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A few months ago, I blogged about how constituent software could make people feel closer to their local government offices, increasing the potential for civic engagement. I talked about the “metaphorical” distance between officials and their constituents, something beyond physical distance, that clear and accessible communication could overcome. Platforming and facilitating that communication is the service offered by constituent software, and we’re just getting better at it, from virtual town halls to texting for event turnout.
But what about communication within the government office? Comprehensive communications tools have the potential to do something similar to constituent software for communication between teams and team members. The best online collaboration tools (listed by Tech Radar for 2019 as Slack, Asana, Podio, Ryver, and Trello) are accessible from all devices, to allow for consistent access. But beyond accessibility, what’s important about these platforms is that they integrate pretty much everything, and that integration provides not only efficiency, but a context for horizontal and participatory communication. Add easy navigability, and you have a really nice, really egalitarian way of integrating work, discussion, announcements, feedback, and task systematization.
When I imagine the “perfect” team meeting, particularly on a government team (since these are not profit-oriented, but rather service-and-maintenance-oriented teams), I imagine a meeting where tasks are easy to deliberate on and enact with minimal transition, and where every member feels valued and able to speak. When I imagine the “perfect” intrateam, sectional, or organization-wide meeting, I want the same things, only with even more efficiency.
It’s the integrative function of these tools that makes it easier for them to facilitate organic and horizontal staff communication with minimal drag between decisions and implementations. Within the organizational population itself, there’s no need for emails, texts, and IMs or DMs because the platform provides similar channels. So it’s a portable metasystem of organizational planning, collaboration, and constant communication.
The ability of the platforms to facilitate public (team-wide or organization-wide) channels is well-known.There is also a place–and a need–for private communications in organizations, and so a platform that can allow participants to carve out private space, ironically, makes the public spaces healthier and more robust. Slack even allows the inviter to determine whether the invitee can see previous discussions in a private channel–a good reflection on some of these platforms’ familiarity with the nuances of organizational culture.
Finally, when I imagine the ideal bridge between internal and external communication–the decisions made by the team and then communicated to the public–I see a context where good collaborative project platforms can allow closely scrutinized collaborative crafting of messages, which are then released to the public via an agreed-upon schedule or format. For example, last year at a government employees’ conference, there was a session on the U.S. Department of Energy’s use of social media messaging. DOE had been utilizing Twitter for public communication and the session included guidelines on the screening and approval of messages. Reading the description, our team wondered whether the messages had been created and approved on a collaborative platform. I thought that the messaging strategies themselves would be better constructed with participatory conversations among team members. The messages could essentially be co-constructed. Everyone would also then be aware of them, because they’d had a hand in, or at least had been invited to participate in, their construction.
It seems to me that the importance of transparent and invitational communication applies to both organizational and public governmental communication.