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar. E&C was one of the first new restaurants back in the day when Temple Bar was being regenerated and it’s retained its attraction through the lean years. You still can’t book a table but if you rock up they will take your name and then you can wander off (usually for about 40 minutes with just enough time to enjoy a pint of Guinness) and return to the bliss of the best chicken wings in Dublin.
I have felt sad (and mad) about Ireland over the past eight years I’ve been in London. But I am glad to see that things seem to be changing and that maybe, just maybe, a corner is being quietly turned.
The first thing my mother asked when I told her I was setting up my own company DSRPTN was “but who will do your filing for you?” I had to tell her that I could not remember the last time that I actually filed anything physically. She was also concerned about where my office would be located because it’s difficult to grasp that setting up your own business can be a very easy process and all you really need is a few bits of good kit.
My tech has mostly been provided by my employers over the past number of years latterly MacBookAir and iPhone in GDS (and prior to that in City Hall, MacBookPro and Blackberry) so have not had to choose kit for myself for quite some time.
Over the past number of months I’d been jealously eyeing up @Paul_Clarke’s array of Samsung phones and thinking the unthinkable (like could I actually break free of iPhone?). So of course I turned to twitter to get some thoughts and thanks to @psd for his endorsement of Nexus 4 I am now a very proud owner. I'm loving it all the more because it’s half the price of the Samsung Galaxy 4 which aligned with the fact that I’ve chosen not to get into a contract situation that ties me in for two years is all the better.
I’ve chosen Ovivo Mobile for my provider. I met Ovivo founder @dariushzand when I was working on The London Datastore and I remember a great conversation we had over coffee with David Fowler (then CTO of Huawei Europe and now COO for Cable and Wireless, Guernsey). It was great to hear Dariush talk with such enthusiasm and zeal about his ambition to disrupt the Mobile Network Operator Model. I’m kind of keen on disrupters so I’m happy to give him my business. For a once off payment of £15.00 you get SIM card and monthly package of 150 mins 150 texts and 400MB of data - all for free (hurrah! just have to look at some advertising in return). I'm waiting to port over my number after Easter so won’t start using properly until then but I’m already impressed with their level of customer service (take a look at their twitter stream @ovivomobile to see customer feedback).
And finally then what about laptop? Well its official I have left the Apple family and chosen the Samsung Chrome Book. So far so good. It’s zippy, light and fast. The only thing I am struggling with at the moment is finding some good, user-friendly, online presentation software (I’m a bit of a keynote addict and can’t see anything that matches on quality and ease of use) but I remain an optimist about these things. I also anticipate some teething problems with compatibility between google docs (I know from my time in government that some folks can’t always access) but I’m taking a let’s cross that bridge when we come to it attitude.
So phone, provider and laptop all for just a little over £500 means start up costs are incredibly low and not eating a huge chunck from cashflow. I’m reckoning staying in the Apple family would have cost me at least four times that amount - and frankly - not worth it - not when their competitors are rapidly catching up with Apple on the design side. And honestly I was getting a bit tired of all that lock in. So here’s to freedom!
I had a long-standing commitment to speak at International Women’s Day in Dublin thanks to an invitation from Eithne Harley in Accenture Ireland. They run a very successful annual event that draws quite a crowd and this year was no exception. There were about 800 women in the audience (and some men too) to celebrate the day and I was part of the Lets Get Digital Panel.
Co-incidentally, during the week I’d also met Caroline Criado-Perez with @teacamplondon and @nettienoodles to learn more about her project @thewomensroomuk which is creating a database of women experts/speakers. You know this is necessary if Women’s Hour recently had two men on the programme to talk about women in tech (read Emma Mulqueeny @hubmum writing about that here)
So all in all #IWDrds was an opportunity to revisit some of my own views from my university days when I was an ardent feminist with regulation haircut and a path worn to the "wimmins" room in the Quay Co-Op in Cork (seriously we did spell it like that).
Back then it was all the “personal is the political, property is theft, marriage is prostitution” narrative. And it was fun, as it always is, being a student challenging the dominant ideology of the day, trying things on for size like a new coat. It was intellectually stretching and difficult trying to understand where you stood on a spectrum of political and ideological beliefs (with the added bonus of driving your parents completely insane).
Although I loved much of the debate and discussion and of course the women I met, I became disillusioned with the emphasis on groupthink. I got a little bored with the endless debates about what it meant to be a “real” feminist. It seemed that you couldn’t be a real feminist if you weren’t also a separatist.
I didn’t think that boded too well for me (I didn’t think boys were that bad or at least not all of them) so as I moved from university into the workforce I softened my stance a little and just got on with the business of being the best I could be regardless of my gender.
Fast forward to 2013 and I am in the RDS Dublin waiting to go into the main hall to speak when I spot a very beautiful women in a very nice dress, wearing a sash that says “Dublin Rose”. So internally I’m like “what? oh-pl-eas-e….it’s 2013 what’s the story here”?
Let’s just say I am suitably chastened and properly mortified with myself. If the drive to conformity was the thing that alienated me from organized feminism in the 1980’s then I’d just made the same judgment about Arlene O'Neill.
Because that would be Dr Arlene O’Neill, Dublin Rose and Nanoscientist (here she is talking about her research) who made it clear in her comments from the platform that she has no issue with glamour or geekery – she just doesn’t see the need to choose between the two. She might have been chased out of the “wimmins” room back in the 80’s so I’m glad to say that our understanding of what it is to have choice and diversity as women is a little more mature nowadays.
Almost as a bookend the delegates also heard from former TD and author Mary O' Rourke who was clearly relaxed and in great storytelling form. When asked did she think women could have it all she just laughed and said “no” and spent some time talking about the fondness she had for other women TD’s regardless of their political party during her time in Dail Eireann – and the support that they gave each other in a very male environment.
I also enjoyed the presentation from Ann O'Dea CEO and editor at large for Silicon Republic who took the opportunity to launch Women Invent Tomorrow an initiative to promote the work of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). I’d never met Ann in real life so that was a lovely bonus.
So young nanoscientist, elder stateswoman, digitally savvy women all on a platform together in Dublin made a strong statement about how things are changing for #mnanaheireann. Full list of the let’s get digital participants here
I’m glad I spent International Women’s Day 2013 with the women in my home country. Many of them there are pushing boundaries (both personal and professional) using social. Some have just started and some are veterans, so in the spirit of sisterhood give them a follow:
@EithneHarley, @littlebirdyy, @marie_prior,
@PaulaNeary1, @BridBBA @maryrose, @lynchce,
@RitaTobin, @claremiudail, @MelissaJCurry,
@twitsense, @VGodolphin, @ginagalligan,
@KforKritka, @cathyfly, @transponstergrl,
@fabiola_stein, @LucyBroph @ruthakennedy,
And finally thanks to @KrishnaDe for the pictures and the best quote of the day;
PS Happy Mothers Day
Ooh it’s scary but exciting that @MTBracken yesterday sent an email to everyone in GDS to say that I’m leaving on 15th March. I’ve been in GDS just over a year but I’ve been in Government a hell of a lot longer so I thought I’d use this opportunity to say something about what I’ve learned about government.
People don’t go into government to do bad
You’d be forgiven for thinking that public servants/civil servants go into government to do bad. When you see the media stereotypes you think jobsworth, computer says no, job-for-life (no hoper).
I have a different view. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were in public service as were, my aunts, my uncles, my father and my sister (as civil servants and teachers mostly).
When my father was a young civil servant his first posting was to a very (very) rural part of Ireland (Glengarrif in County Cork). There was a long-standing meme in our home about an old woman my father helped to access her widows pension. She was so grateful she waited at the side of the road for five days for his car to pass again to thank him with a present.
He of course had to explain she didn’t need to give him anything for “just doing his job”. At a time in Ireland, when people in public life (the bank, the clergy, teachers or public servants) were seen as having power that “ordinary” people should be grateful for, the concept of “service as job” is something that has never left me.
Democracy is not always what you think
And yes on the flip side there are those who seek to uphold their own silos and empires even though they don’t face the electorate at the ballot box. In my years in government I have generally found politicians more willing to take risks than officials (depending where you are on the electoral cycle) but in the main what I’ve experienced is both official and politician trying to bolt 19th Century systems of governance onto the mainframe of our 21st Century reality.
When you take the red pill everything looks like The Matrix
You will remember the scene when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill everything stays the same – if he takes the red pill (like Alice in Wonderland) he falls through the rabbit hole and sees things like they really are. We are at a juncture in society and technology where the system (and government) keep taking the blue pill struggling to deal with a new generation who swallowed the red one years ago. It’s a bit like the arrival of email - I still remember colleagues who used their PC monitors as a place to stick post-it-notes (this computer-email-thingy-will-never-catch-on).
With passion and leadership change is possible
I’ve been very fortunate in government to have had opportunities to both lead and serve. Tom Steinberg once said to me all it takes is finding the one person “who cares”. He didn’t quite say that. He said “all it takes is finding the person who gives a toss”. (I still currently work for government so can’t say exactly what he said but you get the drift). And it’s true our public service/civil service is full of people who give a toss.
And that’s where I exit
I have also been fortunate to work for people who really cared. In Dublin, Willie Soffe (former County Manager Fingal County Council), Leo Boland (former Chief Executive London Borough of Barnet and City Hall) Mike Bracken (Executive Director GDS). And I’ve been really fortunate to collaborate with a host of people who care deeply about the public realm @countculture, @jaggaree, @tobybarnes, @psd @janethughes, @tomskitomski,
@madprof, @paul_clarke to name but a few.
All my colleagues @gdsteam who work for government every day, because they want to make a difference. These are people who don’t expect someone to sit at the side of the road to give them presents. They are individuals who work everyday to be of service, to make something that will make life better for people. In other words – a whole organization – that well - gives a toss.
Where you will find me
In Placr helping my old friend Jonathan Raper bring the company to the next level (it's really exciting joining a startup I’ve been watching with keen interest for some time). I’ve also set up my own company Disruption Ltd and one of my first clients will be the Connected Digital Economy Catapult where I will be working for Neil Crockett their CEO.
There are so many people I would like to thank it would be impossible to name check them all. But if I have to name a sector to whom I want to give a special shout out then it has to be to the journalists that I have worked with over the past year (you know who you are). They have been amazing critical friends. They have not offered an easy ride but they are not the stereotype of “gottcha” either.
If the mantra of of Silicon Valley is “you have to collaborate to compete” then my mantra for government and media is that we have to “collaborate to comprehend”.
Government is hard.
That’s what I have learned.
I will be sad to leave it.
But I’m glad to have been of it too
Update: Thank you so much for all the very kind good wishes on Twitter it's been humbling.
It’s a well-established principle in modern architecture that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based on its intended function or purpose. The same is true of the tools and media we use to communicate. The technology shapes the nature of our discourse especially tools like Twitter that restrict our ability to write more than 140 characters. It’s hard to be corporate using such a short amount of characters so the behaviours we exhibit online are more relaxed, informal and generally more fun.
The relationships that evolve from these online interactions are therefore different to those that evolve from say email exchanges. Working in government communications and engagement, I am unlikely to email a journalist asking about his or her family, their musical tastes or to ask for access to their personal photographs, things I know routinely from their social networks.
The Medium is the Message
Relationships are built on trust and reciprocity, qualities commonplace in the social web, and so the relationships that I have with journalists today are by their nature different to the ones I would have developed pre-social. Here the medium is literally the message.
Social media users value authenticity and that’s what seems so lacking now in more traditional forms of government communication. I’m not suggesting that things like press releases are false just that they seem outdated and unfit for purpose in a social world. This is not news. As far back as 2004 companies like Flickr were completely shrugging off the press release model opting instead to just blog about their product releases letting journalists join the dots.
Publish Don’t Send
In 2006, Silicon Valley watcher Tom Foremski wrote a brilliant piece calling for the death of the press release. He suggested among other things deconstructing the release into sections tagging the information so that as a publisher he could make the information useful.
This is in large part what we do in Government Digital Service so for example in the 5 weeks leading up to the launch of GOV.UK we published around 35 blogs about every aspect of our work. Publishing in this way rather than sending also shapes the form of the communication since on the web there is an imperative to evidence any claims you are making via links which also helps the authenticity factor.
We had lots of coverage for the launch of GOV.UK and lots of interaction with journalists but there were others who found the information through social media, read the blog and constructed their own stories. One example is this piece by Kate Kiefer in Forbes writing about GOV.UK and the style guide behind it. She didn’t need to contact us to write her story nor did she need a press release to make sense of our blogs. I subsequently tweeted her @katekiefer
brill 2 see result of @gdsteam being open on blog and journalists writing their own stories #nomorepressreleases
And so the potential for a new relationship evolves based on mutual respect for the work of the other. In my experience, mutual respect buys you a lot of good will so I’m hoping that in the New Year many more of my government communication colleagues across Whitehall will begin to explore how different relationships can be built through the behaviours we manifest in the social web and how ultimately that just might be a good thing for government.