Monthly Archives: March 2011

Civil sector learning event: Exeter, 8th April

Learning Pool, in collaboration with Cosmic, are running an event in Exeter on 8th April to talk about how civil sector organisations can meet their training needs in this age of austerity.

Paul McElvaney will be showcasing My Learning Pool – the ludicrously cost-effective new service from Learning Pool that delivers over twenty high quality learning modules for a bargain £25 per year – a price that goes down with bulk purchases.

Julie Harris from Cosmic -the ethical IT company – will be giving details of a brand new service from Cosmic for VCO’s and Social Enterprises.

Find out more details and book your free place here.

More on e-petitions

Excellent stuff from Fraser Henderson who has published a summary of some research done into the use of e-petition facilities in councils.

I’ve embedded the presentation below:

Fraser also links to some interesting evaluation of the europetition project, which is well worth a read.

Future of local gov IT strategy

Gotta love blogging local government types. Great post here from Warwickshire County Council’s Jim Morton about their developing IT strategy.

My favourite bit:

1. Embrace the practice of using ICT as a Utility: It is now possible to consume software, development platforms and infrastructure from the cloud which can potentially lead to many benefits. We need to understand where working this way will help save us time and money as well as avoid extensive development in re-inventing the wheel where a product or service can be used off the shelf. As an example our open data site is already provided using the Ruby on Rails platform as a service provider Heroku.

2. Warwickshire as a service: This is a (hopefully) catchy way of saying that we need to expand our initial work on open data to include as many of our data sets and services as possible i.e. build an open API for the organisation. The vision is that both internal and external developers will make use of the same building blocks for creating services applications and web sites.

3. Rational approach to information management: We need to overcome the historical and technical silos that we have built up around information to build single sources of the truth and gain a clearer understanding of the context around our data and documents. This will allow us to build more useful, accurate applications and web sites as well as providing clear understanding of which information must be kept safe and secure.

4. Use the web to extend the organisation: We need to move from an arms-length model of interacting with the public web via a curated web presence and individual point solutions for deeper interaction to becoming an organisation that is engaged with the web at a cultural as well as technical level. Staff at WCC need to merge the web into their everyday work-life in the same way that they do in their personal lives.

Update: just come across this illuminating interview with Socitm President Jos Creese:

The direction of travel has nevertheless been predetermined by irresistible trends on which central government cuts are a powerful catalyst. Networked citizens have high expectations of digital services. Professionals have realised that open data, open standards and transparency are incontestable requirements of the networked age. Digital innovation, joined up services, citizen-centricity and wide collaboration are all emerging quite naturally as every possible actor, from public and private entities to all kinds of people, are thrust into ever greater immediacy by the internet.

What is happening to local government is a form of coagulation. But it is happening slowly. It relies on internet infrastructure, so it must wait until local authorities have finished building their bits of the Public Sector Network, and the public sector as a whole has established a competent way of formulating open standards of interoperability.

Webinars a-go-go

Two more upcoming webinars from Learning Pool to tell you about – both free of course.

Closing the third sector skills gap

New for 2011 is My Learning Pool – a suite of over 20 online courses that have been designed for community and voluntary groups, small charities, social enterprises and others in the third sector.

During the webinar you will receive a guided tour of the training available on http://www.mylearningpool.com and learn how the bite sized chunks of learning can help improve your organisation or yourself from as little as £25 per subscription.

To find out more about My Learning Pool you can follow @MyLearningPool on Twitter, visit the Facebook page or log on to http://www.mylearningpool.com.

Find out more and sign up here.

#Walsall24 – an experiment in local government radical transparency

Join Learning Pool’s Dave Briggs and Walsall Council’s Dan Slee for this exclusive free webinar discussing Walsall’s groundbreaking Twitter experiment – #Walsall24.

Over a period of 24 hours, Walsall Council tweeted a cross section of what they were doing, providing a unique snapshot of the daily activities of a local authority.

Dan will discuss how the project came about, what the barriers were to making it happen and how they were overcome, and what the Council has learned from it.

Find out more about Walsall 24 at http://www.walsall.gov.uk/walsall24.htm.

Find out more and sign up here.

Digital local resources – and a bit about Your Square Mile

Continuing the posts about local digital communities, here are a couple of links to interesting research and publications on the subject, which I’ve been giving a re-read recently.

Of course, there has recently been a very interesting move in this space with the announcement of the Big Lottery funded Your Square Mile project, which has very close links with the wider Big Society agenda, and which involves some kind of relationship with the social networking platform SocialGo. David Wilcox blogs comprehensively here.

I’m not sure anyone has access to enough information about this to make a proper judgement, however, some alarm bells are ringing in my mind:

  • As per the comments from Will and Manny highlighted in this post, government sponsored online community development does not have a great track record. I appreciate this is at arms length – but Your Square Mile is heavily linked with the Big Society Network, and therefore the current government
  • People will drift towards the funded option, and if (and I emphasise if) SocialGo is the mandated or preferred solution from those with the cash, we are going to be in a one platform fits all situation, which doesn’t really work
  • Objectives are important. Right now, I don’t fully understand Your Square Mile or what it is setting out to do. Hopefully internally they know exactly what they aim to achieve – because if it’s just a vague ‘we’ll get people to talk to each other on the internet and they’ll self organise themselves to do wonderful things’ then that might not work so well
  • What about those organisations that have being doing this stuff for the last few years? Are they just going to be steamrollered by the beast?

I think my real worry is that the one thing that has become apparent, from conversations I have had with people about this stuff, is that with online local communities, in the majority of cases, you need the community before the online. It’s what brings sustainability to the online effort.

Online elements certainly bring visibility to the community’s activities and spread reach, and enable more people to be involved. But a square mile, online or off, is going to be pretty empty if there isn’t the desire or will to keep it going.

Update: just seen this post from Kevin Harris, featuring this lovely line:

There is a study to be done of the damage caused by highly persuasive people who seem to feel compelled to impose template social ‘solutions’ on others.

Collecting stories of interactive government

As mentioned previously, I’m writing a book. The best books, apparently, have good stories – and so I need some good stories.

At the same time, I’m seeing loads of requests for examples of effective use of the web, social media and other related stuff in public services. What’s needed is a nice resource full of good stories…

ReadWriteGov

Back in the day, I ran a little event in Peterborough called ReadWriteGov. It was meant to be one of many, but that didn’t really happen. I’ve been sat on the domain since, wondering what to do with it.

So what I have decided to do is to start collecting stories of interactive government – the most comprehensive description I can come up with for using cool internet stuff in public services.

Right now, there’s not a lot there, except for a link to a survey. If you have a great example of use of digital engagement in public services, please fill it in!

(Yes, I know it’s SurveyMonkey. But it was quick, and easy.)

Maybe you have managed an awesome council FaceBook page. Perhaps your youth service website rocks. It could be that you ran a superbly integrated public safety campaign.

It could be internal or external. One organisation or several in partnership. It could be a time limited project, or ongoing work. You could be a council, central government department, a quango, a police service, a fire and rescue service, part of the health sector or a community group delivering a service.

Whatever it is, as long as it has a connection with public services and online innovation, I want to know about it!

What I will then do is read through what you’ve send, write it up as a case study for publication on the proper site (once it’s done). I’ll send you a copy for checking first, so don’t worry.

This way we will build up a high quality collection of great examples of digital engagement, with the associated learning, all accessible online. All the content will be categorised and tagged, so you can find stuff easily, and we’ll keep the comments turned on, so conversations can take place about the stories.

Also, I’ll take the best of the stories, phone the authors up for a chat, maybe visit them, and then re-write them for inclusion in my book.

Again, here’s the survey link. Please complete it if you can, or if not, pass it on.

Thanks!

Council e-petitions

Just after Christmas I wrote a quick post about the prospect of e-petitions for Parliament.

Of course, local councils are also supposed to have their own e-petitions systems and processes.

My own local council, South Holland, has a system in place (the MySociety one) but sadly it doesn’t look like anybody has created a petition on it just yet. We must be a very content lot in south Lincs!

On the Communities of Practice, there’s a dedicated group for e-petitions, ably facilitated by Fraser Henderson. In a recent blog post (sign in required), Fraser notes that quite a few authorities don’t provide an e-petition facility on their website, despite encouragement from central government (it’s no longer a mandated requirement).

He also notes that there is an independent study going on to assess how e-petitioning is being used – it will be interesting to see the results.

In the meantime, Team DavePress (ie me and @davebriggswife) are quickly scanning the web for e-petitioning activity. We’re collating what we are finding in this Google spreadsheet.

At the time of writing, there’s not much data in there yet. However, it’s apparent that e-petitioning hasn’t exactly set the local democracy world alight just yet. Many councils have apparently not had a single petition submitted!

Why might this be?

One reason is that even when councils are providing an e-petitions facility, they aren’t exactly promoting it that heavily. In a number of cases, the e-petitions page is hidden in the website navigation. So people aren’t using the facility because they don’t know it’s there, or they can’t find it.

I suspect though that the bigger issue is that petitions, e- or otherwise, are not not that great a way to do local democracy. It’s a fairly blunt instrument, and of course they tend to identify and problem and provide a solution in one go. What if you agree there’s an issue, but think the proposed idea in a petition sucks?

I’d have thought something a bit more deliberative would be of more use. E-petitions strike me as a bit shouty, and as we all know, the web is all conversational these days.

Gov’s role in local digital ecosystems

Many thanks to Will Perrin from Talk About Local, who basically did my job for me in a comment on my last post about local digital communities and economies.

The thrust of my post was that having a lively digital community in a local area is a good thing, which can benefit various bits of society.

Here’s Will’s advice for what public sector organisations should do if they want to help foster this community locally:

  • don’t host your own platform. this often puts the effort and spend in what is often the wrong bit of the organisation (the IT bit), retains ownership and thus legal liability, layers in cost and medium term hassle and also cramps people’s style
  • equally don’t present local people with fait accompli site on wordpress.com and expect them to use it – you will be much more successful taking the time to help them make their own site
  • let people find their own voice – find local people to get involved who have something to say and a burning need to communicate, this keeps them going as they run into problems.
  • be prepared to take some time over this – there’s no set formula as to who will make a good local site. be prepared to fail quite a few times before you find the right people in the right roles
  • don’t assume web means young people – the average person we train has grey hair
  • follow the audience and increasingly thing Facebook first, even though it is inflexible and fiddly. marry a facebook page or group up with an external wordpress.com blog that is linked.

This is great advice, particularly for the community and voluntary sector, where groups with a shared passion for an issue, or a specific location, use the web as a platform for communication and cooperation.

Mandeep Hothi from the Young Foundation, who has been working on the excellent Local 2.0 initiative, also shared his learning on developing thriving local online communities on that previous post:

  • They [councils] really don’t want to be the ones developing community spaces. They would much rather that communities do it themselves and they are very receptive to outside agencies like TAL doing this. We’ve tried to get People’s Voice Media’s Community Reporters programme going to but couldn’t find funding, however, one of the councils has funded it themselves and another has had discussions about doing it with PVM.
  • The reasons for this are varied, but by and large they recognise that it is much healthier for communities/residents to own and manage blogs, social networks etc.. Some of the motivation is about risk and responsibility – they don’t want to be liable for anything and they don’t want to moderate (although they are likely to try to intervene if people slag off their service!)
  • Engaging through hyperlocal sites is still a challenge. Reasons include a fear of changing the tone of online spaces, but also a legitimate fear of misrepresenting (or not knowing) council policy. But we have some great examples of officers engaging online (and some bad ones too…)

So that’s fairly clear. Government struggles at creating new communities online. What they can do is provide support to existing communities to help them make the most of digital – and this best done at arms length, introducing a dedicated third party service like Talk About Local.

But what about the wider point about a digitally focussed online community? As mentioned in previous posts, I’m really interested in how local startups and SMEs can play an active role. Well, just as services like Talk About Local can be introduced by a local authority, so could more local suppliers.

So if there is a training need, or a website that needs creating, local authorities ought to be looking local to develop it. Even better, by being engaged with an active local digital community, those innovative small suppliers could help shape requirements and scope, ensuring that the council, or whoever, gets the best possible solution.

It doesn’t even have to always involve money. Councils have access to other resources, such as meeting rooms, and indeed whole buildings. I love examples of where council owned properties, which for whatever reason are empty, are handed over to communities to use as meeting or co-working spaces.

I’m sure there are plenty of other great examples of how councils can support a local digital community – please do share them in the comments.

Online Ambition

Online AmbitionOnline Ambition is a great project run by Edinburgh Napier University, brought to my attention by the comment that Ella Taylor-Smith left on another post.

The aim of the project is to bring together young people, their parents and advisors to discuss using the web to enhance careers, rather than hinder them!

This will involve a range of different issues, such as digital CVs, using social media for profile and reputation building, and managing online profiles to ensure potential employers don’t get the wrong idea about you.

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of using online networks to develop a career. If it weren’t for this blog, I’d still be stuck doing an administrative job in a council somewhere.

The first event is on April 11th in Edinburgh, with Ella and her colleagues, as well as Tim Davies. Here’s the flyer (PDF warning).

It will be great to see how the event goes, and this is something I can see being very successful across the UK.

FREE listening online webinar

Following up on my post about the importance of listening to what people are saying about you and your organisation online, we’re delighted to be running a free webinar on the subject along with our friends at RepKnight.

It’s taking place on Wednesday 16th March between 10:30am and 11:30am.

The webinar will include some general thoughts on why listening online is so vital, as well as a demonstration of RepKnight and what it can do.

You can sign up using this link.

Sign up soon, as places on these webinars go pretty quickly!