Category Archives: collaboration

Join us for the social collaboration game at SHINE

If you want to find out how social technology can be used collaboratively to solve neighbourhood problems, do join me and colleagues for a lively session on May 16 in London at the SHINE unconference for social entrepreneurs. You’ll find

If you want to do it quickly, do it alone. If you want to do it well, do it together.” – African proverb.
Join the Social Collaboration Game on day two of SHINE. Everyone’s talking about the advantages of collaboration, open-source working and social technology to drive through social change. But how do you make it work in practice? Based on real life problems that SHINE participants are facing, get ready for a two hour game where you’ll have to crunch problems, make quick decisions and find ways to work together to get the job done. You will be doing that within the framework of an imagined but realistic neighbourhood where people are trying to tackle problems innovatively as recession bites. There’ll be competing interests to balance, barriers to getting what you need from partnerships,…

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Clay Shirky: online crowds aren't always wise

Clay Shirky, leading commentator on internet technologies and author of Here Comes Everybody, last night backed away from his earlier enthusiasm for the online wisdom of crowds in democratic decision-making. He suggested that Government use of social media should focus more on “small groups of smart people arguing with each other”, than national-scale engagement online.

We’ll, that’s my interpretation. You can listen for yourself … and find more on Twitter from last night and today’s at ICA.

A few years back Clay said that the ability of groups to organise online and challenge conventional engagement was “the glory of this medium”. He now believes we need more checks and balances.

When speaking at LSE, he was asked how he would now advise government on the use of social media. Earlier he had highlighted how a group pressing for legalisation of the medical use of marijuana had made this a prioritised item to be addessed by the new President Barak Obama, on his official transition website change.gov (see video above).

I would not be concentrating right now on the kind of large legitimating moves …. precisely because of the hijack model because in a way, even with new tools … tightly interested groups have a way of throwing issues higher up the charts  … I would be worrying instead about how to get good ideas out of small groups.

If you want to know where new interesting useful idea are going to come from, don’t look at crowds and don’t look at individuals, look at small groups of smart people arguing with each other. Historically that’s been a big source of change, whether you are talking about the Invisible College or the French Impressionists. Instead of having Government scale, or social scale initiatives, kind of have your say stuff  …

(Here Clay breaks off to quote an early negative example of online crowds how UpMyStreet – mainly devoted to postcode-level activity – was taken over by racist ranting when offering national-level discussion. I found this post by one of those who developed the UpMyStreet site via David Brake’s blog. David there cites Clay’s earlier views that occasions when online polls come up with results that are unrepresentative  are part of “the glory of this medium”).

Clay went on to say of national-level discussions that these problems are hard, bordering on intractable. He suggests (I assume to Government) putting together small groups of people who have some common appetite, for example networking ombudsmen in government departments as a community of practice to share what they hear from interactions with the public.

We are not ready for “massive legitmating moves of unstructured participation across the larger issues. That’s the first time I’ve said that in public.
I have for years believed that, and now I find myself saying that if it is all about a group of potheads trying to gain a position I’m less interested than I was.

Clay’s views may get some attention in UK Govenment because the question was asked from the front row by Cabinet Office Civil Servant William Perrin.

Since the question was about what advice Clay would give to Government, his remarks are as interesting in the context of Government online public engagement, as they are in the legitamacy of online campaigning.

Charlie Beckett, director of the journalism and society think tank Polis, chaired the discussion, and here underlines the issue of legitimacy raised by Clay.

But how do you distinguish between the campaign by Mysociety against MPs who tried to cover up their expense claims, with a bunch of potheads trying to get their spliff decriminalised? In Clay’s words, we “need to find an algorithm that works”.

Here’s the link on the MySociety campaign, where Tom Steinberg blogged:

The vote on concealing MPs’ expenses has been cancelled by the government!
In other words – we won!
This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellwether for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the Internet has seen to that.

Judith Townend has an interview at online journalism news:

Shirky says he previously made certain assumptions about the result of what he calls ‘crowd wisdom’ and its positive impact for democracy. Now he believes that public pressure via the internet could be ‘just another implementation layer for special interest groups’.

It is ‘not fair’, he adds. There is a need to redress the political checks and balances in place in order to control the influence of such groups, he explains.

For example, during the Obama campaign, he watched the campaign for legalisation of the medicinal use of marijuana become a prioritised item on the Change.gov website.

But, Shirky explains, while this type of online phenomenon is a ‘net positive’ for democracy, it is not ‘an absolute positive.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean these representational tools are a replacement for the vote, he adds.

“Are we really going to let a Digg-style voting algorithm commit the federal government top issue to the ‘wrestling with medicinal use of marijuana’?” he asks.

Shirky hopes to open up the debate on this issue: “There needs to be some mechanism by which executive or legislative branches can say we are taking this under advisement, but we are not taking dictation [from special interest groups].”

“It’s clear that it’s yet another environment in which special interest groups have to have some kind of check and balance against them,” Shirky says.

He doesn’t challenge the value of the mySociety campaign on MPs expenses: it alerted people to what was happening.

“It was classic news cycle timing,” he says, referring to what some said was a government tactic of a ‘good day to bury bad news’.
“What MySociety did is break that cycle and and publish it in media that doesn’t have a cycle. There is a new mechanism, in addition to referendum and political representation, which is not the same as casting a vote,” he adds.
“It is democracy in action, at such a young stage that we don’t even know how to integrate it into the rest of the democratic mix.”

Benjamin Ellis has a long and thoughtful analysis of the presentation: Mass collaboration – snow joke:

Clearly mass collaboration isn’t going to solve every problem. For the first time in public, Clay said, “I don’t think the technology is ready for the mass legitimisation of initiatives… …There need to be checks and balances applied”. That is a big, and wise, shift from his previously utopian view of what could be achieved. I’ve posted about crowds not providing the wisest answer for every situation before. When we think about the idea of direct access into the political process, we might want to think carefully about what exactly we are wishing for. The tools are fantastic for gathering feedback and generating content, but decision making requires a degree of sophistication that the tools do not provide, yet.

Update: full video of Clay at LSE here

Previously, Clay Shirky on:

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?

Clay Shirky on how social media brings social change

I’m at Online Information 2008, where Clay Shirky has just delivered a terrific keynote full of stories about how we can use social media to share, collaborate and act collectively. Some are drawn from his book Here Comes Everybody, some are new.

However, we all know that what may be relatively easy online becomes difficult when it comes to offline organising. I asked first where we were seeing some real changes – and he cited the Obama election campaign and its use of the Net.

In his keynote Clay also said that we are still at the stage of exploring … and if someone had a million dollars to invest he would suggest breaking it into small parcels rather than spending the lot on one project.

I asked how he would advise anyone interested in the way that social media brings social change to explore what really makes a difference. He said go and talk in depth to the people who have really tried, and failed. Instead of looking for lists of “best practices” look for the real stories of what works, and what doesn’t.

Full interview above, short version on finding stories of failure here.

Ewan McIntosh has a full blog piece on Clay’s keynote.

Keynote preview video here

Open, Closed and slightly Dissident approaches to digital mentor bid

The Government’s £900,000 plans to support digital mentors in disadvantaged communities has produced at least three different responses and approaches.

These range from standard “closed” competitive bidding, through to an open collaborative process driven by UK online centres, which I wrote about earlier. Then there’s a bit of dissident muttering that maybe this way of funding development isn’t such a good idea anyway, which I’ll come to in a moment. 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.

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Sketching the social innovation landscape

It looks as if we’ll have a socially innovative autumn in London, with more opportunities and support for people wanting to do good stuff using new (tech) stuff. Here’s what I’ve picked up recently, and I’m sure I’ve missed a lot, so please add a comment with other events and activities you may know about. This round-up rather shamelessly favours my friends.

Social Innovation Camp last April gave us an inspiring and enjoyable model for developing web-enabled projects by bringing together techies and innovators for a weekend , so I’m delighted to hear from organiser Paul Miller that the team have raised funds from Nesta and the Young Foundation for two more camps and a series of monthly meetups. read more »

Social media, creativity, and open collaboration

The University of Westminster asked me a while back to contribute to their Creative Juice seminar yesterday, and I was in a slight panic last week when I realised I needed to talk to a mix of designers, freelances and academics about social media and creativity.
I didn’t really have much fresh to pull out of my on-screen experiences: I’m not a web developer. Then it dawned on me that I had three areas of innovation and creativity that I could draw on, and which might be different from other presentations.
The first was the Social Innovation Camp, which I written about here. Six projects chosen from eighty, then teams of social activists and geeks working to develop creative solutions over a weekend.

The second was the co-design process undertaken by Ruralnet to develop a distributed online community, using blogs and other tools. Creativity came from opening up to their partners and those using the system – and asking what they wanted.

Thirdly I could talk about how workshop games – like those developed here and here with Drew Mackie – may be used to simulate in a few hours the process of defining a situation and its challenges, choosing tools, and playing through how things may work out for those using the system.

The point I was making throughout was that we now have a host of social media tools, with many potential uses and benefits, that we are trying to apply to complex situations in organisations or across networks, where people have very different levels of skills, and communication preferences. It’s pretty impossible get things right from “on high”. You have to find ways to engage with the many different people involved, and create with them … not just for them.

Anyway, I put together a set of slides, which you can see here, and promised a follow-up blog post with some links … which is this.

Early in the presentation I suggested that people took a look at the excellent set of blog posts by Michele Martin at The Bamboo Project, aimed at helping people develop their personal learning path with social media. At the end I recommended Beth Kante’s blog as an example of personal creativity using social media.

I hope the presentation and discussion worked for people yesterday. I prefer doing more interactive workshops, but I’m grateful to the University for the invitation. As usual I don’t really know what I think until I write it down – or in this case present. It helped me realise the underlying linkages between creative events, games and co-design. Later today I’m off to hear more about games at an event organised by Johnnie Moore. Knowing Johnnie, that will undoubtedly be creative.