Making digital friends

July 15, 2016 by 1 Comment | Category Training & Skills

What do you see when you think of a civil servant? Do you know what we actually do?

I’ve only been in government for nine months and every time I say what I do one of my friends asks “what does that actually mean?” Until now, civil servants have often been seen as a faceless mass behind ministers. That needs to change.

A key part of making government more open and accessible is encouraging civil servants to use social media to discuss their work. According to our ISM modelling, we are nervous about using social media. We need to make sure our colleagues have the right skills as well as the confidence and encouragement to get out there.

We’ve learned a lot from other organisations like Barclays Bank and the UK Government who have pioneered the use of mentoring to help people take their first steps in using social media.

So the concept of Digital Friends was born. Digital Friends is an informal partnership between a senior civil servant (the mentee) and a more digitally-astute colleague (the mentor). The mentor can help the mentee improve their digital skills and confidence – introducing them to new platforms or more efficient ways to work. Initially this might seem a one sided relationship but it should be mutually beneficial, with the mentor simultaneously practising their coaching skills and the potential for job shadowing opportunities.

We set up a three-month pilot with seven partnerships. Each mentor who volunteered to participate was a Modern Apprentice or a member of our Graduate Development Programme. We asked them to co-design the pilot as part of an induction session, where they were given the space to raise any worries and consider what shape the pilot should take.

Many had concerns about how to approach more senior colleagues, and wanted ways to share ideas and get support from each other. They came up with practical solutions, a ‘collection of top tips’ of ice-breakers.

This approach ensured that each individual relationship was unique, engineered to the requirements of the mentee. Mentors were encouraged to continually improve their own skills and empowered to create their own curriculum, personalising the lessons to individual needs. Some even set homework or quick quizzes.

So that we wouldn’t be lost amongst other government pilots we created an eye-catching, friendly brand. We posted it on Yammer and within a day had more than 50 notes of interest.

It’s still early days, but we’ve seen great results. The mentees have started using Yammer and Twitter more effectively. Many have continued their partnerships beyond the anticipated three months. As one mentee put it:

“We all know that social media can play a big part in us being an open, capable and responsive government and it was fantastic to have the help of a Digital Friend to allow me to maximise its potential.”

Whilst mentors feel more confident in their coaching skills and there have been plenty of fringe benefits, including job shadowing and support with their career development. With a mentor saying:

“The programme helped me to develop my mentoring skills and also gain exposure to a more senior colleague on a personal level. It challenged me to think about how to teach someone to do something, rather than simply do it for them.”

Digital Friends is a small, simple step. But we hope it is the first step to creating an open government which any citizen, including you, can talk to.

Have you had any experiences of running similar initiatives? Been a mentor or mentee and have some feedback you could give?

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