There’s social media which constitutes a great leap forward, and then there’s social media which, while only arguably social, is still better than what went before.

It’s been quite a frantic week, partly driven by the launch of the new Work Skills command paper online which falls squarely into the second camp. When the team’s busy, and a document needs to be turned round quickly, it’s natural to take the easy route when it comes to publishing online – create a PDF and stick it on the website along with the press notice.

The brief for Work Skills was to create something more engaging, showing the progress being made on integrating the employment and skills systems across the country. A great team from DIUS, DWP, and LSC supported by design agency Bell and several video production firms managed to pull together an online document which – while by no means cutting edge – helps to tell some engaging stories through video case studies of people who have benefited from policy changes.

I dreamed about using CoverItLive, Twitter, Qik and more to cover the launch, but frankly didn’t have the manpower or rationale to justify them. We could have tried something with Google Maps and YouTube, but the simple Flash player which was built just seemed like the easier and more reliable option. I’m proud of the simple and good value site we’ve ended up with: something that focuses on the stories rather than technology, makes a real effort at accessibility, and toes the line of Transformational Government. Command Paper 1.5 maybe. A step forward for online communication of a policy document. I think it’s through this kind of everyday innovation – slightly different, slightly better that we’ll make real progress over time.

And of course, you can download the PDF if you want to 🙂

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Hi Steph,

I came to your site through the link on your ShowUsABetterWay entry. Congratulations for your work on the Work Skills site (all the more impressive since you seem to have done it while heavily pregnant!).

I have to agree, though, that it is not a great leap forward in terms of social media. My main problem is not with the site, which is very well presented, but with the report itself, which is basically an advertisement for how fantastic the government is.

By comparison, the DirectGov news item about the report distilled the key piece of information in the second line – “…compulsory training…”. This information doesn’t appear in the report until the bottom of the second page of the executive summary, using softer language – “…require unemployed people to attend training…”. To get to this information, you first have to make it past an enormous close-up of Gordon Brown, and propaganda from him and two of his ministers. Calling it propaganda is no exaggeration, that’s literally what it is.

This is where social media should step in. It has the potential to provide an antidote to the constant government spin, which only serves to increase the public’s cynical view of the political process. A good, and very simple, way to start would be to change the “Send us your feedback” link into a discussion forum, so that the public can air their thoughts and questions, and the department can respond publicly.

The danger with this approach is that the forum becomes overwhelmed with uninformed, vitriolic attacks. So why not encourage the people from the video interviews to contribute as well, to provide some balance?

Just for fun, I’ll send this simple suggestion through the “send us your feedback” link as well, to see which approach receives a better response!

Hi Brett – thanks for the thoughtful comment. I must admit that I left the pregnancy to my wife though – see the About page to see what I look like 🙂

You’re right about the potential for social media, and to highlight the lack of it in this particular project. Without seeking to defend this, it’s worth explaining that the document – a Command Paper – was a statement of government policy and described progress on delivery, rather than being a more consultative document. If there’s one abuse of social media worse than any other, I think it’s trying to ask people to discuss something when you’re not in a position to listen and interact accordingly.

But your forum suggestion is a good one, and it’s a point not lost on my team, I can assure you. Watch this space and we’ll keep you posted on how we get on with opening up policymaking in some of our other policy areas…