Does Yammer and social media lead to improved FOIA response rates?

Does Yammer or any social media platform create better internal communications? If it does, then does that lead to better performance? Are companies that use social media platforms able to share critical upwards communication?  For public sector organisations, does internal transparency leads to better external transparency, such as in the time taken to respond to FOIA requests?

Many public and private organisations use Yammer and other social media platforms (wikis or blogs) to improve internal communications.  More information can be shared and this creates and increases trust.  The increased trust allows opportunities to be grasped and problems to be solved.  The internal transparency through this process extends to external transparency.  In this way, performance is improved by sharing information and solutions. If the theory holds up, then bad news or critical upwards communications can be shared more easily In that sense, social media allows leaders to explain their vision and hear the bad news that may contradict it or undermine it.

What is still unexplored is whether that happens in practice.  There is still not certainty that internal transparency, such as through Yammer or other social media platforms, leads to improved external transparency in the public sector. One would expect that organisations that use these platforms have better response times with FOIA requests.  However, what remains unresolved is whether the platform creates the culture or the culture creates the platform.  At the same time, FOIA response rates may be a product of culture and technology.  An organisation may be transparent before it uses the technology instead of using technology to make it transparent. (see

The following report looks at the use of wikis by Government managers. The report suggests that they improve performance. The question, though, does that improve internal transparency lead to better FOIA responses and better external transparency. At the same time, do they improve the reporting of critical upwards communication? In a sense, the leadership may be embracing the technology to improve performance without understanding that their own behaviour is as much responsible for the performance as it is the technology. However, the challenge is that the trust needed to embrace transparency requires more than technology. Transparency can improve performance but cultural challenges have to be overcome to make it work.

The challenge may be to find leaders, as well as subordinates, who can live the culture  Leaders need to have a style of leadership that allows them to search out the raw information within the organisation that may be unsettling because it contradicts the “the company line”.  How many leaders can continually search out the contrary opinion? How many can hear the bad news, that reflects on their overall management, without succumbing to the wish to dismiss it by the good news they hear?  What may help them is that the social media ethos itself is one that encourages transparency and trust because the online world works best through such open sharing and collaborating. Yet, it is a different thing together to carry the ethos of external networks to an internal domain where decisions and actions have immediate and direct consequences.  To put it differently and directly, it is one thing to tweet anonymously about your views on the company strategy; it is another to sit in a meeting and say it directly to the CEO.

Yet, good leaders thrive on this type of information and Yammer and other social media platforms, such as wikis, are a good way to break down information silos and share this information. (  However, this may only work in the private sector without the political concerns that are present in the public sector. In some cases, especially in the US system political appointees can act as gatekeepers for FOIA requests.  In this role, they may limit or stop access to the information they control. In other cases, there may be information hoarders who refuse to share or seek to limit anyone’s access to “their” information.  In the end, it may be that better internal communications leads to increased trust within an organisation and social media platforms improve the internal communications.  An interesting MA thesis on the topic is (Transparency in the Government Communication Process: the perspective of government communicators.  Jenille Fairbanks.)

In the UK, social media can be seen as a way to leverage a council’s limited resources. (  The question though is whether it improves performance.  In the case of FOIA requests, which seem to increase yearly, such platforms seem to be a way to leverage the collective wisdom or knowledge of an organisation. It is still to be seen whether they improve FOIA response times or improve trust within an organisation and between organisations and the public. Some UK authorities and organisations are using it  such as Kent County Council and  Walsall Council. Brighton and Hove started with it back in 2009 (here is the link to a case study on it

When employees are able to find and address problems or service shortfalls, it helps to build trust and transparency within an organisation. The social media platforms allow staff to report issues and it allows senior managers to communicate their goals and vision.  The idea is that social media platforms can cut the amount of information that is “lost in translation”. By refining the message based upon how staff are responding, there is less chance it is going to be implemented differently than it is understood. The problem of sense making by those who receive the change and how they, in turn, carry out it is well known. See the work by Balogun and Johnson. They explore how middle managers, as change recipients, make sense of change imperatives from the top and translate it into unintended outcomes.

What is needed is evidence to show a clear link between social media platforms being used by organisations that have high FOIA response rates.  Once that link is established, the second stage is to look at the internal culture and consider whether it has a higher level of trust and transparency internally, which helps it achieve its external transparency. Finally, the third stage will be to decide whether the improved transparency and trust leads to improved performance.  In the end, it may not be so much technology as culture that leads to trust and transparency both internally and externally. If that is the case, then it returns to the leaders to set the tone and continually reinforcing the trust and transparency culture as they seek to improve the organisation.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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