Select Page Blogs: This post was contributed and authored by Elke Wambacq and Thomas De Spiegelaere. Elke Wambacq works for Kind en Gezin (Child and Family) as an HR consultant and teamleader. She is mostly occupied with change management and different projects in HR. Elke is also the project leader at the Flemish government for HR innovation. Thomas is the Head of External Communication at FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer. Here he works to coordinate the external communication team and align its projects, including client management, complaint management, and website content management. He is also the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Mobility and Transport.

When most people think about “government” they tend to conjure up an image of a vast, monolithic organisation made up of layer upon layer of bureaucracy, with armies of faceless civil servants working behind the scenes in grey offices going to endless meetings. Whilst it’s true that many governments are large and hierarchical, things are steadily changing. Europe is undergoing a period of unprecedented austerity, meaning governments are having to find ways to do much more with less.

Demographics in government are shifting too – for example, in the next 5 years around 60% of the managers in the European Commission will be retiring, thus paving the way for a younger generation to come to the fore with different ideas and experiences.

One such group is Club 35. A small band of us – all Belgian civil servants (under the age of 35) – set up Club 35. We set up this network because we saw that there was a real need for civil servants to come together and innovate, share ideas and define the skills that will be needed in the future to help the government serve the people of Belgium better.

We knew just how unlikely (and difficult) it would be for a civil servant in the federal government to come in to contact with our counterparts in regional or local government – despite the fact that we all encounter similar challenges and all serve the same constituents.

 Cutting across hierarchies

Determined not to be constrained by existing hierarchies, we began to self-organise around our job functions. In 2011 we started a small Yammer network entitled Club 35 to keep in regular contact and also began embracing public social media tools like Twitter and LinkedIn as a way to connect with any like-minded colleagues. We also organised an annual event where we could meet in person to share ideas and discuss challenges – all in our own time and, in most cases, without any funds or endorsement from our senior leadership.

What became apparent as we grew was that we needed a secure place to be able to continue the discussion from these events, and to really nurture the connections we were making via public social media and therefore harness our collective skills and experience to start creating tangible change.

Harnessing our collective wisdom

We realised that our Club 35 Yammer network was the secure place we needed. On Yammer we have been able to crowd-source ideas and co-create a vision document for how the civil service needs to evolve, ultimately producing an initiative for the future called “Civil Servant 2.0”. Yammer provided a way to create this vision document quickly, securely and with the input of hundreds of civil servants. This ensured a more representative and better quality output than could have been achieved otherwise. More importantly it’s ensured we’re all invested in a common goal and aligned on how our roles and skills will need to evolve.

Shaping the future of the civil service

Via our Yammer network, we were also able to harness our collective wisdom to convince the Board of Directors in certain government departments to embrace social media. You need to be where your electorate are, and increasingly they are on social media, yet there was a lack of understanding (and resistance) amongst many senior officials to this idea. This business case developed on Yammer is now being successfully re-used by other civil servants in the network to help change their departmental leadership’s views on social media.

Fast forward to today, Club 35 has over 800 members from all over Belgium and from every level of government. The network continues to grow (and now embraces and taps in to the experience of civil servants over the age of 35). Yammer has allowed us to quickly self organise around our roles, cutting across the rigid hierarchy of government as well as the technical limitations caused by a myriad of different and often complex collaboration systems and tools.

Using Yammer in this way has given the civil servants of Belgium an easy to use, efficient and highly cost effective way to produce real positive change for our work, the government and ultimately the people of Belgium. Yammer is helping us create so much value that the network is steadily getting more and more official endorsment from senior leaders, as up until now it has been an initiative the members undertake in their own time on top of their already busy roles.

So what started out as a small core team of dedicated individuals continues to grow in to a vibrant, geographically dispersed, democratic and highly efficient community that is actively changing government for the better. We now plan to extend our reach by including our counterparts in the Netherlands. Yammer means this is no longer about the politics – its just about having good government.