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.

What is a ‘Digital Mentor’?

One of the ideas in the Communities in Control white paper, published last week by the Department for Communities and Local Government, that has attracted a fair amount of attention is that of the ‘Digital Mentors’. Here’s what the paper itself says about them:

Government will pilot a ‘Digital Mentor’ scheme in deprived areas. These mentors will support groups to develop websites and podcasts, to use digital photography and online publishing tools, to develop short films and to improve general media literacy. The Digital Mentors will The digitalalso create links with community and local broadcasters as part of their capacity building, to enable those who want to develop careers in the media to do so. Depending on the success of these pilots, this scheme could be rolled out to deprived areas across England.

This is part of an initiative to help communities take control of their media, to fill the gaps in coverage themelves in a way that takes advantage of the remarkable opportunities that exist with social web  tools, to both provide a means of communicating a community’s messages, and to help that community collaborate both internally and with other agencies too. I would argue that such a role is required in all local communities, not just the deprived ones, though it may well be the less well off that need it the most.

What isn’t particularly clear at this stage is who these mentors will be, nor how they will work. Should they be the employees of local authorities, for example? Or should they be volunteers, who perhaps are rewarded for their time in some way? Should they belong to the communities they mentor, or can they be ‘outsiders’?

One option might be for digital mentors to operate out of local colleges, say, and turn it into a real educative experience, or perhaps community centres or village halls would be better locations.

Then, what role should the mentors actually have? Just providing the training on new media, or actually coordinating projects too? It’s interesting that the focus here is on enabling ‘those who want to develop careers in the media to do so’ – what about people who just want to use this stuff to revitalise their local democracy?

I think the role, as fuzzily defined in the white paper, needs to be developed and broadened in scope. In an earlier blogpost, I wrote about a possible process for social media to be used to bring togther the various elements of civic society in a locality. The focus was on social media as an end in itself, like a local social media club, but I think it works for democratic participation too.  The main steps I identified were:

  • Establish tags – common ways of describing and finding content that everyone can use: local gov, local press, individual bloggers, existing communities and groups
  • Aggregate content – use the tags to bring the conversation about the area into one place
  • Communicate – start to talk amongst the various content producers
  • Meet – get everyone meeting and talking to each other in real life
  • Develop – put together some of the infrastructure together to allow for further collaboration and coworking, both online and off

The digital mentor could be the person driving this forward in a local area.

I know that there are people really interested in this role and its development, people like David Wilcox and Paul Webster, to name just two. It would be great if the Digital Mentor concept could be designed in the public, between CLG and those willing volunteers who think this could be a great initiative.