In the process of making mistakes, there is an opportunity to learn a lot, but not just for the person or team making the mistakes. Louise Kidney, Digital Engagement Lead, shares some of the learning from the Digital Engagement Team as well as the benefits of being honest about your mistakes.
Two weeks ago I presented on Open Policy Making and Agile Communication at the Digital Futures conference run by Shropshire County Council.
It was an enlightening experience. Although the conference was aimed at local government I learned a huge amount from the other speakers, particularly hearing others’ take on the theme for the event – ‘digital by default’. We travelled from digital inclusion to participative democracy with community building in between.
Openness to opportunity
Among the attendees were Councillors, both County and Parish, Officers and local residents. Areas of concern were common – Shropshire being a rural area with infrastructure challenges being one. But openness to opportunity was also a strong theme, and perhaps the most powerful session involved everyone being asked ‘what are you working on right now?’.
From a private company working inside a local council estate to ramp up digital access to the Citizens Advice Bureau worker who wanted to know more about the project, I watched the crossovers within the audience emerge as people from within and outside the Council offered to help each other. A timely reminder about the value of sharing what you’re doing with the wider world.
A subject done to death
There’s always a nervous moment just before you begin, wondering just how your presentation will go down. Thankfully the response to our presentation was overwhelmingly positive. We had spent some time thinking about what we wanted to say and how. Digital engagement is a subject that has been done to death in the conference space – what new insights could we possibly bring? So we decided just to be honest – to share our successes and failures and what we had learned.
Our presentation slides can be seen over on Slideshare, but as ever the slides alone do not tell the full story.
In the first section, I explained how we arrived at the social media guidelines for government, and how we actually ended up using many of the principles we arrived at in the process of arriving at them! For example:
- communicating with our stakeholders were they already were (Teacamp, on blogs and Twitter)
- using social media to consult and engage
- increasing the impact of our communications (others retweeted and shared our call for feedback spreading the message outside the government space)
- using social media to be more transparent and accountable
- being part of the conversation
So far, so good. An example of how we had developed a well received and hopefully useful document based on a set of principles that will be used by the community who helped to create them.
Mistakes are the portals of discovery
The second part of the presentation told a different story – a candid warts-and-all account of some of the lessons we have learned from our mistakes. I shared our experience of pre-allocating hashtags for announcements, the hashtags themselves attempting humour and failing (oops), reacting quickly to that reception and apologising humbly and visibly. We talked about the issues we faced with enabling comments on the Civil Service Reform Plan and the challenges of setting up and running a real time chat for the Minister for Cabinet Office and the Head of the Civil Service using Facebook and Twitter.
Mistakes are the portals of discovery. In the process of making our mistakes we discovered a lot – about the culture we’re working in, about our own assumptions and flexibility, about the power of apologising quickly and sincerely in public. Hopefully by sharing our learning we will encourage others to do the same. We hope doing this will also, in some small way, help us all to feel a bit more free to work in this new digital space on the understanding that mistakes will be made, inevitably, but that the PR failure is not in making them but how you deal with them.
Slides from the other presenters can be seen on the Digital Futures blog and are well worth a look. Feedback from the day can be seen on the hashtag #digifutures12. We’d welcome others tales of digital engagement mistakes and learning – no one is an expert in this space, least of all me.