Always people first

2013-08-26 14.53.52

I’ve learned that if you wait until something is perfect, it won’t be; not for everyone anyway. The delay will probably have had a detrimental effect on what you were trying to do.

So I had an idea and put it out there – sociable organisation, sociable city even. It was, and still is, storytelling about how introducing social networking and other ways of working in and across the boundaries of organisations might help connect people, virtually and physically. An idea to help share ideas, experience, skills, to look to see how others do things and perhaps even discuss what things are done. Ultimately it might help shape a different way of designing, delivering and accessing services. It was also an opportunity to encourage people to tell their story and cut their teeth in the world of publishing, and one where comment and feedback was welcome.

It could be seen, and have been promoted, as a ‘culture change’ project. It could have had a Project Initiation Document with objectives, outcomes, identified risks and risk reduction and a whole load of Key Performance Indicators, targets, milestones, regular reporting and evaluation. Every story and response to comments could have gone for official approval before being posted. It could have; it didn’t.

This idea certainly isn’t perfect and much has been and will continue to be learnt. Telling these stories, warts and all, maybe even identifying areas of weakness or providing an opportunity for criticism obviously involves risk. As with any organisation looking at the concept of a more open way of engaging, there has been nervousness about what might be said by people telling their stories. I know there are people worried that these new social tools provide the potential for anyone to have and use their voice, and that might change how things have been done in the past. Not everyone likes change.

Perhaps the storytelling so far has overly focussed on the use of social media, but it is a big task to raise awareness and effectively introduce guidance, support, and training into organisations the size of Leeds City Council and NHS organisations. Then there’s the element that isn’t about social media – but still about how having a more sociable approach to doing things in our city might make a difference. Those stories are now starting to be told, and not just here.

In openly covering the journey of understanding what a more sociable place to be might be like, there have been more than a few comments suggesting “this stuff is getting in the way of day jobs”; that “conflation of using social media with being sociable is complacent and dangerous.” There have been Freedom of Information requests wanting to know how much this stuff is costing. It worries people because you can’t control it. It scares people because it creates a space for criticism. It scares people because it potentially gives a voice other than the official source, and whilst that needs to be respected and appropriately managed, it’s an opportunity to tell stories and provide a different kind of engagement.

So it’s not perfect, with much discussion still to be had and it’s so not finished, if it ever will be. But it’s where we are. The progress is elsewhere on the blog; about people who are giving it a go. That pleases me.

As I was drafting this post, I noticed an automated tweet that keeps appearing in my timeline. It sort of summarised what I’m trying to say. It said something along the lines of

“be someone that believes in improvement starting with people and not process.”

I’m thinking process could have crushed the life out of this sociable organisation idea before it got going. I can see it’s not perfect; it never was expected to be as I knew that would have held things up. It’s been about and will continue to be about people; how they meet and greet and find out about things and share and interact with each other, how they learn and gain in confidence, how they might be empowered to do new and different things…. and if that goes someway to changing culture and perceptions, then fine.

Maybe one of the things to explore further under this idea of a more sociable approach is use of discussion forums and social networks as a complementary offer to the standard provision of information that corporate websites provide.

What if we saw ‘corporate’ websites with less storytelling and more concise information? So  ‘search, find, read and easily understand and/or do (ie transactions at a time that suits people and not just the organisations), then leave’, and with a basic feedback opportunity on quality of information. But then complement that with more open discussion on forums and blogs, involving people in their stories. So in effect separate the basic information from the storytelling that in the past has perhaps confused provision of the basic information.

And if there are already places where discussion and opportunity for stories to be shared exist, why not encourage use of those too?

People before, and supported by process perhaps.

Thoughts anyone?

Phil Jewitt


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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12 Responses to Always people first

  1. Fiona says:

    Thanks Phil, insightful thoughts as ever! Changing the culture of an organisation is essential in interesting times, but tricky. People need to know what’s in it for them, and sometimes fear what their immediate managers may think and discriminate against them if they engage with new ideas. Perhaps a stronger emphasis on permission to engage in new ways of thinking, not blocked by levels in hierarchies?

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Perhaps it is about providing a wider awareness for those in positions to grant permission to use social media that there is appropriate training, guidance and support available for staff who will be running accounts. Managers who are supportive and understand what it takes to successfully run an account, are prepared to train staff, will probably find they create the best use of social media. They probably also have the most empowered and trusted staff too and the benefits that can bring in that staff who know what they are doing and why they are doing it will have pride in their work.

  2. Great post, inspired to keep on, keeping on with the formats I use for story telling, or sharing information.

  3. sue says:

    Pyn Stockman @dramamask and @clairecotteril hsve been doing this with different media such as mosaics and ribbon n writing. Also take a look at @appreciatingpeople and,the results in Anfield from creating positive conversations. I have just started the conveation at Big Local Stoke North. One of our very canny residents pointed out it was all about talking with each other and creating possibility .

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      I like that; ‘creating possiblility’. Thanks, I will take a look at the references you shared and it so is about starting conversations or joining in where they already exist. Good luck with Big Local Stoke North.

  4. Herre Morker says:

    This is really thought-provoking and inspiring. I see links to the idea of ‘disruption’ for good. There will be people who are adverse to change, often without true certainty of what they fear and even when they are discontented with their current lot (some interesting psych studies out there on this).
    The NHS has a website called Patient Opinion, which creates a platform for feedback in an accessible and direct manner. Comments are posted unedited (apart frm removing names etc) for all to see. I have used the site myself, with highly satisfactory results.
    I can imagine that the introduction of such a facility would arose the very fears you refer to. A ‘space for criticism’ does not sit easy in everyone’s mindset, which is understandable and not a criticism. I would argue though, that not having that space will in fact exacerbate criticism. Had my concerns and criticisms (that I raised on Patient Opinion) not been heard and had I not been engaged in such an empowering process, had I not been given the opportunity to highlight a weakness, then my criticisms would have no doubt deepened.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Herre. I used to worry about using or being associated with the word ‘disruption’ as I didn’t see it as a constructive way of looking to improve things. But I guess sometimes you need to get to a tipping point and maybe using a harder line might work. Is deconstructing and rebuilding in a more inclusive way such a bad thing?

      I think that providing or contributing to existing spaces for feedback and comment is the right thing to do. It fits with the “we want to hear your views” desire, if indeed it is a desire and it also provides a space to try and understand differing views.

  5. marktravisinfo says:

    The best stuff is often a bit rough around the edges… that’s what I’ve learnt from my record collection. The polished stuff often proves to be a bit of a mess or bland.

    The good stuff is also unafraid and adventurous in spirit. Indeed, social media boffins have proved go-getting tyros are adept at side-stepping committee-led decisions.

    In short: mistakes can be good and bad, if you are smart.

    If we must add the science bit, how about: who, what, where, when, why and how?

    Great post, incidentally, boss.

  6. Pingback: Always people first | weeklyblogclub

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