in Blog, Featured

2009: The year of Less

I’m not going to store up humiliation for myself by posting predictions or New Year’s resolutions for ’09, but from where I’m sitting, I’d say the big theme will be Less. And I’m not being entirely pessimistic.

It goes more or less without saying that we’ll all be working smarter and leaner, assuming fewer staff, smaller budgets and tougher economic conditions. In the wider economy, social media is likely to either become very popular (cheap, flexible, in-house) or else feel like a good candidate for the chop (low-reach, frivolous, a distraction, laborious). We’re still on an upward demand curve here.

Early in the year, I’ll be moving to a slightly different role at work, leading online and offline engagement, covering a quite a bit more ground with only a slightly bigger team. So unless we want to abandon our work-life balance once and for all, we’re going to need to get a whole lot more selective, focussed and networked in 2009. Three big things on my list are:

Technology-enabled participation: we’ve done wikis, blogs and even widgets. We’ve talked a lot about consultation, and concluded the whole policy development process needs fixing. So in the year ahead, I’ll be putting the emphasis on participation rather than technology, not just in terms of formal, government-led consultation, but also using technology and good old-fashioned social skills which civil servants surely have, to draw on customer feedback, generate ideas and design solutions with help from outside the organisation. Maybe we’ll work on fewer projects, but have a wider perspective on the ones we really push.

Skills for engagement: plenty of folk have identified that we need a cultural shift in government in order to reap the benefits of technology-enabled collaboration. There’s only so much change that social media evangelists can deliver by themselves; we need to get more of our interested colleagues doing it for themselves. We need to act more like digital mentors within government, and also helping colleagues to blend online and offline techniques effectively. This has always been important, but in practice it’s often easy to slip into trying to deliver exciting new projects rather than coach and support colleagues in the more basic stuff.

The power of networks: if we’re really going to change how government works, we need to get a lot more people involved in the process of change, both from inside and out. So the things which tended to slip off the to-do list in 2008 – like working more closely with interesting folk in our partner organisations, sharing more of our tools and techniques in public, and using those networks to help solve problems – are going to be more important this year if we’re going to cope with requests to scale up our work and its impact.

We’ll need help from smart agencies, trainers and freelancers to make all this happen, so if you think you can help, please get in touch, with me or with COI.

It’s sad to see pioneers like Whitehall Webby hand back their Sheriff’s badge and head off West – I’ll miss having one of the first great innovators in this space round the corner. But having spent nearly a year on the inside now in my current organisation, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity of being a government webby here for a freelance job anytime soon. Insatiable, infuriating, at times insane – the bottom line is that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. And in 2009, it’s going to get a lot more exciting.

  1. Inspiring stuff and some clear thinking here Steph.

    I hope you find yourself able to do less, with more focus, rather than to do more with less, as is so often the expectation! But as you say, networking will help, and it should be an exciting year in spite of the lean times.

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