Helen Milner on open processes

I was delighted when UK online centres decided to make their bid for the Digital Mentor fund from CLG, inspired by the community initiative to take a policy initiative by the scruff of the neck over at DigitalMentor.org.

Now the bids are in, all that those who are involved can do is sit and wait. In the meantime, though, Helen has provided us with her learning points from the process. I have summarised them below – to read the detail you need to visit the post, where you’ll also find a nice video taken by David Wilcox.

  1. Partnership is a much better way to do things
  2. It takes loads of time to develop ideas in this kind of forum
  3. Social media helped me to put aside prejudices and listen to all comments with an open mind and a receptiveness to learn
  4. It’s really hard to balance open debate and to provide structure for a constructive discussion
  5. Not everyone likes using social media to develop bids
  6. The journey’s been fun but arriving will be better

Lots of new Voicebox content!

It’s good to see plenty of new content being added to the Voicebox blog – the home of the UK online centres and Citizens Online bid for the CLG digital mentor fund.

For example, Mike Amos-Simpson on ‘What is Open Collaboration?‘:

I find the idea of developing and running a programme in the open very attractive for lots of reasons. There’s a sense of it being more ‘honest’, there’s the opportunity that even if you’re not directly involved you can contribute, there’s a degree of accountability with people allowed to freely add their views, and of course there’s the potential to bring on board a far wider range of expertise than you could with a traditional closed collaboration.

And Gail Bradbrook on ‘Research and Mapping Objectives‘:

I think we need to develop an open and flowing process, so that we get as much quality information as possible to understand the types of projects that exist, why they exist (what drives them) and what the benefits are as well as disadvantages in the process, in particular focused on sustainability. What we can learn that is good for training others and what training needs may exist. What else do people think we need to find out?

If you would like to add your voice to the, er, box then just get in touch with admin@voice-bx.org.uk!

Collaborating on Digital Mentors with Voicebox

I am enjoying helping with the Voicebox bid for the CLG digital mentor project: those involved like Helen, Anne and Ben from UK online centres are so enthusiastic and eager for the open, collaborative approach they are taking to succeed.

Here’s a video of Helen Milner talking about the Voicebox bid:

As part of the tendering process, all interested parties had to submit an expression of their interest to CLG to advance to the next stage. Voicebox has done just that, and what’s more, they have posted the content of their EoI on their blog! Great work!

Also on the blog, Voicebox are keen for people to post their thoughts on digital mentoring, whether in their big picture thread, or by adding thoughts about any of the work packages that have been identified so far. This can be done by leaving comments on existing posts – which quite a few people have started to do already – or by contacting the team using admin@voice-box.org.uk to write a whole new post.

Here’s a second video, which features, from left to right, Paul Henderson of Ruralnet, me, and Nick Booth. We’re talking somewhat disruptively about whether digital mentors would be better off without CLGs money… it’s all David Wilcox‘s fault, who was encouraging us to be naughty.

Anyway, part of the reason I included this video is for the benefit of readers of this blog who haven’t met me yet and who assume I am significantly older than I am. It happens a lot.

UK Online Centres want to collaborate!

I have just come back from a meetup in Birmingham of folk interested in the Digital Mentor concept and how we can all collaborate on a bid. I got to meet some great people for the first time, and catch up with some familiar faces.

Also present was Ben Brown from UK Online Centres, who had travelled from Bristol for the meeting. Great effort on his part, and also to UKOC for having the gumption to send one of their people to a pub in Birmingham to chat about working together with a bunch of strangers!

Anne Faulkner from OKOC has now posted a great comment on the Digital Mentor blog, sketching out how they see an open, collaborative bid, in co-operation with other organisations like Citizens Online and Ruralnet, working.

UK online centres and Citizens Online know this approach isn’t the easy option, but we figured that if we want to deliver a project about partnership and online collaboration, we should try to put it into practice as part of the bidding process. We think we need both breadth and depth in this project, and we’re interested in developing a framework which enables a range of organisations and individuals to share their expertise.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops, and getting involved where I can!

Digital mentors picking up speed

Things are starting to pick up with the digital mentors initiative, which is a part of the digital inclusion programme supported by the department for Communities and Local Government.

There is now the option to express an interest in tendering for the money to run the pilots, which is a reasonably healthy £900k. To help support this process, there is a workshop being held at BERR on Victoria Street, London on 19th November between 3 and 5pm.

Further developments have seen UK Online Centres, one of the obvious candidates to put in a bid, reach out to the community being developed at www.digitalmentor.org through a blog post by the Managing Director of UKOC, Helen Milner. This is great news – rather than use their own website to push out messages, UKOC are going where the people are to enable collaboration on their bid. Helen wrote:

We all obviously share a passion to ensure that the digital mentor programme is a success, and that it embraces the best of community development and technological innovation. I’m keen to discuss ideas for the programme here on this blog so that we can use open innovation principles to develop a bid together.

Do come to the blog, the wiki and the email list and help out in any way you can.

David Wilcox as ever has his finger on the pulse, and has produced an excellent summary post over at Social Reporter, including pointing out the exciting news that Ruralnet are also keen to be involved. He writes:

UK Online Centres have the local presence, experience and capacity to head up a bid, so I hope they are willing to do that. Ruralnet also have a strong track record through their work with Net:Gain and DirectSupport. Together with independent trainers, consultants and activists we can put together a strong core team, with an oppen invitation to others to join.

There seems to be some real coming together over this: an acknowledgement that a) no single organisation or individual has all the right answers to meet this challenge; and b) that this is too important a project to be allowed to go wrong.

By working together, we can make sure this succeeds.

Contribute to DigitalMentor.org!

A few new pages have been created on the Digital Mentor wiki which are screaming out for content to be added, and it’s really easy to do so!

All you have to do to add to the wiki is click the ‘edit’ link on the relevant page, and then type in the site-wide password, which is printed on the top left of every page. No need to create an account, or think up a password to remember!

The pages that are open for contributions right now are:

  • What is a digital mentor? – Give your thoughts on what you see as being the important parts of the digital mentor role
  • Links – list where you have seen web pages and blog posts about digital mentors, or related stuff
  • Online tools – where have you seen online resources which could be used either by digital mentors, or by those mentoring the mentors?

If you don’t like using wikis, you can still contribute! Leave your thoughts in the comments here, or email them to me, and I will do the wiki bit.

Digital mentors are unorganising themselves…

To pick up on the thread of Digital Mentors – the role outlined by CLG to help disadvantaged communities find a voice online – I have started a new site along with a growing bunch of collaborators to develop the role online, gather stories and resources together and maybe to unorganise a tender bid when the funding for the pilot projects becomes available.

I’d encourage anyone interested to get involved: check out the blog, sign up to the mailing list and throw some stuff up on the wiki.

New research links digital inclusion and social impact

Some research from Ipsos Mori tells us what we already knew, that using the internet can make disadvantaged people’s lives better. This from the report from 24dash:

Based on 20 UK online centre-led projects involving hundreds of local partners, the research tracked the impact of informal learning about technology on the lives of different groups, including those with mental health issues, families in poverty, isolated older people and teenage parents.

More than 12,000 people took part in the social impact demonstrator projects between January 2007 and March 2008. By the end of the project, participants were more likely to feel confident, and 40% had progressed into further training, employment, information, advice and guidance.

Working with the computers helped to improve people’s maths and English, and they were more likely to spend time with friends and family, and more likely to connect with and help out in their communities.

Having some research to point to is great though, and adds to the momentum gathering around the notion of ‘digital mentors’ being bandied around by Communities and Local Government, and being tied into other roles, such as the social reporters.

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!

Digital mentor update

Just a quick post for those who are interested in the digital mentor role which was mooted in the Communities in Control white paper. There has been a terrific response in the comments on my post on the subject, from people in the third sector, local government, education and a few interested individuals too. Thanks to all for those.

The questions that are being asked go right to the core of the issues:

  • Who are the digital mentors supposed to be? Volunteers? Local government officers? Paid individuals? Charity groups?
  • What are they meant to do? Is it just around upskilling people in digital media – or is there a role to connecting people to local services and democratic engagement online too?
  • How are they meant to achieve this – through online training, workshops, or printed stuff? How will it be paid for?
  • When are the digital mentors to start working?
  • Where will the pilots be?

I have started making a few enquiries to find out who knows what about the development of the role, and to see if there is some way we can all have an input into the process. If anybody has any ideas, do leave them in the comments here.