Category Archives: open

Transparent, participatory, collaborative government. Yes please.

Veteran e-democracy campaigner Steve Clift welcomes memos circulated by US President Barack Obama to public agencies saying Government should be transparent, participatory, collaborative. An Open Govenment Directive follows within 120 days. Can we have one too please?

Exploring the future of membership

I’m delighted that NCVO and RSA have come up with a way to explore the future of membership organisations in a world where people may feel that paying subscriptions isn’t always worthwhile if they can easily get information, advice and connections online.

It’s an issue that Simon Berry and I started to pursue with others through The Membership Project, with initial RSA and NCVO support. We generated a lot of discussion, but found it difficult to follow through without more funding. We were both interested in working on specific practical projects, and our partners were more interested in a research-led programme. read more »

Collaboration needs real pay-offs. Where does tech best fit?

In recent posts I’ve looked at two models for collaborative social innovation: Social Innovation Camp and RSA Networks. In the SI Camp model people pitch project ideas openly, collaborate within newly-formed project teams, then compete against each other. In RSA Networks people pitch ideas, look for collaborators, and may also get some help from RSA staff. Both are, in part, about the use of social technology, but my analysis of them both – compared here – brings home, I hope, that technology is not the key element for success. What’s important is the underlying model for moving from idea to implementation, and reward.

read more »

Organisation lite over coffee and croissants


The Tuttle Club gathered again yesterday in the rather smart OneAlfredPlace, and a group of us considered the realities of organising without (much) organisation.

Tuttle organiser Lloyd Davis and and club member Steve Moore had prevailed on Rob Shreeve, who runs OneAlfredPlace, to turn over one of their splendid gathering spaces to social media types for coffee, croissants and creativity. Rob is seeking members, and after a look around yesterday I’m really tempted.

We did the usual networking, with more space than Friday at the the Coach and Horses, then moved to some mini-open space: pitch an issue or idea and see who gathers around. As Lloyd reports there was a good spread:

Building a list of interesting folk to talk to BERR (Jane O’Loughlin)
Combining relentless creativity with social media (Steve Lawson)
Turning your passion into something that makes money (Pippa Crawford & Dan McQuillan)
Finding new clients online (Rebecca Caroe)
Business podcasting (Mike O’Hara)
Organisation Lite (David Wilcox & Jemima Gibbons)

In the organisation lite group we talked around a number of issue, ranging from Clay Shirky’s work on organising without organisations using social media, through to the practicalities of Lloyd’s vision for a permanent place for the Tuttle Club that combines workspace, learning opportunities and sociability. Here’s what I added as a comment to Lloyd’s post:

On the one hand we were taking inspiration from the open source movement which has evolved ways of organising without heavy-weight structures … on the other hand recognising that when it comes to taking leases, employing people and so on, the State places on us various responsibilities and regulations that can’t easily be avoided.
In both cases you need leadership, and varying degrees of trust and collaboration. If structure and regulation is lite, trust and collaborative commitment is doubly important.
I thought that Anecdote recently provided us with a useful framework in their white paper on teams, communities and networks – blogged here at the Membership Project where we are discussing these issues.
The key question for me, is how to make practical progress on this through our voluntary contribution to Tuttle evolution. I think it might be done by blending what someone called primary and secondary purpose and and interest. That is, we’ll do something for Tuttle and the cafe if it also has some spin offs for our businesses, networks, organisations.
How about a workshop where we play through the Tuttle development scenario – taking on property, recruiting members, setting up a company (or something) – in a way that provides useful insights for other organisational development. See if we can interest a social media lawyer and some other professionals interested in connecting with us. It would be another step in prototyping.
Organisation, lite or otherwise, comes after considering context, purpose, stakeholders, and a host of other factors. I think the best way to deal with the complexity is to get some experienced people into the same room and play it through. As well as prototyping organisation we could be fulfilling the learning aims of Tuttle too.

The valuable primary and secondary purpose idea came from Adriana Lukas, and I’m hoping to continue the conversation with her, Jemima Gibbons and others at the regular Tuttle meeting at the Coach and Horses. If you want to come, just sign up on the wiki. The only uncertainty is whether there’s a sponsor this week for the coffee and croissants … otherwise good fun, excellent conversation and new friends guaranteed.

Ruralnet shows how to do distributed communities


A few months back my friends at Ruralnetonline started an experiment in re-inventing their business in the open, through a co-design process online and in workshops.

The highlight of last week’s Collaborate|2008 event was a demonstration of the results: a very smart network of linked blog sites for communities tackling climate change, with any amount of feeds from bookmarks, other news sources, photos, videos, maps … and Twitter. You will find the site here, and as you’ll see it acts as a sort of dashboard for the rest of the carbon neutral network. It’s a forerunner or a much wider network of organisations and communities.

I have to confess that I missed the presentation by Ruralnet chief executive Simon Berry and Paul Henderson, because conversation in the cybercafe was equally gripping, and I was shooting some video on my phone to upload to Qik. Paul Webster, Paul H and I were feeding stuff from our Nokia phones to an event site, as you can see here. Anyway, I was pretty sure I could get a replay.

Simon has uploaded the presentation here explaining how Ruralnetonline has developed over the past ten years, and how the new developments are a reversal of their earlier strategy of a subscription-based walled garden.


Simon and Paul then gave me a quick recap of the presentation that they did. The big question, of course, is how to make this pay, since items like the newsletter and other content are free. Rualnetonline is to offer some premium charged-for services like the highly-successful Experts Online, and I think there will be substantial demand for custom developments.
What I think is exciting is the ability to build a system using free or low-cost tools; to put the emphasis on bottom-up content; to embrace the idea of distributed communities which I wrote about over here; to give users so many options on how to engage, and to do this in an open way that allows content to be linked to other sites.

I should declare an interest here: I’ve known Simon and the team pretty much since they started online, and they are partners in the Membership Project where we are exploring what social media may mean to membership organisations, and the notion of organising without organisations. However, I think I’m fairly dispassionate in believing that they are now ahead of the UK nonprofit/social enterprise field in the range of online services that they can provide. Or does anyone have other innovative examples? The good thing is, I know the people at Ruralnet would be glad to collaborate.

Oh yes, they do non-rural projects too through Networksonline. Technical note: the blogs are built using WordPress MU, with Drupal providing some other services.

Videos from Social Innovation Camp

I’ve spent the last couple of days dropping in and out of Social Innovation Camp, and it ended today with a well-deserved win for Enabled by Design – described here in its earlier stages. I’ve posted the videos I shot over here … but unfortunately something gave out before I caught the winners. There will be an official video, so nothing is lost.

I was experimenting using Qik to stream straight fromphone to web, and it worked pretty well, except that I can’t embed videos here because WordPress.com only allow that from YouTube and similar sites. I can, in theory, upload from Qik to YouTube but I’m having problems with that too.

Struggling with these trivial glitches just brought home to me again what an amazing experience the Camp was, with tech and non-tech innovators working over two days to get projects developed and, in some cases, working online in prototype.

I’ll write more when I’ve collected my thoughts. Meanwhile do take a look at Paul Birch and Paul Miller reflecting on whether it is possible to innovate within existing organisations as effectively. You can guess the answer … and I agree.

Update: The Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson has done a brilliant job blogging the camp over here.

A little more on the RSA Journalism Network

The RSA has provided a bit more information on their Journalism Network, started with the Reuters Institute of Journalism . As I wrote earlier it will be developed on an internal RSA site. It aims to “support the civic function of news” but will be focussed, says RSA staff member Rosie Anderson, on working, professional journalists as “a professional sub-culture, a community of practice”. Others who don’t fall into this category – termed “news users” – are encouraged to start their own discussions elsewhere … which I have done on the OpenRSA site.

Journalists consider civic role: privately

The RSA is launching an RSA Journalism Network, with this introduction from Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication and Co-Director of the Centre for Digital Citizenship:

The public’s declining trust in the news media is a worrying trend. The RSA and the Reuters Institute of Journalism are looking at how we can support the civic function of news. We’re particularly interested in how professional journalists and Fellows relate to the public’s ideas about news and what it is for.

Discussion is starting over on the RSA networks site, but as you’ll find when you click this link it is behind a login. At present registration is open to anyone, but within a few weeks the Networks site will be limited to RSA members (known as Fellows) and specifically invited guests.

The idea of the journalism network is, according to an RSA staff member in response to my query: “to get our professional journalist Fellows involved and talking about their own ideas about the future of news … and to construct a bit of a safe space for that to happen”. Those currently accessing the site are urged to help by “accepting those parameters”.

I personally believe journalists should be prepared to talk about their work in public, as I’ve written at greater length over here. That seems to me particularly the case when the issue is the civic function of news. I think I’ll leave them to it. I am an RSA Fellow, but feeling less and less comfortable about that as a result of this sort of walled garden thinking. It’s not where a social reporter should be.

Photo credit: Sylvar – Quis custodiet custodes ipsos?

Break open the walled gardens

Demolition ballThe Economist sees little future for walled garden social networking sites like Facebook and Second Life if they continue to restrict the flow of content across the Internet. A few years back we had AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy each providing their own subscription-based services, and look what happened to them:

Why stay within a closed community when you can roam outside its walled garden, into the wilds of the internet proper? Admittedly, it took a while for open and standardised forms of e-mail, discussion boards and file downloads—not to mention a new publishing technology called the world wide web—to match the proprietary, closed versions that preceded them. Today only AOL survives, and in a very different form: as an open web portal supported by advertising.

The Economist provides a more detailed analysis of the uncertain business models for social networking sites, which prompted me to wonder over here whether the walled garden approach will serve membership organisations well. I think it is another example of World 1 thinking.