Monthly Archives: January 2011

Introducing My Learning Pool – e-learning for everyone

Today we are delighted to launch our newest product – My Learning Pool – which is one of the most exciting things we have ever done!

My Learning Pool is a suite of online learning resources which can be bought and used by anybody.

Here’s a slidedeck that explains things a bit more – if you can’t see it, here’s a PDF version (opens in new window).

Whether you are some who is about to have a change in career, or a volunteer with a local community group, or the person in charge of an organisation – My Learning Pool provides all the training you need, when you need it, where you need it.

What’s more, all this lovely learning is available at a price that is jaw-droppingly good value – exactly what the civic sector, for example, needs right now.

No more giving up a whole day to travel to attend a training session, or spending hundreds of pounds getting the basic knowledge you need to be able to contribute to your full potential.

There are over 20 courses available in My Learning Pool at launch, and we will be adding to them all the time. They cover vital topics for individuals, such as:

  • using social media
  • finding a new job
  • presentation skills
  • personal health and safety

For those looking for a cost effective solution to providing training for your organisation, My Learning Pool also fits the bill, with modules on subjects like:

  • procurement
  • customer service
  • technology and change
  • managing stress
  • data protection

So if your organisation needs to get all its volunteers trained in say customer service, or heath and safety, My Learning Pool can ensure you do so in a cost effective manner.

So, how much does My Learning Pool cost? For a year’s access to all the courses, the price is a mere £25 per person.

Yup. Twenty-five quid.

As we add more courses through the year, you get those as part of your subscription, too.

You can buy it for yourself right now, by visiting the web site and signing up with your credit card.

If you want to bulk buy for your organisation, there are discounts available – check them out.

For anyone looking to brush up some of their skills, or for organisations that need the peace of mind that their people are getting the vital training they need, My Learning Pool fits the bill.

For more information, email hello@mylearningpool.com or follow us on Twitter @mylearningpool.

If place is a system, let’s make it an open source one

This is a post that has been brewing for a long while, so sorry if it smells a bit. The basic concept hit me during FutureGov‘s excellent CityCamp London event, and keeps reoccurring as I have chats with people and read stuff online.

It’s not a post about technology, really, but rather taking some of the lessons learned from technology and seeing how it can be applied to everyday public services.

The way I see it is this – places, whether cities, towns, villages, or larger areas like districts, counties or regions, can be seen as systems. They have a number of different sectors and organisations working within them, all of which have their own distinct processes, but all of which also interact with one another all the time.

When you think about it, it’s amazing that the system works as well as it does most of the time. These are complicated beasts.

So what about this open source business? Well, whilst in theory anyone can contribute code to an open source project, in general, not many people actually do. Instead, development is handled by a small core group, and most people’s effort is put into testing software and submitting bug reports.

This is the role I think citizens can play in redesigning local services – not necessarily producing solutions, but spotting the issues, the bugs, and reporting them. As Eric Raymond wrote in his seminal work on open source development, the Cathedral and the Bazaar, identifying problems is the hard bit, the bit where you need ‘many eyeballs’ – solving them should be straightforward for those that understand the system.

That’s not to say that citizens shouldn’t be involved in contributing ideas for improvements, but it shouldn’t be their only contribution. I suspect this is the reason why the success of ideation competitions across the world has been variable, as Andrea Di Maio has noted on several occasions.

A key part of the bug tracking process, though, is visibility, and this is what our public services lack right now as part of the feedback mechanism.

The bugs people identify are published on the web, categorised and tagged so they can easily be found. Other people try to recreate the bugs so they can be further tested. People suggest possible solutions, which the core development team may or may not take on board.

For place to work effectively as an open source system, then, we need an open, public repository of bugs that anybody can access.

After all, there are very few areas of service delivery that just one organisation has ownership of. Take anti-social behaviour – it’s a police matter, sure, but also a health one, an education one, a social services one. There are probably some community and voluntary organisations that have an interest too.

Any one of those services might have an easy solution to a problem, but if they don’t know about it because it was reported to someone else, then nothing is going to happen.

Likewise when people are submitting issues, or bugs, they don’t necessarily care which service they should be reporting it to. Which tier of local government? Is it a police matter? We shouldn’t force people to understand our hierarchies and structures just because they want to point something out that is going wrong.

Some people might be crying out ‘FixMyStreet!’ at this stage, and that site does go a certain way to answer some of the issues I’ve written about. But there are a couple of key differences. The first is the nature and tone of FMS, which the name makes clear. ‘Fix my street!’ yells the citizen. Maybe we should turn that around, and make it ‘How can I help you to fix my street?’ might be a more positive exchange.

Not only that, but while FMS provides a space for public responses to issues from the council, it doesn’t make the process of producing a solution an open one. It doesn’t open the conversation up to the other actors in a place, it doesn’t enable citizens themselves to contribute to the solution – whether through their ideas or actually physically doing something.

Here’s another example. Maybe someone reports a bug in the local public transport arrangements, getting from a village into the local town – there isn’t a bus early enough to get them to work. They could report the bug straight into the local council, in which case it would probably end up being pushed to the transport operator. But this misses the opportunity for perhaps a local private car hire firm to step into the breach, or indeed for a local resident to offer a lift. In the latter case, sometimes a problem in the system doesn’t need a system wide fix.

There are a number of challenges to open sourcing a place like this. A major one is the way that partnerships work at the moment, which can be incredibly slow moving, bureaucratic and not terribly collaborative. A more enlightened approach will be necessary – although in this age of public sector austerity, such an attitude is likely to be required anyway.

There is some tech required – the best place for the bug tracker is online, but throwing something together in WordPress or Drupal shouldn’t take anyone who knows what they are doing too long at all.

So this concept I think starts to tie together some of my thinking around coproduction, crowdsourcing, open source and my more recent outpourings on innovation and creative collaboration.

I’d be really interested in people’s thoughts. Please spot the bugs in what I’ve written!

Whilst the half baked thinking in this post is entirely mine, the bug tracker idea was originally blogged about by Tim Davies a few years ago; and the importance of visibility was made clear to me in a conversation with Nick Booth.

If not skunkworks, then maybe creative collaborations?

C4CC Launch

On my recent two posts on bringing the idea of skunkworks to local government, several people made the extremely reasonable point that I probably wasn’t really talking about skunkworks at all.

Steph said in the comments:

…it seems to me that we’re at risk of hanging more onto the ‘skunkworks’ peg than it’s fair to ask it to carry. To me, skunkworks is about a team delivering a tangible technical output quickly and creatively because they’ve been relieved, to a great extent, of bureaucracy and management.

I hold my hands up to this!

My time spent with Lloyd on Saturday reminded me of the really interesting work he is doing with Brian Condon and others at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in Kings Cross.

Perhaps this is a better model than a skunkworks for helping local councils improve and innovate?

Creative collaboration is all about the idea that if you put interesting people in a room together, magic starts to happen. We saw that in abundance on Saturday at GovCamp.

As the site for the Centre says, it is:

A neutral place where people from many different backgrounds – universities, large corporates, SMEs, freelancers – can work together on new things in the belief that real innovation happens at the edge and in the gaps between disciplines.

I suspect this is the sort of thing I was thinking about. I think there are two elements here for councils – the purely internal, and then opening up a bit to outside ideas.

Firstly, perhaps a local authority should have its own ‘centre for creative collaboration’ where innovative, idea-laden people work together, no matter what their role or duties. In other words, allow the networkers, the collaborators and the innovators to leave their desks and put them next to each other to create wonderful things.

This isn’t the same as a skunkworks, because these guys are still doing their day jobs – just in a different environment, where connections and collaborations can flourish, organisational boundaries be leapt over and ideas generated.

The second stage is then to open the conversation up to others, probably in a neutral space, rather than in a council building. Maybe this is something that empty shops on high streets could be used for? Just arrange Tuttle or Jelly like meetups, allowing people to hang out and talk about their work and ideas. Start off informally and see where the conversations and ideas go.

If similar initiatives are happening in places across the country, then sharing experience should be fairly easy to do through online networks.

I’d be interested in people’s thoughts!

Photo credit: Benjamin Ellis.

GovBlogging

Ingrid Koehler led a really interesting session at the weekend’s GovCamp about blogging in the public sector and how it might be supported and promoted (the session later went on to cover the excellent LGovSM twitter chats that happen on a Friday afternoon, convened by Louise, who also blogs).

One great contribution was from David Allen Green who blogs for the New Statesman as well as his own, extremely popular, Jack of Kent blog. He gave some great tips on writing engaging content, including keeping sentences and paragraphs short, and ensuring you are actively contributing to the topic under discussion, rather than just repeating others or trotting out opinions – advice I’d probably do well to heed.

Carl Haggerty – one of the best govbloggers we have – also contributed with some great thoughts on the use of blogging as a personal learning and knowledge tool.

Ingrid followed up with a great post on her blog:

It’s personal reflection. I’ve worked out a lot of things through blogging, the process itself has often help me achieved clarity. But other things that are great about blogging are community aspects – feedback, additional information, learning new things, reality checks and correction. And for that you need an audience, but not a big one. And many people (like me) find that having an audience provides some stimulus to keep doing it. But again, it’s not about big numbers.

It’s funny, because a very similar sessions ran last last year’s GovCamp, only it was a lot smaller. Clearly Pubstrat and I just don’t have the same appeal! Last year’s session was inspired in part by a post I had written on the topic:

…people blogging is important, and a Good Thing. There are a number of reasons I think this way – mainly that blogging is a great way to develop and share ideas, to create a movement, to develop a reputation. A healthy and active blogging community in a sector means that it’s a sector where there is a lot of creativity. It means that sector is an interesting place to be.

What’s changed in a year? I’d say that govblogging is growing. Public Sector Bloggers is being populated by more blogs than ever – to the point where there’s now almost too much stuff (see later on for thoughts on that).

Another important change is the use of the common blogging platform on the Communities of Practice. Predominantly a local government space, for the first few years of the platforms life, the blogs were pretty much ignored. Now lots of people are using them to share ideas, knowledge and experience.

These blogs, as well as being plentiful in terms of the number of posts they produce, are also well engaged with, and when I remember to copy-and-paste content across there from DavePress I find I usually get plenty of comments, which is great. It also provides a reasonably safe environment for those new to blogging, of course.

However, the Communities of Practice remains a fairly closed platform, and the fact that you have to remember to log in and check for stuff means it’s always going to lack a bit attention-wise. This should be fixed in the up and coming Knowledge Hub, which promises to be more open – where users choose it to be – and it will be easier for those of us with existing blogs to import our content automatically rather than having to copy and paste it as we do now.

I’m keen, and I know others are too, to support the use of blogging within public services. There is still a joy to be had in publishing, especially when you start to gain a readership and people interacting with what you write.

So what could be done to encourage others to get involved? I’m keen to see Public Sector Bloggers play a role here. We’ve added more and more feeds to it, and while it is by no means comprehensive, it’s also getting rather unwieldy. Some kind of categorisation is needed, I think.

I also suspect that it isn’t that well known. The FeedBurner stats show that 125 people subscribe to the RSS feed, with 24 subscribing via email. The Twitter feed has 785 followers, which isn’t too bad. I don’t think we have Google Analytics installed, so I’m not sure what the direct visitor numbers are like.

What could we do with Public Sector Bloggers to help encourage more blogging in the sector? Here are some ideas – I’d welcome yours, and any feedback too.

1. A source of guidance on blogging for public servants

There lots of stuff out there (including this rather outdated guide by me) and it should be too hard to pull together the whats, whens, hows, whys and wherefores of good public sector blogging, and to publish them on the site. Maybe it could be cobbled together to form an e-book.

2. A blogging platform

I’m not convinced this would help much given how easy it is to sign up for your own blog on WordPress, Blogger, Posterous or Tumblr (maybe there are too many options!). It might however take away some of the pressure people feel about having to post regularly to their blog, if they are contributing to one big one with lots of other authors?

3. Some kind of event

A PubSecBlogCamp? Or perhaps something more formal and workshoppy for those new too it. But would people give up time to talk about blogging in the public sector? Maybe not 200 of them, but perhaps a handful would…

4. Blogger mentoring

How about some kind of blogger mentoring, where a newbie blogger is introduced to a veteran, who can provide ongoing advice and guidance on posting, writing style and that kind of thing?

5. Better aggregation

This one is a definite I think. We need to go through the list, cull the blogs that aren’t updated any more and add some of those that are missing. Some kind of categorisation would be useful, whether in terms of the parts of the sector the blogs are written about or the themes they cover. Maybe a common search engine across them all to make finding content a lot easier.

As I said above, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on these ideas and any you might have yourself!

Building an innovation culture

One of the best blogs I read regularly on innovation is 100% Open. The latest post there is a pretty interesting one on building an innovation culture.

The tips are:

  1. Focus on fostering a viral innovation culture one person/team at a time
  2. Build innovation habits
  3. Institutionalise what innovation looks like
  4. Give mavericks & their networks permission to innovate
  5. Celebrate benefits of creative-thinking, risk-taking & mistake making in personal and professional lives
  6. Incentivise inner motivation as much as financial or professional rewards
  7. Give innovation (a) space & bring it to life

Read the whole post for a description of each one.

Not sure I would agree with them all – number 3 gives me the willies – but certainly food for thought!

Any you would add, or question?

Bookmarks for January 10th through January 24th

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.

That was the #ukgc11 that was

Govcamp agenda

GovCamp this Saturday was a delight, thanks to the wonderful people who attended, those that helped out, and the good folk at Microsoft who looked after us all so well.

This year there has been so much written online that I don’t know what else I can add! The easiest place to go for content is GovCamp buzz – as well as Twitter, Delicious and Flickr.

Don’t forget to also look at the lovely collection of content that Lloyd Davis (the event’s facilitator in chief) is curating over here.

Helpful, with hooter

All I can think to do is to thank Steph for being such an awesome person to work with on this. His ability to get stuff done, and to understand things which involve numbers and money, meant that, despite the scale of this year’s event, it was no more disorganised than usual.

His willingness for me to take all the limelight to satisfy my cravings for attention is also much appreciated.

Thanks, mate.

Both photos by the magnificent Paul Clarke.

Participation, and participating

Recently I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the ‘participation deficit’ – the fact that too few people are contributing too much to society. It’s what informed my post about my view that we need more councillors.

No even half baked views or ideas yet, I’m afraid, though I’m mulling over whether to have a discussion session about this on Saturday’s GovCamp.

In discussion on Twitter about this, though, Anthony pointed me to an excellent (if lengthy!) slidedeck he has put together which includes stacks of interesting research.

Also relevant is his paper on how better engagement can save money for councils:

Democracy Pays White Paper
It strikes me, collecting these online resources and chatting online with people about issues, that we lack a decent platform to really discuss and collaborate on ideas like this. A sort of mixture between a research tool and a discussion platform.

What does it need?

  • The ability to clip, store and share articles, posts and documents like Evernote
  • The ability to easily share thoughts ideas and arguments blog-style
  • The ability to draw in discussions on other platforms, whether twitter, external blogs etc
  • To be able to comment on any of the above
  • A neat way of browsing through content and examine how it all relates to each other, similar to a mind map or Google’s wonder wheel

Does this already exist? Am not sure it does!

Learning Pool talks Social Care e-learning in Manchester and London

Learning Pool Social Care briefingsIn the run-up to Wednesday’s publication of the health and social care bill David Cameron is discussing his plans to overhaul public services, including the NHS, today.

You can voice your thoughts on Cameron’s plans with other social care professionals by grabbing one of the few places remaining at our free expert-led Social Care briefings taking place in Manchester on 19 January 2011 and London on 20 January 2011.

>> Manchester Social Care Briefing, 19 January – Reserve here

>> London Social Care Briefing , 20 January – Reserve here

With the move towards refreshed Common Induction Standards planned for 10 June 2011 and against the background of ever changing public sector climate, you will learn from industry speakers and see how e-learning can achieve care provision whilst delivering significant efficiency savings.

For the Common Induction Standards, less than five months remain of transition window for social care practitioners to move from the old standards to the new before the old standards are removed.

From the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE), will be Colin Paton who will introduce their work in the area of e-learning with the London delegates and share the results of research SCIE ran with Ipsos MORI into the e-readiness of the social care sector.

Warwickshire County Council’s Carol Judge, an expert on Safeguarding Adults and DoLS, will be discussing the changes that are on the horizon in these areas and also her experience in using e-learning as a way to reach out to GP’s.

Shedding light on social care in the 21st century will be Ophira’s Lyn Meaden. Lyn will be looking at the massive challenges ahead in adult care, from partnership working to efficiencies and how Learning Pool Social Care can help you tackle some of these.

Representing the third sector will be Alzheimer’s Society who will share their experience of the Dementia e-learning module that they worked on in partnership with SCIE. Wrapping up with the event will be an open table discussion when delegates will have the opportunity to ask speakers further about their areas of expertise and network with other delegates.

If you cannot attend Manchester or London, you can request the speakers’ presentations from the briefings here.

Plus, you can visit www.learningpool.com/socialcare to create a free account with your .gov.uk or .nhs.uk email address.  For a demo of  Learning Pool Social Care please email hello@learningpool.com