BC Government Tries to Ignite a Spark with Staff

December 8, 2008
Hompage of Spark

Homepage of Spark

The BC Government launched a new social media Intranet site last week called Spark. The site is meant as a place for staff to share ideas with colleagues which can then be voted on by other users of the site. Of course comments are enabled, allowing for some development of a particular idea within the context of its post.

While I’m actively participating in the site I’m left wondering how effective it will be in the long term. It’s being pitched as a Web 2.0 site for government employees, and it’s an encouraging step in that direction. But in my use so far, I’m not sure there’s enough there to get users coming back and continually participating. Possibly out of pure curiosity staff might return to check in on what ideas are being posted. But it’s lacking a mechanism for building community.

For example, I posted an idea about trying to get similar-minded communications and web workers in government to

Spark post page

Spark post page

come together to share ideas, best practices, etc. My idea was “voted” a few times and garnered a few comments. Okay, not bad. Then today I noticed that my idea had been given the status of “Run with it,” which, in the scheme of the Spark site means the administrators have looked at my idea and have given me the go-ahead to move forward since it doesn’t technically require any input or immediate support from them for me to make it a reality (it’s not like I’m suggesting government change a financial policy or something).

But now I feel suddenly alone. There’s no mechanism–at least from what I’ve been able to discover–for me to use the Spark site, or even the broader government intranet site in general, to move forward with my idea. If I’m interested in pursuing things, I need to go back to more traditional means, like email, to setup a connection with the people who commented on my idea. This seems like a big flaw in the system.

If an idea gets the go-ahead, it would be great to suddenly be given a space within the Spark site to collaborate. Possibly a wiki tool, for example, so that interested parties can begin sharing ideas in a centralized collaborative space. This is especially important given the government’s broad user base. Users could be anywhere in the province of British Columbia! I’m assuming those who commented on my idea are in Victoria, but they may not necessarily be here. And even if they are, my physical office is located out at the relatively remote Selkirk Waterfront, far enough from the hub of downtown Victoria to make quick meetings impractical.

So extending the purely idea-based structure of Spark into a place where the ideas themselves can begin to take form would make it much more useful, and give it more of the Web 2.0 credibility I think the site creators might have been shooting for.

However, I’m encouraged by this development, and will continue to follow it to see just how far one good idea can go.

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Using Wikis

August 28, 2007

As part of a bigger effort to introduce some real collaboration into my project work–and our office in general–I’ve signed up for a few wiki accounts, specifically Wetpaint, Wikidot and Socialtext. I’m starting small and looking to incorporate a wiki to help manage and develop some of my projects. Most people–or at least a lot of us who live and work online–have used wikis from time to time, at least as a consumer. Thinking about implementing wikis, from a corporate point of view, requires a shift in thinking about how content and communications are managed. (Aside: so much of the discussion surrounding new communications technologies is clouded by hype and debate about people who don’t “get it.” I find that framing a position this way rarely benefits anyone, since it naturally creates separation, and no matter how much you hold to this point of view you will have to work with those who don’t “get it,” or more likely, have to convince/help them to get it. So I will try to keep the hyperbole and drama to a minimum. We’ll now return to our regular programming.)

Organizations like to control. There may be good reasons for this, but often it’s just a leftover response, like the hunger pangs you get when walking by The Body Shop in the mall and inhaling the scent of vanilla; intellectually you know there are no cookies in there, but your gut is telling you something else. The problem is, staff talk. They always have. And these days, of course, they aren’t limited by a physical chat with one person, they blog it and tell the world.

Wikis have the potential to take the control–if it ever really was there to begin with–away from the top and hand it to the bottom. This creates some interesting dynamics. Suddenly, people who may have been used to being told what processes to follow are now actively creating the processes themselves. People whose opinions might not have been sought out previously can now directly influence decisions and policy.

I’m not sure what the future holds for wikis in my organization, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get something off the ground. Things tend to move slowly, but I have a feeling they’ll start to pick up soon. There’s a real need to move beyond fear–especially of “failure”–and experiment. Without experimentation how can progress happen?