If phones were blocked, what would you do?
If telephones were blocked, what would you do?

Edit: Added YouTube video and invite for you to share your own examples

The Issue

Seems I came across a topic of great interest across engaged #GoC Web 2.0-ers in my last post. The comments are excellent – there are very good points made and I encourage you to read them.

It is challenging to provide insight on the issue of Public Servants having their Internet access limited, because:

  • the rationales for blocking websites are many (i.e.: IT Security, bandwidth, prohibited content, Information Management);
  • Internet blocking is up to the discretion of each department and agency (there’s no consistent rationale across the departments), each with their own rationale and list of blocked sites;
  • not all departments/agencies block websites;
  • few to zero examples exist of sites becoming unblocked or granting access to specific employees;
  • my access isn’t blocked, so tough tamales for you.

I do consider it an imperative for public servants to have unblocked access to the Internet not only for the conduct of their work, but also for their personal reasons too as the work-life balance increasingly blurs.  I have tips and advice to share about how to unblock it, but I want to spend another week to better understand the issue. What insight can I provide this week? Hopefully the kind for managers to press further and influence change in their organisations. If not, then at least let me entertain you.

I want to offer to managers (and others influencing managers) to approach the Internet as they approach the use of phones. I may be totally off-base with this one, or be completely preaching to the choir here. Let’s see.

Thought-experiment: Telephones

The Internet experience is changing. From a thinking around space and the World Wide Web with an Information Superhighway full of websites and portals, to a thinking around actions where people connect, and share knowlege. The Internet is changing, from a repository of accessible information, logs of data and pages of content to a focus on people with thoughts and relevant ideas, conversations and interactions.

Web 2.0 is to the Internet,
what the telephone is to paper.

It is worthwhile to compare the telephone to the Internet, it provides insight into communicating the reasons for unblocking Internet access, just as phones are unblocked. I think the comparison stands up in many ways, around the issues underlined in the comments of my last post. Just like with the Internet, similar issues apply to phones:

  • you can still spread confidential and compromising information, phones on the other end could be wiretapped or recorded (issue of information management);
  • you can still access prohibited information or discuss inappropriate content (issue of values & ethics);
  • you can still misuse government resources making long-distance phone calls (issue of resources);
  • you can still waste lots of time talking like it’s 1999 (issue of trust).

I think this push for unblocked Internet is really a push from Web 2.0, as public servants need to have more access to information to develop knowledge and better access their networks and contacts. This issue is about the Internet still being so new for the public service, where an outdated infrastructure is supported by an outdated paradigm.

To illustrate this, I’m reminded of  a line from about 10 years ago when the Internet was taking off, it goes something like:

What if the Internet had already existed and the phone had just been invented, what would people say?
‘Yeah, it’s great! Unlike the Internet, you can
actually talk to the person! Seriously! Voice, it’s real-time, it’s great!

This got me to wonder, (whimsically)

If the telephone just came to the public service today, what would they be like?

  • Usage of the phone explicitly outlined in an agreement signed by the employee;
  • Calls are monitored, logging dialled phone numbers, length of call;
  • No limitations on calling GOC numbers, but outgoing calls are blocked to home phones and certain businesses;
    • Difficult to find out what numbers are blocked;
    • International calls prohibited in certain departments;
  • Handsfree option only available after a workplace sound audit;
  • Added functions, such as voicemail and call display would require special DG-level approval and take 1 week for setup;
  • GOC-standardised ringer tone and volume (but still a button to tempt you);
  • You’re not allowed to save numbers in the memory buttons but you do anyway until IM/IT comes around to erase it;
  • Incoming calls blocked in certain departments;
  • All phone call recordings and records need to be properly managed in accordance with the Information Management policy.

Calling a blocked phone number, you would get a message:

“This call is blocked, due to reasons of the responsible use of Electronic Networks policy and the Values and Ethics code, as per your employee agreement. If you believe this is in error, please contact…”.

With blocked phones, what are some things you would end up doing?

  • Need to take time out of your day to use a payphone;
  • Point out in your business case how having a phone helps me be in touch with others, get information I need to do my job;
  • Find the smartest geek in the office and find out how they are getting around it;
  • Think this is plain silly, as this thought experiment breaks down because:
    • I use my own cellphone anyway;
    • I do most of my work on the Internet via email anyway;
  • Scream! My Internet is blocked and the phone is my only saving grace for sanity!

Your turn! What other technologies would be significantly different if they arrived today?

In a similar line of thought, I want to show you a video, positing how the Moon Landing would be covered by the media if it happened today:

Think this was implemented with the first phones in Government?

Think this was implemented with the first phones in Government?

Back to the topic: Why aren’t phones blocked?

Because:

  • Status quo; they weren’t blocked, and won’t be;
  • The infrastructure supports their use;
  • People know how to use phones, how to properly govern their phone communications conduct;
  • The value from their continued use far exceeds the impediments to their limitations (cost-benefit comparison).

Now, I know it’s quite a jump to compare the use of phones with accessing the Internet, but I want to stress here how the change takes time, effort, and a fundamental change in thinking by higher-ups. As public servants wait, concerted efforts in the right direction need to be made while sharing insights, continually pushing for the change, building momentum, consistently and continuously.  Don’t let go.

But if you must, Please hang up and try your call again, (this is a recording).

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