Means to an end
Our society is rapidly changing. The last decade has seen a tremendous development of internet or web-based tools. Tools that open up new ways of collaboration and sharing information and knowledge. A change that has impact on our politics and therefore on democracy, better yet our whole society. So, what do we do about it?
Simply ignoring what was (and still is) happening was not an option. Even for those who thought differently it became pretty clear that governments and civil servants could not afford to pretend nothing was happening: All of a sudden we had politicians and officials whom had to resign because of one tweet.
It became quite apparent to some civil servants that government had to change (I’m not talking regime change here!), that desire to change gave birth to the civil servant2.0 (ambtenaar2.0) network: what started of as a small group has grown into a network of around 10.000 members, both civil servants and citizens, that discuss the impact of new technology on our society. The goal the network has set out for itself is to create awareness and alert civil servants to these changes and possibilities so they can optimize (online) public service for Dutch society. To put it short: to create a government2.0 (if not stable we will upgrade to 2.1).
With a growing network and discussions around multiple themes the realisation grew that one of the basic requirements for a government2.0 is a government-wide platform for cooperation. To paint the picture: in the Netherlands we have over 500 different government organisations: departments, city councils, provinces etcetera. All these organisations have their own ICT environment.
Plus 500 borders to cross in order to really collaborate and share knowledge.
That’s why Civil Servant 2.0 started Pleio, or Government Square, to create one online platform for all civil servants and citizens. Pleio is a platform for Dutch civil servants to meet each other, have discussions and work together with people from their own organisation or across organisational boundaries. But it is also a place to deal with issues together with our citizens.
So how does it work? Well almost like in real life: civil servants work together in various teams, groups and networks. On Pleio they can engage with the right people to collaborate on a project or problem. Contributers can be from inside or outside government. Both civil servants and members of the public can create an account and make use of the facilities. One can, however, make a distinction in accessibility: for colleagues within an organization, for all civil servants or for everyone.
For me Pleio is very much the hub of my professional life. All information I deem essential for carrying out my job and manage my projects is brought together on my personal dashboard. A dashboard that any Pleio user can modify according to his or her needs. The Elgg software with wich Pleio is build allows for enormous flexibilty. So you don’t have to browse all your groups but you can see all relevant activity right on your dashboard.
One of the unique aspects of Pleio is that it is a multi-site platform. Currently there are over 700 subsites. These sites can be for a specific organisation or about a specific theme. Use of a Pleio subsite varies from intranet, extranet, engaging with the public, online participation or projects. It is very easy to switch between the various subsites you joined: just click on the pulldown button next to the Pleio logo. Finally we can work together efficiently on one platform.
Pleio benefits from the flexibility the underlying Elgg software offers. Every site can be tailored to best fit its goal by activating or disabling plugins. In addition these plugins have various settings than can be used. This enables Pleio to offer, amongst others, a 100% public site but also a walled garden site (accessible only from defined IP addresses) that won’t be crawled by the likes of Google. Site managers can also adjust the look and feel of their site through a template manager or by applying a custom made template. On Pleio (obviously) you can find some examples.
Having set up a subsite, that site offers the same flexibility the national platform does. Users can fill and adjust their own dashboard and profile page. When starting a group users can also tune that page to their needs. The best way to experience what is possible is to try for yourself on the demo site Carmen Nolten – Laan wil put online. (link to be added).
There are more benefits to Pleio: using the opensource Elgg software meant we didn’t have to invest in software licences. New plugins build for Pleio by one organisation are available for all the other organisations reducing the cost of development.
In little under three years the number of unique visitors has risen to 78.000 per month (oktober 2013). Page views have grown accordingly. But more important: the number of registered users keeps growing, a clear indicator that the Dutch public and civil servants appreciate Pleio and are sharing their information and knowledge. Collaborating on improving our society.
In the end: Pleio is not our goal, its a means to an end.
On november 5th I took part in a webcast of IBFLive, an initiative of the Internet Benchmarking Forum hosted bij Ephraim Freed. As a member of the Pleio foundation I was invited to present Pleio in cooperation with Carmen Nolten – Laan from the municipality Heerhugowaard. We were joined on the show by Tony Peleska, CIO of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency who presented their impressive geo information portal. This blog contains a summary and some background information regarding the Pleio contribution.