UK Online Centres join open Digital Mentor bid

The consortium forming to bid on open innovation principles for the UK Government’s £900,000 Digital Mentor programme now has a strong partner in the UK Online Centres network, as managing director Helen Milner confirms here.

Dave Briggs has been promoting the idea of an open bid for the network, as I wrote earlier. The idea is to invite anyone interested to join in an open process to evolve the proposal, rather like the Open Innovation Exchange process that Simon Berry of Ruralnet, I and others tried last year. (We made a short list of four).

As Helen reports, Dave, Simon, Helen, her colleague Anne Faulker and I met up this week to see if we could work out a joint approach. It can be difficult for large “official” bodies to join in the less conventional approaches of social entrepreneurs and social media types – so it was doubly heartening to find Helen and Anne so enthusiastic. It bears out my previous friendly contact with the organisation.

UK Online Centres have the local presence, experience and capacity to head up a bid, so I hope they are willing to do that. Ruralnet also have a strong track record through their work with Net:Gain and DirectSupport. Together with independent trainers, consultants and activists we can put together a strong core team, with an oppen invitation to others to join.

Citizens Online have announced over here that they are making a consortium bid, but I don’t know yet if there is scope for any joining up there. Hope so. Many of us will be turning up to the briefing workshop on November 19, organised by the Department for Communities and Local Government, before filling out expressions of interest a couple of days later. Dave Michael Grimes gives details here.

In the White Paper Communities in Control, the Department flagged up the idea of Digital Mentors like this:

Government will pilot a ‘Digital Mentor’ scheme in deprived areas. These mentors will support groups to develop websites and podcasts, to use digital photography and online publishing tools, to develop short films and to improve general media literacy. The Digital Mentors will also create links with community and local broadcasters as part of their capacity building, to enable those who want to develop careers in the media to do so. Depending on the success of these pilots, this scheme could be rolled out to deprived areas across England.

The expression of interest paper fills this out here (scroll to bottom).

This is an exciting project, at just the right time to catalyse support from the growing number of people working in the field of web-enabled social innovation, and support for nonprofit use of social technology. However, it is a pity that the Department put out the invitation to tender in such a traditional, static form: web pages plus downloadable documents. There is a predictably sparcely-populated discussion forum, but no other interactivity or ways of connecting with online conversations.

Never mind, these days potential contractors can show those procuring public services how to be innovative – even before they put in a bid. Just another example of how top-down worldview can become more bottom-up World 2.0.

To be fair to the Department, I’m pretty sure officials are sympathetic to more interactive approaches – evidenced by their Twitter account – but can’t always get other parts of the organisation to come up with a matching communications system whenever they need it.

If you want to join in the consortium discussions, there’s a mailing list, as well as the blog and wiki. Brilliant work, Dave.


  • November 6, 2008 - 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks David – great roundup. Ought to point out that the post on the Digital Mentor blog about the £900k etc as actually written by Michael Grimes, aka CitizenSheep on Twitter.

    The DM blog is open to anyone to post – people just need to drop me a line to get an account.

  • November 6, 2008 - 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Dave, corrected. BTW, do we join the Citizens Online consortium and ask them to join us? How open can one be:-)? Should be a fun DCLG workshop.

  • Helen Milner
    November 6, 2008 - 11:09 pm | Permalink

    We met with John and Gail on Tuesday and they are also keen to develop the bid with us all in this open and collaborative way. Sorry, I meant to make that clearer. Citizens Online have loads to offer to a bid, I’m sure they’ll blog themselves soon.

  • November 6, 2008 - 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Helen – wasn’t meaning to imply you were playing favourites, and as I said hoping there’s scope for joining up all round.

  • November 7, 2008 - 12:11 am | Permalink

    I’m sure there’s scope to work out joining up all round. We need to focus our minds on how the big orgs can safely measure and reward the useful contributions of the smaller orgs/individuals who will make it personal enough to work.

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