IDC European Vertical Market and Insights survey indicates that government executives perceive social media for internal collaboration as still carrying more risks than benefits.
Yesterday I attended Infor "On The Road" event in London and among the announcements there was a new UI, based on the social media paradigm to provide tools that can make ERP, enterprise asset management and similar, traditionally non-glamourous applications more usable and collaborative. This change of paradigm could put the employee at the center of those workflows, rather than the purchase, the invoice, the work order and so forth. The work for Infor is just at the beginning, thus I will not venture commenting on the viability of that UI for the time being, but it certainly reminded me of the central role that government employees can play in establishing smart government practices for better cross-boundary collaboration, innovation and accountability, as well as it reminded me of the potentially multiplier role that social media could play in that realm. But there is a stigma (or maybe two) to be removed before that potential can be unleashed.
Civil servants are rarely seen as potential sources of ideas for innovation and collaboration, thus they are offered limited opportunities to contribute, especially at lower levels of the hierarchy. And, in some cases, they are considered lazy and careless, so totally unable to take responsibility for new opportunities and related risks. Our 2012 IDC European Vertical Markets and Insights survey reflects that stigma perfectly. When we asked 183 government executives that are currently using social media in their agencies or plan to use them in the next year or so, what the key benefits of such tools are, "Acquire and share knowledge within the organization" came as the last of a list of nine drivers, ranking well behind external benefits, such as "Increase awareness about services" or "Improve relationship with citizens". And when we asked the 88 government respondents to our survey that are not planning to use social media in their organization what the key concerns for not doing so were "Potential misuse of social media by employees" came second in the ranking of barriers.
In fairness, in the past three years, governments at all levels and in all geographies have used social media for internal collaboration, and launched innovation contests among employees, such as the U.S. federal government challenge.gov program. Unfortunately those initiatives are proving difficult to sustain over time, either because of the lack of capability to use enterprise or consumer social media as the basis for further learning and investment, rather than as a one-off, or because the innovation contests were too broad to make employees part of the idea generation as well as of the execution. Until cultural change does not allow to remove the stigma and motivate employees to be at the center (for instance through rewards and recognition) of cross-jurisdiction collaboration programs focused on specific business outcomes, social media in government will not fully unleash their potential.