What is the Knowledge Hub?

The Knowledge Hub is an ambitious project by Local Government Improvement and Development (what was the IDeA) to provide two main things: a new platform for the Communities of Practice to replace the rather clunky current one; and to provide a service for data sharing and hosting – a little like data.gov.uk but for local stuff.

Steve Dale, the architect of the incredibly successful Communities of Practice, is the guy behind the Knowledge Hub, ably assisted by luminaries of local gov 2.0 like Ingrid Koehler. It should be great.

I’ve embedded a video below which explains the Knowledge Hub in a practical sort of way.

The procurement process for the technology bit of the Knowledge Hub was recently completed and at a meeting of the steering group on Tuesday (27th July) we’ll get to find out who the winner is and what the finished thing might look like. My understanding is that the Knowledge Hub will then launch in the new year.

Learning Pool were delighted to be asked to produce the animation for the video above, and we think it has come out pretty well. If you think you have a use for something similar, do get in touch!

Bookmarks for July 17th through July 23rd

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for July 11th through July 16th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • How to work with online communities at Helpful Technology – "But there are many other ways to build relationships, and lots more experience to share. To help explore this further, I’m helping to convene Meet The Communities, a free, one-off event probably in Central London during September, bringing together some of the leading online communities with the government clients, PR & digital agencies for an afternoon of storytelling and speednetworking."
  • App Inventor and the culture wars – O’Reilly Radar – "Creativity–whether the creativity of others or your own–is what makes life worthwhile, and enabling creativity is a heroic act. Google has built a culture around enabling others' creativity, and that's worth celebrating. "
  • The Big Society – the evidence base – "Building on David Kane’s blog-post on the numbers behind the Big Society, the NCVO research team is keen to explore in greater depth the evidence behind this important policy agenda which emphasises the need to transform the relationship between citizens and the state."
  • Should Governments Develop iPhone Apps? – "No, governments should not develop iPhone apps, the community should."
  • Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications – "With Google applications we return to the app to do something specific and then go on to something else, whereas great social applications are designed to lure us back and make us never want to leave."
  • WordPress Plugins to Reduce Load-time : Performancing – Doubt my blog will ever run into performance problems due to traffic, but some interesting stuff here nonetheless.
  • BBC – dot.Rory: Martha’s manifesto – "But it's hard to see how the pledge of universal web access for the UK workforce – which may well be backed by the prime minister later today – can be fulfilled without some government money."
  • UK Government Goes Social for Budget Cuts: Do Not Hold Your Breath – "Once again, this is the unavoidable asymmetry of government 2.0 in action: it is easier (and certainly more pressworthy) to call for ideas on channels that government controls, rather than to gather them where they already are."
  • How Local Government can do Facebook « The Dan Slee Blog – Great roundup and hints and tips from Dan.
  • CycleStreets: UK-wide Cycle Journey Planner and Photomap – "CycleStreets is a UK-wide cycle journey planner system, which lets you plan routes from A to B by bike. It is designed by cyclists, for cyclists, and caters for the needs of both confident and less confident cyclists."

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for June 7th through June 17th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Yammer gets a facelift

We’re big fans of Yammer at Learning Pool – it’s provided that virtual water-cooler that a distributed workforce really needs. That mixture of work related updates, general chit-chat and abuse that any office needs to function effectively.

If you aren’t aware of Yammer, it’s like Twitter but it is private to the employees of your organisation. It means you can discuss issues that you might not want aired in a public forum like Twitter, but in the similar short, informal way that status applications work.

Yammer has just had a bit of a facelift, and a new bit of functionality that looks really cool.

Yammer

The cool feature is called Communities. Yammer now allows you to create a stream for people who aren’t necessarily part of your organisation to join. This is separate from your organisation’s stream, so you don’t need to worry about outsiders seeing your private conversations.

It appears that you can create as many of these communities as you like, and you can choose whether everyone from your organisation gets added automatically, or you can pick and choose people to join. Then it’s a case of inviting by email those people from other organisations that you want to be in on the action.

This will be a great tool for informally managing project communications between supplier and client, for example, especially when there are multiple partner organisations involved, and where there are several people from each organisation who needs to be kept up to date. I’ll be interested to see how Huddle reacts to this, and whether they will consider adding status update like features to their offering.

Putting together your toolkit

I love technology. Actually, no I don’t. I like the idea of technology, and the potential of it. Actual technology generally makes me swear. Anyway, where was I?

So you’ve decided that you need to do something exciting, using technology. Let’s focus on social stuff, as that’s really all I know about. Maybe you’ve put your strategies and policies together and are ready to actually get into some doing. There are a number of approaches you could take:

  • Do your best with what you have
  • Cobble together free stuff
  • Buy something to do it all for you
  • Build something yourself
  • Some kind of weird hybrid of all the above

What should drive your decision on which route to go down, and what tools you use should depend, of course, on what you need. That sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how few organisations really understand their needs, which are dependent on

  • What it is you want to do – in other words, activity
  • How you are organisationally set up to approach this

The first point is another classic bit of Briggs stating the bleeding obvious, but it is worth writing this down and being clear about it. What are we talking about here? Replacing meetings with something more useful? Getting greater benefits than you are currently getting from email discussions? Creating a new community of people who are going to help you do all kinds of cool things?

The second point might be worth delving into in a bit more detail.

Issues that should be considered when looking at how your organisation works needs to take into account factors such as:

  1. Skill levels in the organisation
  2. Desire to share, collaborate and work together amongst staff
  3. Security issues around access and data security
  4. Hardware people have available, including speed of access etc
  5. How much money you have to invest
  6. Whether you need to work with and involve other organisations

All of these things may have as big an impact on your eventual choices as the activities bit. If you decide you need an enterprise collaboration platform, and go and procure something really amazing, but nobody in your organisation knows what it is, how to use it, or what the point of it is, then you’ve got a car crash on your hands.

Likewise, if you decide the future is in the cloud, and set up a system to do just that – but only find out from the IT security guys that it’s not possible for the organisation to host its files on various different servers across the globe at the very last minute, again, you’re ending up with egg on your face.

So before deciding on what tools you want and how they are going to work, it’s a good idea to spend some time figuring out the capacity within your organisation to deal with the technology you want to throw at them first – these are just as important as functional requirements and all the other stuff.

Quite a bit of inspiration from this post came from bits of the book Digital Habitats by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John D Smith. Well worth a look.

Disruptive communities

A few interesting sites I’ve come across in the last few weeks have got me thinking – always dangerous – and have also connected some stuff in my head. As always, I might have got this wrong, but thought it worth sharing.

Some of the most exciting uses of the web to emerge over the last couple of years have used the power of web 2.0 to foster conversation online amongst people with things in common, who might not otherwise have found each other.

This is effectively what I am banging on about in the talks I give on this subject, putting together the apparently opposing aspects of the web which I label – in line with the books of the same titles – The Long Tail and Here Comes Everybody. That is to say that the web allows us to be incredibly individual online, to find information that’s incredibly niche, to write our own blogs about very esoteric subjects (the Long Tail bit). But at the same time, the web connects us, so no matter how apparently individual our interests, we can always find others into the same stuff – whether they are geographically near or far (the Here Comes Everybody bit).

By combining these two things – individual interests and self organising, websites can create new communities for people who may have otherwise thought they were alone. We can belong to as many of these communities as we like too, no matter how apparently contradictory – just like our own personalities. For instance, I could be a member of an online conservation group, as well as a Range Rover owners’ community. Belonging to one need not preclude me from another as long as I feel comfortable with it myself. This would not necessarily be the case with other, mainly offline groups – political parties being one obvious example.

This is incredibly powerful – and potentially very disruptive. There are a few examples of mass scale communities which are often trotted out – NetMums is one, Money Saving Expert another – but these are generally technically pretty traditional. The new communities are increasingly targeted at niche areas and are increasingly sophisticated in terms of the tech.

Disruption is considered a bad thing in many circles – wrongly, as is failure (the best we can ever hope to do, after all, is fail better). In fact, disruption is just doing things in a different way – perhaps bypassing process or procedure, or creating a whole new process in place of the old one. It’s just change, really.

These new, disruptive communities bring people together, and it is at that point that real change can start to happen. Websites don’t really change anything – but people do. This has a considerable number of implications for many different organisations, but particularly government. This ranges from what kind of organisations and groups should be consulted on issues to actually who should deliver services.

Here are some examples, which are those interesting sites I mentioned at the top of this post. They aren’t necessarily new, but are great examples of what I’m talking about.


PatientsLikeMe

PatientsLikeMe is a US based site which creates communities out of people with similar health complaints. It allows members to share experiences, information and knowledge about their conditions, with obvious benefits. Those people living in small rural locations, for example, are unlikely ever to meet other folk with similar issues – but online it is easy to connect and discuss. Members of the site also share data relating to their illness, which in turn is shared with partner organisations to help develop cures.

Enabled By Design

Set up in the UK by Denise Stephens, with help from Dominic Campbell and others, Enabled by Design

…is a community of people passionate about well designed everyday products. By sharing their loves, hates and ideas, Enabled by Designers challenge the one size fits all approach to assistive equipment through the use of clever modern design.

The site brings together people who have great ideas for design in assistive and other equipment, as well as taking contributions from those who spot great – and terrible – examples of design out there now.

Help Me Investigate

Help Me Investigate is a site that encourages people to get together and, well, investigate stuff. It’s a mixture of local journalism and a social network. People list things they want to investigate, and others join them, adding what they find out to an investigation page online that everyone involved can see.

With a team boasting the best in networked journalism and technology that Birmingham has to offer (Paul, Nick and Stef) Help Me Investigate is a great site for bringing citizens together around the issues that matter to them – and issuing challenges to public and private organisations.

Signpostr

Signpostr is a very new site, only just out in Alpha testing mode. The brainchild of School of Everything‘s Douglad Hind and Colin Tate, Signpostr is a community for job seekers, particularly those leaving education into the current job market. It offers three things:

  • a space to talk honestly about the realities of looking for work at a difficult time;
  • a user-generated resource directory, where people can share information about resources useful for finding work or living cheaply;
  • and a tool for organising and developing your own projects.

There are an awful lot of government sponsored initiatives out there to help people get (back) into work during the recession – and it will be fascinating to see whether a self organised community can add something that ‘official’ projects cannot provide.

FreeLegalWeb

FreeLegalWeb describes itself as

…a project designed to deliver a web service that joins up and makes sense of the law and legal commentary and analysis on the web, providing a substantially more reliable, useful and efficient service than is currently available.

So, the current arrangements are perceived to be failing people, so here is a self-organised attempt to put that right. A great team is behind the project, including Nick Holmes, Robert Casalis de Pury and Harry Metcalfe; and support is being provided by the Cabinet Office, OPSI, BAILII, the Open Knowledge Foundation and mySociety. Well worth keeping an eye on.


All of these community projects have identified a need where government or the market is failing people, and have stepped up to fill that gap, using digital technology as a cost effective way of bringing large numbers of people together in one (online) place.

These communities are also, I think, great examples for local authorities to follow when making applications to the (deep breath) Communities and Local Government Customer-Led Service Transformation Capital Fund which Ingrid at the IDeA has been doing so much to promote recently.

This fund is looking for projects that fill a genuine need for citizens which isn’t currently being met, to provide information to key identified groups of people and focusing on specific issues that have been made priorities by local government. It isn’t really about getting those little projects kick started that you’ve never found the money to do – it strikes me that these sites funded by this money will be new ideas – and big, scalable ideas too.

Those interested in going for the funding should be looking at the sites I have mentioned above, and thinking what are the issues where citizens currently aren’t getting the access to information, or the conversations, that they need.

Beyond the CLG dosh, though, is a bigger question for government, which is whether it should be involved in building these sites at all. There is a convincing argument that says they shouldn’t, and that self organised action is entirely preferable.

I agree with that view to an extent, and in an ideal world, that’s how it would work. But where government – local or otherwise – can help kickstart that community building process, whether by acting in a convening capacity, or investing in the necessary technology, promotion and community management work, it should. It need not matter whether an online space is set up by a community activist or a local council – just as long as it does the job required and is run in the interests of its members.

Developing a community game

Social media game

I have run the social media game many times now, and it always turns out differently and is always rewarding, and interesting.

Basically, it is learning and FUN!

Here is a PDF of the cards I used, which I put together about a year ago for the 2gether08 conference. It’s based on the original by David Wilcox and friends, which has subsequently been developed in a different direction into the Social by Social game.

I’ve been involved in building and managing online communities for a while now, and it looks like I’m going to be doing even more in the near future (more on that later). To help refine my own thinking, and as an aid in planning online community work, I’m putting together a version of the game specific to to community building.

The game will work as normal, with teams asked to produce ideas around projects or problems which an online community could help solve. Then, in this version, the teams use three sets of cards to develop a strategy for what that community needs to work effectively. The sets of cards are technology, roles and activity.

Here are the cards I have thought of, under each category. Have I missed anything obvious? Anything you would change?

1. Technology

Hopefully these are self explanatory:

  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Profiles
  • Status updates
  • Wikis
  • RSS feeds in
  • RSS feeds out
  • Embedable media
  • Polls and surveys
  • Email alerts
  • Respond by email
  • Email newsletters
  • Groups
  • Event listings
  • Document sharing
  • Social bookmarking
  • Chat
  • Third Party Applications
  • Public and private spaces

2. Roles

Note – these are my definitions for the purpose of this game. You might not necessarily agree with how I describe certain roles – let me know in the comments if you would call them something different!

  • Community manager – overall responsibility for success of the community
  • Community cultivator – helps to develop conversations and use of the community
  • Digital curator – finds good content on the community and elsewhere, and brings it to members’ attention
  • Social reporter – creates content around the subject of the community, whether text, images, video or audio
  • Community evangelist – someone to promote the community and encourage new members to sign up
  • Moderator – ensuring content is appropriate for the community, works with members to ensure conversation stays on track
  • Technology steward – helps manage the tech side of the community, provides help and support on how to use the features available, plans for future development
  • Domain expert – someone with a deep knowledge of the subject matter of the community
  • Facilitator – someone with a wide range of skills who can support the community by providing a little of all the other roles

3. Activities

These are a touch verbose right now, and will need to be a bit more succinct to fit on the cards!

  • Plan community activity in advance
  • Identify existing communities (online and offline)
  • Identify enthusiastic potential members
  • Identify relevant websites to promote community
  • Promote community through social networking sites
  • Run hotseats
  • Seed content and discussions
  • Run online conferences
  • Develop user guidelines and policies
  • Communicate with members and potential members using backchannels

It would be awesome to get feedback on these ideas before I set @davebriggswife to work with the laminator!