Social media skunkworks?

My good friend Robert Brook – one of the most active and entertaining people I follow on Twitter – was recently interviewed by Chris Dalby, and it was caught on video.

In it, Robert discusses the work he does at the UK Parliament as a ‘skunkworks’ – for those that don’t know, this is:

typically developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of innovation

Sounds like fun. The origin of the phrase is from Lockheed Martin, in case you are interested.

This way of fostering innovation and getting things done – by taking it under the radar – is an interesting one and something I have heard from others, who have spoken about organisations having a ‘splinter-cell’ for social media, or describing innovative web stuff being done as ‘black ops’.

It ties in with a lot of the stuff that Cisco’s Guido Jouret said at the Cisco Public Sector Summit that I covered late last year. Some of the things that can stife innovation in large organisations, said Guido, include:

  • too much money – projects lose focus
  • too much time – projects drift
  • too many people – not everyone believes in the project as much as they need to
  • too much love – people get too attached to failing projects and
  • too much hate – jealousy elsewhere in the organisation kills projects

As a result, innovation projects have limited budgets, timescales, small teams, spend a lot of time in ‘stealth mode’ (skunkworks?) and people on teams are kept close.

A lot of the good work that goes on in the public sector with the web happens on the quiet, guerilla style. If thing are really going to change, then this needs to stop and we need these projects out in the open, not to have people worried about talking about them openly.

However, that needs a culture shift and it might not happen soon. In the meantime, we need to get stuff done, and if it has to happen in a skunkworks style, then so be it.

On Social Reporting

David Wilcox, the godfather of the social reporting concept, has written up his reflections from a couple of days spent at an event in Portugal:

What was unusual, in my experience, was that we had the benefit of a three person team, a good base at the venue, and another team led by Richard Jolly doing the really hard work of capturing more formal interviews with the main speakers. That left us to concentrate on the informal…

We were fortunate in having a work space with power and good wifi, in the middle of the venue. People could find us.

You can find the content from David’s team’s efforts on the event blog.

I’ve just finished a similar gig in Sweden for Cisco, where I was the lone social reporter, but with a remit to try and galvanise some of the delegates to give it a go themselves. I was very lucky to identify Rui Grilo (coincidence that Rui himself is Portugese?) early on in proceedings – Rui clearly got what it was we were trying to achieve and was soon contributing via Twitter, Flickr and the conference blog. Lev Gonick also contributed via Twitter and his own blog (all content tagged with cisco08 was also aggregated on our event blog, through Google Blogsearch’s RSS feeds).

One thing I was pleased about was the layout of the site we used, which managed to capture all the new content with a nice dashboard feel. It being displayed on screens around the venues helped – it really helped delegates get a feel for what was being said.

I would have liked to have done more video interviews than I managed, but being on my tod made it difficult. I did have a couple of Flip cameras to lone out to anyone wanting to help out, but I think that such was the quality of the sessions at the event at the networking inbetween that no-one really had the time to do it!

Overall, though, I think my efforts in Stockholm were a success, and adds to the work that David has done in proving that having a social reporting element is vital for any conference. This is because:

  • It gives a voice to those attending the event, with a direct live feedback loop to event organisers and speakers, etc (if they choose to listen!)
  • They help delegates who are not engaged with the social web find out what is being said online about the event they are attending
  • It can provide background material to place sessions into context
  • It gets content online much quicker for those not attending to be able to view – eg my pretty bad Flip recordings of sessions were available online within a few hours of the sessions ending
  • It also gives those not in attendance the chance to contribute by leaving comments, etc

Many thanks to Paul Johnston of Cisco for inviting me along. Paul is one of those behind Cisco’s community for those who want to make government a little more collaborative, called The Connected Republic. Closing the circle, Paul was interviewed a while ago by one David Wilcox at an event about what this initiative is all about. You can watch it here.

Charles Leadbeater at Cisco08

I’ve already posted this to the Cisco08 blog, but thought maybe some folk here would be interested in Charles Leadbeater’s talk at Cisco’s Public Sector Summit in Stockholm today:

I just used a Flip Ultra to record, and so the quality isn’t bad, considering… Apologies for the occasionally shakey camera-work – 30 minutes is a long time holding a camera up!

Latest from Stockholm

After the sheer audio/visual genius of the previous two efforts in my video diary chronicling my trip to Sweden, I thought I would do another one. As a bonus, there is another Swedish Confectionary Review at the end.

I decided to give Vimeo a go at hosting this one, rather than YouTube. Vimeo seems easy enough, but I wonder how value there is in using YouTube just because lots of people use it and most people are comfortable with how it works?

Swedish update from Dave Briggs on Vimeo.

If you ask me to stop, I will.

Social reporting at Cisco08 Public Sector Summit

I am having fun here in Stockholm providing social web backup to the Public Sector Summit – an event arranged by Cisco to discuss how technology and government can help each other.

We have quite a bit of activity going on, including the use of twitter and flickr – and shortly I’m hoping to be able to get some video up on YouTube. We also have a group blog, which you can find at Everything gets picked up through use of the cisco08 tag.

As well as providing a platform for people to use to blog (which they are doing, fantastically) the blog home page also aggregates content from all the different social media services in one place. This is displayed on large screens around the venue so people can see what’s going on (a little bit of javascript refreshes the page every 10 minutes so we don’t have to run around refreshing each one!).

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in government at any level and the way technology can be used to swing by the site and see what you can pick up from it: and of course, leave a comment or send a message on twitter if you want to!

Travelling to Sweden

I have been rather enjoying myself on my trip to Sweden today, even after a very short night’s sleep in the world’s smallest hotel room.

I kind of even enjoyed waiting for a bus at 4.25am under Heathrow’s terminal 4:

Under terminal 4

But on getting to terminal 5, this FILTHY breakfast gave me some much-needed stamina, I must say.


I’m delighted to note that my room here in Stockholm is much larger and nicer than the one I was in last night. Here’s a quick video update on that subject and on what I’m actually doing here in Sweden:

Hotel Yotel

I’m on my way to Stockholm, where I will be doing some social reporting and blog coaching at Cisco’s Public Sector Summit.

I’m flying from Heathrow tomorrow (Monday) morning, at 7.25am and to save myself a bit of hassle I am stopping over tonight so all I have to do is roll out of bed, onto a bus and I should be at terminal five within ten minutes.

I’m staying in the Yotel in terminal four, which specialises in, well, tiny rooms! I knew it was going to be small, but was quite shocked when I walked in the door of my ‘cabin’. I made a quick video with my Flip Ultra to demonstrate just how bijou this room is:

I must say, I have never been quite so scared of falling out of bed!