Breaking down silos: How digital can support collaboration and culture change

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a Digital Leaders Salon at KHub HQ looking at how digital can support collaboration in organisations. Dan Mount, Head of Policy for Digital Leaders, tells us more about the session.

For the best part of a decade, technologists have highlighted the potential for digital communication and collaboration platforms to erode the rigid organisational silos which characterise much of the existing machinery of central and local government. Last week’s Digital Leaders Salon in central London offered a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion around this topical subject.

We heard from Jason Fahy, Managing Director at Knowledge Hub, who highlighted the capacity of digital collaboration platforms to drive innovation across local government by enhancing information and knowledge sharing opportunities and the co-creation of bespoke solutions drawing upon a wider pool of expertise and intelligence. For example, the evidence shows that a well-implemented social extranet presenting its members with the chance to engage in structured discussion around specialist delivery areas provides substantial value far beyond traditional static intranet offerings.

And yet, despite the array of benefits that can be unlocked from the effective deployment of digital collaboration platforms – it is clear that we are still at the tip of the iceberg phase in terms of adoption. Indeed, Fahy indicated that despite Knowledge Hub’s success in attracting over 100,000 users – this still represents only 2.5% of its potential target audience.

Next to speak was our second lead discussant, Lars Malmqvist from Arcus Global, who was quick to emphasise that when it comes to tackling the challenges of cross-organisational digital transformation – a one size fits all approach simply won’t do the trick. In a context where there is no out-of-the-box process or set of tools which offer a silver bullet solution, successful projects need to be iterated based on the specific organisational culture and circumstances at hand.

For example, one mid-sized city council initiated an ambitious (and successful) centrally driven digital transformation programme, designed as an aggressive response to a burning platform of spiralling cost pressures. On the other hand, another District Council with less pressing budgetary issues adopted a more incremental and targeted approach – which gradually built momentum and support to evolve into a shared services agreement spanning two other councils.

Perhaps the nub of the issue is that motivated and engaged individuals will always be at the heart of any successful transformation project, regardless of the technological solution involved. Indeed, in many ways digital merely accentuates the challenges associated with traditional change management by super-charging expectations around the pace at which organisational change can be delivered.

It should also be remembered that once an organisation has successfully adopted a particular collaboration platform, its institutional culture and hierarchies must adapt to properly exploit that new information sharing environment. For example, senior management will need to become more open to new ideas regardless of their origin across the organisation.

Ultimately it is clear that effective cross-cutting culture change will owe its success to a constellation of contributing factors. However, the precise blend of decisive senior leadership, technical infrastructure, staff capability, cross-organisational motivation and engagement required in each instance will vary according to the native culture and circumstances of each organisation.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the session. You can find out more about Digital Leaders on their website. Or in their new Knowledge Hub group.

And if you're based in the North West, do get involved in Digital Leaders North West, which Knowledge Hub sponsors - we'd love to see you for our next meeting on the issue of digital talent on 19 May.

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Trevor Fossey 7 Years Ago
In my experience, technology can support a change in culture, but is unlikely to be a driver in the culture change. A good example of this are the various Connected Care initiatives which are being commissioned by NHS CCGs around the country, which are using technology to share data between clinicians - but excluding citizens & patients from online access to data about themselves. In other words, the technology is being used to SUPPORT the existing paternalistic culture in the NHS and supporting the silos of Clinicians vs Citizens/patients! Hopefully the technology mentioned in this blog will not merely support the 'status quo', but will lead to a less paternalistic culture in public services - but I doubt that it will