Thursday, 7 July 2011

Why information professionals should be at the heart of government digital engagement activities

This is my the proposal for Online Information 2011. I have to write approx. 5000 words on this by mid September - I will be looking for your help!

In 2004, commenting that people were increasingly confident to search out information themselves, Maewyn Cumming made a prediction about government information professionals:

"We will appear in more places than we do now. At the moment, librarians are cropping up everywhere, in weird and wonderful little corners, running or helping organize websites and intranets, even document and records management systems. We will be in places that don't initially always appear to be information management places. I know librarians who are working in enterprise architecture systems.” (Cummings, M. 2004, p16)

That librarians should support knowledge management across government was a key theme in the literature in subsequent years (Taylor and Corrall. 2007, p. 301). Attempts were made to place knowledge and information management at the heart of government. In the UK, the Knowledge Council was established as a cross-departmental body to raise the profile and give encouragement and direction to information and knowledge management initiatives. Information Matters: Building Government's Capability in Managing Knowledge and Information (HM Government, 2008), recognised that knowledge and information professionals are “experts who have key roles to play in contributing to the success of their organisations”.
However, this paper will argue that information professionals can play an even more central role at the very heart of government business.

Digital technology has revolutionised the way in which people communicate and share information  – the growth of social media over the last couple of years has been particularly spectacular. Good use of social media can help governments better understand, respond to and attract the attention of specific audiences. It enables real two-way communication with people in the places where they are already engaging with their interests. Social media can enable people to participate in proposing and shaping policies and laws, to provide feedback on programmes and services, and in some instances influence service design.

However, the ability of civil servants to use social media and the growing stakeholder demand for these channels is causing tension as government departments work to update pre-digital processes which do not work as effectively in the digital era. The pace of change is already rapid and is increasing in speed. This can cause further tensions, as many stakeholders’ contact with departments can be sporadic, making it difficult to know how and where best to engage with them. Engaging with stakeholders in their own spaces is creating a whole new set of learning opportunities for civil servants.

This paper will outline the roles involved in digital engagement within government, set out the skills required and explain why information professionals are ideally placed, not only to take on some of these roles, but also to assist in building digital engagement capacity more widely across government.
The author will draw on personal experience as an information professional who has worked in several ‘weird and wonderful little corners’ within government and is currently involved in the development of a digital engagement strategy for the Scottish Government.  


Learning Points

  • Overview of the current status of the information profession in government (UK and worldwide)
  • Digital engagement roles in government and the skills required
  • Insight into the contribution information professionals can make to digital engagement
  • Future opportunities for information professionals in government
PS. I have to come up with a title for this paper - by tomorrow. Any suggestions?