An initiative to help broaden professional networks across public sector organisations and to help prevent local authority staff from “building their own echo chamber” has gone live.
The ‘Unmentoring’ scheme puts participants randomly in contact with someone else who works in the public sector. They have 30-minute informal conversation using any communication channel on topics that will benefit their work.
The aims are for people to boost their networks beyond organisational ‘silos’, speed up collaborative working and to challenge thinking by getting a fresh view on a topic or project. Participants receive an email invitation and must then provide their name, phone, email and optionally, a Google or Skype ID before being randomly matched to someone.
“Everyone talks about collaboration and connecting across the sector and how valuable coffee breaks at conferences are, but those events don’t happen all the time”, said Carl Haggerty, Steering Group Chair of LocalGov Digital, which launched the initiative.
He said one of the aims is to “continue the fantastic conversations people have in coffee breaks. The only rule is no selling. It’s a random match so you’re not just building your own echo chamber. Primarily it’s about increasing connections within the sector outside of silos and traditional networks.
“If we want deep and meaningful cultural change across the public sector we need to connect to more people”, said Haggerty, who is also Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council. He said, in some cases, the scheme hasn’t directly benefited the participant but they have acted as ‘conduits’ to bring others together to tackle similar problems.
Unmentoring also aims to capture those people who aren’t regular users of social media. Haggerty said that when it comes to starting new collaborations, “it feels really hard to mobilise people. It’s easy to mobilise people who are already connected. The Twitterati is OK, but some people prefer a phone call”.
The idea came after Haggerty’s own participation in a similar global scheme run by the School for Health and Care Radicals. Innovation charity Nesta’s Randomised Coffee Trials were also influential. A Nesta survey on the scheme found that as a result of conversations, staff had noticed “direct beneficial impacts on projects”; that it “breaks silos in a really effective way”; “offers the chance to make time to talk to people they should be talking to anyway”; and gives “permission to take 30 minutes just to see what’s going on, without any particular agenda”.