Open government needs more skills

Apologies for the total lack of updates here. A recent burst of activity at Learning Pool has made thinking about what to blog about a bit trickier than usual. Luckily, the Public Sector Bloggers do a damn fine job taking up any slack.

Anyway, while I try and get back my blogging mojo, here’s a pointer to an interesting post from Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio:

In order not to fall into the trough of disillusionment government 2.0 must shift its emphasis from the organization to the individual, and from policy to operations. There is still time for that to happen, but we need to talk less about transparency and open data and do more around training, encouraging and rewarding government employees.

My emphasis added.

I must admit, the whirlwind around open government data has rather taken me aback in the last few weeks – blog post coming on that one – and it’s almost as if we’ve decided that government has social licked, and now it’s time to move on.

I suspect that is a rather optimistic view, rather as Di Maio does. I’m still regularly getting requests from across the public sector for both high level presentations on what social technology is; and for training on how to make the best use of it.

Further to that, the benefits of these tools are still very much just in the hands of communicators, web folk, and so on. That needs to change too.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that in the last five years significant progress has been made. I remember how lonely it was being a blogging local government bod back in 2005. That’s changing – but we need to make sure as many others are involved as possible before we move on.

Quick thoughts on open government

I rather like using the phrase ‘open government’ to cover – if I’m honest – the stuff I’m interested in. Indeed, the eagle eyed among you may have spotted that the tagline for this blog is now the suitably pompous “Open government and everything else”.

In many ways I like it because it enables me to put the use of social software in government into a wider context – important given the age of austerity in which we find ourselves. I’ve never thought that social media usage was an end in itself, but perhaps sometimes the actual end was never articulated particularly well. ‘Open government’ does that nicely.

The O’Reilly book, Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice (which I would recommend) offers a useful definition of the three elements of Open Government:

  1. Transparency – open data and that sort of thing
  2. Collaboration – working together better within government (knowledge sharing, learning, enteprise 2.0 type stuff) and also collaborating with service providers, social innovators etc
  3. Participation – crowdsourcing, use of social media, co-production etc

My friend Dave Coplin posted up a video of a talk he gave outlining these principles, which is rather good and well worth watching all the way through.

So how are these things actually going to happen? I think the two main contributors are going to be:

  1. Technology – which I would break down further to include social technology, cloud computing and open source
  2. Culture – including sharing, learning and innovation – all of which government needs to get better at to make open government a reality.

Another thing that is vital to open government is a combination of the two things above, in other words, the culture of technology. This is something I have banged on about before, but the greatest recent example was the one I documented here. Technology provides the platforms and the infrastructure of open government, but open government itself is not predicated on technology. However, I do think it is key to take technology seriously, and not to dismiss it as the stuff of geeks and weirdos.

Here’s a good (if long) discussion about “government 2.0” – often used as a synonym for open government, but which for me has a slightly more technical bent. For me, ‘government 2.0’ means “what can technology and technologists do to improve government”. Open government is more “what can everyone do to improve government”.

Expect a bit more on this from me in the near future as I extrapolate in my usual half-baked way on the various threads involved in open government.

Ideas, conversations and artists

As a follow up to my post on the UK .gov blogosphere, a small session was run at the recent govcamp on the state of blogging in the public sector in the UK.

The discussion was an interesting one and Al Reid took down some great notes that cover most of what was said. Pubstrat wrote a great post before the event which summed up most of the stuff we talked about anyway.

Here’s my take: I was wrong to mention blogs. A lot of the resultant discussion in the comments of that post and other chats have focused on blogging, which is of course just the medium. It’s the content I am interested in.

What we seem to lack is an ecosystem of ideas in public services. Discussions about new ways of doing things, how to change the way things are, how ideas get progressed into prototypes and then into actual delivered services or ways of working. Whether this happens on a blog, in a social network, on a wiki or over a cup of tea is neither here nor there.

This ties in with the discussion sparked by Dom on Twitter about the lack of challenge in evidence at the govcamp, and that it was a pretty homogenous group of people in attendance. The question was posed, how do we get everyone else to these events, or at least having these sorts of conversations?

I’ve no idea, frankly.

I believe a couple of things are pretty evident though:

  • Government at all levels has to improve its attitiude to ideas and thus to innovation
  • Structures and processes will help the behaviour required for an ideas ecosystem become embedded and accepted
  • People within organisations have to start getting better at talking to each other for any of this to actually work

The unconference format works very nicely in providing the space for people to have conversations about stuff. The blank canvas that is the agenda can be daunting, but with the right preparation, everyone can arrive at the event primed and ready to say things. I’m having chats with Jeremy and others about how this might be applied to individual organisations. Watch this space.

All of this ties in with what I started to think about in several post over the last couple of months, which seems to be coalescing in my mind around the notion of learning organisations – familiar to anyone that has read the work of Peter Senge but which for me focuses on the ability for organisations to have meaningful conversations, both internally and externally, and to have a grown up attitude to change and new ideas.

I’ll be talking about this on Thursday at the Cllr.10 event, with some focus on the shift in leadership that this stuff necessitates.

Also worth reading around these ideas is the work Lloyd Davis is doing, as social artist in residence at the Centre for Creative Collaboration. David Wilcox has covered social artistry before too. I’m not sure we’ll ever see civil servants or local government officers with that job title anytime soon, but the skills of convening and facilitation are vital for anyone who wants to succeed within a learning organisation.

The web is fundamental to the development of this thinking and the conversations around it. Firstly, because the web is the domain where the ideas are being kicked about and refined. Secondly, because these ideas are the by-products of using the web and social tools. As I keep saying these days, what makes social software interesting is not the software, but the implications of using it.

That was the ukgc10 that was

The agenda
Flickr photo credit: Paul Clarke


The third annual unconference, or GovCamp, for government types went pretty well. Two main factors, marvellous and generous hosting by Google, and a terrific level of participation from pretty much everyone who attended. What’s more, nearly everyone stayed til the end!

Massive thanks to the other sponsors, including Huddle, Opportunity Links, Learning Pool, Boilerhouse, IDeA, Polywonk, Timetric, the Dextrous Web and probably others.

Huge props too to Tim Davies and Lloyd Davis for organising the agenda setting bit of the day – it really helped everything go smoothly.

Highlights for me were the sessions of getting internal communication and collaboration right – which resulted in the prospect of a spinoff event dedicated to these issues – and a session on discussing innovation in public services.

As always, how do we follow up on all this goodwill and enthusiasm? Let’s try by:

  • sticking around the online community set up mainly for the event, but which has pretty much everyone signed up to it.
  • Don’t forget that there is also the Teacamps – afternoon meetups in central london for government types. The next one is on the 3rd February in the cafe at the top of the House of Fraser on Victoria Street.
  • A simple wiki is available for people to add content from the sessions they ran and attended, so those that missed them (or indeed the whole event) can still find out what went on
  • Finally – the growing movement of ‘camps in and around government just goes to show that organising events that are useful, interesting and fun doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. There’s nothing at all stopping you from organising your own, and there are plenty of people willing to help.

There’s lots of coverage online already, and will be more, I’m sure. I’ll keep the following list as up to date as I can:

David Wilcox grabbed Jeremy Gould and I before we left. It was Jeremy who kicked off this whole thing two years ago, and it’s been a privilege – as well as a pain in the arse – to have picked things up this year. Had Jeremy not stuck his neck out back then, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Anyway, enough brown nosing, here’s David’s video:

Is government a knowledge business?

Enterprise 2.0 is a label Andrew McAfee coined to describe the use of collaborative tools within large organisations, focused on the benefits this offers to non-technical managers rather than technology-for-technology’s sake enthusiasts. In other words: blog, wikis, forums, and social networks are nice, but what does it mean for a service manager? As always Wikipedia is your friend.

McAfee’s book, helpfully titled Enterprise 2.0, is a great read. I’m halfway through it myself.

This ties into what will be a key theme for me in 2010 – that the interesting bits around social software is not the software but the implications of it: sharing, openness, transparency, collaboration, co-creation.

Dennis Howlett posted a while back that enterprise 2.0 is a crock:

Like it or not, large enterprises – the big name brands – have to work in structures and hierarchies that most E2.0 mavens ridicule but can’t come up with alternatives that make any sort of corporate sense. Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all. Yet none of that thinking has a credible use case you can generalize back to business types – except: knowledge based businesses such as legal, accounting, architects etc. Even then – where are the use cases? I’d like to know. In the meantime, don’t be surprised by the ‘fail’ lists that Mike Krigsman will undoubtedly trot out – that’s easy.

It’s an interesting point Howlett makes, that greater collaboration and knowledge sharing through social technology works well in ‘knowledge based businesses’ but that the business case is harder to make otherwise.

How does this fit with government and public services? It’s a complicated one because there are clear examples of where greater collaboration and information sharing would have benefits, but also there are services provided by government which have to follow strict procedure, and to circumvent that would lead to disaster.

I see a clear opportunity to blend technology to produce systems that produce real value to staff working in public services: the intranet, eLearning, collaboration tools like Huddle, communication platforms such as Yammer and more traditional forums, knowledge sharing systems such as wikis. Carl hints at this in his recent post:

the intranet is now just part of what many people are referring to as Enterprise 2.0

The focus on the use of interactive web technology has been on external citizen engagement up til now. But many of the real wins might be behind the firewall.

Is there a conversation already going on about this? If not, let’s start one. I’m tagging this post – and any other relevant ones here on DavePress – as entgov. Feel free to do the same, or if someone comes up with something better, let’s use that.

Update: John Suffolk, UK government CIO, has posted this:

So if the customer/citizen becomes the CIO what does the CIO become… time for a new TLA; How about CCO, the Chief Collaboration Officer? In our world of ever decreasing time to launch our products and services and our increasing reliance on global supply chains and a multi supplier (IT and business service) world, increasingly our roles demand substantial collaboration to get the job done.

Whither government 2.0?

Government 2.0 seems to be a well established meme in many parts of the world, but doesn’t seem to have taken root at all in the UK.

I can understand why people might think that is a Good Thing – Will and Stefan make the case on Twitter during a quick chat about the issue.

But I can see why having a label like this would be useful – there are so many disparate elements going on around change and the public sector, whether transformational government, Smarter Government, Power of Information, eGovernment, eDemocracy, open data, hyperlocal, CRM and VRM, transparency, openness… wouldn’t it be better to have a bakset to put all this stuff in?

By having a common tag to describe all this stuff, and bring it together, couldn’t we make more out of less? Reduce duplication? Make some useful connections?

Gov 2.0 Taskforce report published

The final report from Australia’s Government 2.0 Taskforce has been published. I’ve not had the chance to read it yet, but the summary points sound sane enough:

  • Government 2.0 or the use of the new collaborative tools and approaches of Web 2.0 offers an unprecedented opportunity to achieve more open, accountable, responsive and efficient government.
  • Though it involves new technology, Government 2.0 is really about a new approach to organising and governing. It will draw people into a closer and more collaborative relationship with their government. Australia has an opportunity to resume its leadership in seizing these opportunities and capturing the resulting social and economic benefits.
  • Leadership, and policy and governance changes are needed to shift public sector culture and practice to make government information more accessible and usable, make government more consultative, participatory and transparent, build a culture of online innovation within Government, and to promote collaboration across agencies.
  • Government pervades some of the most important aspects of our lives.  Government 2.0 can harness the wealth of local and expert knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm of Australians to improve schools, hospitals, workplaces, to enrich our democracy and to improve its own policies, regulation and service delivery.
  • Government 2.0 is a key means for renewing the public sector; offering new tools for public servants to engage and respond to the community; empower the enthusiastic, share ideas and further develop their expertise through networks of knowledge with fellow professionals and others. Together, public servants and interested communities can work to address complex policy and service delivery challenges.
  • Information collected by or for the public sector — is a national resource which should be managed for public purposes. That means that we should reverse the current presumption that it is secret unless there are good reasons for release and presume instead that it should be freely available for anyone to use and transform unless there are compelling privacy, confidentially or security considerations.
  • Government 2.0 will not be easy for it directly challenges some aspects of established policy and practice within government. Yet the changes to culture, practice and policy we envisage will ultimately advance the traditions of modern democratic government. Hence, there is a requirement for co-ordinated leadership, policy and culture change.
  • Government 2.0 is central to the delivery of government reforms like promoting innovation; and making our public service the world’s best.

Technology is not the thing

Last week I spoke at the Online Information conference. It was a session about Twitter, where Karen Blakeman did a great job explaining the whole thing, and how organisations can make use of it. Then I stepped up and told a few jokes about government is – and should be – using Twitter.

Here’s the slides, for what they’re worth. Try and imagine a pillock gurning at you while you read them, it’ll provide some context.

Now, there is a thing here, and this is what it is: I don’t like doing tool-focused talks. One reason is that people get the impression that I am saying that everyone should be on Twitter, say.

To be swearily honest, I really couldn’t give a shit whether you use Twitter or not. I might write things that make it easier for you, but I would hate to feel like I’m making promises that it will change your life, or transform your organisation. It probably won’t. Things don’t tend to work that way.

I’m not trying to distance myself from Twitter, here. I still use it a hell of a lot, and my life would be poorer without it. The point I am making is true of any single technology, and goes back to the idea that, actually, the interesting things about the internet and its effect on society – and government – has nothing to do with computers.

Instead of encouraging people and organisations to use Twitter, or whatever, I want to encourage them to listen, to collaborate, to be transparent and open, to take notice of the things their employees say, to be flexible and agile and able to react quickly to changing circumstances.

Technology makes this easier. It provides a platform where it can all happen. In some cases it might be the key that unlocks the door to all this activity. But technology is not the thing.

Tom Watson’s been busy

Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister for web stuff, has been busy, first of all giving a speech on Government 2.0:

Driving through the cultural change in all our communications that sees the internet, mobile and other new media as the norm

  • ensuring better innovation and much faster implementation. Build stuff small, test it out then iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • capturing the skills, talent and energy we need for change – from within the public service and from outside. Over the next few weeks I hope to say more on this.
  • using new media to engage more directly and more effectively with individuals and communities.

Certainly sounds good. Am available for the middle one, obviously 😉

Also, on his blog, Tom comes up with a code for civil servant blogging, obviously in the light of the Civil Serf affair:

1. Write as yourself
2. Own your own content
3. Be nice
4. Keep secrets
5. No anonymous comments
6. Remember the civil service code
7. Got a problem? Talk to your boss
8. Stop it if we say so
9. Be the authority in your specialist field – provide worthwhile information
10. Think about consequences
11. Media interest? Tell your boss
12. Correct your own mistakes

Not sure about 8 (who’s ‘we’?), but otherwise a reasonable list.