Monthly Archives: September 2009

Understanding Finance for Business

I’m spending some time today doing some social reporting for EEDA, my local regional development agency, at one of their Understanding Finance for Business workshops. I’m taking photos and recording quick interviews with some of those attending, as well as the presenters.

Here’s David Gill, Director of the St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, who are running the workshops on behalf of EEDA, introducing the programme and what it is all about:

UKGovCamp 2010 taking shape

After just one day, interest is already starting to build up for January’s barcamp. We have had a tonne of responses to the register of interest form, which is awesome, and have made significant headway in getting the venue arranged.

More on that as soon as I know it.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some gardening on the community site we have set up on Ning. Deleting spammers, starting new conversations and creating some new groups.

We now have specific groups to discuss government data sharing and cloud computing – both hot topics. Make sure you sign up and jump into the conversations about these two topics.

Bookmarks for September 25th through September 28th

Awesomeness off of the internet for September 25th to September 28th:

  • Improving data visualisation for the public sector – "Good data visualisation can help users explore and understand the patterns and trends in data, and also communicate that understanding to others to help them make robust decisions based on the data being presented. This site supports public sector researchers improve the way that they visualise data, by providing good practice examples and case studies, practical and step-by-step guides on how to visualise data, and links to more detailed resources. "
  • Google Blog Directory – All of the official Google blogs listed in one place.
  • Global Neighbourhoods: Using Lethal Generosity in Social Media – "In today's competitive environment, you need to understand that the customer is in control. If you want to win, give the customer what the customer wants. If you do this often enough and credibly enough it will be brutal to your competitors–unless the competitor rises to the occasion and tries to "out-generous" you back."
  • What will Council 2.0 look like? « Business Analysed – "The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true."
  • The BCS: enabling the information society « Conradiator – Conrad Taylor's view on the big BCS rebrand.

UkGovCamp 2010 – #ukgc10

UKGC10

The previous two UK government barcamps have been wonderful events – bringing people together to start and continue conversations about how web developments affect the public sector in this country.

If we are going to run the event in January 2010, we probably need to start organising it now. So I have kicked things off a bit by tidying up the online community, adding a blog post ‘announcing’ January’s event and setting up a form for people to register their interest in the event.

So do head over to the community and start sharing some ideas, stories and experiences. And make sure you tag your stuff with ukgc10!

More on culture – Getting Real

To carry on the culture theme, I’ve recently been reading 37 Signals‘ book Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application. For those that don’t know, 37 Signals are the guys behind simple but useful collaboration tools like Basecamp, Backpack and Highrise.

It may describe itself as a book about web application development, but so many of the lessons can be applied to any organisation – and that can (and should) include government of course. I ordered the hard copy of the book, via LuLu, but you can read it for free, online. I’ve picked out some of my favourite bits, and linked them below for your reading pleasure.

Social media and local government culture

I had an enjoyable time on Thursday of this week, with the rest of the Learning Pool crew, customers and friends, at the Learning Pool networking event / third birthday party. Some good pals were there, and I got to meet plenty of new people too. Some photos are here.

I did my usual turn, with one or two additions. Here are the slides:

One of the new slides in this deck asks the question “Should local gov be like Apple or Google?”.

When I road tested this question on Twitter, I got a range of responses, some being quite clear cut, others wondering what the hell I was on about. One was particularly clever.

Here’s what I meant.

Apple are closed, switched off from the conversations about them. They keep their customers at a distance and go to remarkable lengths to prevent users from giving them ideas. As far as Apple are concerned, they know all the answers.

Apple’s products are also damn expensive. They charge as much as the market can bear – and sometimes more. So how come they are so popular?

It comes down to the user experience. It’s so awesome, that people like me will put up with all sorted of crap to be able to keep using it. So, an organisation can still succeed, even if it is closed in its culture, if the product is good enough. I think it would be difficult to argue that any level of government’s user experience is up to the same level as Apple’s right now…

Google, on the other hand, take a far more open culture. They have loads of blogs, just about one for every service they operate. They have forums for users to help one another, and to get help from support. An awful lot of Google’s technology is open source, and they run platforms for others to host and share their code, as well.

Google’s pricing model is different to Apples’s, too. Instead of charging as much as the market can bear, Google charges as little as it can bear, as Jeff Jarvis explains in What Would Google Do? Google wants as many people to use its products as possible, because that makes them work better, so they make them free, or as close to free as they can. Google is more a platform, or a network, than just a company that sells stuff.

Local Government needs to be more like Google, than Apple. It needs to listen to its users, and to develop and design services around their needs rather than deciding itself what is best for them. It needs to take the time to explain itself to its users, and set up feedback channels that feed directly into service design. In fact, communications, customer service and service delivery should all be part of one single process, each element constantly updating the others.

So this is all, really, less about technology, and more about organisational culture. What a surprise. I do fear that some local authorities, having set up a Twitter account, or started a blog, will think they have this thing licked. They haven’t – it’s bigger than that, and it goes back to Steph‘s point, that interactive websites need interactive organisations. Sticking some of these web tools on an organisation that doesn’t want to listen or engage will result in car crash.

People have been talking about changing culture in government for a very long time, and not a lot has changed – I’m reminded of Will Perrin’s point, which I often repeat, that government in the UK is trying to solve 21st century problems with 21st century technology through 19th century governance. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth giving a go. I think there is a lot that government at all levels can learn from the culture of organisations like Google, and other tech firms. Take Netflix, for example, a US based DVD rental company. Their culture, as described in this public presentation, is remarkable and one that probably any organisation could learn from:

I’ll be covering some more issues around culture, and leadership, in future posts, as it’s a fascinating (to me!) topic.

Zoho Discussions

You may not have heard of Zoho, but they are one of the leading providers of cloud-based applications on the web. If you are looking for an alternative to the likes of Google Docs, you might not go too far wrong with Zoho.

They have just released a new service, called Discussions which allows you to run internal or external discussion forums, and includes loads of functionality like rating posts, creating idea style forums – a bit like UserVoice or IdeaScale – and a bunch of other stuff.

Well worth looking into, and this video explains more:

Bookmarks for September 21st through September 22nd

Awesomeness off of the internet for September 21st to September 22nd:

Bookmarks for September 16th through September 20th

Awesomeness off of the internet for September 16th to September 20th:

  • Postscript two: Lessons from the great 2009 Birmingham City Council website disaster – Paul Canning keeps up the pace on the BCC website story.
  • Crowd Fusion | Web Publishing – "Crowd Fusion is a publishing platform that combines several popular applications – like blogging, wikis, tagging and workflow management – with some original concepts."
  • stribe.com – Welcome – "Stribe is a plug and play service to instantly create a social network on any website"
  • Case Study & Example Round-Up for Local Gov Using Social Media – Local Communities – Here's a simple round up of links to case studies and information about local governments using social media.
  • Apps.Gov – "Cloud computing plays a key role in the President’s initiative to modernize Information Technology (IT) by identifying enterprise -wide common services and solutions and adopting a new cloud-computing business model. The Federal CIO Council under the guidance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), Vivek Kundra, established the Cloud Computing Initiative to fulfill the President’s objectives for cloud computing."

Building local government 2.0

The Knowledge Hub is a terrifically ambitious project being run by IDeA, in partnership with CLG, to bring knowledge and information sharing to the local government sector. A mixture of technology and capacity building, the aim is to alter the culture of local government, to change the way people in councils think about how success is measured, and how innovations and improvement can be rolled out across the entire sector.

Learning Pool are keen to play as big a role in this process as possible: after all, we have the background in local government, we have collaboration in our bone marrow, and we also have a pretty good idea about what works, technology-wise. So when the opportunity came up to bid for a project to develop a prototype which will inform the development of the Knowledge Hub, we pulled out all the stops to make sure we got it.

And get it we did (subject to the usual cooling off periods and boring contract stuff, of course).

The Partnerships and Places Library is an online resource of case studies from local authorities and local partnerships. It’s chock-full of useful content, but isn’t terribly interactive and probably isn’t the most engaging collection of content on the web.

Learning Pool will produce for the IDeA a fully interactive community, where content sharing, conversation and use of rich media will be encouraged and supported. Our concept for the site was called WorkTogether in recognition of the collaborative, silo-busting nature of the project.

We’re also keen to get the detail right on this project, and support open information and data sharing where we can. The new site will produce RSS a-plenty and will integrate with services like Calais to produce really useful semantic metadata. Everything will be built on open source technology, and where bespoke development is needed, that too will be released to the community.

Updates on development will be posted on the Learning Pool blog. We’re on a pretty tight schedule, so you all should be able to see some results before too long. If anyone is keen to be in on the user testing, leave us a comment here and we’ll do our best to involve you.

We’re delighted, because we see this as the first step in an exciting journey for Learning Pool. We’re going to be delivering a really innovative online project, and will be a part of the wider Knowledge Hub process. But this is also the start for us becoming local government’s trusted advisor and partner when it comes to developing social media, web 2.0 – or whatever you like to call it – strategies and products.

If your council is considering taking its first tentative steps into this new media world, get in touch with us – drop me a line on 07525 209589 or email me on dave@learningpool.com. I’d love to come and talk to you about this stuff, and see where Learning Pool can help.

Update: if you want to keep an eye on this project’s development on Twitter, follow @worktogetheruk!

Cross posted from the Learning Pool blog.