Tag Archives: dclg

Scaling up public sector innovation

A few months ago I was interviewed by some very nice civil servants from BIS and CLG about how central government could help support and scale innovation in local public services.

I can’t remember much of what I said, but I’m guessing that ‘get out of the way’ probably featured several times. Oh, and ‘don’t impose models, tools or platforms from above’ as well.

Anyhow, the team have reported their findings, which focus on four main areas for action:

  1. Create the conditions that maximize the capacity for innovative ideas to scale across the public sector;
  2. Ensure that the public sector have the organisational culture, leadership, and people conducive to supporting the scaling up of innovative ideas;
  3. Establish networks that facilitate the dissemination of innovative ideas that could be scaled, supporting the spread of knowledge; and
  4. Use appraisal and evaluation of innovative ideas to provide the business case for scaling, to ensure the right ideas are implemented and driven forward.

You can download an executive summary of the report (PDF) or the whole thing (also PDF).

It’s worth a read.

Bookmarks for December 12th through December 30th

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.

Communities & Local Government engaging with bloggers

The Department for Communities & Local Government did some great work in engaging people with the Empowerment White Paper entitled Communities in Control. Some of the activity included a blog, forum, Twitter feed, online video and photos hosted on Flickr. What was originally going to be a very short term programme has been extended, which is also great news.

One of the aspects of the white paper that I, and others, found particularly interesting was that around Digital Mentors, people working in deprived communities to help give them a voice by providing them with the skills and tools to tell their stories using online means. Quite a few posts and comments were written, showing the appetite amongst the social web community for this kind of role.

Well, it seems like things are moving on and developing within the department, and what is really exciting is that those working on the Digital Mentor idea are starting to engage with the bloggers. I’m particularly chuffed that Georgia Klein chose my blog to leave this comment on:

Thanks for the blogging about Digital Mentors. I’m at CLG tasked with consulting informally with stakeholders to help me shape the document to go out to tender so that pilots can start April 09. I’d be really keen to recieve your wish list / views on what you think a mentor should look like based on your experiences and how one builds sustainability into these models. I’ll be watching out for your comments here but you can also contact me at [email removed to reduce spamming a little bit, you can find it on the original comment]. Be warned, the timetable for this initial consultation round is tight – mid-Oct (there may be more opportunities through the formal procurement process).

Quite a few readers of this blog have already commented, so do please add your views on the subject – as the department is listening!

This is a great example, though, of government finding where the conversations are happening and getting involved with them, making the most of the enthusiastic amateurs who are generating ideas and solutions online for no reason other than that they are interested. Let’s hope we see more of it in the future!

Consultation Update

Last week, two different consultation exercises were launched by two Whitehall departments, each tackling the issue of how to engage people through the web slightly differently. Firstly, there was DCLG with their blog/twitter/forum combo; second was DIUS, with their funky little CommentPress number. Which is faring better, I wonder?

So far, Hazel Blears’ blog on the DCLG site has seen four posts, one of which included a bit of video, which was nice. The first post has seen the most number of comments, with 14. The subsequent posts have had a comment each, and the latest one none so far. The forum has seen seven replies. On the plus side, though, the Twitter feed has 83 followers, most of whom have been followed in return. This is a useful number and I would hope that the Twitter experiment, if nothing else, continues after the initial 7 days.

What could be done to increase the levels of participation on the blog, though? Here’s a couple of ideas:

  1. Find out who is writing online about the White Paper – Simon Berry’s Pageflake will do well, otherwise, just try Google.
  2. Respond to what people are saying on their blogs by leaving a comment, or
  3. Write a post responding to what people are saying on the Empowerment blog, linking and quoting each post

This would open people’s eyes up to how this type of online consultation and collaboration could work, reassuring the bloggers that they are being listened to and allowing people to join in conversations started elsewhere.

One disappointing thing is that so far, no-one from the department has responded to any of the blog comments, nor the forum entries. But while several people have been pretty scathing about this short term experiment in online, I still hope that it can succeed as a way of bringing in the views of those who might never normally be involved in this sort of consultation.

Over on the DIUS site, there has been a little more activity, and even better, some of it has come from policy officials. In total, 115 comments have been left on the site, with regular responses from one David Rawlings, who a quick Google reveals is Head of Innovation policy at the department. Great stuff.

The DIUS site will be running until the middle of September, so if it continues at this rate, the Innovation team could have a hell of a lot of stuff to wade through. That’s a good thing though, right?

Blears blogging

In what must be the most exciting day in the Department for Communities and Local Government ever, which has seen the start of a Twitter feed and the publication of a major white paper, the latest news is that Hazel Blears is now blogging!

I want to hear everyone’s views, from local citizens to local authorities. As a citizen – I’m keen to know what would make you get more involved in your local community? What are the barriers or challenges you face? What could we, or our colleagues in local government, do to make it easier?

For local authorities or organisations hoping to increase public participation – please tell us about your successes and challenges and what we can do together to get people more involved.

All the important bloggy stuff is there – RSS feeds and comments on posts, which is great. It seems to be a fairly short lived affair – only running for a week until 18th July – and I am not sure if that will be true of the twitter feed too, it seems likely. Still, if it’s useful I guess it will be possible that it will return again in the future.

It seems to be running on Community Server, which CLG use for their forums too, which itself runs on Microsoft .NET technology rather than the open source based approach that the recent developments at Number 10 have gone for. I’ve used Community Server myself quite a bit in my work at the Information Authority, and while it isn’t quite as flexible or intuitive as WordPress on the blogging front, it more than does the job.

So, welcome to the blogosphere, Hazel. I hope you enjoy your stay.

Quick picks from Communities in Control

Just had a chance to have a run through the executive summary of the white paper Communities in Control, published today by the department for Communities and Local Government, with a highlighter pen and picked out a few juicy bits. I suspect most of my interest will be in Chapter 3: Access to Information, and you will all no doubt be delighted to note that some discussion of the detail of that will be forthcoming…

For my more cynical readers, please note that I am commenting on all this stuff in a very positive frame of mind!

First up, some bits talking about money on page 3:

We will also set up an Empowerment Fund of at least £7.5m to support national third sector organisations turn key empowerment proposals into practical action…

we are establishing a £70m Communitybuilders scheme to help them become more sustainable. Grassroots Grants, developed by the Office of the Third Sector, offer small sums of money from an £80m fund – in addition there is a £50m community endowment fund – to help locally-based groups to survive and thrive…

Excellent news. One of the issues being raised a lot at 2gether08 was the fact that there wasn’t the money to get community action going. What’s also needed, though, as well as the money existing, is for the funds to be marketed in such a way that people know it’s there, and how to bid for it.

Tracey and others might be interested in this on p4:

We will support community effort in tackling climate change. A ‘Green Neighbourhood’ scheme has been launched which will demonstrate how communities can take action to adopt low carbon lifestyles.

Also on page 4:

The Internet offers huge opportunities and we want to encourage public bodies to authorise the re-use of information. We are improving the information available to local citizens and service-users. But there is a correlation between social and digital exclusion. We will ensure all sections of society can enjoy the benefits of the Internet, and other methods of communication.

A strong independent media is a vital part of any democracy. We will continue to support a range of media outlets and support innovation in community and social media. We will pilot a mentoring scheme in deprived areas on using the Internet.

This is good, positive stuff. The digital divide is not, as far as I am concerned, a reason (excuse?) not to engage with people online. Instead, make it a part of any initiative to get people online. Run some classes. Take some laptops with 3g dongles to a community centre. Do something!

Page 5:

Petitions have become easier on the internet…To make it easier to influence the agenda at a local level we will introduce a new duty for councils to respond to petitions, ensuring that those with significant local support are properly debated…Petitions should be taken into account in decision making in public services.

Petitions are an interesting thing, they’ve been popular on the Number 10 website, and have certainly raised the profile of certain campaigns. Whether they really encourage real participation, rather than just a single, throwaway response at a friend’s email request, I’m not sure.

Again from page 5:

Citizens should have a greater say in how local budgets are spent. Participatory budgeting – where citizens help to set local priorities for spending – is already operating in 22 local authorities. We want to encourage every local authority to use such schemes in some form by 2012.

This is interesting and Participatory budgeting is something I would like to have more of a look into. The biggest question people have about their local authority is ‘what does my council tax go on?’ and anything which makes the budgeting process a little more transparent has got to be a good thing. I guess the trick is to avoid it becoming gimmicky.

Page 5 must have been a good one:

Local authorities should do more to promote voting in elections, including working with young people through citizenship lessons.

Music to Tim‘s ears I am sure. Mind you, I did Politics at Uni (a 2:1 from Hull in case you’re interested…) and the idea of citizenship classes gives me the willies. Later the idea of incentives to vote is raised, even a prize draw. Oh dear.

Finally we are onto page 6:

A quarter of local councils use neighbourhood management to join up local services including health and transport and help tackle problems in deprived communities…The third sector also has a unique ability to articulate the views of citizens and drive change, and we will work with them to develop principles for their participation in Local Strategic Partnerships…

we want local people to have more of a say in the planning system so we will provide more funding to support community engagement in planning

Again, good stuff, sounding like we want to get the people involved in the processes that affect them. I do worry in the growth of levels of governance here though: we have central, local, town and parish, now neighbourhood councils and management. Good that the third sector is being involved, though the mention of LSPs reminds us all of just how damn complicated the service delivery landscape has become in this area.

Page 7 has a lot of stuff about getting young people involved:

We will establish direct access for young advisors to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and set up a programme for young people to ‘shadow’ government ministers and elected mayors. DCSF are establishing a £6m national institute for youth leadership

Getting younger people involved in local democracy is a great initiative to take forward, and of course it is already happening in pockets around the country, say with I’m a Councillor amongst others. I am no expert on the likes and dislikes of young folk, though (as the contempt in which I am held by my son proves), but I do worry that a ‘national institute for youth leadership’ might be a bit too dorky to attract a representative group.

Page 7 also has a bit on Scrutiny. Yay!

We will raise the visibility of the overview and scrutiny function in local government, which is similar to Select Committees in Parliament.

My first proper job in local government was in scrutiny, so I have bit of a soft spot for it, and nobody knows what it is about. I also don’t think it is accorded the respect it needs as a process in a lot of councils. Built into it from the start was the ability for residents to get involved, so it’s a prime area to be developed furthr as part of the empowerment agenda.

Page 8 must have been boring, straight onto number 9 (I can’t believe I am doing this voluntarily, my fingers are aching from typing and I am starting to feel a little sick):

We will amend the Widdicombe rules which forbid council workers above a certain salary band from being active in party politics.

I would really be interested to know how big a problem this is. Also, what about civil servants who want to get involved locally? Anything that frees public servants up to participate as much as they want to has to be a good thing though.

More from page 9:

We will give backbench councillors more powers to make changes in their ward with discretionary localised budgets that they can target on ward priorities.

Just backbench councillors? So those with cabinet members representing them lose out? Anyway, this is a nice idea to give backbench councillors something to do, which many lost following the large scale move away from committees.

Page 10 now (last one, phew!):

We want to make it easier for people wishing to serve on local committees, boards or school governing bodies to know what the role involves and how to go about applying for vacancies.

It’s too hard to get involved, I think most people agree. It also needs to be easier for those who want to help but can’t commit the time to do an entire role, though. Maybe job-sharing governors or councillors?

Last gobbet:

We want to see more people involved in starting and running social enterprises, where the profits are ploughed back into the community or reinvested in the business. A new Social Enterprise Unit is being set up in Communities and Local Government to recognise the social enterprise contribution to the department’s objectives. We will also encourage local authorities to ensure social enterprises are able to compete fairly for contracts.

Nice bit to end on. There was mention of the third sector before, but I don’t think that is a sufficiently all inclusive term. What about individuals who have ideas, people sat with laptops in bedrooms, groups who emerge and want to do specific work in the community. I think we are into Clay Shirky territory here, where social enterprise can be started by people without the backup of a pre-existing organisational structure. Such people may need help identifying other people can help, or where funding is. Maybe they just need a room they can borrow to meet up in. But they need support, whether from central or local government, that the sorts of organisations that did this stuff in the past never needed.

Anyway, that’s me for now. Would be good to hear other people’s thoughts in the comments. I’m off to read the rest of the white paper now…

Communities in ‘Control’? Meh.

On the day that the results of a poll in London reveal that, while one in four Londoners would like to be a local politician, hardly anyone knows anything about them or what they do, Hazel Blears has a piece published asking for councillors to be given more control.

First up, that survey. Reported on 24dash.com:

One in four Londoners are interested in becoming a local councillor – despite widespread ignorance about what their councils actually do, according to a survey commissioned by London Councils.

The poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI, revealed that almost half the people surveyed incorrectly believe that their local council runs the police and hospitals.

Only two in five people know which political party runs their own local council, and just 6 per cent of Londoners know the name of their council’s leader.

But despite this, one in four said they would be interested in standing for election as a local councillor.

The results also showed that many people were confused about the role of a councillor. While 71 per cent of people know that councillors receive some payment for their council work, 52 per cent wrongly believe they must represent a political party and 32 per cent think they must hold a formal qualification.

This of course is nothing new, and not unique to London. People are not generally aware of what their local authorities do for them. Whether they would still be so interested in being a councillor once they knew what it’s about might be another matter.

Hazel Blears, Communities and Local Government Minister, thinks councillors, like everyone else these days, need to be ’empowered’:

…the white paper will include a new set of powers for local authorities to be able to promote democracy. This ‘duty to promote democracy’ will mean that local councils are placed in their proper context: not as units of local administration, but as lively, vibrant hubs of democracy.

All this will be revealed in the community empowerment white paper – Communities in Control – to be published this Wednesday (9/7/08). That’s a bit of a weird title, isn’t it? Isn’t control what most of this stuff is supposed to not be about?

Andrew Brown has his say on the matter, tying things in neatly to his local context:

My guess is that Hazel wouldn’t see Lewisham as somewhere which has too many problems on this front, and she’d be right, to an extent. The development of ward based assemblies seems to significantly enhance the community leadership opportunities for councillors, and my experience was that Lewisham’s officers have a healthy respect for the democratic mandate. But, I still think that more could be done to promote the decisions that are being taken and the political debates that are currently being had by our elected representatives.

I had a chance to have a modest input into the White Paper by attending Simon Berry’s Web24Gov workshop at CLG last month. I doubt the whole eDemocracy/eGovernment/eWhatever agenda will get much of a mention, which is a shame as it is potentially so important.

Social web tools help people get together – the proof is in the number of STDs people are catching. Now, there is no reason why this stuff can’t be used to get people into town halls as well as clap clinics.

  • The rise in working hours and commutes means that a lot of people don’t have the time or energy to go out to meetings or other events. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be involved however, and the social web provides an ideal interface for them to do so remotely.
  • The use of tagging and aggregation means that people can quickly and easily find the information they want on the web – provided they can find and are comfortable with the right tools to do so.
  • The use of new media communication tools allows local politicians and activists to put their message directly to the people, without the need to go through the filter of the local press. It also means they can get feedback through comments – both positive and negative – and can respond in kind, thus creating a dynamic conversation. The CivicSurf project promotes this brilliantly.

Do I think that the social web is the cure to all the problems of local democracy? Of course not. But I do think it can help, and it can help quickly and cheaply. My message to civic leaders: Keep doing surgeries. Keep distributing newsletters. But just spend a bit of time getting to know these new media forms, because they offer a direct line to people who might just have the ideas and enthusiasm you are looking for.

But talk of ‘control’ – however defined and however well intentioned – doesn’t really do anyone any good at all.

Three cheers for Dylan Jeffrey

I rather glossed over it at the time, because of the general excitement of the moment, but a remarkable thing happened a couple of days ago. A man called Dylan Jeffrey commented on this blog.

Why is this so remarkable? Well, Dylan is a civil servant. What’s more, he was commenting as a civil servant. He was also giving the official line of his department (Communities and Local Government) in a place where discussion was happening online. Not by emailing out a press release, or making some grand announcement, but by quietly finding where the conversation was, and taking part.

Indeed, Dylan did his department great service – the conversation was a fairly tempestuous one, with disgreements abounding about who was at fault for the decision to cut the funding for ICELE, the centre for local eDemocracy in the UK. Several bits of communication had come from ICELE – a press release here, an email there – but nothing, apparently, from CLG. This was a communications risk for the department, as their side of the story simply wasn’t being told.

The comment that Dylan posted was pretty uncontroversial, simply providing some background factual information and then adding detail of a Ministerial statement on the issue, which was probably available buried away somewhere on the CLG website as a press release or somesuch. But Dylan brought it to us, where we were talking about the issue, sticking his neck out to both inform us, and do his department a service by communicating their message.

Of course, this week saw the publication of the guidance for civil servants engaging with the social web. Of the five main points, three were: be credible, be responsive and be a civil servant. Dylan hit all three of these.

Let’s hope other civil servants take note, and that Dylan’s colleagues at CLG thank him for doing this on their behalf.

Digital government and not being boring

I spent a most enjoyable time at the Department for Communities and Local Government today as a guest of Simon Berry, along with a rogue’s gallery of other bloggers and online networkers. It was a great chance to catch up with old friends and new acquaintances, as well as take part in some really interesting exercises, put together in partnership with Simon by David Wilcox, who was, as always, an excellent facilitator and conversation starter.

At one stage of the workshop, the group split into two smaller ones: one team of mainly civil servants and local authority types; another of mostly techies. I fell into the latter grouping, and we discussed the ways in which we felt emerging technology could help government – at both a local and a national level – get closer to those it governs.

Being in a group of people which contained – amongst others – Dan McQuillan, Steve Bridger, Paul Bradshaw and Tim Davies, the ideas were soon flowing – helped by the relaxed atmosphere which meant there were plenty of jokes and laughs too. Some of the issues we came up with included:

  • Listening before talking – government needs to now what is being said by whom before it can start engaging with them
  • Figure out which communication medium best suits the people you want to talk to – for example, just because blogs are on the internet doesn’t mean young people are interested. They’re not – they are on Polyvore instead.
  • Local government should be concentrating at least as much as central government is on opening up data and information it holds.
  • The word empowerment is a bit dodgy in this context – why should people need to be empowered by government? Isn’t it already in our power to organise ourselves and get things done?
  • The relationship between government and people – whether on an individual basis or within groups, should be informalised. Government has a role to play in civil society, but how much of a role should be determined not by them but by the communities themselves – for instance, they might just want a room to meet in, or maybe some advice on funding.
  • Local government shouldn’t be afraid of celebrating what is happening in their areas – but shouldn’t feel the need to claim any credit. Likewise, too often there is a financial focus to such good news stories. When something good happens, who cares who did it, or who paid for it?
  • It’s not just government talking to groups or individuals – there are other players in the civic space who need to be involved. The networked journalism that Charlie Beckett and Paul Bradshaw write about has a role to play, as do charities and other third sector groups, schools, hospitals, churches. The web can help bring some sense to this civic soup of different interests and organisations, to aggregate it and break it down in different, more meaningful ways.

Dan McQuillan pointed out at one stage that the problem with trying to get people to be, say, a school governor, is that being a school governor is actually a pretty dull thing to do. This is true of a lot of things, though – if someone asked you to engage with your local authority, it might not necessarily be something that would have you widdly with excitement. However, if you were asked about an issue that particularly interested you, like environmental issues, or public transport, or education, then you might be more likely to take part.

The issue is one of boringness, then, and the important thing for government to try and do is to avoid being boring. People interests are atomised, and tend to focus around single or narrowly related issues, rather than everything that concerns a single organisation.

Another example of boringness is in the way that local issues are reported on. For example, more people read about council issues in their local paper than in the leaflets sent out by the council itself. That’s because the council leaflet is probably more boring than the paper’s coverage. That said, more people moan about their bin collections, or pot holes in their street, in the pub with their mates than read about them in the local paper. Again, chatting in the pub is more fun.

So for government at all levels to get their messages across, and to engage better with people, they need to ensure they aren’t boring the people they want to talk to. How can they do this?

One way would be by identifying the issues people and groups are interested in, and providing information on, and inviting comment on, those topics. Something like Hear From Your MP at a local level just wouldn’t work – even I would be bored stupid if I had to read everything my Councillors had to say. But if that could be tailored to Hear About Stuff You Are Interested In From Everybody, that might just work.

Aggregate stuff from government, communities, charities, media organisations, church groups and anyone else along subject lines based on a local area. This might be very hard to do, and indeed might be impossible without some serious collaboration between various parties in terms of the way they produce content. But if it were to be achieved, then I think getting people involved would be much easier.

There were many ideas produced at the meeting, like mine above, and we are going to be working together to develop the better ones and see how they grow. A good place to monitor what is going on will be to tune in to Simon’s Web24Gov site.