Digital Engagement

Trick or tweet?

October 29, 2015 by No Comments | Category Our work

As it’s Halloween we couldn’t resist a punny title and pumpkin pic for our blog post about barriers to using social media as a tool for policy makers in the Scottish Government.

We spend a lot of time talking about how to catapult Scottish Government into the 21st century by using digital tools and techniques to engage the public in policy making – but what does that mean? We often take these things for granted and assume that everyone knows what we’re talking about.

To clarify, when we talk about digital engagement, we’re talking about using digital tools and techniques to:

  • involve more people in the development of better, more accountable and evidence-based policies

  • help develop a more open and accessible government

  • collaborate, communicate and work more efficiently

Acknowledging that we have our own preconceptions about these benefits, we realised that we needed evidence to better understand the barriers at the Scottish Government. That’s why we teamed up with our strategic research colleagues to run three exploratory workshops with staff using the ISM Behaviour Change model (individual, social and material):

  • Individual: factors held by the individual that affect his or her choices and behaviours, including an individual’s values, attitudes and skills

  • Social: factors that exist beyond the individual in a social realm, which shape behaviours. This includes shared understandings, social norms, networks and relationships

  • Material: factors that are ‘out there’ in the environment, including hard infrastructures, technologies and regulations.

For info: A User Guide to the ISM Tool

  1. The ISM model begins by identifying a target behaviour that you’re trying to address – in this case, to increase Scottish Government officials’ use of social media and other digital tools. Workshop participants then talk about what’s holding them back, focusing on the individual, social and material factors, before discussing interventions that can help them overcome these barriers.

Why target social media for behaviour change? The way people communicate has changed. We now expect to engage with friends, family, brands and organisations online, and government needs to keep apace. Understanding what’s holding us back is key  if we are to implement the digital change we’re striving for. Identifying these barriers will help ensure that we are using the correct interventions.

What have we learned so far?

While the findings are still preliminary and further analysis is being conducted, there are key themes. In short, there are various reasons why social media uptake has been slow, ranging from gaps in the required skills and technology to a lack of understanding about the value of social media. We’ve divided our findings into five key areas:

  • Strategy: We must define the Scottish Government’s approach to transparency, openness, engagement and democratic renewal, making clear the benefits social media can bring

  • Leadership: Leaders need to champion social media and be able to explain why we need to embrace digital

  • Capability: Developing digital skills across the organisation via inductions, training and guidance will improve the policies we make. This should be built around the needs of policy teams

  • Capacity: We need to invest time and resource to engage better online

  • Engagement: The Scottish Government needs to have an internal conversation and demonstrate the value of engagement

Interestingly, the workshops went beyond identifying barriers to social media uptake to the values of what it means to be a civil servant. Many of the outcomes from the workshops were rooted in values and less in digital skills. Some feedback focused on the uncertainty of meeting the expectation to engage in social media and being a civil servant.

Kay Barclay, Principal Research Officer, said:

“The ISM workshops provided a very effective way of finding out the views and attitudes towards social media held by SG officials working in a range of roles, at different grades and from different directorates.  The workshops offered a safe, private space for staff to freely discuss the issues and barriers, and encouraged participants to think about the full range of factors that can influence their behaviour.

“The result was some very useful insights on why digital engagement can be difficult, along with some constructive ideas on what the Scottish Government can do to make it easier for officials to use social media in their work.”

In response to the preliminary feedback, we’ve drafted guidance for Scottish Government officials around:

  • Community management
  • Developing a digital engagement strategy
  • Managing your digital identity
  • Consultations
  • Social reporting

Plus, we’ve recently committed to putting all Scottish Government consultations online.

In the longer term, we will continue to have the conversation about how we address all five of the areas outlined above, and we will update you about that work on this blog.


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