A new era for IT skills training?

ByMichele Ide-Smith

A new era for IT skills training?

A few weeks back I posted about the Google localgov event. My thoughts on whether Councils would adopt cloud computing went something like this:

I have no doubt that the migration to the cloud won’t be driven so much by business strategy so much as by social needs and expectations. As time goes by our experiences of computing in our personal lives will be drastically mis-matched with our computing experiences at work.

Well that’s all very well if you have a degree of competency with IT. Anway, where’s this all heading? Following Portsmouth City Council’s move to block staff access to Facebook which has been in the news and causing a stir on Twitter (thanks to Sharon and  Dave for excellent posts on the subject), I had an interesting chat with some colleagues on the subject of IT skills in the organisation.

I agree that unblocking access to social networking sites is a very sensible and positive first step to entrusting Council staff and exploring the potential for engaging citizens.  This is the approach taken in the Council I work in and I am grateful not to be working in an organisation that takes more of a knee jerk response.

So assuming you have got over the first hurdle -unblocking access – one of the next big issues to solve (putting issues of brand and communications aside) is likely to be education. In organisations as diverse as Councils, staff IT skills vary widely. We need to be helping devise  education programs for managers which provide them with the awareness, knowledge and skills to support their staff in using the internet to engage citizens. So whilst we are still on a learning curve ourselves as to when and why to use social media for engagement (and resources are tight) what can we do?

  • Promote case studies. We need positive case studies and examples, which demonstrate effective use of social networks for engagement in all areas of Council services. That’s the first hook. Give people something that’s familiar and they can relate to.
  • Develop a network of digital mentors. A colleague suggested the idea of digital mentors to me recently and I think that’s exactly what we need. Keen folk, dotted throughout the Council, who know how to use social media, can spot the potential and evaluate the risks. A kind of ‘super user’ I guess.
  • Run informal social media surgeries. Once you have your network then hopefully you can use them to run very informal surgeries, to show others how to use the tools and demystify social media. The rules, conventions and terminology can be a bit off putting for someone who is new to it all.
  • Write practical, engaging and easy to follow guides. Ok, ok. I know people tend to ignore manuals of any kind, but they will need some guidance and it will need to be very brief and accessible. Kind of like Tim’s one page guides.

The potential of social media seems obvious when you know the ropes, but for someone who has just mastered email (or perhaps is still struggling) they will need a big helping hand to catch up.

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2 Comments so far

boonPosted on2:27 am - Sep 3, 2009

Michelle,

Great post. I think I’m with you on this, but I’m also partly skeptical about how organizations implement programs to help skill their staff in the ways of social media, etc.

I think that there are so many dimensions about social media that it’s quite a big thing to swallow at one go, let alone feel comfortable about making use of it to reach out to the community (or other positive reasons).

This is partly because I myself struggle with my own changing identity on the internet, and how it evolves over time as my behavior shifts based on all sorts of factors. If I sometimes struggle to figure out social media, I can understand how it can baffle or risk being misunderstood by others.

One way I can see it work is perhaps devoting the work of using social media to a few handful of govt reps (those who are social-media savvy), building on your ‘digital mentor’ idea. After all, only a certain percentage of the public/community are actually heavy users of social media. So it would be like social media reps from the govt reaching out to the social media users of the public, rather than advocating social media across the board.

Michele Ide-SmithPosted on6:57 am - Sep 3, 2009

I’m with you on that sentiment Boon. I think we’ll struggle to get all front-line staff using social media, but we certainly need to educate managers by increasing awareness and understanding for two reasons:

1. So they can manage the issue of staff using social networks for personal use in work time excessively and;

2. Identify and empower those that are “social-media savvy” to act as advocates for the Council online, as per Sharon’s post.

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