IRISS – Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services – signed the Charter because we believe that people, whether at work or home, can have their lives enriched by engaging with and understanding the digital world with all its opportunities and risks. We don’t block access to the web. In fact we positively encourage it. Using web-based tools and services and social media helps us be efficient and cost effective.

Yet many organisations spend money putting computers on people’s desks and then some more on plugging them into a high speed internet connection. They then spend even more money blocking access to certain categories of website. Even more time and money goes on internal procedures to selectively unblock access for employees who can demonstrate a legitimate ‘need’ (sometimes called a business case).

Stand back and think for a minute.

Having invested in digital infrastructure (the first part of digital participation), the organisation effectively discourages its employees from being creative in their use of technology, innovative in developing services and applications and comfortable using the internet as an everyday, anytime, anywhere technology ….

That line is from Scotland’s Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland.

So, the very things the Strategy encourages people to do at home – overcome their fears, understand digital rights, learn about safety online, engage, be creative and enrich their lives – are positively discouraged at work.

Of course there are risks but this is what the UK military thinks, and they are dealing with real risk to life and limb:

Within the UK military there is an underlying appreciation that the integration of social media builds as much on education and behavioural change as regulation

In other words, digital participation means trusting employees and putting the emphasis more on education than regulation. Perhaps being a signatory to the Digital Participation Charter means being more like the DVLA:

This may seem obvious, but how can you pronounce yourself a digital organisation and then stop your staff from accessing YouTube or Twitter which we use to engage with our customers daily?

Yes, it is obvious. And it’s encouraging to think that signatories to the Charter will be encouraging digital participation (i.e. using the internet as an everyday, anytime, anywhere technology) in the workplace. Is it not, after all, rather paradoxical to stop people doing things at work you’d really like them to do at home, as your customers?

Ian Watson

Knowledge Media Programme Manager