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Creating the ideal digital champion’s network

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile here: Creating the ideal digital champion’s network.

If you’ve ever been to any well-run business network, you’ll know that they all share three characteristics:

  1. They allow a disparate group of people from different backgrounds and interests to come together across boundaries they never normally hurdle;
  2. They are primarily interested in creating a culture of on-going learning and development, where members support, advise and encourage each other;
  3. They are community focused, giving members lots of opportunities to develop long-term relationships that continue developing outside the networking meeting.

And, it’s great to see that so many user adoption and engagement strategies have looked over the business fence and seen that a network of like-minded individuals could be a good idea to help the business take up the opportunities afforded by digital technologies and new ways of working.

Unfortunately, in many cases it has been introduced as a variation on the ‘train the trainer’ model where the aim has been to drive down the cost of implementing a new way of working by using the business to train itself. And although this is effective to a point, the point at which it stops being helpful is the very point at which a well-designed champion’s network steps up to the mark and begins to create transformation.

Train the trainer focuses on giving a group of people the knowledge and skills to go and train another group of people. It’s a cascade methodology that is excellent at transferring repetitive skills and ‘how do I’ information. Its biggest risk is in the ‘Chinese whispers’ effect, that the messages and effectiveness can be diluted the further down the cascade the message is taken.

What it doesn’t do is address the broader sustainability of the group and there comes a point at which all development stops simply because those being trained have now transferred their knowledge to those they were sharing it with. Where it focuses only on training champion’s, it misses the opportunity to build a group capable of self-organising and self-developing into the future; this is only possible if you view a champion network in a similar way to a business network.

At Dorset County Council, instead of focusing on training members of our champion’s network in aspects of Microsoft 365, we’ve focused on building a network of people who support each other to help their teams change behaviours and thinking around their work. Although education around specific applications is a part of the network’s activity rather than being the meat of the meetings, it’s the side order of fries.

We run two meetings each month (most months). The first is a network meeting which is run along business networking lines. The focus is to build a community, share problems and ideas, and hear from other members about what they have learnt within their teams and the best practice they have developed.

Our second monthly meeting is a masterclass focused on learning and development from a tangential perspective. For example, rather than talk about the sharing capabilities of OneDrive and SharePoint, we looked at the bigger question of confidentiality. Discussing the context in this way means members can understand how OneDrive, SharePoint (and in this instance) Forms, might be able to help their teams consider what, why and how they deal with the information they create and gather. Sharing then becomes an activity related to a core working methodology, rather than just something you can do with documents in OneDrive.

Finally, there is a Yammer group specifically for the digital champion’s network. Here they can ask questions, raise issues and let the project team know what’s important to their colleagues. I’ve been privileged to observe the way in which network members have gained in confidence and are now as likely to answer a question as to ask one.

The digital champion’s network at Dorset County Council has been one of those rare experiments in doing something different that has worked, and it’s worked well. The network is now 90 members strong, representing around 80 teams across the authority. The aim isn’t to grow it to be as big as it can be, the aim is to make it interesting enough that teams want a part of it, and to this end it’s been successful. It’s become a Trojan horse into the rest of the authority; as teams develop confidence around the technology this has seeped out into the colleagues around them, who become curious about how they too could develop and ask to join the network.

If you’d like to find out just how effective the Digital Champion’s Network has been at Dorset County Council, send me a message or leave a comment below and I’ll share the impact assessment report with you. You can also read my previous article – Creating a Culture of Influence – to find out more about what we did and why.

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