Making British Government easier to learn

My friend and colleague Jason Caplin pointed out today that the LSE have open up the lectures for their undergraduate course on British government and how it all works.

It’s a fantastic resource, and great that they have shared this openly, as it’s something that would be of use to anyone working in and around government.

However, the formatting isn’t all that great and it doesn’t work brilliantly on mobile. Plus, there’s no ability for learners to ask questions, leave comments or discuss the topics.

So, I very quickly threw together a WordPress site to rehouse the videos, using a nice simple responsive theme and layout. I also enabled comments, so there’s a bit of a social element there as well.

I’d be really interested to know from folk if this has been a worthwhile endeavour, and if you make use of the site. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement.

The site is at http://britgov.learninglabs.org.uk/

Happy learning!

What do we need to be telling councillors about digital?

I’ve done a fair bit of councillor training on digital in the past. Every time it focuses on social media, digital engagement and how members can use the web to interact with the public.

It usually goes away, people have an interesting time and one or two actually start doing new stuff as a result.

However.

Right now I am not convinced that this is the most helpful thing we could be doing with councillors when it comes to digital, the internet, and technology in general.

Just as the work I have been doing recently on capability with civil servants emphasises the importance of understanding the mindset and approaches of digital ways of working, the same is also true of elected members.

After all, members – particularly those with a role on the executive in their authorities – are making decisions with digital implications all the time. They are asked to signed off digital and IT strategies. They might be asked to give their OK to a big spend on the implementation of a new system. They might be signed up to a big transformation programme with a heavy emphasis on digital ways of working.

Do they really have the capability to be making these decisions? Are they asking the right questions of officers? Can they really be held accountable for decisions made which – in al truthfulness – they possibly don’t understand?

I think this is something that needs to be looked at.

The trouble is, as anyone who has been involved in member development knows, providing ‘training’ to councillors is really hard. They are very busy people who operate in a political environment. This means they have little time, and little appetite to admitting weakness or ignorance.

So I think there is something to learn here from the top of the office coaching programme that Stephen and Jason run at DH.

This is where the eight (I think) people right at the top of the organisation get one to one coaching with digital experts once a month – an opportunity to ask questions without fear of looking silly in front of colleagues, and to really dig into what relevance digital has for them and their bit of the organisation.

I’m pretty sure something like this could work very well with councillors – matching them up with digital coaches who could give up an hour a month for (say) six months to provide answers to questions, coaching and mentoring on specific topics and being a sounding board when needed.

It would be great to get people’s thoughts on whether this is a problem that needs a solution, and whether a lightweight volunteer coaching programme would work.

Lessons learned from web chatting

So yesterday I ran the ‘what next for digital engagement’ web chat.

It went ok. You can find out for yourself by checking out the archive of the chat.

In the end not that many folk turned up – but that’s not a problem, after all, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts!

However, we ran into problems with the software I used, which was CoverItLive.

CiL allows the person running the chat to moderate what people are saying. Moderating every single message can be tiresome and adds lag to the process, so I tend to just whitelist people once they have said one, sensible thing.

However, one participant decided to be mischievous and realised that they could change the name they used within the chat, and started spoofing other chatsters and posting a couple of unpleasant images.

I must admit, it’s probably the first time such a thing has happened to one of my activities.

Anyway, so what would I do next time?

1) I’ve have a look for alternatives to CoverItLive

2) I’d seriously consider moderating every message to retain control

3) I’d make sure I knew exactly how to boot people from the chat before it started. During yesterday’s chat, I didn’t know how this was done.

4) These things might work better in less open spaces with more trust, like my community.

Using Trello to help run a workshop

trello

I’m a bit ambivalent about Trello as a project management tool – I know others love it, but me, I prefer something that looks a bit more spreadsheety.

If you’ve not heard of Trello – here’s a video that explains it.

Anyway, I did manage to make use of Trello in a pleasing way during a session at Channel Shift Camp, which I facilitated, which was called ‘transformation ticklist’.

The aim was to produce a checklist of things that really ought to happen when redesigning a product or service. With only 45 minutes we weren’t going to all the whole thing done, but we could at least make a start.

My original plan was to use a traditional post-it note and flip chat approach, but being lazy, I didn’t fancy doing the write up afterwards. What else could I use to get the same effect?

I settled on Trello. I created a new project board, cleared it of all lists bar one, and displayed it on a big screen in the room so everyone could see it.

The first thing we did to start building the transformation ticklist was to have people shout out ideas for things that need doing in a transformation project, in no particular order. All these were recorded in a list as individual cards in a list called ‘activities’ in Trello.

Then we identified the stages we’d need to go through that each of the activities could be put into, and these were created as new lists on the board.

The final activity was spent taking activities from our first list and distributing them around the various stages.

You can see the public version of the ticklist. Also email me if you’d like access to it for editing and so on.

What went well

Using Trello for this workshop went pretty well. People liked the idea, possibly because it was a bit new, and it certainly saved time on writing up, messing about with post-its and so on.

What went not so well

The system isn’t as hackable as pen and paper. We wanted activities to take place across the life of our ticklist, rather than being part of a linear process and this was difficult to make clear. Also, the writing on the screen was too small at times for people to be able to read comfortably.

I’ll definitely be trying this again in future, and would love to hear if others give it a go!

 

Blog academy

I’m running a day long workshop in London on the topic of blogging – might you be interested?

Here’s the skinny:

Join Dave Briggs for a day’s practical, hands-on workshop learning how to be a better blogger!

There are only 10 places available for this workshop, so sign up quickly!

It’s suitable for anyone who wants to start blogging, or who wants to improve their blogging to enable them to meet their goals. Equally, those who want to encourage blogging within their organisations will find this workshop helpful.

The day will cover:

  • Why blogging is a good idea and how it can be used
  • Choosing a platform
  • Setting up a new blog
  • How to write engaging content
  • Ideas for different types of blog posts
  • Using different types of media
  • Practice writing and publishing posts, with constructive critique
  • Post event support by email for those that need it

The event will take place in central London at a venue to be confirmed. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, as will laptops to enable practical work to be undertaken.

Interested? Sign up on Eventbrite. Register before the middle of June and you get a discount!

Digital learning materials – any point to video?

Here’s one you can all help me with. When putting together learning materials – particularly aimed at a public sector audience – what’s the best format to use?

More specifically – is there any use in using video? Problems with video in the office include:

  • lack of sound cards / speakers / headphones to hear them
  • lack of access to video hosting sites
  • lack of bandwidth to download them
  • …and so on

For a couple of projects I’m looking at putting together learning resources for people about digital “stuff”, and I am leaning towards just writing lots of blog style bits of text with screenshots, rather than going down the screencast or video route.

It makes it chunkable so people can learn in bits if they choose, and of course text and images are a pretty universal, low bandwidth means of content delivery – they will work fine on whatever screen size, and won’t take ages to download.

Plus, by adding a social element, enabling people to talk about the content and discuss it in the context of their own work and projects, that will help embed the learning a little more.

What do people thing?