Help me save the Knowledge Hub (in some form)

An email from the Knowledge Hub team at the LGA:

As Knowledge Hub user I felt it necessary to contact you with this news. You may have read in today’s press due to cost the LGA are proposing to close the Knowledge Hub facility. There is statutory 30 day consultation period (consultation closes on 23 June) on these proposals. As project lead I am very sorry to have to bring you this news. Many of you have invested time and effort in the platform and we as a team have worked extremely hard to deliver what we feel is a valuable and vital service for local government at this difficult time.

The organisation has decided that in the face of further cuts funding is unsustainable.

This is a terrible shame for local government. Cross sector sharing of knowledge and learning is vital if councils are to meet the challenges they face.

I know I could make the Knowledge Hub work: with a change of technology, a new business model, and some great community management.

I think we can make the Knowledge Hub – or whatever it might be called – like LocalGovCamp – only all the time and everywhere.

I suspect I need to convince the LGA to let me do this. After all, I want the existing content on the Knowledge Hub to import into the new system, and the user data too. Otherwise, starting from scratch will most likely make life extremely difficult.

So, I’d like some help. The best form is probably in expressions of support, perhaps publicly on the comments of this post. If you think local government needs a knowledge sharing platform, and you think I might be the person to make a decent fist of it, then do please let me, and the LGA, know.

Thanks!

We need to talk about the Knowledge Hub

Or at least, about where people in public service can go to share ideas, ask questions and promote good practice.

Back in the summer of 2006, when I was working as a lowly Risk Management Officer (yes, you read that right) at a county council, I joined the nascent Communities of Practice platform, which was being developed by Steve Dale at the then Improvement and Development Agency.

I thought it was fantastic, and joined in with some gusto – so much so in fact that I did attract a little criticism from colleagues who thought – probably quite rightly – that I ought to have been concentrating on the day job.

One of the first things I did was to launch the Social Media and Online Collaboration community, which I ran until my circumstances changed and Ingrid took over. Under Ingrid’s watchful eye, the community grew into one of the biggest and most popular on the platform.

Over time though it became clear that the CoP platform wasn’t keeping up with the technological times: the interface was a little clunky and a few things didn’t really make sense in an age of hyper-sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

So the Knowledge Hub was born, to take things forward. Only, I’m not sure it has.

I’m not wanting to bash the hard work that people have put in. All I will do is describe my experience – that people aren’t using the Knowledge Hub, and activity appears to be way down compared to the CoPs.

On the rare occasions I log in, I find the site incredibly, almost unusably, slow – and the interface hard to find my way around. I mean, I spend my life on the internet, and I just don’t really know what I am meant to do on the Knowledge Hub.

I’ve been wanting to raise this topic for a while, but what made me do it was receiving a request for information on Twitter by a local government person.

I don’t mind it when this happens. In fact it’s rather nice, as it means people remember who I am, and I get a chance to be helpful. As the owner of a small business, I get that this sort of thing can be a useful marketing tool.

But I do think to myself that there really ought to be a place where good practice, case studies, stories, examples, discussions and helpful chat can take place.

Surely that should be the Knowledge Hub? But as I mention, it isn’t: hardly anyone is on there and people are using tools like Twitter to try and track down the information they need.

So what’s the answer? Given the investment so far, and the organisational backing of the Knowledge Hub, that platform ought to be the future of knowledge sharing and collaboration in the sector.

I’m sure there are a few tweaks on the technology, user interface and community engagement side that could push things forward massively on there, before the goodwill earned by the previous system is used up.

The other option is for something else to emerge to take its place. With a little time and energy, I’ve no doubt someone – maybe even me – could put the tech in place to make it happen. But the time and resources needed to engage an entire sector are huge – and if the LGA are struggling I dread to think what sort of a hash someone like me would make of it.

What are your views? Do you use the Knowledge Hub? How does it compare to the CoPs? Where do you go for your innovation knowledge, stories and chat?

Where do we go next?

£4 million to help local authorities fight climate change

Interesting news item this morning on eGov monitor:

 A new £4 million programme to help local authorities tackle climate change was announced by Environment Minister Phil Woolas and Local Government Minister John Healey today.

The programme will spread existing best practice on climate change among local authorities, and provide training and mentoring to help them reduce emissions and adapt to the already unavoidable effects of climate change.

The programme, jointly funded by Defra and Communities and Local Government, will be tailored to local needs and priorities, with delivery being co-ordinated at a regional level.

It will be interesting to learn how this best practice is going to be shared. The first thing I would do would be to start a Community of Practice on the subject.

CoPs in the Telegraph

Simon Dickson pointed me to a post on the Telegraph‘s Three Line Whip blog about the IDeA Communities of Practice platform:

These ‘Communities of Practice’ are an attempt, according to their creators, to harness the power of social networking to share problems, ideas and expertise.

It seems like a worthy idea – but is still fundamentally quite cautious. As I pointed out this weekend in a piece for ConservativeHome, government is still reluctant to let the people see behind the curtain. The ‘Communities of Practice’ are closed shops, designed to let those in the biz talk to each other without disruptive elements intruding…

But there is a more radical view, which is that government, and its personnel, do not have a monopoly of good ideas – and that opening up policy-making will make for better policy and a more engaged public. I go over the pros and cons in the final section of my recent pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, but would be interested to get an idea as to whether people on this site think policy should be left to the experts. I suspect I know what the answer will be…

A predictable reaction possibly. But in reality, it isn’t a closed shop. Just by connecting all those in local government alone there would be a huge number of different voices and perspectives involved. But there are also people from across the public sector, not to mention Councillors and people who work for the sector as independent consultants.

It would be interesting to find out what would happen if Joe Public tried to join. I suspect they would be engaged with and not turned away. How interested are folk in the minutiae of local government working practices? Maybe there should be something similar created to connect people with an interest in local politics, to help them work together and engage with their local authorities.

Worse, though is in the comments, where one particularly moronic contributor states:

…except for the fact that this is funded by the long-suffering taxpayer. Remember that those that govern despise the governed and resent any intrusion into their cosy unproductive world.

There is no need to cut essential services to fund tax cuts – there are hundreds of millions to be saved by abolishing these glorified social clubs.

Sigh. There’s actually a multitude of examples of where this technology has saved money – travel can be avoided by collaborating online, for example. But this sort of vile attitude towards public servants probably isn’t worth even spending the time to argue with.

On facilitation

Had a great meeting today with two of my fellow facilitators at the Community of Practice for Knowledge Management in the Public Sector (don’t worry, we’re working on the name). The community has been running for a little while now and has had two successful real-life meetings. For some reason though, the connections haven’t continued online, and the web based CoP has been very slow.

This brings to the fore the very important issue of facilitation of online communities – whether social networks, collaborative environments like the CoPs, simple forums, blogs or wikis. Facilitation differs very much from the traditional online role of the moderator, which to my mind concentrates on the negatives like deleting nasty content and banning naughty users. Facilitators seek to engage people with the platform, using a number of techniques that can be both hi and lo-tech.

No discussion of communities and facilitation can go by without these two masterful posts from Ed Mitchell on the topics. Must-read stuff, as well as a great example of the quality writing that exists in the blogosphere.

Many of the objections to using social media and web 2.0 technology can be countered by having an effective facilitation strategy, backed up by having people in the facilitation role who know what they are doing. Stuff like lack of engagement, sites looking empty, failing to follow up on conversations etc.

Here’s some of the stuff I think facilitators oughtt be doing:

Firstly, the facilitator must encourage discussion on the platform. This can be through seeding discussion by adding background content and then asking a question to try and spark a conversation, for example.

Second, back-channels should be used to ensure the conversation is maintained. For instance, if someone you know who is very knowledgeable about a topic that is being discussed, but isn’t presently engaged in that discussion, then the facilitator should drop them an email or telephone call to get them involved.

Thirdly, the facilitator should be a guide to the platform being used – helping users find the most appropriate way of posting their content. This is especially true of a platform like that I was discussing today, where forums, blogs, wikis and document sharing are all possible, and only really the first and last on that list get used – I’m sure just because folk are used to them and not to some of the newer tools.

Fourth, get people meeting face to face. Facilitation is not just about the online, the offline is just as vital. Social networks are great for bringing people together and getting them to work together, but there is a definite trust element that’s missing until people actually get to meet each other. Facilitators need to be as comfortable introducing people to people face-to-face as they are online. It also helps to always have stuff like coloured post-it notes, sticky dots, glue sticks and magic markers to hand.

Fifth, figure out ways of using the technology to help people get the information they want. For example, hotseating is cool thing to do: find a person who is rather knowledgeable about a subject, get them to write a blog post about it, and then invite people to ask them questions in the comments. Make it a time limited thing, so there is some sense of urgency, and you’re away. Or here’s another: set the community a blogging challenge, where every member has to write a blog post along a common theme, maybe with a suitable prize for the best one. It’s a good way of generating content and getting people used to using the tools.

So there’s five, and I’m sure there are tonnes more.

Anyone?

Public Sector Social Media Meet

Members of the Community of Practice for Social Media and Online Collaboration are meeting up at the Learning and Skills Council National Office in Coventry on 26th February 2008 between 10am and 3.30pm for a day of Web 2.0 fun and frolics, including:

  • The benefits of using social media in the public sector, real life examples
  • Building social web sites: blogs, wikis, forums and social networks
  • Making social online video
  • Group discussions on where the potential is for social media to make a real difference and a "how do I?" : Matching tools to problems
  • Future developments of the CoP

If you aren’t already a member of the community and you feel it would be worthwhile attending please join us here and sign up on the wiki to say you’ll come.

Online collaboration does work

Despite now working in further education, I’m still involved in the predominantly local government based Communities of Practice social online collaboration platform, which is developed by the Improvement & Development Agency. For a quick run through of the whys, whats, wheres and hows, Steve Dale’s presentation from Online Information 2007 is as good a place to start as any.

I currently facilitate a few communities on the platform, principally the Social Media and Online Collaboration one, where we discuss the latest and greatest online innovations and muse dreamily on how wonderful it would be for our bosses to allow us to use them. Another is the Public Sector Knowledge and Information Management network – which could be significant as the management of knowledge becomes an ever-more important issue for public bodies.

If there is anyone reading this blog who might be interested in either of these communities, do sign up. It’s tremendous to see people engaging with social web tools to work together, and to share their knowledge and experience. This stuff really does work, people.