Government 2010: Peter Kellner from YouGov, eConsultation panel

Here’s some notes from the first two sessions at Government 2010! If, in haste, I’ve accidentally misquoted/misparaphrased, I apologise in advance: there’s a lot more on Twitter, and you can watch the conference live online here.

The first speaker of the day, Peter Keller of Internet-based pollsters, YouGov, gave the opening keynote.

We all need bullshit detectors; we need to teach our children how to detect bullshit…

— Peter Kellner, YouGov

His speech was part call-to-arms, part cautionary tale; he argues that the Internet has fundamentally changed the relationship between citizens and Government, largely through unprecedentedly rich access to the information used to make decisions in Government — and that this is both opportunity and threat.

He started by suggesting that the ways we use the Internet are analogous to the early days of cinema; we’re largely just using technology to do things we’ve done before. Cinema grew out of its theatrical roots to, eventually, developing its own techniques – real locations, cuts, and so forth and so on. In his view, we haven’t worked out what the interesting new techniques, and new methods, are yet; to paraphrase, “we are now exploring ways of interacting with the public which simply weren’t available ten years ago.”

Taking journalism as an example, the economics of print and the scarcity of spectrum space for broadcasters enforced a technical monopoly over the transmission of information. This meant you couldn’t compete even if you wanted to. It’s only now that the Internet has removed many of the barriers to entry. The result of this upheaval is that none of us really knows what the transmission of information is going to look like in 20 years’ time. Cases like the Trafigura/Carter-Ruck injunction farrago just demonstrate how the Internet has completely changed the rules of the game – both the business rules and the nature of reporting. In particular, he talked about accountability: Yougov is held to account by a small number of bloggers who follow polling in great detail. The effect is that YouGov, and other pollsters are more careful than would have been 20 years ago as a result; they know they’ll get called on it if they screw up!

In government, however the same technical forces have had much less impact. (That set up a fantastic quote – another early leader for soundbite of the day, in fact! – that “Going back to Ancient Greece, representative democracy has had a very long run.”). He then made a fascinating argument: that this is, in part, because elected representatives have had a technical monopoly on access to the data government’s based on. Before now, if you want the statistics which inform the Budget, you had to traipse out to your nearest HMSO, put down £50, and buy the Red Book. Nowadays, anyone can get that data online: like journalism, the barrier to participation in decision-making has been flattened.

That’s an opportunity, but also a threat. In Peter’s view, the political parties haven’t yet got the message that access to information is fundamentally changing how people interact with public services and how people approach politics. For example, we’re getting more choice in public services, but now we can know much more than we used to, and make more informed decisions, thanks to the availability of things like school inspectors’ reports on the web.

To challenge the threat that this poses, we need to fundamentally change how government operates. Government needs to be more candid; to interact genuinely; and we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater by forgetting the important social roles institutions currently play, which is something you can’t really replace with purely online interaction.

In particular, not all the information online is accurate or fair; Google helps us viscerally experience Gresham’s Law: bad money, or bad ideas, drive out good. We need to be wary that the Internet can be used to spread malice, so we need to equip kids with the critical faculties to find what they need and test what they find – and here’s where Peter Kellner, quote machine, struck again with the line up the top.

There was a lot to chew on in this speech, and I’m certain I’ve missed a lot! I’ll be going back to watch it again later.

Peter Kellner was followed by a panel on eConsultation chaired by Harry Metcalfe from The Dextrous Web (and, notoriously, Ernest Marples. Unfortunately, Tom Watson couldn’t make it (detained on constituency business), but he was deputised for by a representative of YouGov (who, right now, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for).

We’re sticking PDFs online and asking people to email us. There has to be a better way.

— Harry Metcalfe, The Dextrous Web

One of the prevailing themes here was summed up by a question from Emer Coleman of the GLA; if the Government gets to choose the questions asked, is it really consultation at all? Harry Metcalfe had already argued that you need to consult before publishing a Green Paper, in order to frame the debate; Ewan McIntosh of 4iP pointed out that just because papers are commented on, it doesn’t mean real consultation is happening. Neil Williams of Debategraph went further: with the audience of consultations being largely self-selecting, noisy and vocal minorities will loom large in online debate.

Next up, the bloggers: a panel chaired by Iain Dale, featuring Mick Fealty (Slugger O’Toole), Stephen Tall of Lib Dem Voice, Craig Elder from the Conservative Party, and Adam Parker of Realwire. That should be interesting — more soon!

Government 2010: agenda

Government 2010 kicks off in London in a couple of hours, and it’s going to be all-liveblogging, courtesy of Davepress and Timetric, all the time this morning.

Here’s the agenda:

  • 9.00am – 9.15am Opening Remarks: Jeffrey Peel, Government 2010
  • 9.15am – 9.30am Keynote Address: Peter Kellner, President, YouGov
  • 9.30am – 10.15am Panel Discussion: Digital Engagement is Everyone’s Job: Formal and Informal Consultation on the Web: Chair: Harry Metcalfe; Panel: Tom Watson MP; David Price, Debategraph; Neil Williams, DBIS
  • 10.30am – 11.15am Panel Discussion: Blogging, Social Media and New Media; Chair: Iain Dale, Panel: Mick Fealty, Daily Telegraph Blogger and Slugger O’Toole; Stephen Tall, LibDem Voice; Craig Elder, Conservative Party; Adam Parker, CEO, Realwire
  • 11.15am – 12.00 Panel Discussion: Government Service in a Web 2.0 Era: Chair: Jeffrey Peel, Government 2010; Panel: Gordon McKenzie, Microsoft; Tanya Oliver, Kent County Council; Michael Juer, Northamptonshire County Council
  • 12.00pm – 12.15pm Government and Innovation, Adam Afriyie MP
  • 12.15pm – 12.30pm Technology and Citizens, Tom Steinberg
  • 1:15pm – 2.00pm Identity Management, William Heath/Q&A, Founder, Ctrl-Shift
  • 2.00pm – 2.45pm Panel Discussion: Government & The Internet, Chair: Dominique Lazanski; Panel: Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group; Philip Virgo, Secretary General, EURIM; Phil Kingsland from Nominet (TBC); Speaker from Google (TBC)
  • 3.00 – 3.30pm SOCITM – The Web Channel and Local Government – Martin Greenwood
  • 3.30 pm – 4.15 pm Panel Discussion: The Internet and Social Inclusion Chair: Tony Collins; Panel: Stephen Hilton, Bristol City Council; John Shewell, Brighton & Hove City Council; Anthony Zacharzewski, Democratic Society
  • 4.15pm – 5.15pm Panel Discussion: Open Data, Mash-Ups and Government Web, Chair: Ewan McIntosh, Channel 4/4ip; Panel: Chris Taggart, OpenlyLocal; Stuart McRae, IBM; Paul Canning, Consultant, SOCITM; Colm Hayden, Anaeko

    So it’s going to be a pretty full day. But I could use your help! If you’ve got any questions you want to pass on to the speakers, or anything in particular you want covered, let me know in the comments or over on Twitter and I’ll do my best to find out for you.

Government 2010: “I’m afraid, Dave, you can’t do that.”

Hello! I’m Andrew Walkingshaw, and I’m going to be deputising for Dave at the Government 2010 conference tomorrow. I’ll be liveblogging the event for you all, both here and as @walkingshaw on Twitter.

I’m the business guy at Timetric. We’re on a mission to get the world’s statistics to you in a form which you can use, and a lot of those numbers start their lives in local and national governments. So, I’m especially looking forward to the Open Data session, chaired by 4iP‘s Ewan Mackintosh, towards the end of the conference. (On that note, if you’re in the business of making data available, we’d love to hear from you. Okay, enough of the sales pitch!). The entire conference looks fantastic, though: I’ll do my best to keep you in touch with what’s going on if you’re not able to follow the live stream.

Anyhow, keep in touch with me throughout the day on Twitter and on here. See you all tomorrow!

SEO for non-experts: what you need to know

Why do so many councils have such a poor online presence? I’ve written before about some of the missed opportunities, such as here, but for me the puzzle is as much “what should a council do?” as “why don’t more of them do it?”

Part of the explanation, at least from the councillor side, is average age. Councillors are on average near retirement (58.3 in 2006), which means not many have either grown up with the modern internet age or worked in firms created by it.

The challenge then for the typical older councillor is to have enough knowledge to know what their council could or should be doing and to have some idea of whether or not its staff and contractors are doing a good job.

In some areas councillors are usually good at this; for example, councillors are often intensive email users and well placed to tell whether or not an email system is up to scratch.

Search engine optimisation is an area at the other end of the spectrum – often over-looked by councillors and often not done well by councils. So what does a councillor need to know?

What is search engine optimisation (SEO)?

SEO means a bundle of work in order to make a particular website come out near or at the top of search results when someone is using Google or another search engine.

Why does SEO matter?

For councils, it matters for two primary reasons. First, people often use Google as their jumping off point to find information. With search results, almost no-one clicks on results that don’t come up on the first page, and even on the first page the number of people who click on a search result declines rapidly as you move down the page. So if you’re not on the first page you miss out on getting people coming to your website.

Second, councils often provide information that the public don’t immediately associate with the council. Tips on how to live a greener lifestyle are a good example, Many councils put a lot of effort in to publicising this sort of information, but most online members of the public won’t think, “I’ll see what the council has to say about saving on my electricity bills”. Instead, they go to Google and look for information generally. If you want the council information to be found and used, it has to come up high in the search results.

What does SEO involve?

Most SEO work falls into a research phase and then three areas of activity.

The research phase involves working out what the key information is that the website wants to get over (e.g. recycling information) and then the phrases that the public use when searching for such information (e.g. do people talk about “waste” or “rubbish” or “refuse” when looking for such information?). Firms such as Google provide very detailed information about people’s aggregate search habits for free, so the end result of this search should be a specific list of topics and terms which the website needs to perform well on.

Tip one for councillors: ask to see the list of terms the site is being optimised for. If it doesn’t exist, then either the website team is neglecting SEO or they are doing it poorly. The list may be informally in several people’s heads, on a post-it note or in an email somewhere. So you may need to add some extra judgement about how methodical the work has been and whether that suits the size of council and the budget given to online matters.

The three areas of work then are technical, copy and outreach.

Technical works means the way web pages are coded and the content on them marked up. Some ways of producing web pages are liked by search engines, other ways hide their content from them. This is perhaps the hardest area for a non-technical person to judge. My to three tips, based on what is most often got wrong if people aren’t thinking SEO, are:

  1. Look at the photos and see whether they have any “alt” text set (this is the text that appears if you hover over the photo or right click on it, depending on your web browser)
  2. Are the headlines on the page marked up with H1 HTML tags? Don’t worry if you don’t know how to check this; it’s pretty easy to do, so just ask someone who is a bit familiar with creating websites!
  3. Do the web addresses for individual pages contain real words or are they long technical strings? E.g. will do less well in searches for recycling than

The next area of SEO work is copy: does the text on the site regularly and prominently use the key words and phrases identified from the research? Pages should still read naturally, but they can be written in a way that uses the key terms more rather than less.

The third area is outreach, or “link building”, i.e. getting other websites to link through to yours. The more links you have, the better the site does in searches – though to stop abuse, search engines give more importance to links from well respected other sites. External tools can be a bit hit and miss in the number of links they list, but try going to Google and search for changing “Islington” to your council. You can then do this for several other similar councils and see how the total number of links Google lists compares.

Improving SEO

Checking these areas should give a councillor a good idea of whether their website team is on the ball at SEO, doing it poorly or just ignoring it. Based on that, an appropriate follow-up at the senior level with council staff can be made.

Senior council staff may or may not understand SEO too! But with these answers both sides of that conversation will know whether more detailed follow up is needed down through the organisation – and how to judge whether any follow up really produces results.

Good luck!

Mark Pack worked for the Liberal Democrats 2000-2009, ending up as their Head of Innovations. During that time he often trained councillors on how to make better use of the internet. He’s now at Mandate Communications ( and blogs about politics, history and technology at He’s on Twitter at @markpack.

Ten top internet tips for councillors

After a break of a week, the guest posts are back! This time it’s Mark Pack, who has written a handy guide for councillors on how to get to grips with the net.

It is pretty rare these days to find a councillor who doesn’t use the internet, at least occasionally. However, in part because the average age of councillors means that the vast majority are not ‘internet natives’, that often does not amount to much more than frequent use of email, a familiarity with the basics of searching on Google and not that much else. So in an attempt to help close the gap, here are my top ten tips for councillors. Any list like this is bound to exclude some tips which other people think are vital, so by all means post up a comment saying what you think should have been included in the list.

1. Get a feed reader (also known as a news readers or RSS reader)

These days nearly all news sites and blogs, along with many other websites, offer an RSS feed (sometimes called a ‘news feed’, or simply ‘RSS’ or ‘feeds’). You can sign up to the feed with a feed reader, and then, in future, when a new story appears on the site, it will appear in your feed reader, saving you the time otherwise spent checking on sites to see if they have anything new.

Google Reader – – is reliable, free and has a wide range of functions. It is by no means the only one available, but it’s a good safe choice.

Once you have set up your feed reader, you can tell it to keep an eye on a website either by inputting the web address into the feed reader software, or by visiting the website and then looking for the ’sign-up to a feed reader’, ’subscribe to RSS’ or similar option on screen (frequently accompanied by an orange square with curves cutting across it).

2. Use Google and Microsoft’s free satellite photos

Whether it is pondering a planning application, wondering about transport proposals or trying to picture a particular community, it is often useful to be able to see what an area looks like from the comfort of your desk.

Both Google – and pick “satellite” in the top right – and Microsoft – and click “bird’s eye” – provide free comprehensive satellite photography of the UK.

Google has the bonus of its Street View for many areas, so you can not just look down on an area but also look at it from street level. Microsoft on the other hand has a slanted bird’s eye view, which can be particularly useful for trying to picture how a new development will look and affect an area.

3. FixMyStreet

This is a free service for the public to report local issues such as potholes and dumped rubbish to their council. Usage varies hugely around the country, but it’s a good way of keeping tabs on what some members of the public are concerned about in your area. Go to and you can sign up to receive automatic notifications of new reports in the area of interest to you.

It is particularly useful for councillors who can use examples from the site as a sanity check against what the council staff and reports say about how the different departments are performing.

4. Planning Alerts

If you are a councillor, the chances are you are inundated with information about planning applications anyway. But make a visit to and you can sign up to very clear and convenient alerts (including via RSS) which you can then use to spot what to dig out from all your council papers. It is also a very useful tool to highlight to non-councillor colleagues and constituents.

5. Use Google Alerts

Head over to, enter the search term you want (such as Indeterminate Council) along with your email address. You can choose how often you want to receive the alerts, such as ‘once a day’ so that the alerts are reasonably timely but don’t distract you too much from what you should be doing!

These alerts are a very useful supplement to having a feed reader. Feed readers are great where you are regularly wanting news from the same sites; the alerts fit in where you want news on a particular topic, almost regardless of which site it has appeared on.

6. Flickr

Flickr lets you easily store photographs online for all to see, such as photos of local issues or your campaigning work. That then means they are all in one convenient place for future use or reference (no more scratching around for copies of photographs when you need them for a leaflet). It is also somewhere you can point journalists or residents to and it avoids the need to email round huge photos (which then fill up someone’s inbox or bounce).

All those benefits apply even if you don’t do anything else online, but Flickr also works easily with blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook. If you have any mix of those, you can put your photos on Flickr and then reuse them easily.

7. Use

I’ve not used this site myself, but it’s been strongly recommended to me (thanks @mariejenkins) and it looks to be a good way of sharing knowledge and gathering information.

8. Install Google Desktop search

Another free tool from Google – This is a very quick search program which looks through just the contents of your computer. But it does it fast and goes through emails and documents at the same time. On a decent speed computer it is so quick, you will often find that searching is quickly than remembering where a file was and then clicking through your different folders to get to it.

9. Keep your computer in good shape with CCleaner and Secunia PSI

Given that amount of personal data about other people that is likely to pass through your computer, even if you do only the smallest amount of casework, keeping your computer secure should be taken seriously. Plus getting infected with a nasty can end up taking up huge amounts of time and cause great inconvenience whilst it gets sorted.

You should have an anti-virus program and firewall anyway, and these days it is hard to get a computer without them. Adding these two free programs – and – will give you a lot of extra protection at very little effort.

CCleaner is a program you can run regularly to keep you computer clean and tidy, which helps its performance as well as wrinkling out possible problems. Secunia can scan your computer to spot missing security patches and then point you at the right place to install them. (Both are for Windows computers.)

10. Make use of the previous nine tips

Don’t think that any of these tips are too complicated or too time consuming. You need very little skill with a computer to do them – and there are plenty of people who can help. With a little investment of time you will end up being able to do your job better and saving much more time as the weeks and months go by.

Mark Pack worked for the Liberal Democrats 2000-2009, ending up as their Head of Innovations. During that time he often trained councillors on how to make better use of the internet. He’s now at Mandate Communications ( and blogs about politics, history and technology at He’s on Twitter at @markpack

Getting noticed: The Five Step Programme

The second Wednesday guest post! Thanks to Sarah for this great post – if you’d like to contribute, just email me – and being called Sarah isn’t necessarily a requirement!

Online communication isn’t always taken seriously. It’s a nice to have on top of offline work or something organisations have been told to do. It isn’t necessarily considered a channel in its own right. And those that work online aren’t always respected in terms of their skills, their knowledge or the value they can bring.

Convincing others of your worth within an organisation is sometimes a bigger hurdle than convincing them of the value of online communications.

So, how to go about raising your profile and getting social media offerings to the table? I’ve worked up a list of five approaches. This list isn’t exhaustive. I’d like to hear people argue against or add their own take and experience.

1. Passion

Fall in love with online but don’t be blind to limitations and suitability. Talk to anyone who will listen about the possibilities but respect their concerns. Be able to explain why you are passionate about online – have examples of where social media has helped improve life, improved efficiency (internally or for citizens) or has saved money (pick according to your audience). Be savvy and believe in what you’re trying to get others to see the value of. And while being a geek is something to be cherished try to remember than social media is about being social so get out there and talk!

2. Persuasion

You may be the only person that believes that online communication, social media and digital engagement has an important part in your organisation. This can lead to frustration, doubts about your sanity and a relentless need to persuade others to listen to your suggestions. A good way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them – why don’t they value / understand / like online? Once you understand where they are coming from you can work out how best to showcase options to them. They still might not be sold but at the very least they will be more aware of what social media is (and probably think you’re a decent, reasonable sort as well).

3. Persistence

Things move slowly in the public sector, and social media is developing fast. Be the middle ground between the need to develop strategy, policy, protocol and being left behind because by the time you get to the dock that particular online ship has sailed.
Just because the answer is no today doesn’t mean the answer will be no tomorrow. Keep making suggestions, keep listening to the concerns around the use of social media, keep trying out ideas. Just keep on keeping on.

4. Private sector attitude

If you believe you could lose your customers to a competitor you’ll try harder to be the first with innovation and the best with services. We’re all citizens as well as public sector employees so what use of social media would make your personal dealings with the council easier? What would your neighbour, your mum, your friends find more useful. In the private sector you need to get the edge on your competitors and by having this attitude in the public sector you’ll get closer to delivering above and beyond what is expected and be able to prove why what you’re doing is of value to the organisation.

5. Play, practice, prove

Alright, that’s not one but three things. I really mean knowing what you’re talking about. Being passionate and persuasive will come more naturally if you use and know social media. The Internet is a playground so don’t be afraid to try out new platforms and ideas. Get to know other people in the sector and find out what they’re doing, share your ideas and experience with them. Collectively we can be more innovative and efficient than working in silos. And gather your evidence. Know how many people are online and using social media, know the demographics of different platforms, know how far you reach with online communications, know what your citizens think of what you’re doing. Know which tool to use for which job.

So, what do others think? Anyone used a different approach or mix in order to get word out about what they can do for the organisation with social media?

Sarah Lay blogs at, works in online communications for Derbyshire County Council (who don’t necessarily share her views) and is studying for a Masters in eCommunications, concentrating on local government use of social media. She is also the organiser of the first social media cafe for Derby and Derbyshire. If you live or work in the area and are interested in online communications and social media come along to meet others – find out more and join the group.

This is the first of the series of guest posts here at DavePress, which will be coming each Wednesday for the next few weeks… Many thans to Sarah for taking the time out to write this!

Less than a month ago, a bunch of designers, developers, business brains and creative entrepreneurs who had never met before, came together and worked on Scotland’s first Social Innovation Camp. Sicamp, (for the tweeters out there), is in their own words;

… an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age. We think the web and related technologies hold huge potential to change some pretty fundamental stuff: how people hold those in positions of power accountable; who they rely on to provide the services they need to live healthy, happy lives; or how they make a difference to something that affects them

And so, under the technical lights of the Caledonian Saltire centre in Glasgow, 6 ideas were investigated, brainstormed, developed and coded in under 48 hours, then pitched to a dragons den style panel. The winners were awarded a start up fund, branding workshops and free development time.

Mypolice was the winner, a back of the envelope idea I had months ago after a friend didn’t have an independent and fair channel to express her feedback to the police. Furthermore, she had suggestions for how her experience could have been improved, but again felt there was nowhere to express this.

So my team at sicamp came up with It is a web-based service that fosters constructive, collaborative communication between communities and the police forces that serve them. We offer the public a platform to tell their stories about their experiences with the police and suggest ways for their local police station to improve. We use mapping tools to geographically organise the information, so you can find out what your community is talking and concerned about.

Design can help us in the public services to be more innovative. We need to be conscious that today’s problems are just not going to be addressed by yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s solutions; because the problems that we’re now facing, and the problems that we’re going to go on facing for the next five or ten years, are not going to be solved by the better delivery of more responsive services certainly if we do that in the traditional style. We need responses which are much more joined up, which are much more about influencing behaviour; we need a whole new approach to public policy over the 10 years – Sir Micheal Birchard, Chairman, Design Council

We will be taking an approach to our project which uses various design tools and techniques to help us make informed decisions. We are hoping to work on a regeneration scheme in Glasgow where we will be holding focus groups and interviews with the community and observing their environments, then use this as a case study to approach police stations. We want them to work with us and get involved in some co-design workshops with the public to really get to grips with how mypolice could work best for both sides and move forward our current idea. We want to become a valuable tool for the police and help them to improve and address issues within their policing areas. Through these steps, we also want to come up with other ways in which mypolice can be accessed, so we’re not alienating users who are not digitally engaged.

To be honest though, it really is an uphill struggle. First of all, we’re talking about using ‘social media’ tools that at the moment a majority of police organisations don’t quite understand and aren’t using yet. We’d like to change this and show them what all this web 2.0 malarkey is about; That social media doesn’t just mean youtube or facebook and pictures of teenagers drinking underage but that there are a whole variety of tools out there to help us connect, organise, collaborate, vote etc in more inventive ways than ever before.

It’s going to take a while to do this convincing but we’ve been talking to some interesting people already, including the head of the Scottish Police Federation and members of the Neighbourhood Policing Improvement agency. What we create needs to work with the police, not against, so we’re being very careful that the site doesn’t become a floodgate for insult. We want the feedback to be constructive, including a space for thank you comments which will act as a great morale booster. We want to remain independent from the police, but we don’t want to alienate them so we will be offering mypolice to them as a service they can buy into, similar to how the NHS Patient Opinion model works.

It is an exciting push in the direction of using social media within a public sector organisation. We’re not just using social media because it is the latest hot topic in the government. We’re using the tools to empower citizens to collectively make decisions on how their local area should be policed.
If we can convince the police that our idea can add value to their service, reduce the time they currently spend ‘engaging’ with the public and improve relationships with the communities they serve, all at the same time, we’ll be looking at some pretty big changes and perhaps a step towards giving more power to the people.

New technologies are changing the way we engage communities, deliver our public services, participate in government and campaign for change, are such an institution who are so policy heavy ready for it?

Sarah Drummond is project managing mypolice and is a recent graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. Her expertise lies in design thinking and designing services for both private and public sectors. Sarah has worked as a designer with Skills Development Scotland, leading the design process and project from beginning to end to create an educational online platform ‘My Learning Pod’.   She will be undertaking a Masters at the GSA with SDS this year.  She has also been recognised for her design skills winning most promising GSA Product Design student in 2008 and the first Medici Service Design Medal in 2009.