The state of online collaboration

Apologies for the lack of posting lately on here. The reason for this quietness can be seen in this set on Flickr.

Anyway, my friends at Clinked – who make a rather good online collaboration and project management platform – have produced an interesting infographic on the state of online collaboration. I’ve pasted it in below.

It sets out where a lot of organisations are when it comes to using collaborative tools internally, as well as some of the arguments for increased deployment.

I’m talking with organisations across the public sector all the time and still, this sort of use of technology is far from widespread. Tools like Clinked, Huddle, Basecamp, Yammer and so on all provide a low cost way of beginning to work more effectively through sharing and conversation. It’s possible to start small, just sharing between a team or on a project or two, and then rolling out from there, learning lessons along the way.

So, here’s the infographic. As always, am interested in folk’s ideas on this stuff – leave’em in the comments.

Two councils collaborating

We recently helped Breckland Council and South Holland District Council work a bit better together by building them a shared, social intranet called The Place.

Today the Chief Executive of both councils, Terry Huggins, had a piece in on the Guardian’s website talking about it all. Here’s a snippet:

When Breckland council and South Holland district council , located in different counties and 50 miles apart, decided to share a seniormanagement team, it was quickly apparent that good communication would be vital.

Video conferencing and webex were inadequate. What was needed was a facility to leave messages, share ideas, communicate news, and collaborate on documents.

With these aims in mind we set up ‘the Place’, our own collaboration and communication platform, developed by online innovation agency, Kind of Digital.

The Place is like our own version of Facebook, but secure, and private to the two councils. Each member has a profile, listing their contact information and also searchable lists of what they do and what skills they have.

Everyone has the ability to post Twitter-style status updates to the whole network, and can join groups of shared interest to collaborate on documents and other activities.

The similarity of the Place to other technology such as Facebook and Twitter is important to its success. Many of our people are now comfortable and familiar with those sites in their personal lives. By making a work system look and operate in a similar way, we rapidly improve levels of engagement with it.

We researched and tested various software products, but decided to work with Kind of Digital as they could develop something customised to our exact needs.

That doesn’t mean we’ve wasted time reinventing the wheel. The Place is built on open source software, reducing development costs and time, and freeing resources to engage staff with using the system.

If you’ve got a need for something like this, you know where I am.

Clinked – interesting collaboration platform

I’ve just come across Clinked – a new online collaboration platform that might be a useful competitor to the likes of Huddle, Basecamp and Yammer.

One of the things I like about it is that as well as the different project groups that can be set up, it also features a central area where everyone can share stuff, ask questions and so on. So it combines the project management of tools like Huddle with some of the more social features of Yammer.

Here’s a video that explains it a little more:

If you’re in the market for one of these tools – and who isn’t?!? – then it could well work for you. There’s a free option so you can trial it with a small group first.

Two cool tools for knowledge and learning

Neat applications for sharing knowledge and learning are like buses, it turns out.


Icon is a new app from Spigit, who are the leaders in innovation management software. It’s a really simple concept (which is good) – the online question and answer format, but for an internal audience.

So, what Yammer is to Twitter, Icon is to Quora.

It’s a fab idea and to be quite honest I have no idea why nobody has done it before.

Icon is free to get going with, and could be an incredibly easy way to build up a useful internal knowledge base. For those using Yammer already, there seems to be a way to integrate them, which is a good idea.


Lore is an online course platform. Unlike than big systems like Moodle, it focuses on making it really easy to make single courses, and to just get them out there.

It provides a place for discussions to take place between learners and teachers, accept and grade assignments, share resources, and to have a calendar for real life get togethers and webinars.

What’s remarkable is that it is free!

I’m going to be having a play with Lore to see how well it works, and perhaps put together a test online course about digital engagement, if folk would be up for it.

Thanks to Rich Millington for bringing Lore to my attention. Rich and his colleagues are running a free course about online community management using the Lore platform, which will be well worth signing up for!

Share your own knowledge, bring your own app

Interesting post from Steve Dale – taking a slightly different approach to the use of social tools within the workplace (see ‘social business’ or ‘enterprise 2.0’ ad nauseam) where he focuses instead on the concept of ‘personal knowledge management’.

In order to develop a true learning organisation, staff need to be given much more freedom to use the tools, facilities, applications and networks that they have chosen. After all they are far closer to the issues, problems and potential solutions associated with their work than a CIO, a CFO or head of L&D. It is my firm belief that social learning and personal development requires a shift from hierarchies to networks, and empowerment of the workforce to choose the tools they need to do the job. Organisation that can’t or won’t grasp this paradigm shift will struggle to attract and retain talent, and will struggle to survive against more agile and adaptable businesses that do.

It’s interesting that it’s Steve saying this – because he was the guy who did such great work designing and promoting the LGID’s Communities of Practice platform – and it’s such a shame to see the momentum that project created being lost in the transition to the supposedly superior Knowledge Hub.

Steve’s thinking in this latest post seems to be that perhaps the community based approach to learning doesn’t work so well in an age of smaller and more personal technology. I agree.

How do I know which community I should join to share a certain bit of knowledge? Better surely to just share it, using the tool I am most comfortable with, and let people find it who need to.

This ties into what I said in a post a little while back on why internal use of social hasn’t really kicked off:

Much is made of the fact that due to the consumerisation of technology, workers are more likely to expect that social tools are available to them at work. I’d agree with this, but I think it is more likely that they expect and desire to use tools of their own choosing and not some corporately imposed knowledge management solution.

In other words, I suspect in this area employees would want to use the tools they like using, for their own purposes. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’m not suggesting that people just want to waste time, or spend their working day expanding their LinkedIn network – but I do think it more important that organisations allow staff access to the tools they want to do their jobs, and then find a way of managing it all – as opposed to procuring a big system to do ‘social’ and assuming people will want to use it.

I can’t help but think that it is a shame that so few organisations within the sectors I hold dear have taken up the baton of using new technology to foster knowledge sharing, more effective management of projects and generally smarter working.

Perhaps in an age of ‘bring your own device‘, bring your own apps isn’t far behind.

Online collaboration in the workplace – thoughts and concerns

I had a mixed day yesterday at the Online Information conference, which is excellently led by Steve Dale. The good bits were the sessions I attended and the chance to meet up with good friends, old and new. The less good bit was the panel I was chairing, which was a little challenging to say the least!

Having said that, one of the participants was truly excellent – Andrew Walsh from the University of Huddersfield, who spoke about their efforts to use competitive gaming ideas to encourage greater use of the library with a project called Lemon Tree.

Now, I’m not all that convinced about the use of ‘gamification’ to drive engagement, but there’s no doubt that it really works for many people. I do rather fear for those that get left behind though.

Anyway, one of the more interesting sessions at the conference was on ‘enterprise 2.0’ or the use of social technology in the workplace to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing. Now, I love this stuff, and honestly believe that making social tools available to people to help them do their jobs can have a positive impact on effectiveness and efficiency.

I do have concerns though, particularly based on what a couple of the speakers were talking about (I ought to point out now that I am definitely not referring to Jemima Gibbons whose talk on open leadership was great). I worry that the wrong emphasis is being made when people discuss this issue, in terms of focusing in on organisational objectives and needs and ignoring what is surely central to making this work – the users themselves.

Much is made of the fact that due to the consumerisation of technology, workers are more likely to expect that social tools are available to them at work. I’d agree with this, but I think it is more likely that they expect and desire to use tools of their own choosing and not some corporately imposed knowledge management solution.

In other words, I suspect in this area employees would want to use the tools they like using, for their own purposes. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’m not suggesting that people just want to waste time, or spend their working day expanding their LinkedIn network – but I do think it more important that organisations allow staff access to the tools they want to do their jobs, and then find a way of  managing it all – as opposed to procuring a big system to do ‘social’ and assuming people will want to use it.

Another thing that was mentioned was the idea that making social tools available to employees makes them more creative. Does it? I’d have thought it more likely that these tools merely enhance what an employee was like in the first place. After all, a lot of those early adopters who started using social tools will have been creative, innovative types in the first place. The dullards wouldn’t have considered it in the first place, I wouldn’t have thought.

So the key for me with the implementation and adoption  of social technology in the workplace is getting people to be bothered to use it. Organisations shouldn’t, in my view, waste their time trying to get everyone on board, but instead focus on the innovative types who care enough about their work to want to share and pool knowledge and intelligence. After all, one great example of cross sector collaboration is the Communities of Practice in local government (and beyond) in the UK, but even with the hundred-odd thousand users on that platform, it’s still a tiny fraction of the overall potential audience.

The fundamental problem with knowledge sharing at work, whether using social technology or not, is convincing people it is in their interests to do it. After all, the stuff one knows is what makes us useful and in a world of rising unemployment, it would take a brave soul to give that away.

I realise I have raised a lot of problems here and not provided many answers. I’ll chew it over and maybe come up with some more positive stuff in a later post. I’d be interested in your views though, of course.

Edit: and as if by magic, Headshift’s James Dellow has blogged today on Does Viral Adoption of Enterprise Social Business Software work?

Here comes Noot – the public sector social business tool

I’ve written loads in the past about the importance of using social technology in the workplace, especially in the public sector.

It’s great for tearing down silos, sharing knowledge, making the most of talent, completing projects successfully and maybe making life a bit more interesting.

One bit of technology I have had my eye on for a while is a bit of open source loveliness called Open Atrium, which is based on the popular and powerful Drupal framework.

What really caught my attention was that it was announced recently that the White House were using it to collaborate with. This is a bit of software that means business.

So I was delighted when I started talking with my good pals Harry and Rupert at Neontribe – web developers and user experience legends from Norwich (and who are organising RewiredState Norfolk this weekend, which you really ought to get to if you can). It turns out that they live and breath Drupal, and whats more, had started to get enquiries about OpenAtrium themselves.


We put our heads together and came up with Noot. Noot is a hosted Open Atrium offering aimed squarely at the public sector here in the UK. The Neontribe gang handle all the technical stuff, while Kind of Digital provides the consultancy and training to make sure customers get the most out of their investment.

Noot provides you with:

  • Groups, allowing people across your organisation or from partner organisations to get together and collaborate.
  • Discussions, so folk can talk to one another.
  • Collaborative authoring, allowing people to jointly create and edit documents.
  • Project and task management, helping to get stuff done
  • File uploading and sharing
  • Yammer or Twitter style status updates

…and a bunch of other cool stuff. What’s more, we’re going to be actively listening to users and developing more features to provide the functionality people really need.

So whether you just want to get people in your organisation talking to each other, want to manage cross departmental projects better, or start doing some serious partnership collaboration, Noot could well be the technology that suits your people and your process.

We’re still tidying things up, getting our marketing messages right and figuring out just how much we are going to charge for this thing. In the meantime, do follow Noot on Twitter, and bookmark the homepage so you know where to go to find out more.

If you’d like a demo or an early chat about Noot, you know where I am.

How can technology support public sector collaboration?

Last week’s webinar went fairly well, I’d like to think. You can judge for yourself by watching it below – it’s split up into two parts, probably because I talk too much.

To be able to read the slides it’s probably best to watch in full screen mode.

Lots of people asked questions and I couldn’t answer them all on the day, so here’s a quick document with responses to some of the other points that were made.

Here are the slides themselves. If you can’t see the Slideshare embed, here is the downloadable PDF version.

Don’t forget to check out all the great stories of public sector collaboration Learning Pool are publishing as part of our Collaboration Quarter campaign.

If you’d like to talk about how you might better use social technology to improve collaboration within your organisation, or indeed when working in partnership with others, just get in touch!

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.