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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Skunkworks might speed RSA networking

Does progress on RSA online networking have to be slow - or could we help staff in speeding up developments? Over on the RSA networks site Mike Amos-Simpson writes in advance of Thursday's workshop:

Next week will be my first RSA event and despite this I already feel bogged down by how much mention is made of how long and slow the process has been - whether in fact there really is a process or if this is just something started on a whim and is now far off the radar. I wonder why a 250 year old tanker takes time to turn? If it has plenty of space and good drivers what's slowing it down? I know the discussions I've been involved in are biased towards change but there doesn't seem to be much discussion towards not changing (or is this happening elsewhere?).

Meanwhile another recently-joined Fellow Dave Briggs has offered (see comment) to help with online tools, and floats the idea of "skunkworks" by posting his recent blog item on this topic to the OpenRSA Google group discussion.

In his blog post Dave is talking about small teams working in "stealth mode" within the public sector, to get things done. He attracts support from other public sector techies in comments.

Dave is one of the most enthusiastic and skilled people using social media to help public service innovation - so I'm delighted that he might help on the RSA front. RSA staff are open to the idea of a connection toolkits for Fellows - so we all seem to be on the same track. Hopefully on Thursday we can find a challenge or project around which to organise some skunkworking.

Here's Dave's post:

My good friend Robert Brook - one of the most active and entertaining people I follow on Twitter - was recently interviewed by Chris Dalby, and it was caught on video.

In it, Robert discusses the work he does at the UK Parliament as a ’skunkworks’ - for those that don’t know, this is:

typically developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of innovation

Sounds like fun. The origin of the phrase is from Lockheed Martin, in case you are interested.

This way of fostering innovation and getting things done - by taking it under the radar - is an interesting one and something I have heard from others, who have spoken about organisations having a ’splinter-cell’ for social media, or describing innovative web stuff being done as ‘black ops’.

It ties in with a lot of the stuff that Cisco’s Guido Jouret said at the Cisco Public Sector Summit that I covered late last year. Some of the things that can stife innovation in large organisations, said Guido, include:

  • too much money - projects lose focus
  • too much time - projects drift
  • too many people - not everyone believes in the project as much as they need to
  • too much love - people get too attached to failing projects and
  • too much hate - jealousy elsewhere in the organisation kills projects

As a result, innovation projects have limited budgets, timescales, small teams, spend a lot of time in ’stealth mode’ (skunkworks?) and people on teams are kept close.

A lot of the good work that goes on in the public sector with the web happens on the quiet, guerilla style. If thing are really going to change, then this needs to stop and we need these projects out in the open, not to have people worried about talking about them openly.

However, that needs a culture shift and it might not happen soon. In the meantime, we need to get stuff done, and if it has to happen in a skunkworks style, then so be it.

Update: Posting a comment to Dave's skunkworks blog post led to ponder what to call activities on the edge, getting stuff done in a challenging way. Badgerworks?

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