Steve Dale designed the IDeA online platform that enables local government officers to share knowledge across a wide range of topics, and last week he invited me to a workshop with some of the facilitators who make all it all work.
Conversations at the workshop brought home to me how these online space may become the frontiers where the inevitable institutional formalities of government meet the challenges of innovating in service delivery, democracy and partnership working.
Steve captures that in his item about the event when he recalls someone saying:
“I’m not sure that we have permission to innovate in our organisation”
I’d like to think that CoPs do empower people to make change, but the heavy hand of command and control is still evident in many organisations, and could in some cases snuff out that spark of innovation that is in all of us.
More positively, he heard:
“Someone read and commented on my first blog! I got a real buzz out of that - it’s not an ego trip or anything, I’m just so pleased that someone thought I had something interesting to say”
I was in a group who got around to discussing whether their community of practice could generate a newsletter and other content for local people they were serving. If so, what would be the process for vetting and agreeing the content? Would it all have to be authored on a wiki, and reviewed by everyone? I suggested enabling different people in the community of practice to find their own individual and collective voices through blogs ... but that would probably push the boundaries of what a local authority would allow. I was reminded by local government officers that IT departments may well block access to anything other than standard web sites. This means that while citizens , newspapers and broadcasters are increasingly using social media, local government is restricted in how it can communicate with us.
However, as you can hear in this interview with Michael Norton of IDeA, and Steve, they are pushing ahead with experiments to introduce different media into the system.
Overall I got the sense that local government Communities of Practice are becoming the place where people can both share day-to-day experience across boundaries of geography and discipline, and have useful conversations about how local government can innovate more effectively. Putting that into action may, of course, be rather more challenging in organisations that are not necessarily innovation and collaboration-friendly.
Update: listening to the clip reminds me a shouldn't try and do interviews in noisy rooms. Will do better next time.