Bookmarks for March 21st through March 29th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Great blogging on #localgovweb

Two great blog posts recently on the ever thorny issue of local government websites.

Firstly, Al Smith recounts his experience managing the refresh of Newcastle City Council‘s site. A remarkably honest and open appraisal of how it all went, and Al’s own role, it’s a great read and one for any local gov web manager to take a look at.

Secondly, Carl Haggerty – who is on blogging fire at the moment – has written a really thought provoking post on web strategy. He says:

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

Great examples of blogging being used to share experience, knowledge and ideas. More of this, please.

The World of GovCraft

Dave says: Carl is a local government blogging legend, who works at Devon County Council as an Enterprise Architect. This post originally appeared on his blog, but he graciously allowed it to be published here, too.

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen.  In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.

What I do

DB business cardMy role at Learning Pool is a hard one to define exactly. A couple of weeks ago, we had a big company meeting where everyone got together to discuss the last year’s efforts, and what we want to achieve in 10/11.

At one point Paul asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they knew what I did for the company. I don’t think anyone raised their hands. I know I didn’t.

That’s ok, though, and I stood up and rather incoherently tried to explain it all. I don’t think I did a great job, but I do think I managed to get across that it isn’t just about going to conferences.

My job title is Community Evangelist, and the first thing to say is that I’m not a Technology Evangelist. The role of technology evangelist is a pretty well established one in the techie sphere, pioneered by Guy Kawasaki at Apple in the 80s. Robert Scoble fulfilled a similar role for Microsoft in the mid-noughties.

This is important, because I’m a newcomer to Learning Pool’s core technology, based on Moodle, and would probably be a pretty terrible evangelist for it. Not only that, but my actual technical knowledge is sketchy at best, and I’m as good an example as any that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Instead of technology, my focus is people – as individuals, members of communities of practice or interest, and organisations. My aim is to promote the behaviour and culture of the internet: collaboration, openness, generosity, curiosity.

So what do I actually do?

  • Well, I do go to conferences. I speak at them, sit and listen at them, wander around chatting to people at them. I collect business cards, I give out my own. I enthuse about the wonders of the internet and what it can do for people and organisations.
  • I also turn up at organisations, like Councils – occasionally invited – to talk to groups of people, whether management teams or whole departments about the work we do and why it’s important
  • I manage communities. This will be really important once the new LP website is launched, which will be full of online networking goodness. Encouraging participation, getting more people to join, providing real value for both members and for the company.
  • I convene. One of the things Learning Pool effectively invested in when they recruited me was my network: as a result of the past 5 years I’ve spent writing this blog, whoring myself on Facebook and Twitter and attempting to be as helpful as possible, I’ve built up a group of people who find knowing me occasionally useful. I introduce people who may not have otherwise known one another, and hope that interesting things happen as a result.
  • I curate. I spend a lot of time following hundreds of blogs and Twitter streams, picking out the best bits and distributing links to them via Twitter, Delicious, Google Reader, and of course this blog. As I like to say, I find this stuff so you don’t have to.
  • Of the stuff I read, a lot comes from sectors other than the public, and so I spend time thinking how emergent technology and ideas can be applied to public services. I guess I just put stuff into context. It isn’t that hard, and the joy of it is that I don’t need to have too many original thoughts of my own.
  • I write longer pieces than blog posts, like the Twitter guide – and I have some more of these planned. Hopefully they are useful for those that download and read them, and they promote LP as a helpful company who know more or less what they are talking about
  • I have ideas. 99% of them are stupid and never go anywhere. The other 1% are stupid but get made less stupid by someone else, and may end up actually happening.
  • I get wind of potentially interesting projects for Learning Pool to be involved with, which are often way outside the usual day to day business of the company. I do my best to win the work, and after completing it, we decide whether it is an activity that could be ‘productised’ and marketed as a service we could offer more widely.
  • Finally, I share stuff. Pretty much everything I ever think gets written up and published, whether here or on Twitter. I also try to share the interesting stories I come across in local government, finding the pockets of great innovation that are going on and making more people aware of it, so everyone benefits. My recent interview with Mark Lloyd is an example of that. I’m always looking for more.

So that’s a brief run through of what I do. In practice, I spend a lot of time reading, mainly off the screen and mainly within Google Reader, and a lot of time out and about meeting people. There are worse ways of making a living.

Online Info call for speakers


My good friend Steve Dale is in charge of the Online Information conference this year, which should mean it’ll be an absolute belter.

The call for speakers has just been announced and you can propose a topic for a session here. I’ve republished Steve’s email below:

There is a growing recognition but not yet a consensus about integrating social media into an organisation’s workflows and business processes. There is a desire to develop more effective knowledge sharing and a culture of collaboration amongst staff, but little recognition of what this means in terms of organisational change.

Today’s organisations must be able to rapidly adapt to an increasingly volatile and economically challenging environment to remain successful, yet achieving an agile organisation that can deliver high quality products and services is no easy task and one which requires the right blend of people, processes, and technology.

The common goal that all these organisations are trying to achieve is culture: an information and knowledge sharing culture that enables the entire organisation to rapidly respond and adapt to socio-economic changes.
For most organisations, several challenges remain in developing an effective knowledge sharing and collaborative culture:

  • Geographic and cultural differences
  • Silos of information
  • Difficulty in easily publishing information across teams and departments
  • Information security
  • Workforce skills

Many of these challenges are a result of legacy information systems that aren’t built for today’s knowledge worker, yet there are still abundant opportunities for Information Professionals to prove value and demonstrate worth. Why not share your experiences at Online Information 2010?Is the semantic web part of the answer?

Will the social web foster more effective knowledge sharing across the modern workplace?

Is the collaborative revolution the opportunity for a surge in information productivity – or is it just a distraction?

We want to hear from organisations that have transformed themselves to be more agile and flexible by exploiting open or linked data and conversation streams. We are looking for exciting, innovative applications as well as lessons learned from the application of Web 2.0 tools and techniques. We want to showcase organisations that are using semantic web techniques to create new and exciting resources.

Do you have a story to tell?

  • Maybe you’ve been involved in creating a new application for Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google or the iPhone?
  • Have you made the move to the semantic web to deal with the digital explosion and the need for greater “intelligence” in your information?
  • Perhaps you’ve found ways to exploit new online tools to transform the way your organisation does its business?
  • Have you changed your management processes to cope with this “always connected world”?
  • Have you identified the education and training needs that will enable your staff to become more effective knowledge workers?

Then why not share it with others?The Online world is waiting to learn from the pioneers who have made it work. This is your chance to be seen as one of the leaders – with your story reaching a global audience from over 40 countries.

I look forward to receiving your proposal.

Stephen Dale
Online Information Conference 2010

Moving DavePress


After many frustrations with the company hosting this blog, I’ve finally given in and will be moving it. Am hoping to have it all done today (Sunday), but we’ll see how it goes.

This might look janky for a bit. Thousands of pings might get resent. Loads of old posts might hit your RSS reader, or your inbox. For this I apologise in advance.

Update: the blog has transferred across perfectly to the new host, and I have even got it set up with a nice new theme. Trouble is, the current host, who also controls the domain, are being difficult about pointing it to the new box. How annoying.

Cloud computing during a catastrophe

DisasterIt often amuses people when they learn I was once a Risk Manager at a County Council. I have no idea why.

One of my roles at the time was to look after business continuity arrangements – in other words, what the organisation did when something terrible happened.

I was well into internet stuff at the time, and I was amused today when I by chance came across a blog post I wrote (in August 2007!) on the Communities of Practice on how a cloud based system like Google Apps could be used in an emergency by a local authority when corporate systems were unavailable.

Obviously Google has fixed a few of the issues I mention – Sites provides wiki functionality and a better way of doing websites than the old web page creator. They still haven’t integrated Blogger yet, though. Also iGoogle seems to have been dropped from the Google Apps inventory.

With G-cloud being a little way off, does anyone have any examples of public sector organisation using the cloud as a contingency digital comms setup? Would be good to hear about it.

Here’s the post:

Google Apps for Your Domain (or Google Apps for short) is a set of Google services which can be set up at a web address of your own choosing. You get fully customisable versions of:

  • Gmail (a web based email system)
  • Calendar (a web based group calendaring system)
  • Docs & Spreadsheets (web based word processor and spreadsheet applications)
  • Talk – instant messaging and voice over IP
  • iGoogle – personalisable web portal
  • Web page creator – does what it says on the tin

It’s free for the first 200 accounts and effectively provides you with a cost free, enterprise level groupware solution.

There are countless situations where Google Apps could be used within the local government context. But one opportunity where it could make a real difference would be within business continuity arrangements. Here are some examples of how it could benefit an organisation undergoing a crisis:

Safe Web Pages

The Shire Hall is burning down, and the web server has melted. How to get the required message out to web visitors? Use the web domain you get with the Google Apps account as a backup webspace, a simple site with emergency details already up which can be activated when required. Because it’s held on Google’s servers, the information is safe from the disaster. You should be able to get your web address forwarding to this one in no time, so visitors wouldn’t be inconvenienced.

The system used to generate the web pages is overly simple and you can’t do too many exciting things with them. But for getting a message across in an emergency, they do the job.

Communications on the move

So, if the web server is dead, chances are the email server will be too. Communications in an emergency can be a very tricky business and having as many possible routes as possible for different groups to talk to each other is vital. Email without doubt has a role to play and some Councils already have web based accounts created, with services like Hotmail, in readiness for such a crisis. These accounts can be accessed from any computer with a web connection, which makes it much more viable as a communications medium.

However, Google Apps provides email addresses which has obvious benefits in terms of presentation – it looks a lot more professional if you are contacting external organisations. But the real advantages lie in the power of the Gmail interface that you get. For a start, there are 2 gigabytes of storage space for each account – meaning that no emails have to be deleted for space saving purposes. Secondly, the email can be accessed using any mobile device, whether by downloading the client from Google or just by accessing it through your phone or PDA’s web browser.

Key Documents Always Available

Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets service provides a simple word processor and spreadsheet which run within the web browser. You therefore don’t need any other software installed on your machine and as the documents are stored online, you know you are getting access to the latest versions. It also makes it a lot easier to collaborate on documents, for example a spreadsheet giving status updates.

Another use for this service would be to have copies of key documents saved online in this shared space. Such documents could include procedures for vital tasks to be completed in an emergency, staff lists, property plans, contact details, contract records etc.

Instant Status Updates

Google Talk, the instant messaging client, is built into the email interface and provides another method of communication which could well be useful in an emergency for those times when email just isn’t quick enough. Messages appear instantly on the recipients screen. Would be most beneficial as a way of providing status updates to a central coordinator, for example.

Organising Time

The Calendar is an extremely powerful one, again web based making it accessible to anyone with the required privileges. With this system, however, calendars can be shared, merged and certain appointments made publicly available to anyone, should you wish to. In the time following an emergency this could become especially powerful.

Bringing it All Together

iGoogle is the personalised portal, which allows you to display various types of information on one page. This includes summaries of your email, calendar, docs and spreadsheets and talk. You can also add ‘widgets’ which contain updates on RSS feeds and other tools like to do lists and sticky notes.

What’s Missing?

There are two glaring omissions from the Google Apps toolkit. Firstly, and most importantly, there is no wiki function available. The use that a wiki could be put to in an emergency situation is considerable. The collaborative word processing functionality of Docs could be used in this context, but it wouldn’t have the immediacy and ease of access of a wiki. This is hopefully going to be put right soon, as Google bought JotSpot, an enterprise level wiki solution, some time ago and this will hopefully make its way into Apps once it has been Googlified.

Secondly, there is no integrated blog. This would be a pretty easy one for Google to achieve, given that it already runs Blogger, probably the most popular blogging platform there is. I actually have quite a strong personal dislike of Blogger, finding it slow, lacking in features and somewhat unreliable. But at least it would provide a means of providing regular updates without having to edit web pages manually with Page Creator.


These downsides apart, Google Apps provides a pretty good coverage of the tools you might need to manage and communicate in a crisis. And given the miniscule costs – just the price of a domain per year – it might not be worth not doing.

Bookmarks for March 18th through March 20th

[Something is going wrong with this again. For some reason this hadn’t been posted before now.]

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Interesting things in Peterborough

Peterborough Cathedral

1. IBM, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council are working together on a project which aims to transform Peterborough into the leading sustainable city in the UK.

From the IBM website:

The collaboration has outlined plans to launch a Sustainable City Visualisation project, which will initially focus on building a new online platform to monitor and analyze data on Peterborough’s energy, water, transport and waste systems. This data will be used to produce a real-time, integrated view of the city’s environmental performance. Residents and city officials will be able to log on to the web portal and easily access the necessary information to make more informed decisions about resource usage. For example, the city will be able to make suggestions to improve home water and energy usage, while being able to work more effectively with the utilities to plan the long term energy and water infrastructure that is needed for a sustainable future.

Interesting stuff, and something I’ll keep an eye on. GreenMonk is a great source of analysis on sustainability and IT, and here is a link to all their posts which feature IBM, who seem to be doing quite  bit in this space at the moment. It’s vital for local government to be seen to be leading on this agenda too, so it’s an interesting collaboration.

Hat tip to James Governor for mentioning this story on Twitter, where I picked it up.

2. The RSA are working with the Council in Peterborough to run the Citizen Power project. From the project’s Ning-based site:

Working in collaboration with Peterborough City Council and the Arts Council East, the Citizen Power project will span two years and be made up of a number of programmes based around the arts and social change, an area-based learning curriculum, a sustainable citizenship campaign, user-centred drug services and the use of online social media. Together, these different programmes of work will aim to address Peterborough’s challenges as well as work towards achieving the city’s potential.

I see David Wilcox is being his usual challenging self on the site, which is good, and I have joined to see where I might help (I’m a fellow of the RSA myself). Must say, the fact that the launch event for this local community based project in Peterborough took place in John Adam Street isn’t particularly inspiring. It will be interesting to see how this one pans out.

Good to see interesting things happening in Peterbough – it’s just down the road, and was the nearest big place to where I grew up.

Flickr credit: basegreen

Social CRM

An interesting development is the way social (in other words, anything ‘2.0’) technology is influencing traditional corporate IT. Despite not having an IT background myself, I find this stuff fascinating.

CRM (Customer relationship management) systems are no different, and an awful lot of talking, writing and developing is going on around the idea of ‘social CRM’.

The Altimeter Group have published a report including several case studies about social CRM, which is rather a good, thought-provoking read. Jeremiah Owyang, in his blog post announcing the report, says:

We know that customers are using these social technologies to share their voices, and companies are having a very difficult time to keep up.

I think the same could probably be said of citizens and governments.

From the report’s exeutive summary:

Social CRM does not replace existing CRM efforts – instead it adds more value. In fact, Social CRM augments social networking to serve as a new channel within existing end-to-end CRM processes and investments. Social CRM enhances the relationship aspect of CRM and builds on improving the relationships with more meaningful interactions. As the ‘Godfather of CRM’, Paul Greenberg notes, “We’ve moved from the transaction to the interaction with customers, though we haven’t eliminated the transaction – or the data associated with it… Social CRM focuses on engaging the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It’s (i.e. Social CRM is) the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

The report is embedded below. If you can’t see it for whatever reason, you can download it here: Social CRM report from Altimeter.