Barcamping today

This morning, over 130 people interested in the way government uses the web will be descending on London to, well, have a bit of a natter.

There has already been plenty of chat on the event social network, and hopefully this will mean we can really hit the ground running with all the sessions people have been planning and discussing.

Big thanks go out to those who are supporting the event, such as DIUS, who are providing some lunch; Mitch at PolyWonk for funding the post-camp drinks, and Huddle who are providing drinks and snacks during the day.

Big props too to Jeremy, Steph, John, Jenny and others for their role in getting this thing going. For Jeremy, this will be his last hurrah before moving to Ireland and I’m sure we’ll all be able to send him off in style.

For those wanting to follow the event, Steph has created a Friendfeed room, and I have cobbled together an Addictomatic page. Whatever works for you, guys.

This is how it can be done

After all my moaning of recent times, a good news story. Lincoln City Council have released a site called Community Voice which links to all their ongoing consultations, with an RSS feed to keep up to date with new ones and comments so that people can have conversations about them.


What’s more, they have done it by simply creating a blog on the free service.


This demonstrates to all the other authorities that I have been raging about recently that it can be done, the simple stuff an be got right, and it doesn’t have to cost much – or even anything. Apart from a bit of imagination, I guess… I hope that this site is promoted well by the Council so that residents are aware of how they can use it to engage with their local authority.

Just goes to show, all the best things come out of Lincolnshire…


Steph has released some details of his short survey of the blocking of useful websites within the public sector. The following figures show the percentages of organisations which allow access to each type of site:

Google 100%
LinkedIn 100%
NetMums 100%
Wikipedia 97%
Digg 97%
Google Reader 91% 89%
Yahoo account 86%
Flickr 83%
Twitter 83%
Bebo 69%
YouTube (able to see well) 63%
Gmail 60%
Facebook 54%

The worst offending organisations seem to be:

  • DWP
  • Directgov (DWP)
  • Surrey County Council
  • ‘A north east council’
  • Environment Agency
  • MOD
  • FCO
  • Home Office

And Steph concludes by saying:

Does DIUS or Cabinet Office have staff any more or less likely to waste time than the Home Office or DWP? Is ’security’ more important in Surrey than Devon? Might the good burghers of Directgov benefit from a bit more exposure to the social web? Would people at FCO tasked with engaging around the world be helped by being able to view more of the World Wide Web?

You decide. Or you could always pop your CV on LinkedIn to find an opening somewhere that actually lets you do your job?

I have spoken to a number of people about this issue. The reasons giving for blocking that are given by IT departments are quite often laughable: network overload? Increased risk of viruses? The truth is that the reason why these tools are blocked is because organisations don’t trust their staff not to abuse them. It sucks.

Can someone explain to me what an eMagazine is, please

An item on the local TV new bulletin alerted me to Cambridgeshire County Council’s effort at citizen engagement on transport issues, as part of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission. They’ve got a website and everything:

Well, I think it’s a website, only it describes itself as an “An environmentally friendly e-magazine”. If anyone can tell me what that actually means please send me a postcard, or at least leave a comment.

Though nothing like as bad as the other example I covered recently, there are stacks of missed opportunities here. There’s a lot of text on the site, which could so easily be augmented with some short video clips explaining what the whole thing is about. The participation element is slightly better done than just providing an email address, with a survey asking for views on a range of different issues.

This is fine, as far as it goes, but where is the conversation? One off responses are all well and good, but surely greater value will be achieved by bringing people together and letting them discuss the issues that are important to them with others that may or may not share there concerns. More could be done too, perhaps along the lines that Barnet have done, in taking vox pops by actually proactively asking residents for their views and recording them on video for others to see, and comment on.

This isn’t the first e-magazine Cambridgeshire have produced though – Paul Canning recently exposed me to something called Weather the Storm – a website to “help Cambridgeshire through the economic downturn”. Have a look round and see what you make of it – I found it full of useful information but seriously, seriously lacking in any kind of interaction. What helps people through difficult times is a sense of community, working together – but this website doesn’t help to do that at all, and it so easily could have.

Take this example – on the front page, those who heat their homes using oil are advised to organise themselves into fuel clubs – effectively getting discounts on oil by buying in larger amounts. Sounds simple. The website’s guide on how to do this features this as the first tip:

  1. Find other people locally who would be interested in joining a fuel club.  Ask friends and neighbours, speak to community groups or contact your Parish Clerk.

Erm… how hard would it be to have some kind of social functionality here, to help people create and join fuel groups online? The answer is, of course, ‘not very’ but obviously such useful features don’t come with e-magazines. A shame.

So Councils could be doing this sort of thing much better. Whether they should be doing it at all is another matter. Perhaps the possibilities that the web create in terms of self organising mean that, actually, it would be better if civically-minded folk were enabled to do this stuff themselves.

Big City Talk has shown that active, enthusiastic residents can make Council consultations more fun. Perhaps this model could also be applied to Cambridgeshire’s traffic engagement activity. So what if their site doesn’t let us upload videos? – let’s do it ourselves.

Likewise, people sharing stories and guidance about how they get through difficult financial times might better be done by themselves, bringing content together from all over the county from those that wish to submit it. After all, nobody knows all the answers, and the more voices we have, the closer we might get to have a really useful collection of material.

Both these websites could have been done so much better if more appropriate technology has been used. I’m really interested in how much this stuff cost, so I have put in a freedom of information request via WhatDoTheyKnow.

Fantastic social reporting result

Just have to dash out a quick blog post on this as it’s just so brilliant!

One of the presenters at today’s IDeA Performance event, Andrew Hudson-Smith of UCL (see Ingrid’s notes here and a video here) mentioned the use Birmingham City Council have made of Second Life.

I tweeted about this, which was picked up by some of those involved in the Birmingham project, Dave Harte and Soulla Stylianou, who then wrote a blog post about it on the IDeA Performance site sharing their experiences. All within the space of an hour.

Great stuff!

More IDeA social reporting

…is happening over at IDeA Performance. This is a great initiative by IDeA, trying to open up the training and workshops they provide to anyone with an internet connection.

If you, or anyone you know, is interested in local government performance, do check out the content we are putting up, leave a comment or tag your own stuff with ideaperf.

Social Media Exchange materials now online

As I mentioned in my previous post, in a few hours (must…sleep…) I’ll be running a couple of sessions at the Social Media Exchange.

I’ve now finished my slides, and have put them up on slideshare. Rather than make your life easy, though, I’m forcing you over to my posts on the Social Media Exchange site to get at them:

Would be good to have people’s thought on these in the comments over there!

Social reporting and learning at the Social Media Exchange

Tomorrow I will be hanging out with loads of cool people at the Social Media Exchange, which has been marvelously organised by Jude Habib and Mark Ellis at sounddelivery.

I’m helping out by running a couple of sessions, but also by lending my social reporting/learning WordPress theme, which I have spent today tweaking and filling with content ahead of tomorrow’s event.

The whole schedule has been added to the site as blog posts, so you can track who is presenting what and when by clicking the links on the schedule and speaker pages.

Sadly the home page dashbaord is bereft of live Twitter and Blogsearch updates as the server the site is hosted on didn’t seem to like pulling content in rom elsewhere with RSS. But there are links out, which people should be able to find easily enough.

One thing I am looking forward to is the amount of video that will be going on, thanks to Matt Waring and his team at Best Before TV, who are helping to cover the event with their VideoBoo package, which turns any Mac into a portable VideoBoo(th). We’ll get as much as we can embbed on the blog.

My two sessions are WordPress for Good, described as a masterclass (which means I get to talk a bit) and the other a surgery on blogging (which means I answer questions). I’ll be putting any slides and other media output up on the Social Media Exchange site as and when it gets created – just check out my tag page.

(Other great sessions (amongst many others!) will be those from my good friends Nick Booth and Steve Bridger.)

Of course, I did create the WordPress for Good microsite to house plenty of resources that people could use after they have been suitably inspired by my usual combination of mania and enthusiasm for all things WP. Thanks to all the stuff people have suggested, I’ve got plenty to be getting on with. Another late night, then…

What should a council’s website look like?

Simon Wakeman presents a nice roundup of some of the new websites being launched, comparing Barnet and Cheltenham‘s latest efforts with the current poster-child, Redbridge.

Generating an environment for residents to interact online with their councils will generate more engagement with the democratic process and council work in general – but it needs truly interactive platforms, a supportive culture within the council and a drive from officers and members to create genuinely two-way conversations.

Simon is right to call out Redbridge for the lack of interactivity in his post. Some basics have been missed: no RSS, no home page box for me to enter my email address to get news updates straight to me.

I think Redbridge and other sites like this are missing what the web is really about these days.

What local authorities (and government generally) need to understand is that they need to stop thinking about their websites as a destination. They should provide people with the information they want, where they want and in the format they want – not force them to spend hours personalising a site in which they have very little interest other than finding out when their bins get collected.

In fact, here’s a (only slightly stupid) vision for council websites. Make them look like Google. Not iGoogle, but the actual Google homepage, with just a search box on it. Make sure the search works, so people can actually find what they want, and then add an option to receive an email when that content changes.