Social reporting at All Together Now

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, as a gang of folk from DIUS‘s engagement team (led ably by Steph) and I will be spending the day reporting from the All Together Now event in London.

Hosted by Channel 4, DIUS and BECTA, the event’s convener, Steve Moore says:

the focus of this event is not specifically about next media or future technology it is instead focused on what people – particularly young people – are doing now with the tools and platforms that exist NOW! In my view the scaffolding has come down. We are the tools to connect with millions of people, access to most of our accumulated knowledge with two clicks of a mouse and ability to give voice publicly to our thoughts and ideas without permission. The egalitarian ideals that drove the development of networked computing that helped foster the internet and helped created the Web have now been matched by an infrastructure of massively popular technologies. Altogether Now resolutely focuses on what people are doing with these new affordances, how they bringing themselves and their peers into experiments in what is possible and all of this is happening now. It is teenagers that are at forefront of these developments. It is students who are pioneering and making amazing stuff so this event is about watching, listening to what is happening out there right now. Participatory culture is alive, vibrant and it’s implications are at once profound and present.

It should be a great day. We are going to be videoing, photographing, twittering and blogging away like nobody’s business, and all the results will (wifi permitting) be published on the event’s social network as soon as we can.

All together now

You are of course welcome to join the network and add your stuff, or if you prefer working in your own space, just tag your content with atn09 and we’ll pick it up.

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!

UKYouthOnline date and location confirmed

Tim Davies has confirmed when and where the UKYouthOnline unconference will be taking place: 27th September at the HQ of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, on Victoria Street in London.

The event promises to be a fabuolous opportunity for people to get together to talk about youth engagement and participation, especially following the good reception Tim got at 2gether08. Am hoping there is some way I can contribute on the day!

Do join the event social network and the discussion group and get involved.

More DIUS innovation

Another bit of top notch, innovative digital participation work has come out of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and again it is WordPress magic. This time though, there are all sorts of different bits built into it.

Steph Gray, the main social media man at DIUS explains more:

Some consultations are basically dull. Some are politically-charged. Some are hurried. So when the Science and Society consultation came sauntering along, it was clear this was an opportunity too good to miss. It’s a genuine call for ideas, casting the net wide to improve the way that science is communicated, understood, taught, and recruited for. What can we do to improve trust and confidence in scientists? How can we get more high quality science broadcasting and more intelligent media coverage of science issues? How can science be taught in school in more engaging ways? Interesting stuff.

The main difference between this site and the Innovation Nation one, it seems to me, is that in the latter’s case, the white paper had been written and the consultation done, so the online exercise was more about fine tuning and maybe developing some ideas on how things might be progressed. What Science and Society offers, though, is the chance to have your say before the document is written.

As Simon Dickson notes, one of the key bits of new media funkiness on show is the ability for folk to widgetise the consultation for their own websites. DIUS is asking a whole range of different questions about the way science is taught in schools and elsewhere and provides the platform for others to republish the questions they are interested in so their readers can feed back into the process. It’s a great idea, and fits in totally with my thoughts on trying to improve participation by making government a bit more interesting.

Simon says:

It’ll be fascinating to see what kinds of responses this move produces. I’m still a bit wary of the whole Big Questions approach to consultation: my own feeling is that the constant, small-scale exchanges around a well-managed blog will build something more valuable. But if Big Questions are the way you’re going, this is a very clever way to drive them further.

Other cool bits include a Twitter account, for a bit more responsive interaction, and an embedded Google Calendar so people can find when related events are happening.

Tim Davies also picked up on the site, and noted approvingly:

This approach of enabling citizens to easily take, remix and re-publish government consultations to their networks is worth exploring in many more contexts – not least in promoting positive activities, enabling young people to take, remix and share information about positive activities in their areas with their networks.

DIUS are clearly leading the game in government when it comes to digital participation. The reason they can do this, as Steph has noted elsewhere is because they have the resources to do so. The tech stuff is free or at least damn cheap, but you need the man-power to get it approved and embedded. There is plenty for everyone to learn from DIUS’ example.

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?

More online government innovation

There seems to be a head of steam being built up here, folks.

The Department for Innovation, University and Skills – who ought to be good at this stuff, really – has launched a new minisite called Innovation Nation : Interactive. It’s a consultation exercise around the Innovation Nation strategy, but is much more fun than the usual “here’s a PDF and an email address” approach. Here’s how they describe it themselves:

We’d like to hear your views and feedback on the Innovation Nation strategy that we published in March 2008, to help inform the implementation of the strategy. This is an interactive version of the Executive Summary of the document, where you can comment on each paragraph individually, or on sections as a whole.

It runs on WordPress (natch) and the CommentPress theme – one of a new breed of templates that change the way that sites work as well as the way they look. It’s a really nicely put together site.

Steph Gray, the blogging Social Media Manager at DIUS, puts it thus on his site:

In terms of the technology story, it’s amazing how CommentPress transforms a plain vanilla blogging format into such a dynamic tool for analysing a text, and just how easy it is to implement. Inspired by Glyn from Open Rights Group at a TeaCamp a while back, the site was put together in less than a day (though we’ve done less fancy customisation than ORG’s impressive implementation). The project is also one of the first public outings of our sandbox server, designed to be at arm’s length from the corporate site and with greater scope to test innovative tools and approaches online. Finally, we also used the excellent MailBuild email distribution system to help alert key stakeholders and contributors to the initial consultation about the new site via a branded email.

But we hope the bigger story will be the breaking down of the classic consult/deliver dichotomy which we’re challenging policy teams to overcome. We’d love this interactive document to become a place where policymakers, stakeholders and interested citizens come together to help move a policy forward, and we’ll be doing our best to act as a bridge between commenters and the civil servants who are working hard to change things. Don’t underestimate the scale of the cultural challenge here: we’re asking seasoned, busy public servants with a familiar way of working to take extra time and effort to make engagement a continuous process – and to do so in a whole new way.

I certainly encourage anyone with an interest in innovation in the public, private or third sectors to visit the site and leave constructive feedback where you can.