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.


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


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!

Why digital capability (or comfort) matters

keyboardI spend a lot of my time at the moment talking about digital capability. To my mind, this means the ability of people throughout an organisation to make the most of the opportunities offered by digital technology.

Capability is less about skills though, and more about confidence – or maybe comfort.

Sure, a certain amount of skill is involved. I sometimes refer to this as the ‘Alt-Tab’ test. If someone knows that Alt-Tab means to quickly flick between applications on a Windows based computer (it’s Command-Tab on a Mac), they are probably going to be ok in the new digital world.

To me though, digital capability is more about knowing where to look for the answers as it is knowing the answers in the first place. It’s about understanding why people might want to use a certain tool, rather than using it yourself. It’s about being curious, networked, agile, user centred and flexible rather than knowing how to use this app or that.

This matters because the landscape is changing. A few years ago, an average worker in an office might need to use four or five systems on a regular basis. Their email, the database for doing their jobs, Office, the intranet and perhaps an HR or other system.

These days though, people are being invited to Dropbox folders, Huddle projects, Asana task lists, Trello boards, Basecamps, Nings, Yammer networks, Google Docs and more. The numbers of different systems are growing and often the first people will have heard of them is when they are invited and expected to use them.

Nobody can learn in advance about systems they have never heard of! Instead, they need the confidence and comfort with digital tools that they can recognise how they probably work, and have the knowledge to know they are unlikely to break them just by having a go.

As I have written before, and will do again, the days of monolithic, one size fits all IT systems is over. As Euan Semple says in a recent blog post:

Building a technology ecology from small iterative deployments of specific tools, with a throw away mentality that allows more constant adaptation, driven by ongoing conversations with users is the only way to do technology efficiently.

In this new world, everyone needs to be comfortable with switching between apps, even when those apps are doing rather similar things, just in a slightly different way. This won’t come from learning each app one by one, but instead by understanding the principles of digital tools, and the underlying philosophy of how they work.

As is often the case, the online comic XKCD nails it:


So, you think you want social media training?

whiteboardIncreasingly, following a bit of a chat, it turns out you don’t.

I’ve been delivering training on digital tools, including social media, for a fair few years now. I’d like to think I’m quite good at it, and that those who leave my training sessions get a lot out of it.

One of the most frustrating things, though, is when at the end of some training, a learner will ask ‘so, will we actually be able to use this stuff?’ or ‘this has been great, but until I get these websites blocked I won’t be able to use anything I’ve learned’.


What’s happening is that there is an acknowledgement within an organisation that they need some additional digital capacity, so they send people on a course. Trouble is, the strategy, or vision, isn’t in place for the organisation – so those skills are going to go to waste.

Instead, if you want to spend some money on this stuff, it’s better to spend it first on developing some idea of where digital fits into your organisation.

One of the first commissions WorkSmart has received has been to do just this. The original brief was for a series of workshops explaining how to use the popular social media tools. Discussing it, though, everyone became aware that there was a piece of work to do first.

So, we’re running an agile little project, made up of a couple of workshops and some online deliberation and collaboration. The aim at the end will be to have a draft strategy document, outlining how the organisation can use digital tools and techniques – including stuff like agile project management and user centred design.

Along with that there will also be a process defined for rolling this kind of capability out across the organisation, using internal expertise rather than bought in training. Hopefully this means that the learning activity will be scalable and sustainable, and most importantly of all, everyone will know why they are doing it.

Putting together an online course

notetakingAs part of the membership perks of WorkSmart (not got your membership yet? Sign up here!) I am putting together a free online course on digital personal productivity.

Something to look forward to then, but also an opportunity for me to share what I’ve learned when putting it all together.

Here are the steps I found myself going through.

1. Choose your software

I was driven in this regard by the fact that the WorkSmart site runs on WordPress, and I really wanted to make sure my online learning courses tie in with the membership system on the site.

So I had a few WP based options to go for, and in the end chose WP-Courseware. I was heavily influenced in this decision by this excellent walk through post from Chris Lema – who is a great blogger to follow if you’re interested in WordPress and online learning.

2. Pick your topic

Choosing the topic for an online course is pretty important, because not every subject maps all that well to the online learning environment.

You also need to consider the level at which you are pitching the course, which again will determine whether or not putting in online will work effectively.

I find online courses – at least those of the type I am planning – work best for introductory level topics. Often more in depth learning requires some kind of interaction with the learner to find out exactly what they need, which often can be bespoke to a particular project they are working on or an issue they are encountering.

3. Write your outline

Outlining is a great discipline for planning any kind of project, but for putting together a course which has a hierarchy of content, it’s absolutely vital.

An outline is a document that is broken down into hierarchies. You can make one very simply with a bulleted list in a Word processor, with each level of the hierarchy being indented appropriately in the list.

However, a proper outlining application is better because it will allow you to drag and drop items into the right order. It facilitates the process of bashing in ideas and then sorting them into a proper order.

WP-Courseware splits a course into modules and units, so with my outliner I can easily have a document where each module contains units, all indented in an appropriate way. To help me identify what’s what, I tend to preface each item in a list with what it is, in squared brackets, such as [Module] or [Unit] to make it dead easy to see where something fits.

I use OmniOutliner, a desktop application for the Mac. However, Fargo is free and web based – and also excellent, so is a good place to start.

4. Create the content

Creating content for a learning course in WP-Courseware is dead straightforward – you just populate what looks very much like a WordPress page. So it’s dead easy to slot in text, images, video and other embeddable media.

Whether writing blog posts or putting together courses, I always like to write my content in an application other than WordPress. It makes me feel a little less hurried, for some reason.

One thing my course won’t include is any traditional e-learning modules. This is largely because they can be time consuming, and costly to create and often require the use of dedicated software that right now I don’t have access too.

I’ll be sticking with text, images and video mostly, with perhaps the odd embedded presentation thanks to Slideshare.

5. Plan your tests and quizzes

Have a good think about the types of assessment you want to do. Again, a lot of direction here will come from how much involvement you want on a day to day basis.

You can have assignments and so on that learners submit, and you can review. However, given that this is a free course and I hope that lots of people will take it, I’d rather any assessment is done by the users themselves.

So I will be using quizzes at various points in the course, to help learners check that they have got the important information from each unit. I write the questions and the multiple choice answers down, and check them with someone else to ensure they make sense and aren’t too patronising.

6. Put it all in place in a safe environment

Here’s one I wished I had thought of earlier! Rather than putting all this on a live site and developing in the open air, as it were, it’s far better to get your course created, filled up with content and tested in a safe environment.

In other words, duplicate your site and host it somewhere safe, either locally on your laptop or desktop machine, or on some hidden away web hosting that nobody will be able to access.

It’s always easier to make mistakes when nobody is looking and when your new course might not be one you want to be made available to the general public – see point 7 below – this is especially important!

I ended up using MAMP on my Mac to run a local version of my site that I could tinker around with to my heart’s content.

Then WP-Courseware makes it really simple for me to export my course from my local copy, and then import it into the live environment.

7. Decide how people will access – free / paid for etc

I want to boost the offering for my free membership level, so for this course I am happy to give it away free to members.

Membership on this site is handled by Paid Memberships Pro, which makes it incredibly easy to make certain pages and bits of content accessible to only members.

In the future, if I want to make some courses available for a fee, it will be easy enough to add another membership level which will handle all of this.

8. Make live

Once you know everything is working probably, set it live. Before you start promoting it though, it’s a good idea to use a test account to make sure everything is working on the live site as well as it did on your development version – just to iron out any final snags.

9. Promote!

My aim with this free-too-members course will be to increase the number of people signing up to WorkSmart, along with adding a bit of value for those who have already joined.

With this in mind, I really want to promote its existence, and so when the time comes I will be using social media, email newsletters and lots of other mediums to tell everyone about it and how they can access it.

10. Track performance

Finally, it’s important to track performance. Again, WP-Courseware does this for me, letting me know which users have started the course and how far they have got.

If most people are dropping out – particularly during a short course – it might be worth contacting them to find out why, and making some changes to the course.

New online course – blogging bootcamp

Ever wanted to start blogging but just didn’t have the confidence in the technology or your ability to write lots of juicy content? Our new online course is here to help!

Blogging bootcamp runs over the summer and is a six week course that you can dip in and out of, so no worries if you’re going on holiday in the middle of it!

Click here to find out more and book your place. I’ve pasted the course description in below for your convenience 🙂

This is an in depth course delivered online. It is based on the latest best practice for online learning, which is providing social, asynchronous learning where the learner can access materials and get involved at a time that suits them, within the framework of a weekly lesson format. We do as little synchronised activity as possible, to make things as flexible as we can.

The course consists of six lessons, which last for a week each. Total learner time per lesson is around an hour, which they can do in one chunk or spread throughout the week – it is entirely up to them.

Support is provided both to the group as a whole, with discussion and sharing of experience and knowledge encouraged; and privately through email or telephone discussion between the course facilitator and learners.

Each lesson will include some or all of the following elements:

  • An introductory video introducing the topic and explaining some details
  • Downloadable templates, resources, guides and case studies
  • Links to further reading and case studies
  • Interviews with practitioners
  • Screencast demos of how to perform certain actions
  • Learner discussion areas
  • One to one private email support
  • Additional content in response to queries and requests
  • Assignments to practice learning

The six lessons in this course are:

  1. Introduction to the course and blogging
    1. How does the course work?
    2. What is a blog?
    3. How could blogging help you?
    4. Different types of blogs
  2. Setting up your blog
    1. Choosing a platform
    2. Naming your blog
    3. Design considerations
    4. Choosing a domain
  3. Planning blog content
    1. How often to post
    2. How long should a post be?
    3. Different types of blog posts
  4. Promoting your blog
    1. Using Twitter and Facebook
    2. Joining online communities
    3. Encouraging debate
    4. Other ways of promoting your content
  5. Taking the next steps
    1. Using video and audio
    2. Guest bloggers and guest blogging
  6. Finishing up, answering final questions, time for reflective practice

Course content is fluid and will react to the needs of the learners – so the list above is for information purposes only and the exact content in the course will be more detailed than this.

The course is suitable for people already fairly happy using a computer and the internet, but who have been put off starting a blog in the past, whether because of worries about technology, or what to write about. It is suitable for public servants, community and voluntary workers, artists and creatives and those running small businesses.

The course facilitator is Dave Briggs, Director at Kind of Digital, who has experience of running successful digital engagement campaigns for a number of public sector organisations, including the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street.

He has managed digital engagement projects for organisations at all levels of government and is an experienced and well regarded trainer in the tools and techniques used. He has blogged since 2004 and has also worked on developing social media e-learning with Learning Pool.

To find out more about Dave and his experience, check out his LinkedIn profile.

The course costs £100 + VAT per delegate.