Drip, drip… more ICELE news

David Wilcox pointed me in the direction of the latest E-Government newsletter from Headstar, and their article about ICELE’s slow and rather painful death:

In the medium term, the government is considering an overhaul of e-democracy policy which could bring into being a new cross-government agency to replace ICELE and draw in elements of similar work currently scattered across the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Progress in that direction will be made following the publication by DLG this summer of a white paper on citizen empowerment…

CLG concern over ICELE’s operations is thought to centre on its spending on staff and management and a failure to achieve its initial broad objectives. However, Ellis told E-Government Bulletin that charges of overspending were “plainly not true”.

Interesting! But also rather messy and unpleasant…

I was giving a little thought the other night to th poor councillors who had started blogging using ICELE’s system, ‘Blog in a Box’, and who might now be a little concerned about where, if anywhere, their platform might be going now.

My advice to them would be to move to WordPress, either by using the free hosted option at WordPress.com or by hosting it themselves with their own install from WordPress.org. If any of you come across this blog and need some help, let me know.

16 thoughts on “Drip, drip… more ICELE news”

  1. This is great news – not. So Government is planning to create another agency for delivery of e-democracy. What the hell is wrong with investing in ICELE and making it work? It might not be brilliant but it has a pretty good website for info and it should nly be a beginning. Who will run this new agency? Cabinet Office with their great idea of mash ups or Ministry of Justice with their big talk and no action or DTI as was and always to give money away and achieve little or DCLG who did a great job making it all happen and then let it die.

    Governemtn seems to be giving little scope to proper democrayic actions – one only has to look at the ineffectiveness of No 10 e-petitons from mysociety to see that. They seem to want to stifle any real dissent and push a line of we are all in it together through consensus. This is rubbish. True partnerships means investment in what is already there like councils and community groups and trusting them to deliver, not simply funding big ideas and then pulling the plug when it starts to really happen and dissent may come about.

  2. Hello P

    You’ve made some interesting points, especially around what will come after ICELE. I think continuing that body, let alone expanding it, wouldn’t work because too many people had become frustrated with it, and it clearly wasn’t delivering effectively in many areas.

    Indeed, as an organisation I think it missed a trick completely in not opening up at all. After all, why are we having this discussion here? Why is it taking place on Public Sector Forums, the UKIeDem list and earlier on Prof. Coleman’s posts on the Connecting Bristol blog?

    ICELE was supposed to be forward looking and have its finger on the pulse. But it didn’t – even when a huge debate was happening around it, they didn’t know – or at least didn’t respond.

    I’m not sure if anyone is listening, or agrees with me, but I really see that what is needed is not a government organisation/agency/ndpb or whatever, but rather a bottom-up, non-org approach. Let’s have a wiki edemocracy library. Let’s have blogs for people to give their views on government web initiatives. Let’s allow people to develop projects to make things better with other interested folk. Let’s do away with terms of reference, job titles and other institutional trappings and just get things done.

  3. Dave,

    I’m not sure that I wholly agree with your sentiment. Getting rid of ICELE, no matter how bad it was, sends the wrong signal. I think if bits of it are broken then fix it because it was delivering something. Afterall where will all the research and documents of the projects that DCLG funded go – one only has to remember edemocracy.gov.uk becoming a broken link – so to have a centrally run agency information point is not a bad idea for a start.

    I also think that there needs to be a balance between bottom up and top down to ensure trust and understanding. Just having a bottom up approach undermines our very democratic system and doesn’t bring legitimacy to the process. We need to have those in power listening and responding in a two way conversation, not just bottom up like some kind of revlutionary direct democracy. If they don’t like it, they will simply ignore it – look at Iraq or the congestion charge in west London.

    If it’s a mix of good social media that’s bottom up and survey and discussion thats top down then a balance may be struck. At the moment I don’t think the Government is listening nor do they want to introduce anything that allows channels of communciation and therein lies the problem. That’s why I think we need an ICELE or tools that elected bodies can use to communicate. We in turn can use them to get the information, communicate with our leaders and then organise elsewhere using more appropriate web 2 tools and social networks where government should not be.

    I hope Government does listen and doesn’t just assume what is best. But I think we all know where this is going and they have already signalled their intent it seems.

  4. Did “Blog in a Box” get any takers? I was one of the original Read My Day councillors – I’d been blogging for 4 or 5 months beforehand so didn’t end up using their platform – and could never quite understand why there was so much emphasis on developing a platform. Particularly when there are a number of already established ones that seem so easy to use.

    The barriers to local councillors taking up blogging are in part about technofear, but that seems to be best overcome by training and encouragement from the local eco-system.

    If I look at those councillors who’ve taken the batton on from me, in Lewisham, it’s clear that they’ve drawn on each other and the wider group of local bloggers for support and inspiration. The platform they use is the least important aspect of any success they’re having as bloggers.

  5. I think it is generally agreed that ICELE’s resources would have been much betterspent on awareness and coaching rather than building yet another platform that never had a hope of being better than the existing, free alternatives. The CivicSurf project has proved that, I think.

  6. On the 13 June 2008, the Minister for local e-democracy, Parmjit Dhanda M.P., announced in a letter to the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy (ICELE) Chair, Cllr. Matthew Ellis, that ICELE as a sponsored entity of CLG, would no longer receive any further funding beyond the agreed life-span of the programme.

    In the letter, the Minister stated, “I would like to place on public record my Department’s gratitude for all of the good work ICELE has undertaken during the stewardship of you and your colleagues, Cllr. Bill Brookes and Cllr. Mary Reid, and to your support staff during the programme’s life-span.

    I recognise that ICELE has taken forward the work of several components of the local e-Government programme including the Local e-Democracy National Project and disseminated these through your award winning website. In addition, ICELE has won some European funding to enhance understanding and good practice around eParticipation and ensured that assistance to local authorities has been available on the complex issue of local e-democracy when required.

    However when ICELE was established, CLG gave a commitment of funding up to 31 March 2008 with a key objective for the Centre to “build a model for long-term sustainability beyond the programme life-span”. Regrettably, sustainability has not been demonstrated despite the successful bids for EU grants.

    My Department remains committed to encouraging the use of ICT for empowerment in partnership with others to facilitate and enhance local democracy. As part of the Government’s work on the forthcoming Community Empowerment White Paper, we are actively considering how best to utilize new technologies to support community empowerment. ICELE has been very active in responding to recent consultations on a number of issues linked to the forthcoming White Paper and these have been gratefully received. However, in looking at this broad agenda, we have to assess the value, sustainability and potential benefits that other organisations could also offer in taking forward the work in this area.

    In conclusion, I am of the opinion that ICELE, as a sponsored entity of CLG, should cease operations on the 30 June 2008 [other than core staffing support activities related to the Review]. I have instructed officials to conduct a further review in partnership with ICELE on the tools and products produced or managed by the Centre. This review will also seek to establish how best any successful elements of ICELE’s work might be taken forward and how sustainability might be achieved.

    Finally, I hope that Lichfield District Council and all other users of the local e-democracy tools will continue to play a role in taking the agenda of empowerment using ICT forward. Improving public services and strengthening democracy by encouraging active citizenship is a shared political goal and offers real opportunities to revive our civic society. Your continued support and enthusiasm for making this happen at the local level, either through your blogging as a local councillor or through your advice and guidance to others as Chair of ICELE, is testament to your understanding and leadership over the past two years.”

    For information:

    • ICELE was officially launched in October 2006 by Communities and Local Government Minister, Angela Smith M.P., at the United Nations CIAPR Conference.

    • CLG has provided core funding to ICELE of £386,000 for the Centre’s activities over the past two years and £234,000 to make the VOICE product fit for purpose.

    • The Review of the ICELE portfolio will be conducted to investigate how best to take forward any of the tools currently being used. We cannot however continue to indefinitely support non-sustainable or non-viable e-democracy products or tools for which there is no demonstrated need. No decision will be made in respect of any of the tools and products until this has been completed.

    • CLG, in partnership with other Government Departments, are actively considering how best to promote and utilize new technologies to support community empowerment as one of the strands in the forthcoming Community Empowerment White Paper.

  7. Hi Dylan – thanks for stopping by and giving us the view of things from the Department. Are you in a position to give any detail on how local eDem and eGov is going to be coordinated in the future – and how interested fok can get involved?

  8. From outside the UK the role and achievements of ICELE are looking slightly different. To the rest of the world the existence of an agency promoting local eDemocracy sponsored by the central government has been perceived as a signal that eDemocracy might be worth to be supported. Also the fact that ICELE has been represented by different councillors, talking passionately about new media and their own experiences with blogging etc. helped us (me and my colleagues from TuTech Innovation) e.g. to further promote eParticipation in the City of Hamburg. Since we are coordinating the EU funded eParticipation network PEP-NET, different organisations from all over Europe have applied to join the network because of ICELE’s recommendations. It looks the UK has established something like a trusted brand for eDemocracy outside the UK and this asset will be lost when ICELE is closed. This is really a pity!

  9. “ICELE was supposed to be forward looking and have its finger on the pulse. But it didn’t – even when a huge debate was happening around it, they didn’t know – or at least didn’t respond.”

    We knew from post no.1 from our faithful Google Alerts (and responded if you care to look at the thread) but it was clear that the debate was purposely tainted, involved the same old voices and was open to spoofing – probably not the conditions necessary for starting any sort of meaningful dialogue.

    It’s all good and well posting on blogs and forums all day but it’s actions, not words which ICELE had as its priority. I’d say it was a sensibe approach to channel the limited resources that the centre had into debating important issues in the spaces that our target audiences also choose to occupy.

  10. Fraser thanks for joining the conversation. It’s great to have you here.

    When it comes to encouraging a wider democratic conversation the words are the action. Otherwise why did you establish blogging tools?

    In the conversation taking place about ICELE no one was saying you were not acting, just arguing that it was misdirected action. I think the the energy would have been better spent on nurturing wider digital media literacy and encouraging people to use existing tools.

    Having said that some of your users will probably move onto other blogging platforms having got a taste for it and benefit from the freedom that comes with that. That means that in just that sense alone your work is having an impact. It will also have other benefits. We are all experimenting.

  11. @ Rolf – thanks for stopping by and giving a different perspective on things. One thing I would say is that many of ICELE’s critics – of which I am by no means the most vituperative! – still want a body championing this stuff. Just not ICELE. There are those that are bemoaning its demise though, like my pal Paul for example.

    @ Fraser – I’ll ignore the implied criticism of “posting on blogs and forums all day” but will point out that actually, I and other people (including some of the ‘same old voices’) are doing stuff. Like building free and useful services like LGSearch and championing Councils who are doing exciting stuff, such Stratford, Medway and Barnet, for example.

  12. Guys, I’m not going to be drawn into a long debate about they whys and why-nots…..instead I hope there will be an opportunity to publish a comprehensive public summary of ICELE achievements at a later date for more informed public scrutiny.

    I encourage you to be part of the solution, not the problem and am pleased that folks are already taking the lead on salvaging the ICELE archive. I hope people will eventually see through the top layers of the programme and recognise where the core activities have been focused, such as the enormous wealth of best practice at http://www.iceleguides.org

    @ Dave – There’s some great community creativity which will happen with or without a centre of excellence – and I applaud both your activism and tools, such as LGSearch. (I note the BarCamp logo and that ICELE was represented and kindly sponsored lunch for the event).

    In the wake of two new eParticipation grants from the European Commission I hope momentum can also be built around knowledge sharing in this domain (http://www.pep-net.eu/)

  13. “I encourage you to be part of the solution, not the problem”

    A few questions – what does this mean?

    Wasn’t the majority view among e-Democracy practitioners that ICELE itself was part of the problem, not the solution?

    What exactly did misguided misadventures like VOICE achieve apart from squandering nearly a quarter of a million of public funds and making it more difficult for sustainable existing initiatives like Oncom and UK Villages to operate?

    I’d be very interested to see the findings of what ICELE exactly DID achieve. Sorry for the mini-rant!

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