Get rid of friction

If you want to get people to use your service, get rid of the friction.

This really hit home with me the other week, at an event I attended as part of my work at the Department of Health, which was about the patient of the future.

It struck me that what will make the real transformative change in healthcare (for example) is when people’s access to services, data and indeed connections is entirely frictionless.

Downloading an app is friction. Signing up for an account is friction. Finding a wifi connection is friction.

This is where I think internet of things stuff comes in. When your coffee cup has an internet connection, when lamposts have an internet connection, when wifi is everywhere, friction disappears.

This isn’t so far away. You can already get a coffee cup that measures the calorific contents of what you are drinking. When everyone, everything and everywhere is networked, everything changes.

The friction is replaced, of course, by a bunch of other issues – mostly ethical ones. Another, technical one, is how we handle and what we do with all this data.

#VirtualGovCamp FAQ

I’ve started putting an FAQ together for #VirtualGovCamp. Here’s the first effort.

Any more questions? Ask in the comments…

What is VirtualGovCamp?

VirtualGovCamp is an event which will take place online for people with an interest in improving public services.

What makes it a GovCamp?

GovCamp is an unconference – which means an open space event with no set agenda and no keynotes, where delegates can talk to one another about the topics they are interested in, not those of an organising committee.

What makes it virtual?

VirtualGovCamp will take place online, on this website (or rather, at this domain). People will interact on “sessions” which will basically be pages with comments where a discussion can take place.

Does that mean webinars?

No. VirtualGovCamp will live or die by its asynchronicity – which means people can interact when they want to and won’t need to be online at a specific time.

People organising sessions can make a time limited webinar or webchat part of what they are doing, but afterwards they will have to provide a means for ongoing discussion – such as embedding a video of the webinar session and allowing comments on that.

So no face to face stuff at all?

Not organised by me, no. But… if you want to run a local VirtualGovCamp party where people get together to enjoy sessions and talk about them together, then go for it!

So what does a session look like?

This still needs properly working out, but I reckon something like this: the person who pitched the session gets to create a page of content about the topic. It might be a video of them talking about it, or maybe someone else talking about it. It could be some text and links, or a Slideshare or Prezi. Maybe even a Storify.

They then facilitate a conversation in the comments to that page about the topic, encouraging people to get involved, share their views and ask and answer questions.

My current thinking is that a session will last a week. That doesn’t mean the comments will necessarily be closed, just that the active facilitation will cease.

Who can attend VirtualGovCamp?

Anyone with an interest in improving public services. It doesn’t matter what sector you are in, you are welcome to take part.

How do I pitch a session?

We will have a dedicated site for pitching and voting on sessions, which will be running on FutureGov’s Simpl platform, which they have donated for free.

Session pitching will begin in January 2015.

Can I sponsor VirtualGovCamp?

Probably yes, in two ways. One is in kind, by donating some technology or something else useful, like FutureGov are with Simpl.

I will also be accepting cash sponsorships, which I want to use to pay some people to do some online community management and other bits of support which are probably beyond what I can ask people to do as a volunteer.

Why is #virtualgovcamp a good idea?

Quick update - there’s now a placeholder site for #virtualgovcamp live at http://virtualgovcamp.org/ (it currently forwards to a wordpress.com blog) and a Twitter account @virtualgovcamp. At some point I will get all the content from the blog posts here replicated on the VGC site.

So why do I think #virtualgovcamp is a good idea?

  1. Scale - we can get the message to a lot more people by not having to fit them all in a room on a particular day
  2. Scale - we can have a lot more discussions and a lot more varied discussions by not being limited by the size of a grid and the number of breakout rooms available
  3. Diversity - we ought to be able to attract a much more varied bunch of people by running the event online
  4. Travel - no need for people to travel longish distances to the event – they can access it from wherever they are. That might even mean people not in the UK! Wowza!
  5. Time - we won’t be asking people to give up a whole day, whether in the week or the weekend. They can dip in and out as they please
  6. Serendipity - the law of two feet exists, but not many exercise it. Much easier online, and the existence of search means people will be able to find something else to get involved in much more easily. Or they could just do some work instead.
  7. Anonymity - still not sure where I am on this one, but being online means that there is the potential for people to be involved anonymously, which they may be more comfortable with

Do these things mean that the traditional GovCamp model is dead? No! Its just different. Both are needed.

It’s just that this one means I don’t have to get out of bed.

VirtualGovCamp

I’d like to propose VirtualGovCamp.

I’ve just been made aware that the lovely folks at LocalGovDigital are themselves working on a local version of a virtual unconference type event. That should be awesome, but I think my idea is sufficiently different to make it worthwhile running both. I will of course be doing everything I can to help LocalGovDigital’s event a success – and hope you do too!

It will be an online event, lasting a month – probably in February. The sessions will not be synchronous, that is, you don’t have to be online at the same time as a bunch of other people to get involved. So I’m not talking webinars.

Each session will have a page on the event website. The page’s content will be built by the person running that session – who’ll be called the facilitator. They can write some text, include some links, record and embed a video, or a slideshow, or Prezi, or whatever.

Each session is open for a certain number of days, which will be displayed on a calendar on the website. Whilst the session is open, the facilitator helps manage a conversation in the comments on that page. It isn’t real-time, so people can drop in and out as they choose and don’t feel under pressure to be online at the right time.

Before the event, I’ll run an ideas competition site to bring in ideas for sessions, which can be voted on to see which ones are most popular and will be included.

Everyone involved will be emailed on a regular basis throughout the month so that they can keep up with what is going on, and where they are part of a discussion in a session, they can sign up for alerts when new comments are added, and so forth.

There’s lots more to think about and get sorted, but that’s the idea. Is it a good one? If you think so, please complete this form and let me know how you’d like to be involved.

Developing your Yammer group

There are lots of guides out there on using Yammer, the internal social networking tool – how to set up a network, build your profile and so on.

However, that’s not all there is to Yammer and a key skill is community building, particularly if you are running a group.

Now, Yammer is a pretty easy to use bit of software. Many of the ways of making your group work as an effective community however, are nothing to do with software and everything to do with human behaviour.

Here are five tips to designing a Yammer group to succeed. A lot of the advice can be applied to any online community, too, so even if you don’t use Yammer, it ought to help.

  1. Make it look fun

This is key. If you want people to join your Yammer group and get engaged with it, you want to make it an attractive looking thing to do.

Things to consider:

  • The name of your group – make it sound nice and welcoming and don’t be tempted to make it sound all corporate and dull
  • The image you use as the group’s icon – again, avoid the dull corporate approach. Is there a fun joke you can make with the image? Pop culture and retro TV references are always a winner
  • Your short description – you only have a few words to make your Yammer group sound like the sort of thing a normal person would want to join. Use them wisely!
  • The longer information text you can add to the sidebar – this is where you can go into more detail, and perhaps add in some of the more serious work stuff that your group is about
  1. Start small and grow organically

It’s very tempting when starting something new to be excited and enthusiastic about it – quite right too! However, with any online community, it’s a good idea not to shout too loudly, particularly in the early days.

After all, when it has just started, your community is likely to be a bit short of content and activity. You don’t really want hundreds of visitors to stop by and perhaps be disappointed by what is on offer.

The way to get around this is to start small when it comes to inviting people in. Don’t do a big launch but gradually get more people involved, so that the levels of content and activity in your group are in sync with the number of people visiting.

  1. Engage the engaged

As part of the start small approach, who should you get involved first? You might be tempted to reach out to new people, to instantly get a return on your new group by being able to point to new audiences being engaged with your work.

However, it’s far better to get people involved early who you can rely on to make a strong contribution. Much of the culture of an online community is set by early members, so make sure the people you encourage to join will exhibit the sort of behaviour you want to encourage in your group.

  1. Give people a reason to join

If you are at a stage where you want to give your membership a boost, how do you get people to sign up?

One way is to make it so people have to be a member to get something they want.

As an example, say you run some training and want to share the slides and other resources with those that attended. Rather than emailing them around, why not upload them to the Yammer group, so that people need to be there to be able to access them?

  1. Keep up the flow

As a community manager, it’s vital to keep up a flow of activity. How quick that flow is, and how much of it you need will depend on the topic of your group and the personalities of those involved.

You will be in the best position to decided what the best flow for your group is – how often new discussions ought to be seeded, for example, or how many times documents ought to be shared for comment.

You don’t want the flow to dry up – people will lost interest – but then you also don’t want it to become a flood because people will be scared off.

New free Think Digital webinar – 8th September, 11am

There was a lot of interest in my last webinar on Think Digital, where I talked through the ten principles fairly briefly, just to give folk an overview of what I am on about.

I think it’s time to go into more detail about how you can make this happen, so over the next few months I will be running a webinar on each principle.

The first of these will be taking place on 8th September at 11am BST. It’s on the topic of strategy, leadership and capability which are the foundations of the Think Digital approach and are vital to get right if digital transformation is going to take place.

Sign up for your free place here!

Digital transformation

The term digital transformation is being bandied about rather a lot at the moment.

That’s fine – people often argue about words and phrases and what they mean and whether they are helpful.

Usually they aren’t perfect but do a job as a sort of shorthand that everyone has a broad – if occasionally divergent – understanding of.

However, if by transformation people are meaning making a lasting and sustainable change in the way an organisation works (which is how I understand it), then I don’t think transformation is what you really want.

It’s a bit like words such as disruption. Disruption is a good way of getting people to notice something – but it’s not always in a positive way, nor in a way that will convince people to come with you.

Transformation to me feels big, and quick. Maybe that is what organisations want. I don’t think it is what they need though.

Developing the culture of an organisation is hard work, and it takes a long time. For digital transformation to happen, it needs to be incremental and slow. It has to be given time to bed in, for the laggards to catch up, for everyone to be comfortable.

It also has to take place in small chunks, not trying to fix everything at once.

Remember, ‘digital’ is all about small changes, made responsively in line with the needs of users. Not frantic efforts to build giant edifices.

Organisations need to use the mindset, skills and tools of digital to make digital happen, otherwise it makes no sense, and just won’t work.

So, if you’re planning a digital strategy, or are in charge of digital transformation, make sure you start small, iterate, don’t promise too much, and don’t be tempted to go for big, flashy high profile activities. They might make a short term splash, but won’t change much in the long term.

Reminder – if you need a hand with this stuff, the 10 Think Digital principles might be useful. Check out the slidedeck or the webinar recording.