Another open bid to government shapes up

After promoting some very helpful discussion about the idea of local digital mentors – included in the recent Communities in Control White Paper – Dave Briggs is now doing something to help develop a network of people who might play that role:

To pick up on the thread of Digital Mentors – the role outlined by CLG to help disadvantaged communities find a voice online – I have started a new site along with a growing bunch of collaborators to develop the role online, gather stories and resources together and maybe to unorganise a tender bid when the funding for the pilot projects becomes available.

I’d encourage anyone interested to get involved: check out the blog, sign up to the mailing list and throw some stuff up on the wiki.

The Government department responsible will be tendering a contract to run the digital mentor programme, and Dave – after discussion with me and others – picked up the idea behind the Open Innovation Exchange last year.  There a bunch of us used an open site to collaborate in writing a bid for a £1.2 million Government contract. We didn’t win – but Cabinet Office took it all very seriously and shortlisted us with an interview.

The idea behind it was that the conventional tendering process doesn’t work too well for innovative programmes where successful implementation depends on a host of different interests. However much work you do in writing a good brief (on the procurement side) and researching and writing a proposal (on the supplier side), it often turns out to be wrong when you get the job, and/or “not invented here” comes into play. So why not involve those who will make the programme a success in writing the proposal?

Even better, get those letting the contract into discussions with other parties early on, to inform the brief. Amazingly that’s already happening in the case of digital mentors because Georgia Klein from CLG has been joining in blog commenting to seek people’s views. An obvious thing to do, but previously unusual.

Anyway, as you can see here Dave is inviting anyone interesting in the digital mentor idea to sign up to a mailing list, check out the blog, get wikiing. This should have several benefits. Whatever happens to the tendering process, it will help promote networking between people already engaged in digital mentoring around the country. Discussion will begin to test whether the Government’s initial ideas are sound – and so inform the brief. And if we all decide to pitch for the job, we should have a pretty good chance of success because we’ll be able to show expertise and a delivery network already in place. Is this unfair to other competitors in any way? I don’t think so provided it is open (apart from the budgeting, to meet procedural requirements), anyone can join in – and of course anyone can set up a competing network.

I’m not entirely committed to the idea of digital mentors, if it is limited to the idea of introducing tech skills to people in poorer communities in the hope that this will on its own be “empowering”. However, I doubt if those of us joining Dave’s network see it that way. Hopefully it could tie into ideas for supporting social reporters explored here,  and other initiatives on the social innovation landscape. Dave’s initiative enables us to do the open thinking that’s necessary.