Back in 2009 (and several times since) I gave a presentation on Government 2.0, one of my slides encourages creating a “wiki government”, citing the “future melbourne 2020” wiki as a successful example of citizen engagement by a government.
How far have we progressed in Alberta in this regard? Well, welcome to the first ever Government of Alberta wiki. Established as a part of the “Speak, Share, Thrive” social policy framework online initiative by the Government of Alberta. Despite the standard three word marketing tagline, I love seeing this type of direction.
Having launched earlier in 2012 in direct response to Premier Alison Redford’s Mandate Letter to Minister Dave Hancock, the participation stats (seen below) suggest a steady 2-3 thousand total site visits per week over the first four reports.
Engagement is low
Despite maintaining the total visitor numbers per week, there is a noticeable drop in those numbers when looking at engagement. Albertans are encouraged to participate in one or more of three ways, blog, wiki, survey.
I like this combination, and I think it’s important to note that despite the leadership from Minister Dave Hancock’s portfolio here, there are key variables to remember when judging the success of this effort.
First, it’s early days. Second, 3.2 million wiki entries from Albertans shouldn’t be the goal. Third, this is new to Albertans.
This is a brand new opportunity to engage with our provincial government and from my own experience I personally witnessed zero online discussions about this concept prior to launch. So was there momentum prior to launch outside the usual GOA channels? Probably not as much as there should have been.
Launching a new concept that requires a behavioural change in your audience like this one does requires a lot of discussion and encouragement ahead of time to “prime the pump”, then people will be ready to participate when launched…
Why should we care about this variable? Simple, do you want more government wiki’s, if this one fails to reach a critical mass, you can forget another one. No one will want to risk failure. Government as you know is massively risk adverse.
Too often governments work internally without an ongoing public discussion. Who’s to say Albertans actually want to engage the Government of Alberta via wiki technology? Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. (Having said that, maybe there was a discussion ahead of time with targeted groups…could someone let me know if that’s the case?)
After a direct inquiry Minister’s Hancock’s Assistant Deputy Minister Shannon Marchand, my info was forwarded to Engagement Lead for the Social Policy Framework, Leann Wagner who was kind enough to respond to a couple of questions. See below:
Social policy tribe
Surveys are notorious for low engagement, people are busy and the evidence suggests that between 15 and 30% of “new visitors” are filling out the survey. Wiki participation can be even lower on the engagement list because it’s not a standard citizen engagement behaviour, and it requires more work. The average Albertan doesn’t wake up in the morning jazzed to augment their local government social policy wiki. The Government of Alberta has to reach the “true believers”, the advocates, the established social policy tribe. In reality, this is a small group compared to the general population, and in fact, that’s what Minister Hancock should strive for here. So I wouldn’t be discouraged by they engagement numbers at all at this point. However, for more of the social policy tribe to become engaged a distinct strategy should be launched. (Remember I believe it should have been implemented well in advance of the website launch.)
How in my opinion can the Government of Alberta increase success with this wiki and future similar initiatives across other portfolios? For one, it’s time to allow the front line workers to engage with Albertans where Albertans already are. I’ve blogged about this in one form or another for years.
Premier Redford’s government routinely encourages us to “join the conversation”. As a digital media geek since 2004, I can’t wait for that statement to go away but that’s just a personal pet peeve.
Join OUR conversation
In fact, I’m suggesting that Premier Redford allow her government to join “our” conversation.
Why must Albertans continually be asked to go to yet another new initiative website? Well, ok, I know why…”control”.
Let the government employees who’s job it is to communicate with Albertans directly engage with us openly using social technologies. What exactly are we waiting for?
Joining Alberta’s conversation will increase engagement and learning organically. Can you still monitor results? Absolutely, just takes more coordination. Will you be able to control the digital ecosystem? Well, you’re smart enough to know the answer to that, and frankly so is the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau.
However, the end result becomes Albertans will have established what they really want in terms of engagement, so then you can go build something specific to support the momentum. Rather than always trying to drive attention and engagement after the fact. Community engagement isn’t about campaigns, it’s about being ever present.
Let go of the fear
What I just suggested will provide the Public Affairs Bureau with weeks of nightmares where the moment of horror involves more Deputy Premier Lukaszuk like public Facebook remarks but this time made by John and Judy government worker on a mass scale.
In reality, these avoidable faux pas incidents are few and far between and most of the time are chalked up to certain individual personalities. The majority would no doubt operate trouble free within social media. Especially with the proper training.
If you like this idea by the Government of Alberta, let them know. Encourage them to engage more in this way, it’s better than reverting backwards…
You never know, maybe Albertans will surprise, and start their own issue based wiki and ask the Government of Alberta to participate instead of the other way around. The true test in that case will be whether the GOA steps up.
Regardless, I applaud Minister Hancock and his team for leading the charge – great job!