Category Archives: collaboration

Crap detection and other essential network skills

I’ve just bought Howard Rheingold’s excellent book Net Smart: How to thrive in the online world. It isn’t much about the Internet as technology, but rather the literacies made possible by the technology, and why we need to acquire them. As Howard says here:

Mindful use of digital media means thinking about what we are doing, cultivating an ongoing inner inquiry into how we want to spend our time. I outline five fundamental digital literacies, online skills that will help us do this: attention, participation, collaboration, critical consumption of information (or “crap detection”), and network smarts. I explain how attention works, and how we can use our attention to focus on the tiny relevant portion of the incoming tsunami of information. I describe the quality of participation that empowers the best of the bloggers, netizens, tweeters, and other online community participants; I examine how successful online collaborative enterprises contribute new knowledge to the world in new ways; and I present a lesson on networks and network building.

I’ve pulled a few words around the five literacies into a little mindmap to provide some additional flavour. I’m sure I’ll blog more about the book later, because it has so much wisdom about how to make the most of the amazing new communication tools we now have, without being swamped. And much more.

For the moment I just want to reflect on how it helped me shift the perspective I had in my previous post about The challenges of networking civil society as joining up social spaces, into the challenge of developing digital literacy, and supporting people in the networked world.

Despite quoting extensively from Tim Davies on the danger of focussing on platforms (blogs, Facebook, online forums) rather than culture and capacity, I did bang on a lot in my earlier piece about how better to connect the various online spaces serving community activists, so they could find information, communicate, collaborate.

While I do think that would help, a few conversations that I had after I posted the piece made me feel it would be difficult to achieve. I was reminded that the various online spaces reflect different interests, approaches and business models. There probably isn’t enough incentive to do things differently … because the user/customers don’t pay, the funders probably won’t do much nudging, and volunteers have enough to do maintaining current activity without negotiating new arrangements.

It’s tempting to go for Baroness Newlove’s one-stop activist hub, but that’s not going to work any more than one newspaper, magazine, TV channel, bookshop would serve our very varied needs.

On the one hand organisations (and individuals) need to be more skilled and thoughtful in the way that they publish and communicate (PLEASE … no more 50 page pdf reports … you know who you are). And we all need to be smarter at listening, engaging, collaborating online.

If funders and agencies are concerned about helping citizens and small groups play a bigger role in civil society, focussing on Howard’s five literacy would be more useful than investing in further platform development.

I would argue that we also need the online equivalent of on-the-street community builders, so I’ve also dropped in a mindmap of about social reporting that I’ve used before, with some video.

You might argue that talking about digital literacy for community activists may be rather premature when actual use of technology is pretty unsophisticated in most community groups. There’s a case to be made … “why bother”? On the other hand Howard’s points about staying focussed, engaging, collaborating are as much about attitude as tech … and should make sense in any setting. I think crap detection will strike a chord as well.


The future of online sharing is mobile, appified and people-centred

I first posted this on, where John popham and I are blogging for Big Lottery Fund about development of People Powered Change. There’s a lot of links to earlier posts on this site about knowledge sharing and the Social App Store idea.

Earlier today I went to an excellent seminar on the Business of Collaboration, about online systems and support for knowledge sharing and collaboration. I wanted to find whether experience in the private and public sector could be useful in development of People Powered Change as a knowledge-sharing space.

I had high hopes, because one of those speaking was Steve Dale, who designed communities of practice for local government, and then worked on the successor knowledge hub as I reported here. The hub is built using Intelligus, an open source software platform from PFIKS, who hosted the seminar at the Dorchester Hotel. More here about Knowledge Hub development. This year Steve is again chairing the Online Information Conference. read more »

Presenting to myself on collaboration and social innovation

Here are some slides I developed over the Christmas holiday, not for any specific event, but just to clear my mind and provide a framework for thinking about social innovation and collaboration. I often don’t really know what I think until I write it down, and after making notes, drawing mindmaps, downloading a few iPad doodling apps, I hit on the idea of producing a presentation to myself.
(I suggest clicking view on Slideshare and then full screen because the notes are a bit small).

Towards the end of last year I was getting a bit sluggish on two fronts … what I wanted to blog about, and what sort of projects I wanted to do. And how to link the writing and doing.

I spent a lot of time last year writing about Big Society, and more recently Our Society, on this blog and also here and here. I’ve continued to do some social reporting at events, run workshop games, floated ideas like the social app store, and become increasingly convinced of the importance of developing networks blending face-to-face and online. read more »

Collaborative consumption: making what's mine yours and ours

The innovation agency NESTA today hosted an event on Collaborative Consumption … which turns out to mean sharing, trading, bartering goods and services with others – things that we have been doing for centuries.
The main speaker was Rachel Botsman, author of the book What’s mine is yours, and afterwards I asked Rachel what’s so different now. The answer is the Internet, which allows us to book cars for as little as an hour or two from our neighbours rather than a fleet (Whipcar), volunteer our skills (Timebanking), or lend and borrow from each other rather than through banks (Zopa).
Rachel gave a brilliantly engaging talk, which you can see here, together with a video of her presentation at TEDxSydney. There was a rather good little booklet which I can’t find online, but will add as a link if it is available.
Much collaborative consumption does of course take place without the Internet, although adding a new name like Landsharing may prompt the return of an old idea, and old benefits. Rachael tests some of her ideas on her parents … who took to the notion of allowing neighbours to grow vegetables in a corner of their garden: that’s a landshare. The result: Rachel’s Dad remarked that this was the first time he had know his neighbour’s name in 18 years.
Rachel is enthusiastic for the idea of the Big Society (previous posts here), which certainly involves a lot of sharing, volunteering and redesigning of the way that we get public (and private) services.However, we both agreed that Big Society isn’t an easy idea to explain … while something like the stories of sharing and exchanging are easily understood, and useful.

Rachel was off to No 10 later in the day for a round table discussion, so we may hear more about her ideas from government. As Rachel remarked, it’s difficult to realise Big Society locally if you don’t know your neighbours’ names.

As Cyberdoyle wrote in an excellent post recently, we used to do a lot of exchange face-to-face:

In the ‘Old Days’ our society revolved round communication. Over the garden wall on a Monday morning when the washing was pegged out, the ‘gossip’ would go down the roads, passing on wisdom, advice and help through the cogs and wheels. Meeting the kids after school in the playground all the mums would catch up on stuff, again sharing problems or worries as well as having fun. This is how a big society worked, just like a watch. The lads would meet up at the chapel, the auction, the pub etc and do the same. (Contrary to most belief the biggest gossips were the men)… but that is the way to get stuff off your chest, and in the process get or give help.
Gossip is what makes the fingers on the watch and the world go round. If you don’t know the lad up the road just lost his sheepdog you don’t get the chance to let him know the lad down the road on the farm just whelped a tidy litter.
If you don’t know the man next door has just been diagnosed as a diabetic and is very worried, you can’t put him in touch with the lady you met at church last week whose husband is coping brilliantly with diabetic treatments and living a totally normal life. Due to the pressures of modern life and lackof TIME, caused by most young families needing two wages, and youngsters moving away to cities for work, away from extended family, this social interaction is now being done digitally.
Facebook, twitter, blogs, texting and chatting.

Cyberdoyle uses this as a good argument for rural broadband, and I agree.
Models for collaborative consumption online take us beyond the equivalent of that over-the-fence gossip towards the additional benefits of doing things together, as well as talking. We’ll need more of that in future.

Designing the Big (Civil) Society – it's DIY time

Summary: there’s now a fair amount in the open about The Big Society, but still many questions about just What Is It Going to Be. The answer is – the Government isn’t going to tell us the whole story. We are going to have to do it ourselves. So who is interested in Designing for Civil Society?

Detail: We now have a Minister for Civil Society in Nick Hurd, the launch of the Big Society programme at No 10, and a lot of online comment. Here’s my bookmarks, and previous posts on this blog.

The main points of the programme reflect the pre-election vision presented by Mr Cameron: more powers for local government and communities; encouraging volunteering; National Citizen Service; supporting mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises; funds from a Big Society Bank; training for local community organisers.

The comment includes warnings from existing organisations … don’t start without us; don’t forget the old lessons of community; a plea to bring capitalism into the mix; plus some healthy scepticism. We are getting daily roundups from Patrick Butler at Guardian Society Daily.

We have become rather conditioned by the central policy-making and programming of the previous government to expect a blueprint for what happens next. We’ve had one from the Respublica think tank, promoting the idea of local social hublets. read more »

Time for the Big Society Network to start networking

We didn’t hear anything from David Cameron about The Big Society in last night’s TV Leaders’ Debate … which prompted David Barrie to tweet “Has all the #bigsociety stuff been negotiated out?
48hrs ago, it was the new revolution”. Maybe there wasn’t the right question from the studio audience to provide a peg … but things have generally gone quiet since the seminar on March 31, and the centrepiece statements in the Conservative manifesto. There’s been rather more fun from the spoofs. (see also my update below: should the Network stay with the BS brand?)).
After the initial announcements I found people engaged in neighbourhood action and community development rather bemused to find their work so warmly embraced by the Tories. Cautiously welcoming, but pointing out that the real test would be in how far the fully-developed policies take account of the messy realities. You can get so far with Saul Alinsky-style campaigning, and volunteer-led initiatives, but to make long term improvements in services you also need to work with local authorities. We didn’t hear much about that. read more »

Lloyd Davis becomes a social artist in collaboration

I’m so pleased to see that Lloyd Davis of Tuttle Club fame will be working at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, and doubly pleased that he is being called Social Artist in Residence. It’s a terms I first heard from Etienne Wenger a year or so back, applied to people “who can create a space where people can find their own sense of learning citizenship”. Lovely term, for a lovely guy. Now … anyone like a social reporter in residence?

Update: Tessy Britton asks: Do social artists need patronage? 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 »

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.

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