Making British Government easier to learn

My friend and colleague Jason Caplin pointed out today that the LSE have open up the lectures for their undergraduate course on British government and how it all works.

It’s a fantastic resource, and great that they have shared this openly, as it’s something that would be of use to anyone working in and around government.

However, the formatting isn’t all that great and it doesn’t work brilliantly on mobile. Plus, there’s no ability for learners to ask questions, leave comments or discuss the topics.

So, I very quickly threw together a WordPress site to rehouse the videos, using a nice simple responsive theme and layout. I also enabled comments, so there’s a bit of a social element there as well.

I’d be really interested to know from folk if this has been a worthwhile endeavour, and if you make use of the site. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement.

The site is at

Happy learning!

Clay Shirky at the LSE

Cognitive SurplusI had an enjoyable couple of hours yesterday evening at the LSE, attending Clay Shirky‘s lecture on cognitive surplus, which was launching his book of the same name.

It was an enjoyable hour, and a real pleasure to hear stories and arguments for the use of social technology for social good.

I must admit, however, that having read Shirky’s previous book, Here Comes Everybody, and watched other lectures of his online, that perhaps his thinking hasn’t really developed that far. Cognitive Surplus seems to be a continuation of the themes examined in Here Comes Everybody rather than anything radically new.

Having said that, I haven’t read the book, but will report back when I have (it isn’t available on Kindle in the UK yet for some reason, which is annoying).

Here are the notes I took during the talk, which may or may not be useful.

  • Time we have available (free time) which is growing
  • Platform for making use of that time effectively (Internet)
  • Use of the network: consume, produce, share
  • Wikipedia = 100 million hours of time in 10ish years
  • Tv = 200 billion hours watched every year in US
  • The time spent watching adverts in the US over one weekend is roughly equivalent to one wikipedia
  • Very small numbers of change can have huge effects
  • Ushahidi – Kenyan tracks updates from various media. Been open sourced and used around the world.
  • Generosity + digital tech
  • Successful digital projects are those that appeal to our human instincts
  • Transition from alchemy to chemistry – same tech but different approach/culture. Supported by printing press and the new scientific journals.
  • Patientslikeme – huge documentation project of sufferers. Large amounts of aggregate data: shared value. Commercial project. “digital sharecropping”. Why do people contribute for free? They like it!
  • Social pressure often more effective than contractual (example of picking kids up from school on time) once broken also not self healing.
  • Openness and sharing is a good thing. Patientslikeme want to effect a culture change in the medical profession. Therefore tech is secondary to the project. Makes it possible but the objective is cultural.
  • Levels o participation and collaboration: lolcats are communal. Wikipedia has public value. Patientslikeme creates civic value. Gets more difficult and complicated as you go along. Also the civic is the most important.
  • Role of government – to help to create the space for social capital and cognitive surplus to emerge. Digital divide: participation rates much higher in better educated households
  • Things to think about: scarcity, loose joins, cheapness of distributing information, Internet routes itself around faults

Events, dear boy…

Quite a few events coming up in the next couple of weeks that I should probably let you know about.

Next week I’m attending a few things: on Monday, the Clay Shirky lecture on Cognitive Surplus at the LSE, followed by the Learning Pool steering group meeting on Tuesday. I’ll be talking to the group about our plans for further engagement work along the lines of our Let’s Talk Central project with Central Bedfordshire Council, as well as some updates to our Modern Councillor service, which I hope to be able to tell everyone about real soon.

Then on Thursday I am going to be talking to the Centre for Public Scrutiny conference about engaging with local communities online. I will be particularly looking forward to this as my second job in local government was as a scrutiny officer at a district council.

I’m ending the week in Bristol, at NALC‘s conference celebrating local democracy. I’ll be showing some local council clerks and councillors how they can be spending a little bit of time and no money at all on cool ways of engaging with their communities online.

After a rest – or should I say, chance to catch up on email – over the weekend, I hit the road again, or rather the train, heading down to NESTA’s ‘Digital Disrupters‘ event on Monday 5th.

Then it’s Wednesday at the LGA conference in Bournemouth where I’m facilitating a fringe session, optimistically titled “A thoroughly modern council”. You can sign up for it here.

Finally, on Friday I travel again to the south-west, this time to Cheltenham to the Institute of Local Council Management summer seminar. I’ll be talking about “using social networking technologies for mobilising political and community action”.

Busy times! I shouldn’t complain though, if it were any different I would probably be quite bored.