Introducing Kind of Digital Exchange

It’s not the most exciting bit of technology in the world, but it could be very useful.

I read an awful lot of stuff on the web – thanks to Google Reader, it’s made really easy. Lots of people don’t have the time to do so, and are quite grateful to have useful items pointed out to them. I usually do this by putting links up on my Twitter profile, and the occasional link round up post here on the blog.

The trouble is that Twitter is a very ephemeral medium, and if people miss links, or don’t record them anywhere, then finding them again can be very tough. I’m also slightly uncomfortable that someone else has a hold of all this data! What’s needed is a way to record these things for posterity, and perhaps create a conversation around them.

So, in about an hour of fiddling, I made the Kind of Digital Exchange. It simply publishes links to stories I find interesting, with tags to enable easier searching, and the ability for people to leave comments.

As well as the main site, you can grab the RSS feed, get the results by email or follow the firehose on Twitter.

It’s very basic – just a bog standard WordPress instance and the free, open source, P2 theme. The interesting bit takes place away from the site, where I have set up the wonderful IFTTT to pump items I star in Google Reader into Exchange as posts within WordPress. This means that for me to share something via the site, I just click a single button.

It doesn’t have to be just me though. I’d be delighted if others could contribute. Using IFTTT as the spine, it’s easy to pull content in from other sites, whether Google Reader as I do, or maybe through Delicious bookmarks.

So, if you’re keen to start contributing links to the site, let me know and we can get it sorted. Of course, you can start commenting on links right away!

Will this become the digital engagement equivalent of something like the awesome Hacker News? Probably not. But it didn’t take long to put together, and if people find it useful, then that’s alright with me. Of course, if lots of people find it useful, I’ll throw some resources at it to give it a makeover and start to add some functionality. Stuff like:

  • user liking or upvoting of the best content
  • user tagging of articles
  • ability to reshare links on other networks

…and I am sure there’s a lot more too. There’s a page to share ideas.

So do please go and have a look, and maybe get involved. I was asked the other day where people in government can go to find examples of innovation and creative ideas. Other than say ‘look on Twitter’ it was hard to muster a proper response. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to say – ‘look on the Kind of Digital Exchange!’.

We need to talk about the Knowledge Hub

Or at least, about where people in public service can go to share ideas, ask questions and promote good practice.

Back in the summer of 2006, when I was working as a lowly Risk Management Officer (yes, you read that right) at a county council, I joined the nascent Communities of Practice platform, which was being developed by Steve Dale at the then Improvement and Development Agency.

I thought it was fantastic, and joined in with some gusto – so much so in fact that I did attract a little criticism from colleagues who thought – probably quite rightly – that I ought to have been concentrating on the day job.

One of the first things I did was to launch the Social Media and Online Collaboration community, which I ran until my circumstances changed and Ingrid took over. Under Ingrid’s watchful eye, the community grew into one of the biggest and most popular on the platform.

Over time though it became clear that the CoP platform wasn’t keeping up with the technological times: the interface was a little clunky and a few things didn’t really make sense in an age of hyper-sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

So the Knowledge Hub was born, to take things forward. Only, I’m not sure it has.

I’m not wanting to bash the hard work that people have put in. All I will do is describe my experience – that people aren’t using the Knowledge Hub, and activity appears to be way down compared to the CoPs.

On the rare occasions I log in, I find the site incredibly, almost unusably, slow – and the interface hard to find my way around. I mean, I spend my life on the internet, and I just don’t really know what I am meant to do on the Knowledge Hub.

I’ve been wanting to raise this topic for a while, but what made me do it was receiving a request for information on Twitter by a local government person.

I don’t mind it when this happens. In fact it’s rather nice, as it means people remember who I am, and I get a chance to be helpful. As the owner of a small business, I get that this sort of thing can be a useful marketing tool.

But I do think to myself that there really ought to be a place where good practice, case studies, stories, examples, discussions and helpful chat can take place.

Surely that should be the Knowledge Hub? But as I mention, it isn’t: hardly anyone is on there and people are using tools like Twitter to try and track down the information they need.

So what’s the answer? Given the investment so far, and the organisational backing of the Knowledge Hub, that platform ought to be the future of knowledge sharing and collaboration in the sector.

I’m sure there are a few tweaks on the technology, user interface and community engagement side that could push things forward massively on there, before the goodwill earned by the previous system is used up.

The other option is for something else to emerge to take its place. With a little time and energy, I’ve no doubt someone – maybe even me – could put the tech in place to make it happen. But the time and resources needed to engage an entire sector are huge – and if the LGA are struggling I dread to think what sort of a hash someone like me would make of it.

What are your views? Do you use the Knowledge Hub? How does it compare to the CoPs? Where do you go for your innovation knowledge, stories and chat?

Where do we go next?

Building local government 2.0

The Knowledge Hub is a terrifically ambitious project being run by IDeA, in partnership with CLG, to bring knowledge and information sharing to the local government sector. A mixture of technology and capacity building, the aim is to alter the culture of local government, to change the way people in councils think about how success is measured, and how innovations and improvement can be rolled out across the entire sector.

Learning Pool are keen to play as big a role in this process as possible: after all, we have the background in local government, we have collaboration in our bone marrow, and we also have a pretty good idea about what works, technology-wise. So when the opportunity came up to bid for a project to develop a prototype which will inform the development of the Knowledge Hub, we pulled out all the stops to make sure we got it.

And get it we did (subject to the usual cooling off periods and boring contract stuff, of course).

The Partnerships and Places Library is an online resource of case studies from local authorities and local partnerships. It’s chock-full of useful content, but isn’t terribly interactive and probably isn’t the most engaging collection of content on the web.

Learning Pool will produce for the IDeA a fully interactive community, where content sharing, conversation and use of rich media will be encouraged and supported. Our concept for the site was called WorkTogether in recognition of the collaborative, silo-busting nature of the project.

We’re also keen to get the detail right on this project, and support open information and data sharing where we can. The new site will produce RSS a-plenty and will integrate with services like Calais to produce really useful semantic metadata. Everything will be built on open source technology, and where bespoke development is needed, that too will be released to the community.

Updates on development will be posted on the Learning Pool blog. We’re on a pretty tight schedule, so you all should be able to see some results before too long. If anyone is keen to be in on the user testing, leave us a comment here and we’ll do our best to involve you.

We’re delighted, because we see this as the first step in an exciting journey for Learning Pool. We’re going to be delivering a really innovative online project, and will be a part of the wider Knowledge Hub process. But this is also the start for us becoming local government’s trusted advisor and partner when it comes to developing social media, web 2.0 – or whatever you like to call it – strategies and products.

If your council is considering taking its first tentative steps into this new media world, get in touch with us – drop me a line on 07525 209589 or email me on dave@learningpool.com. I’d love to come and talk to you about this stuff, and see where Learning Pool can help.

Update: if you want to keep an eye on this project’s development on Twitter, follow @worktogetheruk!

Cross posted from the Learning Pool blog.