Will we ever see Skype* bridge the public/professional digital divide?

In June, we had a very serious storm in the Northeast.  The rain and weather caused mudslides that interrupted rail and road travel.  The flooding made some areas inaccessible overnight. As a result, a regional monthly meeting was cancelled.

One option I suggested was that future meetings could be done by video link. This would save on transport costs and would allow more people to attend.  The initial response, despite the storm, was negative.  The issue was not the technology.  I have been involved in some webinars and web-chats so the technology exists and is getting better.  As the meeting was on short notice, we could not arrange the technology to be set up in time for holding the meeting.  The technology and the concept have been around for a long time so there was nothing new in that issue. There has been a long interest in using it to reduce travel costs. However, the following piqued my curiosity. 

In the following, I use Skype as shorthand for any telepresencing technology.  I realize that there are important differences and nuances to the technology and how they are used. I am interested in the general principles and how well, if at all, they are being used within local government.

Many people have Skype* for personal use.  In some cases, people use it for work.  I was wondering how many people have Skype* for work and use it with colleagues in their own organization or with other organizations? 

Does anyone use it across his or her Councils or between Councils?  I have seen some articles on this idea.  A 2008 blog showed the security issues and the use of other bespoke systems. http://www.johnconnell.co.uk/blog/?p=724

The problem is not using skype* for work or for personal use.  The issue, it appears, is how to bridge the professional/ private divide.  The concern over privacy and having a private space appears to be the greatest barrier to the public taking up the technology.  We may use the telephone as a bridge that allows us to control what others can see.  If we have a video link, the control is lost as someone can see you and your surroundings.

What this means is that eople can accept it for private use and for professional use (F2F and B2B) but never combine them.

If we are on the cusp of a virtual council, will video conferencing and skype with customers be a major or minor part of that change?

 I would be interested in your views and your experience with using skype* in local government and whether the privacy barrier can be overcome.









Security level: Public

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Leah Lockhart 10 Years Ago
Thanks for this post, Lawrence. This is one of my favourite topics! I moved to a secondment at an arm's length organisation for local government in December but my substantive post is with a local authority. In my current job we use Google Hangouts for team meetings when we are all working in different places and it works a treat (and in my opinion gives a more consistent service as compared to Skype which has always been problematic in my experiences). Using Google to meet live is great and is allowed in my workplace, however, we've always had to use our own devices as either the app is blocked by the organisation (we operate out of a local authority) or because the machinery we're given isn't up to the task. If I was in my substantive post it's unlikely any of this Hangout business would be going on as the culture and atmosphere is not so flexible, never mind the appropriate equipment would not be available. And for these reasons I don't see any colleagues in other local authorities taking me up on an offer to have a Hangout to meet. Using Google for our streamed meetings means we are using our personal accounts which we are all fine with. In fact one team member had to create a Google account to take part but again there was no feeling of invasion of privacy or exposure. I'm not a big believer that there is a huge age gap or generational issues around use of digital platforms generally but for business I do. Where people may have used Skype to talk to their parents across the country or their kids at college I don't know that it always clicks that the same tool can be used to accomplish a business meeting without having to drive 60 miles or spend money booking teas and coffees. It's just too far out of some people's comfort zones maybe because those other online conversations take place at home, in a private space. Translating that to a work place might blow some people's minds. And I have recently heard from colleagues working remotely with people in the Highlands and Islands (who are dab hands at video meeting/teleconferencing, etc) that the dynamic is not the same as a full face to face meeting. But I think this is down to not being used to it. I'll be interested to see how this develops though. More and more councils are taking up live streaming of council meetings for viewing by the public. While this might seem kind of unrelated to your post I think it's relevant because it will introduce a layer of leadership to the idea of expressing themselves publicly via web and hopefully that beds in and trickles down. There is certainly no shortage of businesses pitching online collaboration and meeting programmes, websites and software to local government (maybe the same ones setting up live council meetings?) but so far as I know no one has taken the plunge and invested in these tools for a local authority which forces staff to use their own devices and own personal accounts if they want to have streamed meetings. Arguably by providing the appropriate tools organisations could affect better change by not leaving people with only one option- to stream using their personal account information. The culture change work to be done here is huge but it has to start somewhere.
Former Member 10 Years Ago
Hi Lawrence. Before November 2011 I spent almost 11 years in local government and can count on one hand the number of times that I used internet & cloud 'telepresence' technologies to meet and speak with colleagues, customers, partners. And having worked in some large and spatially diverse areas (including Durham!) lord knows I've witnessed the challenges and ineffeciencies of an over-reliance of physical meetings. Since I left LG for a role with an IT company supplying exclusively to the public sector I now use these technologies daily. And I mean literally, multiple times, every day. Skype, GoToMeeting, ReadyConference Plus, and others - they are now indispenceable parts of tools of my connection & collaboration tool box. A viewpoint fom someone working with local government from the outside-in, is that while c75% of the people I 'telepresence 'with in local councils have no problem with access or speed, some still do. Typically the first barrier is being unable to download the relevant script to run the session. Sometimes the bandwidth/firewall issues affect the quality of the session But generally it all works pretty well. and it's usually well received - in my world meetings can be more focused on the key points when you don't have the social niceties that tend to come with convening in a meeting room. So, I'd suggest that you could take one of two approaches: first, hope that an enlightend Head of IT-type will spot the benefits of embracing such technologies and launch a corproate project to make availabile/promote; or, second, as Leah suggests, get a few like-minded people who have pain points around physical meetings that telepresencing could resolve, and push the agenda forwards, respectfully and constructively. I've got to say that I facour the second. You never know until you've asked! On a seperate note, and this is most definately not an advertorial, the cloud-based policy & engagement software that your colleagues in the RED Directorate use can also be used for real-time collaboration, chat, etc and doesn't rely on the use of personal SM accounts. It doesn't yet have live streaming technlogies built-in, but it is perfectly possible to inject third-party streaming tools into the online meeting events if required. So the technology is out there, and as Leah suggests, it may be more a case of awareness & culture change.
Former Member 9 Years Ago
A local authority public library was not allowed to use Skype for a Reading Agency supported Sykpe session delivered by a publisher to promote children's reading. The librarian reported: 'Our ICT dept have enabled us to use [some] Social media ...... but they appear to have their hands tied with skype and the Government Connect service. I'm not sure what the restriction is here Does the Goverment Connect service forbid the use of Skype in this way? Is such a service to library users dependent on the Government Connect service or are there alternative approaches? Skype is being used more and more to connect authors and readers and if local authority public libraries are excluded their value will diminish
Lawrence Serewicz 9 Years Ago
Ken, These are great questions. I wish I knew the answers to them. I think this would be a great topic for a blog post. I am vaguely familar with the government connect service, but I am not sure how or why it forbids the use of Skype. Perhaps someone on knowledge hub can help us understand. Best, lawrence