Digital engagement & organisational change

Next week I’ll be helping out David Wilcox, Dave Briggs and team with a bit of social reporting from the National Digital Inclusion Conference 2009.

We’ll be bringing together content on the Digital Engagement Blog and Network, a new project described by Helen Milner from UK Online Centres as

a collaborative space for all those interested in digital engagement to share ideas and agree priorities for action around digital engagement. Our first focus is developing a Manifesto for Digital Engagement, which you can read about here.

So – to join in that discussion before I’m in a social reporter role next week I jotted down a few reflections about Digital Engagement and Organisational Change posted originally on the Digital Engagement blog, and re-posted below.

Digital Engagement and Organisational Change

There are an amazing amount of elements that go into successful and sustainable engagement with social media – and there tend to be even more elements needed when we’re talking about engagement by public sector organisations.

Just to set up a fairly simple project using a blog, or a social network site profile, to engage service users might, in the long run, need:

  • up-to-date computer hardware & software;
  • internet access free of filters and blocks on social media sites;
  • sign-off from managers and support from senior management for experimentation with social media;
  • a clear policy sanctioning use of social media;
  • guidance to staff on how to use social media tools in line with the policy;
  • updates to related policies and strategies;
  • a procedure for responding to any problems that arise;
  • skills development within a whole team so the project can be sustained even if staff change;
  • research into potential approaches to using the blog / social network site;
  • copy written to clearly explain the project;
  • backup strategies in case anything goes wrong with the social media platforms being used;
  • an evaluation plan;
  • and a whole lot more.

When it comes to social media engagement with young people, then public sector organisations (and others) will need to add a whole host of further key elements around safeguarding policies and youth participation.

All these elements are important – and some are essential pre-requisites before any engagement can get underway. But if all these elements are seen as part of a big list of separate hurdles and barriers for each individual public sector project wanting to engage with social media to overcome we’re going to be waiting a long time for widespread digital engagement to become a reality.

Learning from youth participation
Embedding effective youth participation into the way an organisation works also involves many elements: from getting a clear commitment to participation in organisational values, through to developing staff skills and even making sure finance structures are set up able to cover the petty cash for young people’s travel expenses.

Over the past four or five years I’ve worked with the Hear by Right tool – a standards framework designed to support the organisational change needed for effective youth participation. This collection of 49 different indicators under 7 key standards has been instrumental in many organisations moving towards better and more sustainable youth engagement. Hear by Right divides it’s indicators into ‘Emerging’, ‘Established’ and ‘Advanced’ levels. <any of the organisations I’ve watched using Hear by Right over the last four years are still working at the ‘Emerging’ level (embedding participation is a long journey!) – but, the presence of the standards framework – turning a list of potential hurdles into a clear and achievable plan of action – means that they are able to move forward with their youth engagement rather than to get stuck in inaction.

In the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time working with organisations interested in taking their youth participation practice online and into social media spaces. However, in the absence of a framework like Hear by Right for digital engagement we’ve spent at least some of the time going round in circles – unable to develop staff skills until policies are in place, and unable to get policies without providing the benefit of engagement, and unable to do that without skilled staff able to engage etc.

An organisational change framework for digital engagement?
I’ve already started work on sketching out an organisational change tool for youth-sector organisations seeking to explore their engagement with social media (and I hope to be able to share an early version for others to contribute to in the next few months) – but the challenges exist not only in the worlds of youth work and youth participation.

Perhaps the digital engagement manifesto give rise to a widely applicable framework for digital engagement organisational change?

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