Wednesday, July 23, 2014

VicHealth launches Physical Activity Innovation Challenge

VicHealth appears to be one of only a few agencies across Australian state and federal governments that has made a solid attempt at introducing public challenges as an adjunct to traditional policy approaches.

While most governments in Australia still use the same techniques for policy creation that they've used for 80 or more years, after the success of last year's Seed Challenge, VicHealth recently launched a new challenge around physical activity innovation.

With $400,000 in start-up funds available to be awarded to the best ideas, the new challenge invites sports bodies, entrepreneurs and changemakers to develop innovative approaches to get more Victorians physically active.

With information available at VicHealth's website, the Physical Activity Innovation Challenge both brings the public and various sporting and innovation bodies into the policy development process, and helps expose the department to the latest thinking and ideas around prompting people to take up physical activity.

This is the type of thinking that more Australian policy makers need to adopt in recognition that expertise is no longer concentrated within government agencies, and that they need to look further than the 'usual suspects' of lobbyists, activists and pressure groups, for great ideas to feed into policy development processes.



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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What happened at Innovation GovCamp 2014 (Canberra)

Last Saturday Australia's first national GovCamp was held as part of the Innovation Month program.

Innovation GovCamp 2014 involved events in six locations across Australia. Over 500 people registered to attend.

I attended (and helped organise) the event in Canberra, at the Inspire Centre at the University of Canberra.

It was a good day - with planned and impromptu discussions across five topic streams. There were a few technical issues with live broadcasting national sessions to all six locations, however we were able to adapt around this.

A report is being compiled by the national organisers, John Wells and Allison Hornery, however I've also put together a video slideshow that tells the story of the day, from my perspective.

The slideshow (embedded below) was compiled from the photos the camera I wore took. Called a Narrative Clip, and used for 'lifestreaming' the camera was mounted (visibly) on my lapel, and automatically took a photo every 30 seconds.

The Narrative Clip was lent to me by Alexander Hayes, an international expert on emerging technologies and Professional Associate with the College of Adjuncts at the University of Canberra, INSPIRE Centre.

The video slideshow was cut-down from the 800+ photos the Narrative Clip took throughout the day.

It was my first experience using a wearable electronic device for that length of time. I found that while it did capture some interesting moments, a large number of the automatic photographs were of not-so interesting moments or simply too blurred for use.

I did reduce the size of the photos (and therefore their resolution if viewed full screen) to accelerate the process of producing the video slideshow.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Presentation from the AEMI Connections! Social Media in Emergency Management Conference

Last week I spent two days in the Australian Emergency Management Institute's Mt Macedon training centre facilitating and presenting at the Connections! Social Media in Emergency Management Master Class and conference.

It was an excellent event, with some outstanding presentations representing both government and public use of social media in emergencies.

Below is my presentation setting the scene for the use of social media in emergency management.

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You're probably not the audience

I've been reflecting on the number of comments and decisions I've witnessed lately where people have decided that a particular online approach, website design, engagement channel, interface design, fact sheet or other design or content is no good as it didn't appeal personally to them.

There's definitely a tendency in our society for individuals to think they are the central audience for everything they are exposed to - advertisements, entertainment, news and online content.

This individual viewpoint has been fostered over decades for both commercial and political ends.

The advertising industry has applied psychological triggers to make individuals feel that they are unique and worthy of consideration, while selling them mass produced goods on an epic scale. Hundreds of ads are targeted at each of us every day, attempting to influence our buying decisions by making us feel special or by convincing us that by buying their products we will become special.

Political leaders adjust their messages for their audiences, to help create an emotional bond. In effect they tell everyone separately that the view of the specific audience/industry/organisation/club they are talking to are special and therefore deserve to be heard and respected.

Schools do it when they refuse to give failing grades, simply 'needs improvement' and parents do it when they don't hold children accountable for their actions.

Even employers do it - using the notion of 'special' as a key tool for recruiting and retaining key worlers. Of course your staff are special - intelligent, hard-working, committed - otherwise you'd have hired someone else.

All of this helps build a belief in the infallibility and centrality of the individual. This isn't by itself negative, having strong self-belief is a key attribute for success in almost every field.

However it can also lead to ego pitfalls, the belief that an individual's opinion must be worth more than that of another person, or a view that the world needs to organise itself neatly around what we want or believe.

One of the areas I see this coming out frequently is in how governments design services, policies, content and engagements. All of these have traditionally been organised around what public servants or politicians believe are the right way to do them.

And by the 'right way' I mean the way that the politician or public servant would personally prefer to use or engage with government.

Again this isn't a universally bad thing - a particular politician or public servant may accurately represent the audience of the service, policy or content, or engage via the same channels and approaches as the citizens they seek to involve.

However, more often than not, they aren't the audience.

The late-40s male white public servant really doesn't comprehend the life experience of an early 20s female African migrant.

The career politician who has unfailingly worked for their party for forty years to achieve a seat as a older lady, doesn't have the life experience of spending 20 years running start-up businesses in the technology sector.

This isn't to say they aren't good people, committed to good outcomes, or unable to represent communities or administer programs on the public's behalf.

However it does beg the question of why we hold up senior bureaucrats and politicians as the final decision makers on programs, policies, content and engagement processes which are aimed at supporting more diverse communities.

What if the next time a website needed to be approved for launch, instead of a Secretary or Minister, the agency went to the community and asked, 'does this meet your needs' as the final approval step?

What if a policy team had to report to a citizen starring committee to approve a particular policy direction, or an agency delivering public services had to approve every process change with citizen stakeholders?

And I don't simply mean engaging with stakeholder groups - bodies purporting to represent different groups of citizens - I mean going directly to citizens and bypassing bodies with their own agendas.

The ABC does this in quite a sound way, inviting citizens to nominate for its board and having live audiences for a number of shows (there's no better way to ensure performance and detect bad concepts fast).

Our justice system does it too - we empanel juries of people, pay them a small sum for giving up their time, and have them involved as the decision-makers in trials, under the impartial eyes of a court-appointed judge.

Many councils around the world - and even some provincial/state and national governments appoint citizen oversight panels for various decisions.

This approach could be extended into the Australian Government as well. Rather than simply having members of parliament elected based on who decides to stand - a self-selecting bunch who often see politics as their career - we could seek to appoint panels of citizens to oversee a range of decisions and processes.

True it could cost a bit to set up and operate such a scheme, however the savings from adjusting decisions formerly approved by individuals who weren't the audience, to be approved by those who are, could lead to massive savings over time.

Fewer policies would have to be discarded, fewer services reconfigured and fewer actions apologised for and compensated in court.

So when you are next faced with deciding on a direction or approving the final version of a policy, service, program, website, mobile app, or other government decision - take a moment to reflect on whether you're the audience and whether you're the right person to be making that final decision.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Celebrate your social media successes, but don't forget that community trust is the key

In June Baltimore Police Department hit a milestone on Twitter, reaching 50,000 followers.

In celebration of this, they released the following video, reflecting the department's achievement and thanking the community for helping them make Baltimore's streets safer.



It is an awesome video and I totally support and respect organisations celebrating like this. It's important for staff to recognise when their organisation has done well and share in the success, and it can be a powerful way of connecting an organisation with its community.

This type of approach is also a great way to show that an organisation is composed of real people, who are simply performing a role when they don their uniforms. it humanises the staff and can bridge gaps between faceless bureaucracies and corporations and their constituents and customers.

Unfortunately this isn't where the story ends.

Several Baltimore Police officers have been charged with various offenses related to animal cruelty or inappropriate behaviour over the last few years, becoming the subject of significant media attention.

A local newspaper created a response to the Police Department's video using the same music (different lyrics) illustrating a number of these incidents, to paint a different picture of the Baltimore Police and, they said, as a courteous reminder for the Police Department to clean up their own act.


While this second video has only received 10% of the views of the Police video so far (it has been live for about half the time), it is a telling reminder for organisations of the importance of building and maintaining positive community relationships.

If the public are well disposed towards your organisation, they will (largely) support you on social channels. If your organisation has taken actions, or has been portrayed to have taken actions, that place it in a negative light, you will face a greater level of negativity when engaging with the public on social media.

This crosses channels, however is often most immediately visible on social channels due to their speed and reach. Ultimately a bad impression will reflect on how the public engages with your staff via other means - on the phone, in correspondence and in person - making it harder for staff to perform their roles.

Of course, it may take only one disgruntled, sarcastic or delusional individual to create and distribute material like the video above, and may not be reflective of broader community views. However how far this material will spread and how fair a representation it is seen to be depends on the pre-existing negative or positive views of your organisation.

A good reputation will have your community come out in support, a bad reputation will see the material distributed far and wide with support.

Social media isn't just a reflection of the world - it is part of the world. How your organisation conducts itself on social channels can significantly shape community views - creating a positive or negative impression.

So don't take this parody video as a reason to not celebrate your successes or shutdown your social accounts. Instead use them as ways to effectively engage with your community, helping solve problems and participating respectfully and humanly to build and maintain good relationships with the people you serve.

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