Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

What I’m doing next: launching Kind of Digital

It’s a new financial year, and that seems an appropriate time to share my plans for the future.

Following a really enjoyable couple of years at Learning Pool, we’re going to reshape my role as Community Evangelist to enable me to focus on some other stuff.

In particular, I’m launching a new business.

Kind of Digital is that business, where I’ll be putting into practice everything I have been writing about here for the last few years. In other words, answering the question “how can we use the internet to make government more interesting?”

Services

How will I be doing that? Through a mixture of training, strategic advice and development work.

The training I see as a real priority at the moment. In many ways the arguments for more engaging use of the web by public service organisations are accepted by most – but the skills to get the strategy right, and to deliver it effectively, are all too rare.

I’ve got a range of training programmes designed which include face to face training and online support – and if you’re interested for your organisation, whether for staff or politicians, please do get in touch.

On the strategy side, if you need help putting together your organisation’s approach to digital engagement or just need some ideas for a campaign, I’d love to help out.

Developing new tools and engaging sites is another area of work I’m keen to get stuck into – with work already started on a couple of interesting projects that I’ll be able to discuss shortly.

Projects

It’s not just client based work though, I’m also looking to get involved in delivering some cool projects, exploring innovation in public service delivery. Again, conversations are underway on a couple of things and I’ll talk more about those soon.

If you have anything in mind though, it would be great to collaborate!

It’s not just Dave

Last time I worked for myself, I was pretty much a freelancer – it was just me. This time though, inspired by the time I spent hanging out with Mary and Paul at Learning Pool, I’m wanting to build a scalable, sustainable business.

As we’re just starting out, I’m going to be doing a lot of the doing to begin with, but I’m hoping to add people to the team to deliver projects in the future. If you’re interested, particularly if you can work on an associate basis, do get in touch.

I’m delighted that I’m being joined at Kind of Digital by Catherine – otherwise known as @davebriggswife. To say that she is the brains of the operation whilst I am the mouth is an understatement. Catherine will be helping me out with all the stuff I’m terrible at – admin, the financial stuff, project management, making sure stuff gets done. I’m incredibly relieved that she’s on board!

Kind of Digital and Learning Pool

All this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning Learning Pool, just that I’m going to be doing (even) less work there in the future. It’s not the sort of team that is easy to leave – and nor would I want to. I’m dead chuffed to still be working on various projects with LP, and I’ll always be happy to promote their products to the people I meet.

In fact, there are already a bunch of projects where KoD and LP can collaborate to provide a really great, unique service to public sector organisations to help them innovate using technology.

I also know that Mary and Paul’s considerable business brains will be a great asset to me as I build up the company – their advice will be vital if I’m to make a success of this thing.

And finally…

Obviously, given the business I’m in, there’s plenty of social media action going on with Kind of Digital. You can connect to the company by subscribing to the blogRSS or email – or by following us on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, anyone that does so with either of those channels over the next two weeks will get entered into a draw to win some awesome KoD goodies, including t-shirts, pens, laptop stickers and other tat Catherine has ordered from the internet.

Am I bribing you to follow my company on social networks? You bet I am. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a recession on…

Mostly offline

I’ve moved house, and the new one won’t be connected to the internets until Thursday.

So I won’t be doing much until then!

Normal service resumed next week though.

Events, dear boy…

My diary is starting to fill up a bit with events to attend, and those I have been asked to speak at. Here’s a quick run down.

FirePRO Conference – Wednesday 13th October

I’ll be speaking to the conference for public relations officers in the Fire and Rescue Services.

My session is all about “How to get the most from social media”:

Is social media a ‘nice to have’ or is it an essential part of a modern communication strategy? This session will discuss ways of integrating social media into mainstream communication and ask whether FRSs can work together to maximise the benefits of online communication.

SLCC National Conference – Saturday 16th October

I’ll be talking to local council clerks about how they can use the web to get people more involved in local democracy and the activity of parish, town and community councils.

Beyond 2010 – 20th and 21st October

I’ll be attending this great looking event in Birmingham as a punter rather than a speaker, and am really looking forward to it given the great line up. Nick wrote it up nicely here.

How to save money and influence people: Implementing behaviour change strategies – 24th November

This LGA conference is all about how councils can manage the significant changes necessary to meet the challenges facing local government – without utterly alienating staff. I’ll be talking about the role that social technology can play in this.

WLGA Member Support and Development Conference – 26th November

I’ll be talking to this Welsh LGA conference about how councillors can be supported in their use of the web to engage with residents.

What I do

DB business cardMy role at Learning Pool is a hard one to define exactly. A couple of weeks ago, we had a big company meeting where everyone got together to discuss the last year’s efforts, and what we want to achieve in 10/11.

At one point Paul asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they knew what I did for the company. I don’t think anyone raised their hands. I know I didn’t.

That’s ok, though, and I stood up and rather incoherently tried to explain it all. I don’t think I did a great job, but I do think I managed to get across that it isn’t just about going to conferences.

My job title is Community Evangelist, and the first thing to say is that I’m not a Technology Evangelist. The role of technology evangelist is a pretty well established one in the techie sphere, pioneered by Guy Kawasaki at Apple in the 80s. Robert Scoble fulfilled a similar role for Microsoft in the mid-noughties.

This is important, because I’m a newcomer to Learning Pool’s core technology, based on Moodle, and would probably be a pretty terrible evangelist for it. Not only that, but my actual technical knowledge is sketchy at best, and I’m as good an example as any that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Instead of technology, my focus is people – as individuals, members of communities of practice or interest, and organisations. My aim is to promote the behaviour and culture of the internet: collaboration, openness, generosity, curiosity.

So what do I actually do?

  • Well, I do go to conferences. I speak at them, sit and listen at them, wander around chatting to people at them. I collect business cards, I give out my own. I enthuse about the wonders of the internet and what it can do for people and organisations.
  • I also turn up at organisations, like Councils – occasionally invited – to talk to groups of people, whether management teams or whole departments about the work we do and why it’s important
  • I manage communities. This will be really important once the new LP website is launched, which will be full of online networking goodness. Encouraging participation, getting more people to join, providing real value for both members and for the company.
  • I convene. One of the things Learning Pool effectively invested in when they recruited me was my network: as a result of the past 5 years I’ve spent writing this blog, whoring myself on Facebook and Twitter and attempting to be as helpful as possible, I’ve built up a group of people who find knowing me occasionally useful. I introduce people who may not have otherwise known one another, and hope that interesting things happen as a result.
  • I curate. I spend a lot of time following hundreds of blogs and Twitter streams, picking out the best bits and distributing links to them via Twitter, Delicious, Google Reader, and of course this blog. As I like to say, I find this stuff so you don’t have to.
  • Of the stuff I read, a lot comes from sectors other than the public, and so I spend time thinking how emergent technology and ideas can be applied to public services. I guess I just put stuff into context. It isn’t that hard, and the joy of it is that I don’t need to have too many original thoughts of my own.
  • I write longer pieces than blog posts, like the Twitter guide – and I have some more of these planned. Hopefully they are useful for those that download and read them, and they promote LP as a helpful company who know more or less what they are talking about
  • I have ideas. 99% of them are stupid and never go anywhere. The other 1% are stupid but get made less stupid by someone else, and may end up actually happening.
  • I get wind of potentially interesting projects for Learning Pool to be involved with, which are often way outside the usual day to day business of the company. I do my best to win the work, and after completing it, we decide whether it is an activity that could be ‘productised’ and marketed as a service we could offer more widely.
  • Finally, I share stuff. Pretty much everything I ever think gets written up and published, whether here or on Twitter. I also try to share the interesting stories I come across in local government, finding the pockets of great innovation that are going on and making more people aware of it, so everyone benefits. My recent interview with Mark Lloyd is an example of that. I’m always looking for more.

So that’s a brief run through of what I do. In practice, I spend a lot of time reading, mainly off the screen and mainly within Google Reader, and a lot of time out and about meeting people. There are worse ways of making a living.

Busy, busy

Sorry for the light blogging of late, but I have been jolly busy of late, not least with moving house. I’m now resident in Cottenham, near Cambridge. Do come and say hello if you are ever nearby.

Here’s a couple of morsels to chew on before I can get back in the blogging swing of things:

  • I’ve started work at DIUS! I’m doing two days a week working for Steph Gray, building WordPress sites and helping implement some other social media goodness, including some training for civil servants. Should be fun!
  • Since moving to Cambridge I have wanted to see if a similar social media scene could be started here as is happening in London and Birmingham. Maybe the coworking collective could be the start of that.
  • Tomorrow (Wednesday 5th November) I’ll be at Public Sector ICT 2008 near Northampton with Steve Dale, running a social web workshop which no doubt will feature the beautiful game at some point.
  • I haven’t forgotten about ReadWriteGov and I promise that some content from the day – which was a rip-roaring success, by the way – will go up on the blog soon. Before the end of the week? I should hope so. Also, look out for some new RWG events near you soon!
  • Public Sector Forums are running a GovWeb type event on the 4th December in Edgbaston. I’ll be talking about social web stuff there. It will be great – so do sign up for it. More details on that soon.
  • Finally, welcome to Twitter, Bracknell Forest Council!