Alison Williams from Go-Science’s Science & Engineering (GSE) Profession team writes about the use of Linked In to help connect scientists and engineers across government.
In May 2011 the GSE LinkedIn group was set up by my predecessor as one way of communicating with the Government-wide Science and Engineering network. We wanted the group to be a safe space for sharing views so made the decision to make it a closed group, checking members are civil servants when they join. We ran a poll recently and members still wanted it to stay closed to facilitate more open discussion.
The group had grown to 100 members by September 2011. It was advertised through the Heads of Science & Engineering profession within departments and agencies, in our network newsletter and was promoted in the signature of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Departmental Heads of the Science and Engineering Profession and others.
We have used the group for a number of purposes: to test new ideas and seek feedback, keep members across government updated. We wanted to make it a useful tool for developing the future strategy for the profession as well as a forum for the profession to discuss current issues and seek views or expertise from others.
How we go about using LinkedIn
I’ve now been in post for a year, and I have used the group frequently to engage with the GSE community. We now have reached over 400 members and have used it as a way of promoting interesting debate around the community. We are looking at ways of using it more effectively and have been approached by other (professional) groups who also want to use LinkedIn as a tool for engagement.
I use LinkedIn very much as a separate channel to the newsletter but I endeavour to link the 2. Where the newsletter is a push channel, the LinkedIn group allows the community to interact in real time. I find this really useful for gathering feedback. I also duplicate some items like job adverts and events as they can be accessed outside of gsi and on personal devices. We know that jobs are the most frequently clicked links in the GSE newsletter and we encourage vacancy holders to use LinkedIn to highlight opportunities they may have available but currently I am still uploading most vacancies myself.
I had not used LinkedIn in a professional capacity before this role and I find it extremely useful for personally connecting with members on a wide range of topics. It has been a steep learning curve to find out what piques people’s interests and which discussions gather the most momentum. Most recently I posted an editorial from an engineering website about engineers being proud and vocal about their profession. This article prompted comments on how government values and records skills. Discussions sometimes highlight issues that we wouldn’t necessarily have visibility of and which we can then take forward via departments or centrally. I’ve also used it to find speakers and volunteers to help with events.
A previous Head of Skills and Profession Development noted that “LinkedIn works as it is an existing platform that many people already use for professional networking. Most civil servants can access it from work (there are still a few agencies that prevent this but they can get the email alerts sent to their work address then log on at home)”
Currently the group is most useful for discussions we launch and our members seem to be happier to comment than start their own debates.
In the future, I would like the group to become more self sustaining. An approach I would like to try is to have senior advocates for the group who encourage usage in their departments and who independently post on the group. I hope that senior members of GSE using the site will encourage further posting and reassure people of the safety of the site. My view of success is a group that has frequent discussion, facilitates networking and can be managed around the community rather than just by the GSE team.
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