Category Archives: social media

The new online challenge: combatting social insurgents

While an enquiry was today clearing climate change scientists of malpractice in the leaked email affair, I was hearing further details of how the sceptics used blogging to promote “Climategate” as a story that undermined public confidence in research … and about the emergence of the social insurgent.

I wrote recently about how climate sceptics network more effectively than environmentalists, reporting work commissioned by Oxfam from the digital mapping agency Prospero. Left Foot Forward reported:

The speed of information flow within the sceptic community, with its rapid publication of sceptical “research”, is far quicker than any scientist or NGO could hope to match – and handily unencumbered by peer review or sign-off processes.This meant that because almost no-one from the climate movement responded to or rebutted the sceptics’ arguments, they ended up owning the story.

Today while at the OxfordJam social entrepreneur event I met Nathan Flowers, of The Social Media Lab, who worked on the analysis. He explained how fast the climate change sceptics were able to operate in spreading news of the email leak, dubbing it Climategate, and getting mainstream coverage through the Daily Telegraph blog written by James Delingpole. read more »

Getting back to Government Is Us

We’ll hear a lot of high-level policy discussion about Big Society versus Big Government in the run up to the general election – due to be rekindled by the Tories next Wednesday, I hear – but amidst wonky talk of localism it’s easy to lose touch with what that can mean in reality. A meeting last night with Jim Diers, from Seattle, brought some down-to-earth optimism. read more »

Get to know the neighbours through mediascapes

After the inspiration of AppsforGood in Tulse Hill, I found more evidence last week in another part of London of the scope for using mobile phones to engage people both young and old in thinking about their neighbourhood – and meeting their neighbours. read more »

Apps for Good: smartphones solving local problems

Young people looking for jobs and new skills … community problems needing innovative solutions … smartphones increasingly popular … apps for these phones a big growth area. Why not mix those elements and create a new project Apps for Good? Which is exactly what CDI launched last week, with a big grant from Dell.
Is this just another social-media-will-solve-our social-problems dream? After some great conversations at the launch, I think there’s more to it than that.
I’ve been following with great interest the research undertaken to Iris Lapinski to see how CDI could bring the digital inclusion work they started in 1995 in Latin America to the UK. Their mission is:

… to transform lives and strengthen low-income communities by empowering people with information and communication technology. We use technology as a medium to fight poverty, stimulate entrepreneurship and create a new generation of changemakers. read more »

Video of Monkeys with Typewriters seminar

As expected, I enjoyed Jemima Gibbons seminar last night on her book Monkeys with Typewriters. I experimented using the Qik video streaming iPhone app, and captured most of the event as it happened, then did a short interview afterwards.
You can see the videos that I streamed here. It worked reasonably well, except that on the iPhone SMS messages pop up with a preview that you can’t completely turn off, and it stopped the camera. This happened a couple of times, and the camera also went into stand-by a few times too.
I posted this to the Qik Get Satisfaction site, and was very impressed to get a response a few minutes later. Unfortunately it looks as if the problem is here for a bit. read more »

Is the Summer of Social Media Love a fading memory?

The prospect of doing some interviews at the seminar on Jemima Gibbons book, Monkeys With Typewriters, later today set me thinking on some gentle provocations to get things going … particularly ones that are a bit metaphorical.
Recent conversations and exchanges dispel any remaining simplistic enthusiasm for the possible benefits of social media. It isn’t a magic potion. We should pay far more attention to the context in which social media is used, for what purpose, by whom and so on. read more »

Putting social tech two clicks down

One of the recurrent bits of conversation around the social media scene is “of course, it’s not about the tools, it’s about people … how they share … changes in culture … challenges to hierarchies” often followed by “and have you seen this latest iPhone app“.
To be fair, there isn’t a total contradiction in that, because smartphones often help us converse, connect, collaborate without a lot of the desktop computer hassle. However, while there’s a strong current of feeling that we should get beyond the technology to the real benefits and values that go with social media, that’s not always to the fore. (gross generalisations, please challenge).
One of the things that’s great about Jemima Gibbons’ book Monkeys with Typewriters is that it unashamedly puts the tools two clicks down: the chapters are around Co-Creation, Passion, Learning, Openness, Listening, and Generosity; then there are interviews with a wide range of people showing how these apply in practice, and only then do we get to the tech.
I want to persue these ideas following an earlier interview, and fortunately there’s a great opportunity on Wednesday evening when Jemima is giving a seminar in London at One Alfred Place, with the Society for Organizational Learning. Details on Jemima’s MWT blog here. There is a charge – £20, or £10 if you are a member of One Alfred Place – but I’ve no doubt it will be worth it for good conversation on the non-tech aspects of social media. read more »

Shock! Socialreporter joins the information professionals

At the end of 2008 I had a lot of fun doing some social reporting at the big annual Online Information event, as you can see here. I was there with my chum Ed Mitchell, who actually knows something about knowledge management and such things. I was mostly just pointing the camera.
This year I’m hugely flattered to be invited by organiser Lorna Candy to join the executive conference committee to help plan the event next December. You can see information about last month’s event here.
Steve Dale is chairing the committee this year, and I’ve been spending some time with him on work around the IDeA knowledge hub. I’m not a committee person, but Steve is a great social media and social reporting enthusiast, as well as being an expert on Communities of Practice facilitation and technology. I’m sure our meetings will be conversational and creative. read more »

Rethinking networks as passionate human clouds

A meeting in London with Peggy Duvette, chief executive of WiserEarth, and also with Ed Mitchell, sparked some thoughts about networking – global, local, and organisational. Well, questions mostly. Warning: this is a bit of ramble that also takes in the RSA, NCVO, cloud computing and the local government knowledge hub.

I met up with Peggy at an evening event organised last week in London by Mike Zeidler, that was in itself a pleasure as these things go. It brought together people broadly interested in environment, social justice with a bit of tech as well. The presentations were minimal, facilitation light-touch, wine sufficient, and conversations engaging. Peggy’s visit to the UK was the spark, and some of the substance.

Anyway, I was thinking I would skip the usual video reporting chores when Peggy came over and said hello … maybe it was three tag words during the circle of intros: socialreporter – dot – com. A bit promotional, I know. Anyway we got to talking about what makes networks work, and I pulled out the iphone 3gs as you can see above.

I asked some pretty standard questions, to which Peggy added substance by sharp insights and the weight of experience in WiserEarth, which “helps the global movement of people and organizations working toward social justice, indigenous rights, and environmental stewardship connect, collaborate, share knowledge, and build alliances” and has some 30,000 members, and thousands of groups. It is “the world’s largest free and editable international directory of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and socially responsible organizations (over 110,000 in 243 countries, territories, and sovereign islands)”.

Three observations stood out for me from our chat: mix face-to-face and online networking, go where people are already gathered rather than expecting them to come to your place, and what makes it all work is passion for an issue. If people are passionate, concerned, and want to meet others then they will make the effort to use the tools.

This led me to reflect upon one of the other networks I have written lots about: the RSA. It has some 27,000 members (Fellows) around the world, with a diversity of interests to match those on WiserEarth, and some high ideals going back to its foundation in the elightenment years of the 18th century. There’s currently an exhibition to make the then-and-now links.

I used the interview with Peggy as a peg for a slightly provocative piece on the RSA City London network – “Is the network quiet because we have no shared passion? Do we need one”? Everyone says the RSA Fellowship has great potential because people cover so many interests … but there isn’t any one focus, and the online networks are very quiet. But then, WiserEarth covers a lot of ground, and people network there. I guess the difference is that WiserEarth presents itself as a place for action for the environment and social justice, while RSA has broader aims and a host of other activities to engage people.

Just before the event with Peggy I had spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Ed Mitchell, who is currently developing a online network for the Transition Town movement.

As the wiki explains: A Transition Initiative is a community  working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question: “for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?”

While there’s a primer, and a 12-step process for the transition journey, the movement is about as bottom-up as you can get. Dan McQuillan, speaking recently at the mypublicservices event, reckoned Transition was a good example of the way we’ll have to go for new-style public services in future. Do watch the interview for this, and his general reflections on power and transformation of public services.

Anyway, Ed and his team are evolving a system that will provide a central Drupal-based site, and also aggregate tagged content from just about anywhere (first pilot here). Ed’s doing that with a specially-formed group of developers in a way that looks set to be a model of tight-budget creative collaboration. Plenty of passion among both system user/contributors and developers, within a strong  framework of values provided both by Transition and the Open Source approach (sustainability, resilence, collaboration, distribution).

In conversation with Ed I recalled an excellent event run by the NCVO Foresight team a few weeks back on what tech changes will mean for nonprofits. It was organised in part by Guy Yeomans, who write here about ubiquitous connectivity – allowing us to be online anywhere anytime. An associated development is cloud computing, explained at the event by Robin Gear of PAconsulting. It means, among other things, that you can have all of your email, documents, networking etc handled by Google and other big players, storing your stuff in massive data warehouses in California. Or somewhere. You won’t know.

We discussed this and other issues at tables: ours was focussed on membership organisations. I remember two insights. One was that organisations may need two divergent strategies, for those connected and unconnected; the other was that we should think about the “human cloud”. By the human cloud we meant that people will be less and less tied into formal communications relationships with membership organisations – for example – popping in and out of discussion forums set up in some prefined groups. Those who are connected, using social media, will cluster around topics wherever people of shared passion may gather. If their membership organisation offers the facility, fine, if not they go elsewhere. Or probably do both. What’s then important if you are acting as a convenor (like Transition Towns) is being able to both offer a central platform and also aggregate content tagged from elsewhere. (I later discovered discussion of the human cloud over at Sun Microsystems).

Twitter – explained here – is proving both a tool and a model for connecting clouds of people who cluster around events and interests defined by tags. You can also use lists, as Beth Kanter explains here. So, if someone is using Twitter it’s fairly easy to talk about clouds, more difficult if not. Maybe the analogy is a very fluid conference, or party, where conversations group and regroup. Anyone got some good metaphors? I think that the technical term is knowledge ecology.

The other place I picked up some really useful thoughts on human clounds and networks is the advisory groups for the IDeA knowledge hub. The overall aim – as I’ve written before – is to help local councils and other public bodies be more conversational in knowledge-sharing among themselves and with citizens. The project is being driven forward by Ingrid Koehler and Steve Dale, and they have blogged at SocialbySocial here and here.

When we met the other day we worked on a couple of realistic but fictitious scenarios, where a local strategic partnership was gathering people and knowledge around issues where they had to deliver results (these are known as national indicators). I was in a group looking at reducing alcohol-related harm. You can see from video of the report back, and Steve’s analysis here, that success depended partly on good knowledge-sharing but substantially on development and maintenance of the network of people – the cloud – that formed around the task.

So yet again the components for knowledge-sharing and action were a framework of values or target; some focus in an issue or task; flexible ways to contribute and access knowledge; processes to develop relationships and create a trusted social space, the power to convene, the capacity to facilitate. The tools were then whatever was needed to support this.

The challenge for local government, in developing the knowledge ecology model, may be whether people will have the same passion to make it work as those using WiserEarth or the Transition system. I’m really delighted that I’ll be working with Ingrid, Steve and others on these issues together with Amy Sample Ward over at SocialbySocial.net. IDeA will be using that shared space to explore where next, with links to the groups there working on community-based blogs and online systems. More soon on that.

The challenge for RSA may be whether it can offer its diverse membership something that makes it worth clustering around online (as well as the excellent public lectures programme, which you don’t have to pay for). Maybe there could be closer links with the lectures, and the strong programme of projects developed by staff. Anyway, the good news there is that the new Fellowship Council is going well – as live-blogged here by Jemima Gibbons – and Tessy Britton has been elected chair. Tessy is very positive, and there are some 40 others highly capable Fellows on the council.  One group is looking at communications and engagement, and there’s also plans for meetings of smaller interest groups in London, that could link to online development.

This is one of those blog pieces I felt I needed to write to get stuff out of my head … and in the hope someone might come up with good links to better explanations of human clouds and knowledge ecosystems. Please. And also so I can later write shorter pieces with reference to human clouds. Meanwhile thanks to Peggy, Mike, Ed, Dan, Ingrid, Steve, Tessy, Guy, Robin, Beth, Jemima, Amy and many others for conversations in the cloud.

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.