DIGITAL STEP: Can we use the web to solve the big problems now?

#7 DecaySo, if the high water mark of social media in local government is tweeting gritting call-outs we’ll have failed.

Sure, getting those messages out represents a big step to what went on before but the achievement as I’ve said before shouldn’t stop at that.

I’ve pondered for a while what the next steps may be from my own corner of the digital allotment. Occasionally I look across at people like fellow local government officers Carl Haggerty and Phil Rumens who think big picture digital things and I sit back on my shovel and I ponder.

For comms people it’s getting involved with channel shift and helping an organisation score some savings while offering people a better service. Yes, but what else?

As barriers blur and the internet changes everything it’s fascinating for a comms person like me to think beyond the argument that press releases are dead.

There’s been a fascinating debate just recently by a post from SOCITM president Steve Halliday who suggested that digital in local government should be helping to solve ‘wicked’ problems.

What’s a wicked problem? It’s the term given to particularly uncrackable local government issues that tend to crop up in places like social care or planning.

In this world he suggests information sharing using a secure web to network could maybe bring professionals together to crack those particular thorny headaches. It’s a measure of how things have evolved that people are thinking of using this social media stuff to tackle the real grown-up problems.

On the question  of whether we should use digital to tackle these ‘wicked’ issues he’s absolutely right.

Then a few things that keep nagging at me like the clunk of a mobile phone left inside a coat that’s being put through the washing machine that asks you to do something about it.

Firstly, there was a bold call to action from Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves who at the #10by10wm event 12-months ago in Coventry told a room full of geeks to stop evangelising about social media but come armed with solutions… which incidentally may have some social media in them.

On that, he’s absolutely right.

And there’s a third snippet which has lodged in my head from former civil servant Gerald Power. He  said that to make a big difference you need to tackle the big problems in your organisation the really big ticket issues need to be tackled. Not the little ones.

On that he’s right too.

But all that Big Problem tackling would take time, effort and resources at a time when there is none. But if that Big Problem affected 100 of the 350 or so councils and cost, say, £1 million a year then would a one-off £50,000 project make sense?

Of course.

But who is there to identify the problem and scrape together the time, effort, collective will and resources?

The mantra of JFDI – just flipping do it – has taken us a long way but this feels too big and too important to leave to people working under the radar.

What’s the answer? I’m just a comms person fascinated with how we can use the internet better to make a difference. I’ll leave that for other people to ponder.

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