Monthly Archives: July 2010

ScotGovBooze

Good news for all ScotGovCampers!

As well as Learning Pool sponsoring ScotGovCamp, we are hosting some pre-event drinks on Friday night in Edinburgh!

Kicking off at 6pm at the Apex International Hotel in the Grassmarket, it will be a great informal way to get everyone together before the event, getting all the introductions and stuff out of the way.

Learning Pool will be paying for a few rounds of drinks too, which is a bonus! Even if you can’t make the event on Saturday, feel free to pop in for a glass of pop and a natter – and invite colleagues along too, especially if the thought of spending a night in a bar chatting to a bunch of government geeks sounds like their kind of evening.

While I am at it, thanks as well to Firmstep and Huddle for putting their hands into their marketing pockets for sponsorship dosh.

The State of Open Source

Stephen O’Grady has a great post analysing where the open source software movement is in the Startup, Growth, Maturity or Decline model.

Why would commercial organizations willingly cede the fruits of their labor to a market that might include their competitors? Because for software that is non-differentiating, that is not a competitive advantage – which for most non-technology firms is virtually all of their software – it will cost more over the longer term to author software privately than it would publicly. Facebook and Twitter demonstrate this quite adequately (coverage), true, but it’s not just the web firms. We see it when a hosting company (Rackspace) and space agency (NASA) jointly author a cloud computing stack that neither intends to create a software sales business around. We see it when Lockheed Martin launches an open source social networking project. And so on.

None of these can be characterized as decisions driven by idealism or emotion; they are simply the most logical means of developing software for companies that aren’t in the business of selling software. Make no mistake: we’re seeing a resurgence of roll your own software (coverage). The difference this time around is that by sharing the code developed internally as open source, it becomes possible to amortize the development costs across multiple organizations with similar needs. Worst case, you have the opportunity to lower your costs of talent acquisition; this, presumably, is one of the justifications for Google sharing details on its MapReduce and Pregel processing approaches.

Open source is something I’ve been reading and thinking about a lot recently and the more you dig into it, the more complicated it can get.

With government policy focusing more and more on using open source solutions, I wonder whether the understanding is there amongst those making buying decisions about the various licenses and business models that exist. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

It does strike me though that it is easy for a supplier to claim to provide an open source solution when in fact they don’t.

The advantages of open sourcing for both the supplier and customer, as Stephen notes in his post, are huge. But this really isn’t as simple as just saying that open source software is cheaper, or indeed ‘open’- there are lots of factors here and the implications of taking decisions around open source are potentially significant.

More on this in future posts.

What is the Knowledge Hub?

The Knowledge Hub is an ambitious project by Local Government Improvement and Development (what was the IDeA) to provide two main things: a new platform for the Communities of Practice to replace the rather clunky current one; and to provide a service for data sharing and hosting – a little like data.gov.uk but for local stuff.

Steve Dale, the architect of the incredibly successful Communities of Practice, is the guy behind the Knowledge Hub, ably assisted by luminaries of local gov 2.0 like Ingrid Koehler. It should be great.

I’ve embedded a video below which explains the Knowledge Hub in a practical sort of way.

The procurement process for the technology bit of the Knowledge Hub was recently completed and at a meeting of the steering group on Tuesday (27th July) we’ll get to find out who the winner is and what the finished thing might look like. My understanding is that the Knowledge Hub will then launch in the new year.

Learning Pool were delighted to be asked to produce the animation for the video above, and we think it has come out pretty well. If you think you have a use for something similar, do get in touch!

Bookmarks for July 17th through July 23rd

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.

Filling the opendata gaps

Hadley Beeman has posted about a great little project idea:

…there’s a gap between the government opendata vision and the reality. The datasets are often released full of unintelligible codes, information that the developers outside government (building apps and visualisations) would love to have. This makes sense to me: I’ve seen budget codes, cost centre codes, programme codes in my various government roles… I can imagine that analysis would be complicated if you didn’t have a legend or translations for them…

…The first thing we need is a tool to crowdsource metadata about government data. This should allow those who know something about the data (civil servants, local government officers, etc.) to easily mark it in such a way that everyone can see and use their knowledge.

Essentially, we will be adding to the datasets as they come out of government, so that everyone who wants to use them will have better data to work with.

It’s fair to say that I know nothing about opendata, other than that it is probably a good thing and that the more context that can be added to it, the better. It seems like Hadley’s project is a sound one and one that if it succeeds will brings a great deal of benefit both to government and to citizens – via our friends, the civil hackers.

Free webinar on social care training and e-learning

A short commercial break, if you’ll excuse me. Learning Pool are rather proud of our new social care e-learning offering, and if you, or a colleague, would like to know more, we’re running a free webinar.

All the details are below:

Delivering efficiencies on your social care training has never been as important.

This free webinar will help you create a more efficient and effective way of delivering training via e-learning.

Learning Pool Social Care is a suite of e-learning designed around the delivery of the Care Pathway with the added capability of tailoring content to your audience.

In a climate where cuts in every sector is inevitable, we can demonstrate savings of up to 80% to your current training budget.  Let us show you how we can do it.

Those who sign up before 1st August 2010 can get an early bird discount of £10,000 on their subscription.  Ask us today.

Title: Need to make savings on your social care training?

Date: Thursday 22nd July 2010

Time: 2.00pm – 2.30pm GMT

To reserve your Webinar seat click here or email amanda@learningpool.com or call 0207 101 9383.

Shane McCracken on Big Society

Shane McCracken is a good guy, and when he blogs about something it is worth paying attention. Here’s his view on the Big Society.

That is what Big Society is to me. Local people taking control of their local facilities and making them work. The swimming pool as we know it will close. We need to choose if, we as a town, want to keep it. It needs to become our swimming pool, not the council’s. Big Society isn’t about closing council run facilities. They are going to close anyway. We can’t afford them. Big Society is a way of keeping them open.

Some commentators have questioned whether enough people have enough time in order to run these facilities.  The people who care passionately about the rugby club find time. The people who care passionately about their estates join the residents groups. The people who care passionately about education run the parents’ associations and join the board of governors.  We’ll find out soon enough how passionate people are about keeping their post offices, museums and, of course, swimming pools.

Go read the whole thing.

ScotGovCamp coming real soon

ScotGovCampThe latest GovCamp is happening at the end of this month, on 31st July in Edinburgh, and it’s naturally called ScotGovCamp. Learning Pool are delighted to be sponsoring the event.

These events are always good value, and it will be great to be at one up in Scotland where there will be a lot of new faces, and the chance to meet online acquaintances in real life!

There are still a few tickets left, and you can pick one up here.

Great work by Lesley Thomson and colleagues in getting this together.

Big society: app stores and hyperlocal democracy

David Wilcox has been doing a great job documenting the discussions around the Big Society agenda, which according to the website, is

an organisation being set up by frustrated citizens for frustrated citizens, to help everyone achieve change in their local area. Our aim is to create a new relationship between Citizens and Government in which both are genuine partners in getting things done: real democracy using all the human and technological tools we now have available. This partnership will also add a third and fourth leg to its sturdy chair by involving business and the voluntary sector.

This is quite interesting, as it presents an opportunity to tie up a number of the agendas that have been floating around recently. Now, it’s important to remember that the Big Society is not a technology thing per se, but as I mentioned in a previous post, a lot of the language it uses is the language of the net.

So, hyperlocal reporting, community activism, tapping into cognitive surplus, engaging with social enterprise, improving participation in local democracy, digital inclusion and probably a bunch of other stuff could come under the Big Society label. This has all existed in my head as a massive venn diagram slowly scrunching together and overlapping more and more, so it seems like a positive move.

Big Society App Store

The internet has role, not just in providing some cultural reference points, and examples of big society type activity (Wikipedia, open source software, thriving online communities), but also in providing a platform for organisation, sharing, collaboration and communication.

It’s something I bang on about an awful lot, but the way in which many people now choose to communicate and get things done is changing. Current methods of democratic engagement – for example – are actually pretty exclusionary. The very idea of meetings where people have to be at a certain place at a certain time is pretty anachronistic, and by their nature generally excludes anyone with a job and a family. The nature of participation and volunteering – whether as part of democratic processes, or a more general view of participation, needs to have as many interfaces as possible – and online is a key one, I feel.

David has been particularly promoting the idea of an ‘app store’ for the Big Society:

Last night Steve Moore asked me to speak briefly about ideas for a Big Society Commons or Store, which I wrote about here, and here. I said we need space with different levels … information, conversation, exchange, products and services. Maybe it is a mall plus a market, some high tech, some low. It is absolutely not created by government, but by those with something to offer.

Then I started to wonder about the role of the skilled, creative, passionate people at the Open Night. Perhaps one analogy for part of the store is an Apps store, where you can download smart ways of doing things to your mobile phone. Some are free, some you pay for. The fee goes to the developer, with a percentage to the store owner.

It works because there is a framework for the way apps are developed – tight in the case of Apple, more flexible in open sources stores.

So perhaps some of the people at the Open Night were potential developers for the Social Apps Store. If the Network can help to create the store, it will provide a much bigger market for those with social action products and services to sell – or offer free.

The Apps Store offers one metaphor to help us think how we bring good stuff together, what’s in it for the different interests involved, what rules and frameworks we need to make sure things work together.

Sounds like a nice idea… not just tech apps, but other bits of social hackery (training, organisation, actually doing things in real life) too in a way that works for volunteers as well as those who have some bills they need paying.

Hyperlocal democracy

Next on my rambling radar for this post is localism and how Big Society stuff applies there. Actually, there’s no question about it – surely the most obvious pre-existing communities are those in local areas, and there should be in most places existing networks and groups that could start to work together a little better, as well as employing some new engagement methods to increase reach.

Nowhere is this more obvious that in local councils – that is to say, parish, town and community councils which are at the level closest to people. I and the Learning Pool team have been working with Justin Griggs and colleagues at the National Association of Local Councils to help promote their sector and provide some advice and guidance for local councillors on being a little more engaging.

Likewise I’ve attended and contributed to a couple of events organised by the Society of Local Council Clerks – which supports the people helping to herd the local councillors, and keeping everything going. Again, these people need help and guidance on how to best employ new tools on the web to get more people involved in the great work that they do.

I think it is vital for these people, and these existing organisations to be involved as much as possible in the Big Society – but it’s fair to say that for that to happen, those people also need to up their game in terms of being more open, transparent and engaging. Part if this is not being overly tied to existing structures and processes, and accepting that there are other ways of getting involved, and that these are to be welcomed.

A nice, quick guide to the world of local councils can be found in NALC’s ‘Power to the People‘ document – actually a how-to for setting up your own local council, but full of interesting snippets.

I do wonder if there is more potential to tie up the work of hyperlocal bloggers and online community builders, such as those Will Perrin at Talk About Local is promoting, with these very local democratic institutions and processes. A kind of hyperlocal democracy, perhaps.

Big Society in the North

One nice example of people picking up the Big Society baton and running with it is the Big Society North group, who have set up an online networking space, using grou.ps (which I am not terribly keen on, but that’s another post).

They didn’t ask for permission to do this, they just saw an opportunity and took it. An event is being run on Tuesday (27th July) for interested folk to get together and discuss how the Big Society idea might work. What’s pleasing is that not only are those involved in the Big Society centrally supportive of this self-organising, but are also attending the event in Sheffield. I’m hopefully popping up myself, assuming life doesn’t get in the way.

Your Square Mile

The Big Society is not without its challenges however. One part of it, which is pretty vague at the moment, but nevertheless sets off alarm bells, is ‘Your Square Mile‘:

This simple, modest web-site, plus all the blogs, twitters, mobile apps, Facebook and Google groups that it will spawn, will grow into a resource library for your use; to give you the confidence and means to change your neighbourhood and improve your life.

Shudder. I don’t think the square mile name is a good one – a project about localities with such a strong central London reference as its title? – and the potential for some duff tech platform to be built when it isn’t needed seems to be significant.

Far better I would think would be to provide options of what is already available, with learning on skills and knowledge. Again, tie this in with the Talk About Local and Harringay Online approaches – using free or cheap tech to provide the glue that can stick communities together.

Summing up

OK, so a real ramble. But the Big Society offers a number of opportunities and challenges. There are a number of wrong courses those involved in it could take.

But as long as the urge to create new platforms or systems is resisted, as long as it is genuinely self organised locally, and that existing local communities and democracy is respected and engaged with, there is a lot of potential.

There’s another possibility, of course, that it’s just a load of flim-flam and will go nowhere. But that isn’t a very positive way of looking at things.