Collaboration and communications need trust: is Knowledge Hub the answer for the public sector?

Stop sign Knowledge Hub

Photo by wonderferret

I’m lucky to have some amazing clients doing great things in social housing and public service.

So many government departments, housing associations, local authorities and health organisations are tackling similar problems, in challenging environments and with a shrinking budget.

That’s why I think the new Knowledge Hub – a free-to-join website allowing public sector staff to collaborate, think and share their work – has come at a critical time for the public sector.

A hero of mine, Mary McKenna is also on the Knowledge Hub gang now, and has written a great post on why she thinks it’s what the sector needs – definitely worth a look.

I’m particularly excited to be also working with the team behind Knowledge Hub after meeting them at last year’s Digital Leaders Awards.

One of the main values of Knowledge Hub, for me, is in providing people with a place to connect and collaborate that’s safe.

The beauty of the public sector is we don’t have to hide our trade secrets from each other, and the more we learn from each other, the better our work, morale and – most crucially – the happier citizens are.

I think Knowledge Hub can help us do that without feeling exposed. Here’s why…

Discussing successes and failures with colleagues without a hostile audience

To properly work with people across the sector does require an environment where people can feel they are working with a common purpose. Also we need to feel we can share ideas, proposals and failures without being attacked.

It takes a brave person to share a project they’re working on and share what did and didn’t work. 

What if the Taxpayers’ Alliance see it and go on the offensive?  What if your industry magazine brands you incompetent or a crackpot?

Often innovators are misunderstood – mention a new technology or social media and some will think you must be wasting money, even if you are testing sound ideas that may save the whole sector millions.

And every organisation cocks up now and then. We’d do it less often if we were aware of the lessons learned by other organisations.

I try to practice openness in my work as much as possible, but for those who fear the consequences of sharing what they’re working on – Knowledge Hub offers an easy way to improve the discipline and communications skills needed for collaboration before taking the next step into sharing in the open.

People need privacy

As part of research for some lectures I did for the University of South Wales, I looked at why some social networks die – looking at use of many places where people network from Friendster and MySpace to Facebook and Twitter.

One key point that surfaced in my study is that the safer the environment is perceived to be, the better the platform fares.

1. A safer place for self expression

The larger and more public a group online, the more we can suffer from a feeling of inferiority – described by Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.

This means users don’t post things they think others might think silly or could be criticised. They self-censor, and over time the standard they set for what is worth the risk of posting rises.

As people stop posting, there’s less to see and less reason to come back and interact.

So many failed networks fail because nothing interesting happens there (and is sometimes the case with Yammer groups and intranets – when people get the feeling they’re being ‘watched’ by bosses).

Facebook’s closed nature – where we choose our friend connections before they see what we say – means users trust & are more willing to share information of a social and personal on the site. 

I think this is likely to be the case for Knowledge Hub, where people feel less pressure from public scrutiny and can share more detailed information about work.

2. Safer guardians of your data

In analysing trust on social network sites, Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini (2007) argued that trust and why they use a site may affect what people are willing to share.

For example, Facebook users expressed greater trust in Facebook than MySpace users did in MySpace and thus were more willing to share information on the site.

Facebook has significantly changed since 2007 though (as has all social media). It makes use of our information and tracks our behaviour in ways that scare many of us.

Knowledge Hub is clearly not interested in using your data in the same way Facebook is – and the ground rules for the site is that only trusted third parties can join and a hard sell is forbidden.

These two factors mean that there is an increased quality of conversation on Knowledge Hub, we can share juicier information and get way more understanding and input from colleagues across the sector.

And other people are sharing this kind of detail keeps us coming back for more.

Have you tried KnowledgeHub lately?

I used in back in the day.  As someone in a small team, I wanted a feeling of community and connectivity with others in my job. Then, it was a different beast, a bit clunky to use but I made some excellent and useful contacts.

However, it’s radically different these days – an easy login, improved search function and it’s been designed with mobile and tablet users in mind.

It’s just easy to use so I can use my brain power on cracking tough problems and learning (not working out where the hell I am and how to use the thing!).

Give it a whirl.  It’s free to join and already has thousands of users so it won’t be like a ghost town when you get there!

As with all communities, the more effort you make, the more you get out of it. Follow or connect with people and join a couple, or many, groups of interest – give it a go.

In the next few months I’ll be collecting case studies and helping organisations make best use of the platform (there’s even a way of using to as an attractive and low-cost intranet).

Give me a shout if you want more information about how it can help your organisation to collaborate better.

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4 thoughts on “Collaboration and communications need trust: is Knowledge Hub the answer for the public sector?

  1. Pingback: More talent at #khub - but how to join up with Twitter? @HelReynolds @ShirleyAyres

  2. I like a lot of what you say here, Helen, but, playing devil’s advocate for a minute, I think we need to give people confidence to be open and transparent about what they do, and to be robust in defending it. Look at Paul Taylor and the flack he gets from the naysayers in the social housing sector. The criticism comes from people who are suspicious of all new ideas and keen to kill all innovation at birth. Fortunately for the social housing sector, Paul and his Bromford colleagues have thick skins and carry on doing what is right. All innovation looks frightening to some people. Personally, I don’t think you can possibly be making effective changes if nobody criticises. We need to communicate this fact to people and encourage them to take strength from it. If people are doing interesting stuff, I appeal to them to tell us about it.

    • Good points John. When I wrote this, I was thinking of Paul as someone who gets flak for pioneering new approaches and ways of thinking – his work is inspiring and open and better for it.

      But the reality is that most people don’t have innovation written in as part of their role and they won’t ever take the risk of thinking or working aloud without testing the water in a ‘safer’ space.

      Critique is important but in an environment where public sector workers are reporting more stress than ever (https://twitter.com/helreynolds/status/608671804849332225), Knowledge Hub offers a place to collaborate with less fear of attack.

      Perhaps once people get a feel for working this way, they’ll feel more confident about working and sharing failure and success in the open.

  3. I’ve only been on the performance/systemsy/improvement part of KHub, so can only speak of that tiny portion of it, and only from my jaundiced and skewed perspective.
    What i found wasn’t that encouraging. Not the fault of the actual platform, more who is speaking or asking, and about what. to echo the comment above about Bromford etc 9that i know nothing about). I only found “more of the same” and people talking about essentially doing the same but with bells on.
    I used to be a regular user, gave up a few years ago, recently visited and it was like being back in the stone age. I was aghast. Nothing had changed. I have no interest in that place (again, can only speak about the forums I was a regular of) when there is the REST of the WWW to look at and go to. i can find genuinely interesting and challenging ideas, can speak with people from all over the world from entirely different fields.
    KHub felt like going back home after university in the Big City, to a dismal and inward looking small village.
    Again, that’s probably local gov performance/improvement for you, but still that’s my experience.

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