Towards better public engagement, and innovating at scale
With thanks to Dave Moskovitz

The work of the LabPlus team at the Service Innovation Lab depends on excellent collaboration within Government, between Government agencies, as well as with the private sector, the community sector, and individuals. While Lab+ provides reusable components and Government-as-a-Platform, the real value from our efforts will arise from the work that is built on top of this platform.

As a small team we have to think and work in creative new ways to influence the broader public sector. This page includes some of our thoughts and lessons on how to innovate at scale.

Collaboration can take a number of forms, which could include any of the following:

  • Passive participation such as reading a newsletter or reading web site updates
  • Participation in user requirements workshops or user reference groups
  • Contributing to non-functional artifacts such as documentation
  • Helping communicate and interface with wider society
  • Co-designing components and systems
  • Providing resources to development efforts, eg office space, staff
  • Maintaining code
  • Developing new code fragments or functionality
  • Developing new systems

Collaboration is two-way, and means working with the community in an open, cooperative, participative manner. In order to get to scale, where there is large-scale uptake of the new government services on offer, it will be necessary for government to work as a keystone member of the community, working with the community to meet the needs of the community. While government will have tacit power in most interactions, if it uses its power beyond its stated or implied remit, it will risk losing the community.

The community that forms around this work will become a network, and significant value will result for the broader economy as well as government from the relationships that form in this network. When two or more participants group together and begin their own initiatives that involve the work of the government either directly or indirectly - that’s where the magic happens. Each of the participants in this network will draw other members in from their own networks, creating a fluid, dynamic community whose range of contributions and requirements will create a thriving, vibrant ecosystem.

The key to making all of this happen is appropriate, regular, habitual, automatic, frank, open communication and working in the open. In this business, no news is bad news, and curating great communication will be the life or death of the effort.

The collaboration and consequent communication should be multidimensional, horizontally across people with similar skills, vertically between people working in the same sector, geographically for people in the same physical region, as well as jumping across these dimensions with serendipitous collaboration between diverse people and organisations who might never have considered working with each other before discovering a common interest.

The communication should be structured to cater to people with differing needs and preferred communication styles. Options for frequency should range from real-time to very rarely, online only through face-to-face only, but should in nearly all cases allow for feedback and conversation. This has to start with genuinely valuing external input to your work. If you genuinaly want external feedback, then your actions and words will naturally encourage and facilitate collaboration. If you actually just want to communicate your work without getting external input, we suggest framing your engagement as communication rather than collaboration or consultation. Please see the online engagement guidance (WebToolkit) for more information.

Online media for communication could include Slack, wikis, blogs, Twitter and email newsletters. Face-to-face formats could include meetups, workshops, secondments, and coworking placements. Holding an annual or bi-annual conference where all stakeholders can get together physically would be very useful to provide people with an opportunity to experience the culture, work intensively with each other, and forge new friendships and alliances.

In order to encourage accountability as well as participation, each grouping of community members (or sub-communities) should have a specific liaison person(s) (champions? Cheerleaders? Connectors?) to ensure that their subcommunity is both getting what it needs as well as contributing to the broader community and to the overall initiative.

These subcommunities will be necessarily organic, and will have some elements of interdependence as well as elements of independence with other subcommunities and the broader community. An overall community charter and code of conduct would be developed, but the idea is that people commit to openness, positive interactions, generosity, mutuality, and working for the good of the overall community. This organic but grounded structure will provide shared values, shared purpose, and some resilience to their work.

There should be an open and frictionless onboarding process for people to join the community so that they can become happy productive members and find their tribe early on. Members should be able to derive value early and often if we want to retain them as productive participants. This value could arise from any of the following:

  • Feeling good from the act of contributing
  • Meeting new people
  • Learning new skills
  • Enhancing reputation
  • Financial reward

… and we need to be able to cater for these and others.

Government should try to offer the least possible degree of prescriptiveness. The community should be agnostic about licensing, while preferring (but not requiring) open licenses, in order to maximise the range of contributions and alignment of motivations. Clear labelling of licensing should be required for any initiative.

By following the above approach, we strive to create a community that will scale, feel empowered to innovate, and greatly increase the usefulness of the work done by LabPlus and others.