Category Archives: government

Local by Social

We always hoped that Social by Social would be a book that could be chunked up and re-written for different audiences interested in social tech for social benefit – and now co-author Andy Gibson has done a great job for local government.
Local by Social: how local authorities can use social media to achieve more with less was commissioned by IDeA and NESTA. As Ingrid Koehler writes at our companion site – socialbysocial.net – “this document does provide a compelling argument for how social media can be used as a tool (and not as an end in itself) to support engagement, democracy, improved services and perhaps even especially efficiency.”
There’s more details here on the IDeA site, with additional links.
If you are looking for further front-line insights on Web 2.0 for customer service in local authorities, see the latest excellent presentation from Michele Ide-Smith.

The Naked Council: designing local services from scratch

Localgovcamp last week was even better than I expected, and I was so wrapped up in the many discussions I rather neglected my reporting. Fortunately Michele Ide-Smith was live blogging, and has given us a mini-wrapup here with further links. I’ll just repeat my thanks to Anke Holst and Hadley Beeman for organising, and offer this chat with Anthony Zacharzewski of The Democratic Society, who gave me a preview of his session on The Naked Council. read more »

Open data good – plus open comms even better

The Data.Gov.UK project to open up government data for re-use to public benefit has produced a flurry of comment ranging from geeky ecstacy to scepticism about how far it can be used in practice for better service development. On Twitter of course. There’s even mainstream suggestions of dis-benefit.  The Telegraph started it’s report:

Communities could find themselves being “ghettoised” by a new Government website which will provides facts and figures about every aspect of life in Britain, its creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has admitted.

Dominic Campbell of the consultancy Futuregov was in the thick of the commenting. In favour of the project, but irritated by the inward-looking way the discussion was going. read more »

Innovation and engagement depend on conversations inside, first

Just before Christmas Dave Briggs wrote a typically thoughtful post about Is government a knowledge business? which led to an interesting discussion which I might sum up as “organisations can’t have useful conversations and collaborate with people externally if people aren’t talking to each other internally”. Roland Harwood has just tweeted “Ironically the biggest challenge of open innovation seems to be internal”. Wonder how Civil Pages is working inside the civil service.

Tories would favour smaller firms for public service contracts

A Tory government, if elected this year, would adopt a post-bureacratic approach and change procurement policies for public service to enable smaller firms to bid, according to Stephan Shakespeare. This could produce a “golden age” for entrepreneurship. He was speaking at the Entrepreneurship Country conference. More here from event organiser Julie Meyer.

Social media for public services: how about an Open Innovation Exchange?

The Crowdsourced Council event earlier this week was for me interesting at three levels. First for the idea expressed in the name – that councils should use a variety of different methods to find out people’s opinions, engage with them, and improve performance in doing so. Secondly, for a useful demonstrations of tools showing how this might be done. And thirdly some insights into just how difficult it is to introduce these innovative new methods to councils, even when costs are low.

I came away with a new/old idea: that we need an open innovation exchange to help entrepreneurs, councils and customer/citizens collaborate to find new ways forward.

The event was organised by FutureGov in partnership with Capital Ambition, and we had demonstrations from  Uservoice, Best Before Media, YooskDebatewise, GovDelivery and Quiet Riots. Follow the links to see the goodies on offer. They provide a terrific range of ways in which people could discuss issues, vote on their preferences, create audio and video content, get updates and more.

In the four video interviews Dominic Campbell, of FutureGov, explains the thinking behind the event, and we hear from Tim Hood of Yoosk, Dave Worsell of GovDelivery, and also Shane McCracken of Gallomar. They just been award £200,000 from the Wellcome Trust for I’m A Scientist, Get me out of Here – explained here. (You’ll see the four videos in the frame once you start playing, or mouse-over).

As well as the cleverness of the tools in front of us, what really intruiged me was the background story I heard from those developing them: they were often prepared to make some of their offer free; they would collaborate to see how they could offer councils a menu of options and ways of making things work together; some were taking big personal risks to develop something of real social benefit. Yet whether big or small they found it difficult to get their products and services in front of the people who could make decisions, or find ways to test and evolve new tools with both citizens and councils.

A number of barriers emerged. The big one was procurement procedures, which could meant that if you weren’t on the approved list of suppliers you didn’t get a look in.  In theory councils would specify what they needed, and then go out to tender: but that doesn’t work well for innovative products. As one developer said: “If you don’t know what you want, because you haven’t seen it yet, how can you specify it?”

Another problem was that decisions usually involved a lot of people in the organisational hierarchy, and often in partner organisations. You couldn’t get them in the same room together. They didn’t even go to the same conferences: “The senior people will be at the old-style big ticket events, while those lower in the hierarchy who may know what’s needed are at the informal barcamps and unconferences.”

You might find one council officer prepared to take an interest, but they would change jobs. If you didn’t get everything lined up at the right time of year, you could lose six months because of holidays and other delays.

All this might be of little concern if it were just a bunch of profit-hungry corporations trying to sell products that councils could better develop in-house – or that tough competition would ensure a better deal for us all.  A few years ago it was perhaps the case that councils had to specify major development work through big suppliers. But these days there’s a vast array of social media tools – like those on show – that can be delpoyed rapidly, and at relatively low cost, provided councils can make fast and informed decisions. That means really getting to know what’s available and working collaboratively with suppliers and citizen-users.

Tim Hood summed it up: “People think private companies are just concerned with profit. That’s clearly not true. People risk their livelihoods to try and innovate for public good, and there’s no shame in trying to make some money out of it. There no shame in the decision makers and people in procurement being in the same room and talking through collectively how they can make the whole process work more efficiently”.

But that often isn’t happening. I heard that it can be just as tough for council officers. Unless you are passionate about social media it’s really difficult to see what’s available, and get your ideas adopted. Of course there are brilliant exceptions … officers and whole council departments around the country who are doing great work: Devon, Kent, Barnet, Barnsley keep getting mentions, and there are quite a others as I explored at another conference about knowledge management. It just doesn’t seem sensible to have such clunky systems when it’s desperately important to improve public services and reduce costs at the same time.

Is this a fair analysis? Or did I just happen on a group of people – developers and officers – who, by their interests and enthusiasms,  find the current system particularly frustrating and unproductive?

Let’s say the analysis is right at least in part. What might be done in a small, collaborative, organic, social media-ish sort of way? I’m really impressed by the work that Ingrid Koehler, Steve Dale and others are doing on the IDeA knowledge hub, which I’ve written about here. In the longer term the new system and associated development and training should help move all councils, not just a few, across into new ways of working.

But that’s going to take years. Meanwhile Amy Sample Ward and I have been talking to IDeA about ways in which we could use the Social by Social network as a space in which to pilot some ideas. There’s already some groups there. Out initial thinking was on three fronts: how to combine discussion and knowledge sharing, with a market place, linked to events. The aim would be to bring together people working in public bodies with social media developers and suppliers, and with those working in the hyperlocal programmes and third sector. And anyone else interested in how to use social tech for social impact … the substance of our book Social by Social (buy or download free here).

During the Crowdsourced Council event these ideas crystalised into thoughts of an Open Innovation Exchange. It’s not new: Simon Berry, I and others first proposed something like this back in 2007 for third sector organisations, in an open bid to Cabinet Office. We didn’t win, but generated a lot of interest as you can see on the original site here. My friends – and clients – at the Innovation Exchange are now doing a great job in taking forward the winning bid, but it’s focussed on third sector organisations, and social media is only a part of their business.

In essence we would create a complementary space into which anyone could pitch an idea, request, product or service … whether free or paid for. It would be up to IDeA and other public sector organisations – if interested – to promote the exchange to their sectors and interest groups. Similarly for the hyperlocal and third sector interests. We would run some associated workshops and turn up to events like Crowdsourced Council to do some social reporting, broker connections, and recruit people to the exchange.

When I floated the idea to a few developers at this week’s event they sounded seriously interested, and even said they might contribute some seed funding if public sector interests would come in.

That’s as a far as I’ve got with the idea. At this stage I just want to check out if it makes sense. If so, I’ll discuss further with our friends in IDeA, NESTA and other bodies. If they are interested I would suggest that we run an open workshop in January to co-design what’s needed, with the key interests. Let’s model the collaborative exchange process we propose.  At this stage I’m not suggesting that the current Social by Social platform would do what’s needed … but it could be a gathering space for those interested.

What do you think? Do drop a comment here, and I’ll also post across on SocialbySocial.net.

Local government knowledge hub – much more interesting than it sounds

Yesterday I went along to a meeting that, on the face of it, was about how UK local government and public agencies might share knowledge in future. Limited interest? No, because it generated a discussion touching on how far all citizens might have access to much “official” information; the impact this could have on local democracy and traditional participation; and the role of social reporters in telling (helpful) stories across sectors.

The event was a meeting of the IDeA Knowledge Hub Advisory Group – a project that I’ve written about before with enthusiasm – led by Ingrid Koehler and Steve Dale

I shot some video, and last night the traditional reporter in me thought: get blogging, get your video up there. Then the social reporter took over, and when I saw Ingrid tweet that she was just finishing a blog post, I tweeted back the link to my video in YouTube, which Ingrid then embedded in her post with fulsome tribute. Ta!

Carl Haggerty made some really interesting contributions  to the discussion, so I was hopeful he would blog about it, and he has. Steve Dale has said he will follow up later.

So I’m holding back a bit, in the hope that Dave Briggs may add to his earlier thoughts and Carrie Bishop will expand at Futuregov. I’m thinking: mainstream reporter – be first, be exclusive. Social reporter – be a thoughtful second or third, and distributed.

Meanwhile the links above will get you to the slides Ingrid and Steve presented, my video, and some really helpful perspectives on the event. Find more through Friendfeed.  I’ll be thinking through some expanded/additional storylines to post about a bit later, including:

  • If the knowledge hub is – as discussed – partly open to the public, using conversational, story-telling social media, how far will local government officers be comfortable in that environment?
  • Will the hub conversations be mined by journalists looking for negative stories … thereby making it riskier for council staff to contribute? But if there’s nothing about what doesn’t work, how useful will it be?
  • Could councillors play a bigger part, being prepared to take the heat of any dissent/bad news, and use the hub to engage more fully with local and national interests?
  • What could all this do to help fertilise the local digital garden (or knowledge ecosystem to give it a proper description) that I wrote about here?
  • Does this provide lots of job opportunities for social reporters, as I first envisaged here? (Certainly hope so:-)

Ingrid and, I hope, Steve and Dave, are coming to our local communities workshop on Monday, and that should give us a chance to follow these and other lines of enquiry.

What do you think of official Get Help Here?

A nice personal email from the marketing people at Directgov – official gateway to government information and services – invites me to take a look at their new tool Get Help Here.
It’s aimed at 16-20 year olds, providing a decision tree to “offer advice on retraining, providing help with finding  a job or financial assistance” in these tough times.

We’re keen to find out what you and your readers think of the tool and, if they like it, to hopefully share with friends and family. Directgov is trying to reach users who are online but are currently unaware of the services we provide. If we can get people looking at and sharing tools like “Get Help Here”, hopefully we’ll contact more of the people who will really benefit from the content that sits on Directgov.

read more »

Open government isn't easy

The Politico blog offers us an update on the Obama Administration’s open government initative to be transparent, participatory, collaborative. On the one hand the call for federal employees fell a bit flat – possibly because they didn’t get official instructions. On the other hand the public brainstorming produced, among other things, further campaigning for marijuana legalisation. “End the Imperial Presidency” got most votes. Will Downing Street be tempted to emulate?

Asking people how to run open government (US only)

In January US President Barack Obama circulated memos to public agencies saying Government should be transparent, participatory, collaborative. Yesterday senior adviser Valerie Jarrett announced on the White House blog how that will be put into practice …. through an open process:

Today we are kicking off an unprecedented process for public engagement in policymaking on the White House website. In a sea change from conventional practice, we are not asking for comments on an already-finished set of draft recommendations, but are seeking fresh ideas from you early in the process of creating recommendations. We will carefully consider your comments, suggestions, and proposals.

Here’s how the public engagement process will work. It will take place in 3 phases: Brainstorming, Discussion, and Drafting.

Beginning today, we will have a brainstorming session for suggesting ideas for the open government recommendations. You can vote on suggested ideas or add your own.

Then on June 3rd, the most compelling ideas from the brainstorming will be fleshed out on a weblog in a discussion phase. On June 15th, we will invite you to use a wiki to draft recommendations in collaborative
fashion.

These three phases will build upon one another and inform the crafting of recommendations on open government.

There’s also an innovations gallery showing “innovations and innovators across the Government who are already translating the values of open government into practice”.

Amazing. More on how it will work at techpresident. On the White House blog Beth Godwin showcases other examples of government use of new, social media.

Over here in the UK, mySociety are asking candidates for the position of Speaker to endorse three principles about voters right to know in detail how money is spent on MPs and parliament; better publication of Bills online; and also:

3. The Internet is not a threat to a renewal in our democracy, it is one of its best hopes. Parliament should appoint a senior officer with direct working experience of the power of the Internet who reports directly to the Speaker, and who will help Parliament adapt to a new era of transparency and effectiveness.

First stop Washington.

PS For UK government initiatives follow the Cabinet Office blog, and the Director Digital Engagement Andrew Stott on Twitter @dirdigeng. You can vote here on what you think Andrew should do, but it is a strictly unofficial exercise set up by blogging civil servant Steph Gray.