I had an interesting time at Socitm09 – a lot of the conversations I had were useful, and others fruitful. I won’t lie to you, though, a lot of what I saw and heard I found pretty painful. My Twitter followers will no doubt know the exact point at which my frustration boiled over somewhat.

One of the highlights for me, though, was the twenty minutes Mary and I spent with Adrian Hancock, MD of Socitm, and a forward thinking chap if ever there was one. His plans for the organisation are certainly going to lead it in the right direction.

We’ve already put one of the things we talked about into action, and that’s OpenSocitm. This is a simple Ning based online community for Socitm members and non-members to talk about the organisation and what they would like to get out of it. At Learning Pool, we understand community and its importance, and we’re eager to share that with other organisations that would like to work with us.

We hope it will become a space for the more forward thinking among Socitm’s ranks to get together and contribute to the ongoing discussions about what Socitm should look like in the future.

Because Socitm, like any other membership organisations, faces massive challenges in this age of self-organising and free and simple social networks. Put simply: why should I pay a subscription to Socitm when I can create a Facebook group and talk to people that way?

This is picking up on the pioneering work started by David Wilcox with the RSA (I’m a fellow of the RSA and was involved in David’s work here), which has developed in various directions, some official, some less so, based around the OpenRSA concept. Basically: identify the enthusiastic, the innovative and the people with ideas and put them in a space together – and watch and act on what happens.

My view – which David shares, I’m sure – is that for membership bodies to remain relevant in the networked society, they must learn to start listening to their membership like never before. Develop services around the explicit needs as expressed by members in social online spaces. Accept messiness. Acknowledge the fact that membership might mean different things to different people, and that just because someone doesn’t hold a card, it doesn’t mean they have nothing valuable to contribute.

I’ve no doubt that Adrian gets this, and that OpenSocitm will provide a useful channel of ideas and suggestions for the future of Socitm for him and his colleagues to act upon. He’s already started blogging about it.

Building local government 2.0

The Knowledge Hub is a terrifically ambitious project being run by IDeA, in partnership with CLG, to bring knowledge and information sharing to the local government sector. A mixture of technology and capacity building, the aim is to alter the culture of local government, to change the way people in councils think about how success is measured, and how innovations and improvement can be rolled out across the entire sector.

Learning Pool are keen to play as big a role in this process as possible: after all, we have the background in local government, we have collaboration in our bone marrow, and we also have a pretty good idea about what works, technology-wise. So when the opportunity came up to bid for a project to develop a prototype which will inform the development of the Knowledge Hub, we pulled out all the stops to make sure we got it.

And get it we did (subject to the usual cooling off periods and boring contract stuff, of course).

The Partnerships and Places Library is an online resource of case studies from local authorities and local partnerships. It’s chock-full of useful content, but isn’t terribly interactive and probably isn’t the most engaging collection of content on the web.

Learning Pool will produce for the IDeA a fully interactive community, where content sharing, conversation and use of rich media will be encouraged and supported. Our concept for the site was called WorkTogether in recognition of the collaborative, silo-busting nature of the project.

We’re also keen to get the detail right on this project, and support open information and data sharing where we can. The new site will produce RSS a-plenty and will integrate with services like Calais to produce really useful semantic metadata. Everything will be built on open source technology, and where bespoke development is needed, that too will be released to the community.

Updates on development will be posted on the Learning Pool blog. We’re on a pretty tight schedule, so you all should be able to see some results before too long. If anyone is keen to be in on the user testing, leave us a comment here and we’ll do our best to involve you.

We’re delighted, because we see this as the first step in an exciting journey for Learning Pool. We’re going to be delivering a really innovative online project, and will be a part of the wider Knowledge Hub process. But this is also the start for us becoming local government’s trusted advisor and partner when it comes to developing social media, web 2.0 – or whatever you like to call it – strategies and products.

If your council is considering taking its first tentative steps into this new media world, get in touch with us – drop me a line on 07525 209589 or email me on I’d love to come and talk to you about this stuff, and see where Learning Pool can help.

Update: if you want to keep an eye on this project’s development on Twitter, follow @worktogetheruk!

Cross posted from the Learning Pool blog.



As a user of Google’s enterprise tools, usually known as Google Apps, Socialwok looks very interesting.

It sticks a social networking layer on top of your email, calendar, Docs and so on – something that the Google suite was really missing if being used as the main infrastructure for an organisation.

Here is a video to explain more:

For the last time…stop blocking!

There was all sorts of excitement yesterday with the news that yet another Council has reacted to the fact that some of their staff spend some of their time using social networks.

This from Arun on

Staff at Portsmouth City Council have been banned from using social networking sites after a local paper investigation revealed they spent up to 572 hours a month on Facebook.

The Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Portsmouth paper, The News, discovered that on average the council’s 4,500 staff spent 413 hours on Facebook per month.

Usage peaked in July when 572 hours – equivalent to 71 working days – were spent on the site.

Following the investigation council chief executive David Williams issued a council-wide ban on all social networking sites.

‘We intend to restrict Internet access to social networking sites more than at present for non-business use,’ he said.

‘Any member of staff may, under this revised policy, make a business case to have these sites unblocked.

Sigh. It must have been a slow news day, as even the BBC reported on it – and of course they phoned up those level headed folk at Taxpayers’ Alliance for a quote. Double sigh.

The approach taken by the Council in this instance is similar to action taken by other local authorities in response to the growth in the use of social networking sites across local government. Such responses are needlessly risk-averse, and threaten these organisations’ ability to use online technology to innovate.

Putting aside the fact that, on an individual basis, the time spent on social networking sites was negligible anyway, the mistake that these councils are making is to treat online interaction differently from any other form of behaviour.

Were a member of staff found to be spending working time reading a newspaper at their desk, for example, would newspapers be banned from council offices? I doubt it.

When members of staff are found to be spending lots of time sending personal emails, is the facility removed from everyone who works there? Nope.

The same could be said of chat amongst staff, whether around the water cooler, or at desks. No organisation in their right minds would attempt to enforce a ban on talking in the office.

If a member of staff is wasting time on the internet, whether on social networks or any other site, then they should of course be disciplined, but using the same code of conduct that another other time wasting incident would employ. There is nothing new about this, except for jumping on a new piece of technology and inventing new rules for it – just because it is different.

This is a management issue, and requires a management response, not a technological one. There are no sensible reasons for blocking these websites, it is a simple case of organisations both not trusting their staff to manage their time effectively and not trusting managers to manage properly.

And I haven’t even mentioned how using social networks in the workplace can actually a) increase productivity; b) be used to do interesting engagement stuff with citizens; c) make an organisation seem like the sort of place a normal person might want to work, rather than some weird, cut-off, luddite backwater.

Sharon has written a good account of this on her blog, and Shel has picked it up in the States.

PSFbuzz: Facebook applications

Image credit: Steven Tuck

I had a remarkably fun time up in Manchester last week, chairing the Public Sector Forums event at Old Trafford about local government web 2.0 strategies.

There was a whole lot of Twitter action during the day, which you can take a look at in this Google Spreadsheet. The tweets and other social media bits were all pulled together on the PSFbuzz site.

Also on that site, you’ll find a whole bunch of video interviews which Liz Azyan took. Do have a look through – they are rough and ready in a true social reporter style, but really give a flavour for the day and how delegates responded to the event.

As well as chairing, I was presenting on the subject of Facebook and how Councils are using it, and putting some ideas forward as to how they could do it a bit better.

Effectively, my argument is that applications are a great way for public bodies to engage with people within social networks. The main advantage for me – and one that is particularly pertinent for Facebook – is one of vocabulary, because an application won’t demand that you become its friend, or fan.

I’m currently working up some specifications with a developer of Facebook apps to provide a hosted service for local authorities to have their own Facebook applications at a very reasonable price. If you’re interested in this, then please do get in touch.

Cultural agoraphobia

John Naughton’s Observer piece this morning is a good one:

The cultural agoraphobia from which most of us suffer leads us always to overemphasise the downsides of openness and lack of central control, and to overvalue the virtues of order and authority. And that is what is rendering us incapable of harnessing the potential benefits of networked technology. Industries and governments are wasting incalculable amounts of money and energy in Canute-like resistance to the oncoming wave when what they should be doing is figuring out ways to ride it.

Well worth checking out in full.

It isn’t just government…

…that is struggling with some of this stuff.

Take a look at Phil Bradley’s marvellous post, railing against the attitudes of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals):

The next section really did make my jaw drop. “In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like (sic) – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.” This is a classic ‘ownership’ issue – if we say it’s real then it’s real, and if we say it isn’t real, then it’s not. If I’m in a CILIP sanctioned space (whatever that is!) do my words and arguments take on more meaning than if I’m not? Or perhaps I need to have an official CILIP representative to add some gravitas to my comments? We don’t live in a world when the organization or PR department can control the message any longer – things have moved on, and the webpage/site, while important, is no longer the sole place in which activity can take place.

Looks like another good example for David’s (and others) membership project.

Simon Wakeman: Local gov shoudn’t be on Facebook

Simon Wakeman has a thought-provoking post on whether Councils should maintain corporate presences in social networking sites like Facebook at all:

People using social networks befriend (or fan, whatever the appropriate phrase is) organisations, movements, clubs etc on Facebook and other social networks because they have an emotional bond of some description with that entity.

They might be fans in the muscial or film sense (eg by signing up to a band’s page), be replicating membership of an offline group (eg by signing up to a sports club’s page) or be part of a shared interest movement (eg by signing up to a campaign or political group’s page).

All of these conscious choices by individuals using social networks are done because they have some empathetic or emotional relationship with the entity to which the page belongs. They become a fan because they want to and because they care in some way.

How does this sit with a local council? In the real world I’m not convinced people have such a bond with their council as a corporate body – yes, they have that emotional or empathetic reaction about many of the services that their local council provides them, but not about the council as a whole. There’s no real world basis for the creation of an online community.

As Liz’s research shows, one can see where Simon is coming from. Councils, at the moment, are not fairing terribly well on social networks.

I’d agree, as I have noted before, that making people become friends or fans of public bodies probably isn’t going to work. I commented on Simon’s piece:

However, there is a convincing argument for me that public bodies should be providing information to people in a format and in a location that suits them. There are many people who wouldn’t ever dream of visiting a council website who none-the-less might find the information available there useful. The trick is to present that information where they are likely to find it.

I think I’ve identified a way in which local authority, indeed any government organisation, can approach Facebook presence in a way that won’t embarrass those that use it. More soon.

Friendless council

A tweet from the Public Sector Forums Twitter feed alerted me to this story of Stockport Council’s Facebook presence, which, at the time the article was written, wasn’t particularly popular:

A LOCAL authority which reached out to the Facebook generation has suffered an embarrassing snub.

Stockport council set up a page on the social networking site with the aim of spreading the word about its services.

But six months on, the authority has been exposed as an online pariah – after it attracted only six ‘fans’.

I’m delighted to say that as a result of this publicity, the Council now has 46 fans – almost as many as DavePress!

What can be learned from this? That if you build it, they won’t come.

Anything that a council, or any other organisation, does on the web needs to be pushed, promoted and managed. These are the human elements which are so important in engagement excercises. An online project like this will not succeed if you just put it together and then sit back expecting people to join in droves.

This is partly an online marketing issue, and partly one of community management. I doubt there are many in local government who have these skills listed as being required for their jobs, but they are becoming more and more necessary.

There is another issue, peculiar to Facebook, which is one of vocabulary. Does anyone really want to become a ‘fan’ of their local council? Surely there is some more appropriate wording that could be used…


I hadn’t really had a chance to have a proper play with FriendConnect before today. It’s basically a Google service that lets you add social functionality to your website, based on the OpenSocial framework. This means that if you have an account with Google, AOL, Yahoo! or OpenID you can interact with the various services.

What does this actually mean? Well, it enables you to add (sort-of) social networking capabilities to your site, whether it is a blog or a traditional static site, by simply pasting in a bit of code. I’ve added two bits so far: one is the (rather pointless but kind of nice) ability to become a ‘member’ of this blog:

Which a marvellous four people had done at the time of typing (one of whom, er, is me). I suppose this is a little like MyBlogLog territory.

The second is hidden away on the Community page – it’s like a comment wall that you might find on a Facebook profile. I have been umming and ahing over adding a forum to DavePress to enable a bit of interaction between folk here. They do have a habit of looking a little empty, though, and this might just keep the barriers to entry low enough to make it work rather well.

I’ve never had a proper look at KickApps, who seem to offer a similar service. Can anyone share experiences on them?