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Inside the Victorian Public Service’s social networking Hub

by Paris Cowan •
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Seven months since its launch, the Victorian Public Service’s social networking intranet, the VPS Hub, is averaging 25,000 hits a month and this number looks set to increase.

Project Adviser for the Hub, Janice van Reyk, told Intermedium that she believes that the project is currently in the early stages of its technology adoption lifecycle, and having successfully attracted the early adopters will probably begin to attract the early majority over the next six months.

The VPS Hub is the product of the State Public Service’s Innovation Action Plan, which was released in November 2009. The plan outlined initiatives designed to nurture innovation within the Public Service, one of which was the establishment of an internal social networking space where staff could collaborate, share and refine ideas.

“People can blog there, they can create groups, they can share resources, they can stress test ideas and views and seek solutions, and they can also find resources on a whole of government basis and find out what is going on in the rest of the Victorian Public Service sector,” explains van Reyk.

The Hub features groups, called ‘communities of practice’ which are based around common interests and which can be joined by staff across all Victorian agencies.

Van Reyk believes that this inter-agency collaboration is one of the greatest strengths of the platform.

“I would say that the best outcome so far has been the cross-agency interaction and collaboration,” she says. “Almost all of the groups are comprised of members from different agencies, as well as from different functions and branches within agencies. The cross-agency collaboration, up and down and across and diagonally, and peer to peer is quite marked as a result of Hub.”

The VPS Hub also features internal wikis, which have already been instrumental in crowdsourcing ideas for several Victorian projects.

One example is the Victorian Gov 2.0 Action Plan, which was released last month. Its development involved gaining formal guidance from the Public Sector Standards Commission about ideal staff conduct within a social media space.

The Commissioner’s draft was also posted on the hub, and was read by 1488 users and received 40 to 50 contributions, which were taken into account as part of the document’s creation.

The Department of Justice used a wiki process to obtain input for its social media guide.

The VPS Hub was built over a 10 month period, by the technical staff at the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD), who worked in partnership with local web specialists Itomic and Collabforge.

The team behind the Hub made the decision to build the intranet using the open source content management system Drupal, in keeping with the Gov 2.0 principles of crowdsourcing and knowledge-sharing.

Taking the open source route, and also sourcing technical staff internally meant that direct costs for the Hub’s development were kept down to $80,000.

However, Van Reyk stresses that the job is never really finished, because the team is committed to constantly improving the useability and functionality of the Hub.

“With all the best social networking sites, whether its Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, the development is like painting the Harbour Bridge – they’re constantly in improvement mode. This is the philosophy that we have adopted with Hub as well.”

As well as collecting feedback from an internal wiki and a focus group of Hub users, the VPS Hub team also contracted the services of Hiser Group and Melbourne company UI3 to conduct useability and instructional text reviews, and there could be similar opportunities for vendors to do the same thing in the future.

“At some point in time, and I don’t know when it will be, Hub will need to get another fresh set of eyes to have a look at it,” Van Reyk says. “But having just undergone this process in the initial start-up phase, this need is unlikely to recur particularly soon.”

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  • VIC
  • IT Services
  • Industry & Investment
  • Collabforge
  • Department of Justice
  • Drupal
  • Gov 2.0
  • Hiser Group
  • Intranet
  • Itomic
  • Janice van Reyk
  • open source
  • Publis Sector Standards Commission
  • Social Networking
  • UI3
  • VPS Hub