Playing with QR codes

I’ve been looking into QR codes recently – yes, I know, I’m somewhat behind the times – as part of some research I’m doing into how digital engagement can help in planning.

For the uninitiated, QR codes are square barcode-esque looking things, that when scanned, contain data such as a web address or indeed any other text string.

Though there are other ways of accessing QR codes, most people can do it using their smartphones, through an app that uses the phone camera. The app I use on my iPhone is Quickmark – there’s an Android version too.

(This strikes me as being a bit of a barrier to QR code usage, to be honest. Why can’t it be built into phones from the get go? Having to download an app – even a free one – will exclude a lot of people.)

Here’s an example of how I’m using them as a way of helping people get in touch with me. I’ve created a QR code that links to a site I have created with all my contact detail on it.

Here’s the QR code:

Contact Dave

The site it points people to is one I have created using Tumblr – this is because Tumblr automatically generates a nice mobile friendly look and feel if a smartphone is being used to access it – which is most people as I won’t be promoting it other than with the QR code.

I’ve just ordered myself some new business cards, which have the QR code on them – it’ll save people the hassle of typing my phone number in, if nothing else!

QR codes and planning

Anyway, what does this have to do with planning? Well, at LocalGovCamp in Birmingham the other week, there was a lot of talk of using QR codes on planning notices.

The way this works is that on the planning notices – usually attached to lamp posts and similar – people could read about the planning application and then scan the QR code into their phone, which would then bounce them onto the consultation site where they could air their views.

This seems quite a nice easy way of getting people to contribute. However, I suspect that getting people to the consultation site is the easy bit – you’ve also got to make sure that people can easily get involved once they get there.

So, if your planning consultation platform doesn’t play nicely with mobiles, then the whole QR code thing is probably a waste of time. You need to make sure also that what you are asking people to do is simple and suitable for mobile interfaces – making people read long documents or answer hundreds of questions won’t work either!

So, as usual, QR codes aren’t a solution – but I suspect they ought to become part of the answer.

Next live webchat – Tuesday 26th July on overcoming barriers

We haven’t done a live webchat this month yet, so let’s squeeze one in before August is upon us!

So, at 11am on 26th July, please join me on the Kind of Digital site for an hour’s live chatter about overcoming barriers to implementing social media type online innovation.

Am sure there’s plenty to keep us occupied on that topic!

If you head over to the chat page now, you can sign up for an email reminder.

One resource that’s worth scanning before we get together is Tim Davies‘ great wiki on the barriers to getting going with social media.

Looking forward to chatting next Tuesday! 😉

Scaling up public sector innovation

A few months ago I was interviewed by some very nice civil servants from BIS and CLG about how central government could help support and scale innovation in local public services.

I can’t remember much of what I said, but I’m guessing that ‘get out of the way’ probably featured several times. Oh, and ‘don’t impose models, tools or platforms from above’ as well.

Anyhow, the team have reported their findings, which focus on four main areas for action:

  1. Create the conditions that maximize the capacity for innovative ideas to scale across the public sector;
  2. Ensure that the public sector have the organisational culture, leadership, and people conducive to supporting the scaling up of innovative ideas;
  3. Establish networks that facilitate the dissemination of innovative ideas that could be scaled, supporting the spread of knowledge; and
  4. Use appraisal and evaluation of innovative ideas to provide the business case for scaling, to ensure the right ideas are implemented and driven forward.

You can download an executive summary of the report (PDF) or the whole thing (also PDF).

It’s worth a read.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Ken Eastwood on LocalGovCamp

Barnsley Council, and Public Sector Nomads’ Ken Eastwood has written a lovely, and important, blog post about his experience of LocalGovCamp:

The 200 or so attendees again demonstrated that there is genuine talent within the sector and an interest in innovation that transcends the traditional 9 to 5. However, it was all too apparent that many of these people are held back, they are blocked from affecting change, from doing things differently and from doing different things. In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation.

Go read the whole thing!

The revolution will not be comma separated

I had a fun day yesterday at the Civil Service Fast Stream conference, which was focusing on big society type stuff. I was running a session on open government, with a concentration on open data.

As a bit of fun, while we were talking I asked the members of the group to draw what occurred to them when thinking about open data.

Open data drawing

If you click the photo, you’ll be taken to the original on Flickr, which I have annotated with what I remember of the descriptions from the artists.

Once again, in a conversation about open data, I ended up coming across as being somewhat sceptical.

I’m all in favour of transparency in government, and I’m also very much in favour of public services publishing their information in accessible formats.

What I’m not so sure about are some of the claims made for the potential of open data to transform government, and its relationship with citizens.

I can’t see where the business model is for third parties to create applications based on this data, unless government itself pays. I’m also unconvinced that there are enough people around with the skills (and indeed the inclination) to either be effective armchair auditors or civic hackers all over the country.

I suspect the biggest users of open data will end up being journalists, and the work that newspapers such as The Guardian are already doing seems to support this. It’s a good thing, but hardly sees a great redrawing of the traditional ways of doing things.

The other area where I can see benefit coming from an openness around information assets and a different attitude towards data is in the use of it by government itself. I agree with Andrea DiMaio that if open government is to become a reality, it is going to happen through the actions of public servants themselves, rather than from activists on the outside.

So, transparency is important. There are opportunities around open data, as well as challenges. Right now, though, I struggle to see how dramatic change will happen as a result of publishing data.

I’d be very happy to be proven wrong, though!

The digital press office

One innovation in the way that local councils communicate is the developments of digital press offices, or newsrooms.

There are two elements to these, I think. The first is having a digital savvy communications team, who get the growing importance of online new sources and the need for mixed media; as well as the increasingly realtime nature of news reporting. This tends to be the result of already existing inspiration in the team or through training.

The second is having the means to deliver on this, often through an online platform. Some examples of these include Birmingham, Shropshire, and Leeds who all have separate microsites for their digital newsrooms. I hear that Warwickshire have one in development that is close to release.

Often these site are using a lightweight, flexible publishing system like WordPress, rather than being a part of the corporate content management system (CMS). Why is this? I suspect there are several reasons:

  • Speed – using a tool like WordPress you can circumnavigate some of the process and workflow associated with a big enterprise CMS and get messages live as soon as you need them
  • Flexibility – WordPress and tools like it can handle pretty much any content you throw at it, whether text, images, audio, video
  • Conversation – the inbuilt commenting engine in WordPress means you can have a discussion with journalists and other media outlets – again, not the sort of thing that happens often on a corporate CMS

One way that such a platform can be used is to develop online news releases, rather than the more static traditional variety. Rather than sending out a PDF or Word document to journalists, the release can b published online, and the link sent out to people – so if there are any amendments made, the latest version is always the one that’s out there.

Photos, videos, related links and documents to download can all be embedded in there as well, so everyone has all the available media resources to work with as well.

What’s more, this way of doing things ensures a bit of visibility, and findability too. Rather than sending your release to the list of people you know, which is obviously pretty finite, by making it searchable online, many different people are likely to find it, and make use of it, whether they are newspapers or hyperlocal bloggers or whoever.

If you’re interested in developing a digital press office, or newsroom, at your organisation, do get in touch!

Social knowledge and learning at BT

I spoke at an Open University event last week on behalf on Learning Pool, discussing the role on communities in social learning and how they can help improve engagement. More on the specifics of my talk on the LP blog in due course.

One of the other presentations, which I found really interesting, was from BT’s Iain Napier on their approach to social learning. This focused on two main initiatives, it seemed to me:

  1. The use of social networking to build communities of practice and interesting within the organisation, and to make the identification of talent and skills easier
  2. Encouraging staff to develop content to share their knowledge with colleagues, creating what are effectively short pieces of informal e-learning

BT use Sharepoint to enable rich staff user profiles listing interests and experience, and encourage blogging, status updates and document sharing to help inform others as to everyone’s expertise and skills.

From what I saw at the session, it looks like one of the most well-used SharePoint instances I’ve ever seen.

The staff generated learning content is published using a tool BT call ‘Dare2Share’ and is mostly video content, recorded cheaply and quickly using Flip cameras and the like.

Towards Maturity have written up Dare2Share and reveal the really interesting statistic that 78% of BT staff prefer to learn from their peers, but that very little attention or resource was put into making this happen.

Here’s a quick video about Dare2Share:

I wonder if it is just as true in public services that staff would rather learn from each other rather than from external trainers and experts? I’d imagine it probably is and the success of networks such as the Communities of Practice seem to confirm it.

It seems key to me that government organisations do more to maximise the skills and knowledge already present in the organisation, especially at a time when recruitment of new skills is tricky and L&D budgets are squeezed.

While technology isn’t of course the whole answer (see electric woks) nonetheless it must form part of the answer. How many public service organisations make the tools available to staff to do this stuff without a fight?

Electric wok syndrome

In an acerbic review of Google+, John Naughton explains electric wok syndrome, which is always worth having in the back of your mind:

A spectre is haunting the technology industry. It is called “electric wok syndrome” and it mainly afflicts engineers and those who invest in their fantasies. The condition takes its name from the fact that nobody in his or her right mind would want an electric wok. But because it is possible to make such things, they are manufactured, regardless of whether or not there is a need for them. The syndrome is thus characterised by the mantra: “Technology is the answer; now what was that question again?”

Quick update

Apologies for the lack of updates here. I’ve been very busy with work, and travelling about the place. Also been writing stuff for elsewhere, and it would appear I only have a finite number of words in my head at any one time.

I do have a couple of things to point people to though.

Firstly is the great content that is going up on the Public Sector Web Network site. Plenty of great stuff on channel shift as well as social media usage. Also don’t forget the conference in Scotland and the upcoming digital engagement workshop in Wales.

Second, I blogged recently about a WordPress based idea sourcing tool. This is called  CiviCrowd and there is a very simple site set up to explain it in slightly more detail now up. Our first project is also very nearly live, and next week I should be able to blog about it, and of course encourage you all to get involved.

Further to that, I am having some very interesting conversations with various councils about how the platform could be deployed to help increase citizen participation in local democratic activity. If this sort of thing might help your organisation, do get in touch.

Thirdly, there is still time to sign up for the digital engagement for community safety workshop I am helping Christine Graham to run in Peterborough on 18th July. More details and booking here.