Joined up government: that "One Council" approach

An unwittingly useful insight into the council’s old-fashioned attitudes to management, IT and communications – despite the council’s endless PR initiatives about the internet and a supposed new policy of “openness” – comes courtesy of Jon Rogers on Charlie’s blog.

It’s like they’re still in the 1950s down at the Council House …

THE PROBLEM:

“Problems arise when staff in another part of the authority need to know what their colleagues have been up to or are intending to do or what the latest is on services to a particular client or member of the public.

“Accessing information is piecemeal at the moment. That must be a great frustration to council staff.

Mike Popham, Executive Member, Efficiency and Value for Money, March 18 2009

Right. Simple. There’s a communications problem at the council.

THE CITY COUNCIL POLICY

“As you will see Charlie’s blog is hosted within the domain blogspot.com. This domain is categorised by web sense as “Social Networking and Personal Sites”. This category is BLOCKED for normal business users.

Jon Rogers, 15 April 2008

Ahhhhh. Now that harmless sounding term “Social Networking and Personal Sites” in reality refers to just about every innovative piece of web 2.0 software developed over the last five years. Most of which can be used to enhance communications between people and organisations in all kinds of interesting ways.

We’re not talking just blogs here either. “Social Networking and Personal Sites” would include Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, message boards. A whole range of sophisticated, free communications tools that are taking the rest of the world by storm.

Not, apparently, Bristol City Council though. Instead they have a policy of depriving “normal business users” – or their staff as they’re usually called – of half the internet because um, er … Dunno … They don’t actually say!

Although I think we can safely assume some faceless someone, somewhere has decided that all this internet stuff is a very bad thing and their lazy-arsed staff must be kept away from it at all costs and deprived of learning any skills about it.

Welcome to the future city council style.

THE CITY COUNCIL SOLUTION

Popham wants to spend several million pounds (ie up to £12m) buying software to access common data and improve communications at the council

The Bristol Blogger, March 15 2009

So let’s get this straight: Bristol City Council has a policy – for no good reason – of deliberately deskilling their staff and depriving them of half of the communication tools available to everyone else on internet and then they complain that they have severe communications problems that will cost us £12m in tailored software systems to resolve.

Surely before the council forks out £12m on a new IT systems it should demonstrate it has already made full use of its existing systems and has tried and experimented with things like popular and innovative free internet-based software and systems?

Indeed, how come just about every other media, PR and progressive business in the world is falling over itself to make use of these “Social Networking and Personal Sites” while the council is banning its staff from even accessing them. Has the rest of the world got it wrong?

For a bunch of supposed business experts they don’t seem much interested in innovation or what’s going on around them do they?

Instead we seem to have a bunch of paranoid, out-of-touch and isolated control freaks on six-figure salaries who are scared shitless of the internet in charge.

But just wait. In about five years time, when Bristol City Council is even more out of touch than it is now, they’ll be talking about spending millions to train their staff for the internet age and the “knowledge economy”.

And all because a few uptight stuffed shirts from the boss class don’t approve of the lower working orders using the internet …

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19 Responses to Joined up government: that "One Council" approach

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Jon says:

    I think you’ll find most private companies have similar policies – and some far more restrictive.

  2. redzone says:

    but most private companies don’t wish to spend up to £12 million to solve a simple communication problem 😕

  3. thebristolblogger says:

    Neither have they announced they have a serious communications problem in the pages of the local newspaper.

  4. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Jon says:

    all true. But had the council gone, “yea, we love twitter and facebook. And nobody’s allowed to do any work before they’ve looked at someone else’s holiday snaps on Flickr,” then many, including you, would be wondering why they spent all their time on the interweb and not doing their jobs.

  5. Anon says:

    I can’t understand why you should have any different expectation from a bunch of people who could not successfully run a whelk stall.

  6. thebristolblogger says:

    I can’t help wondering whether it’d make much difference if they did spend all their time on the interweb and not doing their jobs.

    They seem to spend most of their time in meetings at the moment anyway and that doesn’t achieve much.

  7. Get out says:

    Fair point.

  8. Jon Rogers says:

    Morning BB

    To be pedantic, the words on Charlie’s blog were those of an officer, that in my continuing naivety I thought might be useful to share with the wider world!

    You do however raise an interesting question (as usual!)

    Would including access for all staff to blogs, “Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, message boards” during work hours improve productivity?

    I personally doubt it.

    However, there are web based tools such as wiki style information sharing which may benefit from exploration.

    My discussions with the IT team at the City Council suggest that they will enjoy and respond to our enthusiastic striving towards openness in all our actions. They see it as a refreshing change from the closed and secretive approach of our predecessors.

    They have many ideas, including embrace of open source (we use Star Office in most, but for reasons I don’t yet understand, not all departments).

    There will remain commercial, personal and legal reasons for confidentiality, but the default position should be information is shared and open and yes, we need to explore better ways to do it.

    Have a good time fishing!

    Jon

  9. BristolDave says:

    Actually, I’ve noticed quite a few blogs on blogspot.com hosting porn, so maybe their decision is based on that.

    Also, how will council staff being able to access Charlie Bolton’s blog really help internal communication within the council? Isn’t that what email is for?

  10. old misery guts says:

    and how does all this sit with the digital city bollocks? On the one hand you’ve got the control freak luddites deliberately limiting the use of t’interweb and all that luvverly free shareware within the counts louse, whilst on the other substantial chunks of cash are being invested in persuading the good people of knowle west to abandon their skydigi boxes in favour of surfing the net for porn.

  11. thebristolblogger says:

    Surely councillors being able to interact with staff at all levels rather than through a rigid hierarchy is a good thing? (for councillors at least?)

  12. BristleKRS says:

    (@Jon)

    Re open source – I attended a workshop regarding the council webcasts a short while ago.

    A fellow civilian and I expressed our concern that (at that point) the webcasts of council meetings did not properly stream for those of us not using Windows PCs (ie the large number of Bristol Mac and Linux users).

    I’m glad to see that the webcasts now do seem to work for me (on a Mac) – moving pictures AND sound! Woo hoo! – but I was worried that the webcast project is entirely based not just upon proprietory software but also a single commercial company’s hardware. Is this sustainable in the long term (especially entering into recession)? And are we likely to see a coherent, long-term vision for what Bristol City Council intends to do with IT, especially in terms of reaching out to people across the city and using it to engage with them?

  13. BristleKRS says:

    Inter-agency rivalry and hierarchical snootiness was even set aside for America’s ‘MySpace for spies’ system A-Space!

    http://bristle.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/secret-agents-get-a-space-for-social-networking/

  14. “And are we likely to see a coherent, long-term vision for what Bristol City Council intends to do with IT,…”

    Bloody hell, you’ll be asking if the council are going to give away free porn movies next!

  15. BristleKRS says:

    We can but dream 🙁

    *Pictures inappropriate images of Dame Janke*

    *Bleaches eyes*

  16. Aphra says:

    “Would including access for all staff to blogs, “Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, message boards” during work hours improve productivity?”

    Room for debate and investigation on this, Jon.

    http://tinyurl.com/cvya3k

  17. Charlie Bolton says:

    Jon said

    ‘Would including access for all staff to blogs, “Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, message boards” during work hours improve productivity?

    I personally doubt it.’

    Actually, it depends. Isn’t the classic concentration dynamic that you can do something fo r20 minutes, then you need a break?

    If so, if someone wants to mess around on the interent for a couple of minutes, why not?

    People aren’t metronomes.

    I’d probably exclude my blog, though, on the basis that it is full of so much Liberal Democrat propoaganda (thanks, Jon and Gary).

  18. One Handed Typist says:

    *Pictures inappropriate images of Dame Janke*

    *Bleaches eyes*

    Dame Janke is a very attractive lady.

  19. w00dburner says:

    “Would including access for all staff to blogs, “Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, message boards” during work hours improve productivity?”

    It wouldn’t make any difference. Where I work we have unrestricted access, and it’s not abused. People use it when on breaks and it’s seen as a really useful perk, thus improving good will! It’s a very benighted employer who thinks that denying their employees something so freely available makes them less likely to skive if they are so inclined. Skivers will skive, conscientious workers will continue to be so.

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