Wikileaks and radical transparency

The one thing that the internet does more than anything else, is that it brings the cost of distributing information to zero, no matter how far you are distributing it. We’re only now, I think, starting to be aware of the consequences, let alone learn how to deal with them.

A great example of this disruptive power of the net as a publishing platform emerged this weekend with a further release of confidential communications from US Embassies, on the website Wikileaks.

Most of the damage will be in terms of embarrassment and in personal relationships rather than security threats. Indeed, I’m not entirely convinced of the worth of this activity by Wikileaks – although I suspect that the interest here is less in the message and more in the medium.

One thing that struck me when listening to some of the commentary on the television news yesterday was how many times it was said that there was nothing new here, that everyone within diplomatic circles and the attendant press knew all this stuff anyway, it just wasn’t reported on.

That really annoyed me.

It goes back to the point that the blogger Paul Staines, AKA Guido Fawkes, often makes about lobby journalism and its negative effect on our democracy. I’m sure we all have our own views on Staines’ work and his politics, but I totally am behind him in his efforts to report on what used to be the unreportable. The idea that there is a cosy club in Westminster that decides what we proles can and can’t read really gets my goat.

It turns out the same thing was happening in the world of international diplomacy too. ‘Everyone’ knew that the Saudis hated the Iranians, apparently, but nobody thought to write about it in case somebody got upset.

In steps the internet, and now any can publish to a massive, world-wide audience. People without the bonds of whatever gentlemen’s agreement exists can get hold of information and put it into the public domain – then sit back and watch the crisis unfold.

It is in this radical transparency that I think the effects of the open publishing and data movements will be most keenly felt. Not a state-sponsored publication of how much a government department spends on paper clips.

I’m not saying that this will always be a good thing. Indeed, for government to work effectively there must be, where appropriate, methods of working in an environment which protects secrecy.

Incidents like this will also result in governments shutting down even more, becoming less open, and locking down their communications channels to prevent similar incidents.

But if there is one thing that is becoming abundantly clear, security will always be breached, firewalls hacked, data leaked. Computer security is an illusion, and a potentially dangerous one.

A quote I find myself repeating over and over at the moment is from Scott McNealey, who in 1999 when still CEO of Sun Microsystems said “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Act like you have no protection and you’ll find that is the best protection you can get.

Change for the better

It’s pretty obvious that local government, like all areas of public service, is facing a challenging time.

Most of Learning Pool’s customers work within Organisational Development, or Learning and Development roles, and when budgets get cut, it’s often training that suffers.

However, as I pointed out in a talk at our ‘Hit the North’ event a couple of weeks ago in Sheffield, this could be a really good opportunity for folk working in these roles.

After all, during times of change, getting staff on board is a really tricky thing, and L&D people often have access to channels and tools that are already trusted by, and engaged with, by a lot of staff.

This is especially true of Learning Pool customers who have our learning management system – the DLE – which provides web 2.0 functionality including blogs, wikis, forums, live chats and all sorts of other interactive goodness.

Here’s my slides, which cover a whole load of ground. Not sure what happened to the font…

As an extra help, we’ve produced a free e-book to point out some of the ways that collaborative, social and learning technology can help organisations in the midst of significant change.

You can download it, and access a bunch of other cool resources, by clicking on the graphic below.

Change for the Better

Open government needs more skills

Apologies for the total lack of updates here. A recent burst of activity at Learning Pool has made thinking about what to blog about a bit trickier than usual. Luckily, the Public Sector Bloggers do a damn fine job taking up any slack.

Anyway, while I try and get back my blogging mojo, here’s a pointer to an interesting post from Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio:

In order not to fall into the trough of disillusionment government 2.0 must shift its emphasis from the organization to the individual, and from policy to operations. There is still time for that to happen, but we need to talk less about transparency and open data and do more around training, encouraging and rewarding government employees.

My emphasis added.

I must admit, the whirlwind around open government data has rather taken me aback in the last few weeks – blog post coming on that one – and it’s almost as if we’ve decided that government has social licked, and now it’s time to move on.

I suspect that is a rather optimistic view, rather as Di Maio does. I’m still regularly getting requests from across the public sector for both high level presentations on what social technology is; and for training on how to make the best use of it.

Further to that, the benefits of these tools are still very much just in the hands of communicators, web folk, and so on. That needs to change too.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that in the last five years significant progress has been made. I remember how lonely it was being a blogging local government bod back in 2005. That’s changing – but we need to make sure as many others are involved as possible before we move on.

Get your UKGovCamp ’11 tickets here!

A bit later than expected, but I’m delighted to launch the first tranche of tickets for the annual UK government unconference – UKGovCamp – to be held on 22nd January 2011.

This is the fourth event, which was kicked off back in 2008 by Jeremy Gould, then of the Ministry of Justice.

2011’s event will be bigger and better than ever. We’ve got room for over 200 attendees and more breakout rooms than you can shake a stick at.

This is thanks to the generosity of Microsoft, who will be our hosts for the day at their London HQ on Victoria Street in London.

Tickets are free, and you can register via Eventbrite.

Don’t forget to join the online group for the day over on the UKGovCamp site, ably hosted and maintained by Steph Gray.


For the first time, we are accepting financial donations to fund this event (and future ones) rather than just asking people to pay for stuff.

This means there is more opportunity to provide sponsorship than in previous years. Steph and I are putting together a sponsorship package thing, but all sponsors will get logos on t-shirts, get to bring a stand along and have the kudos of being associated with the coolest government conference in the world.

Councillors! Here’s how not to do Twitter

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Twitter is a great tool for local politicians to use to connect with their electorate.

It’s also a brilliant channel for espousing your views on the stoning of women, as Gareth Compton, a councillor in Birmingham demonstrates:

Twitter fail

The golden rule of Twitter (and indeed life generally), is of course “don’t be a dick”. This is what happens when you ignore that advice.

Update: The Guardian has picked up the story, and Cllr Compton has apologised for what he describes as an “ill-conceived attempt at humour” – and deleted the offending tweet.

Learning Pool content jam

Learning Pool is running a ‘content jam‘ event in December in Birmingham, on Tuesday the 7th, at Fazeley Studios.

It’s a new type of event for us, and one I had a bit of a role in putting together. What I wanted to do was to take the idea of the ‘hack day’ and make it relevant for Learning Pool customers.

So, on the day, a bunch of Learning and Development folk from across local government will get together with some LP folk, and put together a brand new course, which will be finished on the day.

Some people will be writing the text for the course, others sourcing and taking photos, others producing video and interactive content.

Afterwards, the finished course will be put into the Learning Pool catalogue and made available to all our customers to access and remix for their own use.

The subject of the course is also being determined by the community, with a discussion on the lively Learning Pool forums to decide what to cover.

So if you are interested in taking part, or if you are in Birmingham anyway and fancy popping in, do either register or get in touch.

It should be a great day, and a good example of collaborative working across local government!

Me ‘talking’ about UKGovCamp and unconferences on Local by Social

I am facilitating a session on (at?) the Local by Social online conference on Monday, 8th November at 13:30 on the topic of the GovCamp movement and unconferences in general.

A couple of levels of sign up are required (it’s hosted on the Communities of Practice) but hopefully we’ll have some good discussion and a few folk will be suitably inspired to run their own events.

Click through to the discussion.

The future of comms in local government

The Local by Social online conference (various levels of sign-up required) is turning out to be a bit of a triumph. Yesterday saw some fascinating discussions about various elements of technology (mostly web) enabled change. Well done Ingrid (and team)!

One was superbly facilitated by Walsall Council’s Dan Slee, who ran discussion on the subject of where communications in local government is likely to be headed.

I came fairly late to the party, and my point was that it’s probably less important for people in comms to consider how they fulfil their current role in a web 2.0 age, rather than to think about how the internet disrupts their entire way of working, and that a back to basics, “what are we here for?” type discussion is probably needed.

I’ve pasted in my comment below, it should still make sense despite being ripped out of context.

Perhaps in this – extremely interesting and thought provoking – thread, we are asking the wrong question.

Maybe the question should be “What is the point of the council communications team?”

Here’s what I mean: framing the discussion around social media and whatever comes after it may not be entirely helpful in this instance. I suspect that the real changes that affect the way organisations communicate are longer term and wider ranging.

It’s clear that advances in technology are changing both the information that people are consuming, and the way that they consume it.

The internet – and I use that word deliberately – is the force that is behind this change, and it has both been a long time coming and been going on for a long time, before Facebook, blogging and even the web itself.

If the internet does one thing, it reduces the cost of delivery of information to zero. That has profound consequences which are now starting to be realised. Any organisation, or role, that is based on the delivery of information (and I would argue that comms is one such role) needs to have a real think about a) what it actually wants to achieve; and then b) figure out the processes and tools to make that happen.

Take the newspaper, TV and music industries – probably the three hit most hard by the effects of the internet. All of those three industries failed to realise in time what business they were in. The newspapers thought they were about news; the TV stations about making television programmes; and the music industry about making music.

Nope. They were all in the logistics business. The value they added was in delivering content to people, whether on paper, through the telly or on CD.

If you listen to the bleating of the record labels, you’d actually think that nobody made any music before they came around, and certainly that no poor, suffering musician made any money. In fact, there was a BBC interview with Mick Jagger recently where he pointed out that, other than a few years in the late 1970s, the Stones haven’t made a penny personally from any of their records – all their income was from concerts and merchandising. In other words, if we cut out the record labels, as the internet allows us to do, nobody but the record labels suffer.

Anyway, I digressed a bit there. But the point remains: what business are you in? What are you trying to achieve?

I honestly don’t know – maybe that’s because I never worked in comms… is it something about managing the organisation’s reputation?

In the past (and probably the present) comms departments controlled messages, fed stories to local papers, got councillors on the radio and local TV and that sort of thing.

But how can they continue to do that when they are no longer faced by a couple of newspapers, one TV channel and a handful of radio stations, rather hundreds of blogs, locally or nationally, YouTube users who can put video up at the drop of a hat, people armed with mobile phones, throwing up audio online – all of whom potentially have audiences way in advance of those traditional mediums.

How can comms teams do that job when every member of staff also has access to these tools, and every councillor too?

So what, now, is the purpose of the comms guys? Why does a council need a comms department at all? Figure that one out, and I would imagine everything else will just drop into place.

(Some of) My favourite bloggers

Here, partly as a thank you to those listed for being so thoroughly excellent, but also as a way of pointing readers to great sources of content, are some of my favourite bloggers.

Dan Slee

Dan is a phenomenon. He seems to literally give away everything he knows on his blog. He’s a great one for lists, which is always a great framework for a post. Ten ideas for innovating in cold weather? 42 (count ’em!) ideas gleaned from a conference? 16 lessons for councils using Flickr? Dan has it covered. The best kind of blogger – he innovates, and then tells the world how it went, and what he’ll do differently next time.

Visit Dan’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Catherine Howe

Catherine writes with considerable knowledge and verve about democracy, localism and the internet. Part Phd research notebook and part public service, her blog provides neat summaries and ruminations on what she has been reading lately, along with perceptive coverage of events – she attends these things so we don’t have to.

Visit Catherine’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Steph Gray

There are some bloggers who don’t post as often as you like, but that’s only because when you see they have written something new, it makes you smile. Steph is one of those. He’s not just full of insight and practical ideas, but he’s a great writer too, with a neat turn of phrase and a ready wit. Steph’s also willing to hand out praise to those that deserve it, as his recent series of digital heroes shows.

Visit Steph’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Ingrid Koehler

It’s easy for those outside of government to take the risk of putting one’s head above the parapet, but much harder for those working inside the machine. Ingrid’s relentless blogging has paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps – the Policy and Performance blog highlights good stuff happening elsewhere, promotes good work happening throughout local government and shares the considerable knowledge that resides in Ingrid’s head.

Visit Ingrid’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Public Strategist

It’s fair to say that Public Strategist sees things that I would never see, and explains other things in ways I never could. Clarity of writing when discussing hugely complicated topics of public service delivery is guaranteed. A must read.

Visit Public Srategist, or follow him on Twitter.

Kate Bennet

A relatively new addition to my list of favourite bloggers, Kate works as a technology-focused civil servant, who most recently has been focused on innovation and her blog has been full of great stuff on how to innovate in government. It will be interesting to see where her career takes her next, and therefore what her blogging will be about. Am sure the engaging writing and diverse style of posts will continue, though!

Visit Kate’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Michael Coté

Michael Coté, or just Coté as everyone seems to refer to him, is a tech-blogging machine. Huge lists of interesting links, regular audio and video podcasts and interviews and in-depth coverage of the tech issues of the day all regularly feature at People over Process. Whilst he doesn’t cover specific government topics, a lot of the things he does discuss – like big data, social enterprisey technology, and open source – are very relevant. You won’t understand everything he posts, but that’s your fault, not his.

Visit Coté’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Mary McKenna

How sycophantic is it to choose my boss for this list? Probably very, but there’s a recession on, so, you know. Anyway, I’m lucky that my boss is such a great blogger so I don’t feel too much of a suckup to include her here. Mary’s blog is mostly about people, and sometimes about cats. It’s about the people she meets on her travels, many of whom are genuinely interesting – or at least, that’s how she portrays them. What I like best about Mary’s posts is that I always know I’m going to learn something from them.

Visit Mary’s blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Carl Haggerty

Can’t not mention Carl in this post. His is a great practitioner blog – he writes about what he does, and what he thinks about what he does. Often Carl throws out ideas without ensuring they are 100% polished, often resulting in fresh ideas popping into your own head as you’re reading his stuff. Great coverage of topics too, including internal social collaborative tech, local authority web strategy, big enterprise IT and local community stuff.

Visit Carl’s blog, or follow him on Twitter.

There are loads of others, of course, and I’ll do another post like this soon. Thanks to all those mentioned, though – you’re doing great, important work.