Ideas, conversations and artists

As a follow up to my post on the UK .gov blogosphere, a small session was run at the recent govcamp on the state of blogging in the public sector in the UK.

The discussion was an interesting one and Al Reid took down some great notes that cover most of what was said. Pubstrat wrote a great post before the event which summed up most of the stuff we talked about anyway.

Here’s my take: I was wrong to mention blogs. A lot of the resultant discussion in the comments of that post and other chats have focused on blogging, which is of course just the medium. It’s the content I am interested in.

What we seem to lack is an ecosystem of ideas in public services. Discussions about new ways of doing things, how to change the way things are, how ideas get progressed into prototypes and then into actual delivered services or ways of working. Whether this happens on a blog, in a social network, on a wiki or over a cup of tea is neither here nor there.

This ties in with the discussion sparked by Dom on Twitter about the lack of challenge in evidence at the govcamp, and that it was a pretty homogenous group of people in attendance. The question was posed, how do we get everyone else to these events, or at least having these sorts of conversations?

I’ve no idea, frankly.

I believe a couple of things are pretty evident though:

  • Government at all levels has to improve its attitiude to ideas and thus to innovation
  • Structures and processes will help the behaviour required for an ideas ecosystem become embedded and accepted
  • People within organisations have to start getting better at talking to each other for any of this to actually work

The unconference format works very nicely in providing the space for people to have conversations about stuff. The blank canvas that is the agenda can be daunting, but with the right preparation, everyone can arrive at the event primed and ready to say things. I’m having chats with Jeremy and others about how this might be applied to individual organisations. Watch this space.

All of this ties in with what I started to think about in several post over the last couple of months, which seems to be coalescing in my mind around the notion of learning organisations – familiar to anyone that has read the work of Peter Senge but which for me focuses on the ability for organisations to have meaningful conversations, both internally and externally, and to have a grown up attitude to change and new ideas.

I’ll be talking about this on Thursday at the Cllr.10 event, with some focus on the shift in leadership that this stuff necessitates.

Also worth reading around these ideas is the work Lloyd Davis is doing, as social artist in residence at the Centre for Creative Collaboration. David Wilcox has covered social artistry before too. I’m not sure we’ll ever see civil servants or local government officers with that job title anytime soon, but the skills of convening and facilitation are vital for anyone who wants to succeed within a learning organisation.

The web is fundamental to the development of this thinking and the conversations around it. Firstly, because the web is the domain where the ideas are being kicked about and refined. Secondly, because these ideas are the by-products of using the web and social tools. As I keep saying these days, what makes social software interesting is not the software, but the implications of using it.

9 thoughts on “Ideas, conversations and artists”

  1. I agree there’s an issue here, but I wonder if other colleagues in government would. To them, I suspect there is a fully-functioning ecosystem of ideas, but it’s not an ecosystem that’s particularly web 2.0-enabled. It’s an ecosystem of representative groups, membership organisations, stakeholder workshops, roadshows, citizens’ panels and media discussion, where the ideas are collated and the data analysed by colleagues in other departments (within the GSI, and generally by email) perhaps with the assistance of trusted think tanks.

    What’s interesting about (official) blogging in particular – even more so than social networking or Twitter which are generally more atomised and personalised – is that it provides a publishing channel for individuals and teams to the wider world. Some find this concept terrifying and unmanageable (‘how would we cope with all the feedback?’ ‘What about the p0rn?’), some find it professionally terrifying (‘but I’d be exposed personally’, ‘my press office/manager would hang me out to dry – or more likely stop me before I start”) and a bigger chunk still can’t square the time and effort required to blog with the objectives of their role. These same people would write articles and present at conferences, but struggle to see the value in putting it on a blog, to reach an unknown, international, public audience. Of course, if you put valuable stuff out there, interesting people you’d never normally meet provide you value in return. But we’re a way away still from that realisation.

    The argument for personal blogging is a bit more straightforward: build a reputation, get connections, share your projects, socialise. Frankly, I’m still not sure whether the murkiness of the rules is a help or a hindrance to personal blogging. We muddle on.

    So you and Stefan and Dom and David are right to point to the bigger problem. But there’s something special and powerful about blogging which deserves exploration in its own right, I think.

  2. Hi Steph! I don’t mean to denigrate blogs or blogging at all. Personally, I think it is a superb medium, perfect for debating and refining ideas, easy to do yet also remarkably powerful and sophisticated, technology-wise. I owe my livelihood to blogging – nobody would have ever heard of me if I hadn’t started blogging, and I would still be stuck behind a desk at a local authority somewhere – and I would encourage everyone and anyone to give it a go.

    Further, on the blogging front, one of the people I was thinking about when I wrote the original post was Andrea DiMaio, whose blogging perfectly hits the mark when it comes to analysis and comment on government techy stuff. Do we have an Andrea in the UK? I’m not aware we do…and I think we need one.

    But my purpose in saying that focusing on blogging was wrong was because I did not want to put people off joining in because of the ‘b’ word. Also, a lot of the discussion of the original post was centered on blogging about blogging, or blogging about social media. What I was getting at was a wider discussion about how we talk about government and ideas, without getting bogged down in specific social media issues or holy wars about whether Blogger is better than Tumblr (or whatever).

  3. I’d have thought lots of people blogging on their own little blogs is the *worst* way to create an ecosystem of ideas.

    A big part of what’s appealing about blogging is personal publishing, and is there actually anything wrong in that?

  4. Dave: yes, it was a wise move to avoid a platform conversation.

    I think Public Strategist asked after the event whose careers had been enhanced by blogging, and I think that’s true for the three of us commenting here at least. I suppose I’m interested because I reckon there’s something particular in the format and culture of regular, interactive blogging which you don’t get when digitally engaging in other ways. Quite often, it’s all rather lumped together with Twitter and other social media and has a bad name as a rather self-indulgent, slightly naive pasttime. There’s more to it than that, clearly, and we need to explain that to people in govt I think.

    @Neil: ‘what could be worse…’ etc – how so? You want a big centralised platform?

  5. @Steph – Centralised? God, no. I just mean that getting lots of civil servants to
    generate lots of content in lots of places (regardless of what you can do with RSS) wouldn’t be the most effective way of having them collaborate. It would be one way, but that’s only a small part of what blogging’s about. It was a flippant comment, but if I have a point I guess it’s that I get a bit annoyed by the lazy criticism that it’s in some way missing the point to talk about platforms; or to get like minded people together to do so. Sounds a bit po-faced and worthy to me. Contributing to an ecosystem of ideas isn’t what motivates me to give up time in the evening or weekends.

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