Most of you will have heard by now of Boaty McBoatface (or RRS Boaty McBoatface to be more correct).
For those that have not, the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) asked for suggestions for a name for their new $300m research ship, together with a public vote on these. In all “Boaty McBoatface” garnered 120,000 votes and was the very clear winner. Nothetitanic, Pingu and Ice Ice Baby all also made it onto the list and themselves got substantial numbers of votes.
Having committed a number of years to projects which give greater voice to people with WorkInConfidence, I was a little saddened, but not at all surprised by this.
Benefits from Input
I believe there are huge benefits to be gained for organisations in opening up to more input from staff, stakeholders and at times the general public. The tide has turned and despite setbacks this trend is here to stay. I certainly believe that allowing people to question and push back on orthodoxy can yield huge insights and gains.
Like many, I am not over enamoured with a major UK research ship floating around on high profile and critical environmental projects, and intermittently mooring in overseas ports, with RRS Boaty McBoatface emblazoned across its bows. Even the nominator of the name already admits regrets. It’s a bit like the straw donkey gift you buy after a couple of sangrias in Spain. It may have been briefly funny over a drink in the pub but by the second round has worn thin. Hardly an enduring legacy to British Irony (although I am sure some will say it will help remind the World what a droll bunch we are).
Boaty McBoatface will be Remembered
My slight sadness comes from the conversations I can imagine being had about public, stakeholder or staff input – “Yes but remember Boaty McBoatface” will be a common refrain from those wanting to nip wider participation in the bud – and at times I am sure it will be a trump card.
Your reaction may well be – “Yes but you can’t have it both ways”, but Boaty McBoatface does not signal you should not seek wider input – lots of people were ready and willing to participate; What it does show is that these things have to be thought through and managed properly and professionally.
A big part of what we do is not just allowing anonymity, but making it useful. Thinking through the benefits, problems and pitfalls – and how to navigate your organisation (or RRS) through them successfully.
What to Learn from Boaty McBoatface
This episode tells us:
- Be clear of the ground rules;
- Think through the opportunities and consequences;
- In particular think through the unintended consequences.
So don’t let this stop you opening up decisions or seeking feedback. If you do you will be passing by a great opportunity just think it through and plan it properly.