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Helping government online

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I spent last weekend at the first barcampukgovweb at Google - a mix of civil servants, contractors, consultants, freelancers, hackers and me talking about government online. It was great to see so many people from government there taking onboard new and different ideas about what they can do online and how and it’s good to see that in part they really are ahead of some thinking in the private sector. A few thoughts from the weekend include:

1. We need to be better at consultation. At the moment it seems that consultation from government is still very paper-centric (just lots of pdfs online with questions for people to respond to). There are really two questions here: how do we do consultations, and how do we get people to take part in them. Lots of ideas about the latter - central lists of consultations and the ability to respond to them in a central and templated way, but fewer about the former. It seems that we really have just taken the offline online and aren’t using new technology or media (videos, graphics, animations, photos) to help people understand what they’re being consulted on and how it affects them. Why doesn’t the consultation on Heathrow expansion have online animation of how the suggested flight-path would affect individual houses, for example…

2. Communities really work. It was great to meet Steve from Semantix who built the Communities of Practice for IDEA - online communities platform for all of local government. It’s a great example of using communities for knowledge share and socialising across people with similar roles - everything from a social group for Cornish speakers to a professional support group for police officers dealing with domestic violence. Participation has grown massively and mainly from organic growth rather than advertising, showing that people want to form communities online.

3. Government presence online is difficult to manage. Talking to the people who were there (both UK and European) it strikes me that government has a peculiarly difficult job managing its online presence. What do people want to do online? What do they want from government online? What does government want to reveal? I mainly want to be able to access services online (what car parking zone do I live in, how can I get a new driving license, what’s the income tax rate…) but this is just the first step and understanding, acting on and then controlling other potential government presence online is tricky. For most firms, their online presence is an extension of marketing and sales - for government it can be much more than this.

As always with these things, the main benefit of the weekend was to meet and share ideas with such a range of people. I left the event thinking that government thinking really is going somewhere, their use of social media and online is ahead of some in the private sector and most importantly there’s a real enthusiasm for learning and then doing! Great stuff.

Thanks to Jeremy for organising a great event (some pictures here if you’re interested) and to everybody I met for making it such a fun day.

If you’re interested, you can follow the debate on pageflakes.

Hello from FreshNetworks

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Hello and welcome to the FreshNetworks blog. A chance to find out more about who we are, what we’ve been doing, some of our thoughts and any other randoms things we think you might find interesting.

FreshNetworks builds and manages branded online communities to help brands and organisations engage with their customers or stakeholders. We manage communities and research and bring insight like you haven’t seen before!

We’re passionate about new media and think that online communities are really changing the way we do research…but more of that in a later post.