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Shaped by social media? Not yet, but it’s coming!

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A few days ago at the Commission’s first Digital Competence Day event, I issued a call to exchange best practices and experiences in the field of modern e-technologies. Neelie Kroes was the first to respond. No surprise there – she is our Digital Champion, pushing the e-agenda across Europe – indeed, it was she who brought Twitter (and her nearly 70,000 followers) to the Commission. And so earlier this week I was privileged to see for myself just how Neelie’s team are putting the most modern technologies to good use.

And this got me thinking about how much we (or should I say I) have evolved thanks to the phenomenon of social media. My first experience of social media was as a concerned parent, nervously and grudgingly accepting the fact that social media (starting with ICQ and then evolving to Facebook, YouTube and you name it) was a major time-consuming part of my children’s life. But pretty soon afterwards I too launched into this brave new world, despite concerns over respect and privacy issues, and of course today I like most people can see the huge transformative power of social media in terms of society, democracy and our quest for better efficiency. Now I can chat with civil society on Twitter on the challenges of the European Citizens Initiative, share some of my views on European affairs through podcasts and engage with Commission staff on the thorny issue of staff regulations through Yammer and the chat function of our Intranet. And this of course is just scratching the surface of what is possible…

Listening to Neelie’s team I was glad to see that the quality and style of presentation and the knowledge of our experts was the same as what I saw in Silicon Valley when I was there last year. The progress we have made in this area is clear. Not so long ago, I had to push hard just to keep the Commission’s experiment with Yammer (brought to the Commission by social media pioneers from DG COMM) alive. Now, there are nearly 9000 registered Commission users taking advantage of all that it offers in terms of asking for and sharing advice, talent spotting, cutting red tape and duplication, efficiency gains, etc. And of course I myself am also signed up – it makes for a very effective and efficient way of engaging with staff!

As you might expect, Neelie’s team are the forefront of the Commission’s efforts to make the best use of new technologies. They have taken platform collaboration to a higher level: realising that newcomers to the Commission always ask where they should sign up and which platform we’re using, Neelie’s team have introduced Jive, which offers tools that are better-suited for crowd collaboration.

Here’s just one example: when the Director General of DG CONNECT had to prepare a paper on how he planned to ‘do more with less’ (I think they know my agenda pretty well), the initial draft of the paper was put on Jive to allow the entire DG to comment. Many of the ideas put forward as a result of this collective approach would never have been discovered without it, and while the Director General, of course, decides what finally makes it into the paper and what doesn’t, the range of ideas thrown up by the exercise was extremely broad, and team spirit was lifted as staff felt that their views were truly valued.

There are plenty of other examples that clearly demonstrate that you can often get help in your work from places you would never expect: the secretary whose previous job was running a hi-tech start-up, or the accountant whose hobby is closely related to a subject on which your unit is currently working and struggling with, to give just a couple of general examples.

The key here is encouragement: active efforts by top management to motivate their staff to come up with innovative new ideas while nonetheless respecting the final decision making process. The Commission, as with many other administrations, is looking for the best solutions to overcome silo mentality and better involve staff in traditional hierarchical decision-making. I believe that the more we embrace the idea of an e-Commission (which is a clear priority for me), the more we are likely to attract a new generation of ‘digitally native’ staff, in turn bringing more expertise and ideas in new technologies. The efficiency gains we can make are clear – as is the resultant improvement in staff motivation. We just need to overcome the initial fear of launching into something new, to learn from the best, support the pioneers and adjust the system to our needs. I know it’s possible, so what are we waiting for? Let’s just do it!

Shaped by social media? Not yet, but it's coming!, 4.1 out of 5 based on 17 ratings

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