Ever wonder why it takes some government administrations 18-24 months to construct a set of social media policies?
Inexperience, fear and lacking the will to engage.
Many government administrators and elected officials I’ve spoken to off the record don’t actually want “citizen engagement.” It’s political suicide to say this publicly, but behind the scenes they’d rather we as citizens simply pay our taxes, get out of their way, and “let us do our jobs.” Until it’s time to vote of course.
Some elected officials exclaim they are “engaging” constituents or residents because they upload a YouTube video that answered a question from a citizen posed via a private email form, as was the case with Premier Stelmach and the Ask Premier Ed program. However, he was only prepared to answer a few select questions and post a few videos over a short period of time. I would have preferred on-going “real-time” engagement with citizens, however, most politicians and administrators are unwilling to answer questions from citizens live and on camera.
This shouldn’t surprise us as many elected officials are surrounded by “advisors.” These are the folks who are recommending these placating options to their bosses. “Better control of the message, and we’ll look innovative and engaging because we’re using social media.” they’ll say. Personally, I wouldn’t consider the above initiative as innovative or truly engaging, but it is better than nothing. Government innovation is often a much more benign interpretation when compared to the private sector, so it can be tough to swallow for many of us.
I’d rather learn about the leader’s ability to lead and think on their feet regarding important issues that mean something to my family and I, rather than the watered down safe answer constructed by someone else behind closed doors. I don’t care what tier of government we’re talking about in this case, municipal, provincial, or federal. Will the real leaders step forward please?
Why am I referencing such an old project? Simple, it’s Q2 2011 and I’ve been reflecting on how far we’ve come in the last couple of years in this regard.
How far have we travelled since this post in 2009? Has the bureaucratic culture changed? I’d say not much, if any. The majority of elected officials, administrators, heads of communication departments are still fearful of change, loss of control, innovation and citizen engagement. That’s at the core of why it takes 18-24 months to construct a social media policy document. The official response is, “we need to consult with all departments.” Ok, but does this need to happen over 2 years? What they’re also doing is learning, about a world they’re not a part of by attending seminars and workshops, and learning is always a good thing. A seminar or two doesn’t make them experts by any means, but it definitely does provide a foundation, as long as, the sources of information are experienced.
How much does this cost?
Let’s add up the conservative and approximate cost of a government social media policy document.
A team of 2 or 3 government communications employees, holding several meetings over 2 years internally in the comms department – $3,000.
One workshop attended – Add $2,500.
Then involve people from other departments as part of the “stakeholder engagement” meeting process – Add $20,000.
Several revisions of the draft document, unofficial updates to bosses, supervisors, along with official updates to Council or Ministers – Add $15,000. All calculations used in this example are estimated at $20/hr per government employee for a hyper conservative $40,500 in resource time spent.
Add to that the shear enormity of opportunity lost to improve citizen engagement, government processes and delivery of services across an entire government over 24 months, and the number gets ridiculous. Government is expensive, not only because it’s big but mostly because it’s inefficient. And remember, just because we now have the guidelines for the use of social technologies, doesn’t actually mean these departments will know how to be effective or generate results. They still need to be trained and most will report to someone who has no interest in becoming involved in social media, leading to more frustration for those who really want to make a difference with this new found opportunity.
Citizens need to participate too
Sitting on the couch on election day is irresponsible. Ignoring elected officials while they govern our lives is irresponsible. Citizen complacency is rampant, so even when a daring government agency actually wants to engage with us and get an honest opinion about their project, only a fraction of the voices come forward, that has to change.
This is our government, they work for us, so get involved. I realize that most citizens don’t understand how our governments work, what actually happens to our tax dollars, or how to actually engage with their government effectively. Frankly, we’re a disengaged, cynical bunch.
I think a great start to changing that would be to rather than complain, participate positively. Self organize in person and online, and ask questions, blog, post videos, tweet, call, email, write the editor, show up for events, and for heaven’s sake – VOTE!
Where’s your Open Government Framework?
We need more Open Government initiatives in Alberta and in Canada, more adoption of Web 2.0 technology, more governments operating as a platform for citizen engagement, more data released…just like what Cook County has just announced regarding their data.
I imagine an Open Strathcona County someday and I wonder where Alberta’s Minister of Open Government is? Way to go British Columbia!
Remember, a set of social media policies doesn’t a strategy make, and a social media strategy doesn’t an Open Government Framework make either. Unfortunately, it seems, we still have a long way to go.
However, to get all of the government communications employees started with some examples of policies at least. Here’s a long list of social media policy documents to reference saving you months and months of work, and taxpayer dollars – Socialmediagovernance.com