How Open helps a big player learn collaboration

Bids are now in for the £900,000 Digital mentor programme, including one from the Voicebox consortium whose open approach I enthused about recently.  I tried to explain there why I thought that constructing the bid through open meetings and a blog site produced better ideas and spin-off partnerships.

The managing director of UK online centres, Helen Milner, made a better job of it when she spoke to me the other day at UKGovCamp09 … but I agreed to hold on to the interview until after the bids went in. I started by asking – had the open approach been worth it?

As you can hear, Helen says it has been a huge effort, but worth it for the new partners and network of relationships that have formed. I asked about a large “official” organisation like UK online centres getting down into the messy world of social media. She said:

Yes …we are the “big people” who don’t necessarily play around on blogs and twitter – but I’ve personally learned something doing it this way.

I’ve learned it is a better way of doing things because it is much more inclusive, more collaborative  and you have got to be humble enought to say you don’t have all the best ideas yourself – you have to talk to other people to get their ideas

So will there be any going back to older ways of doing things? Helen says they would probably do it differently another time but it is definitely now part of their DNA.

Helen confirms something I feel strongly – that it is one thing for large organisations who say they are in the business of promoting digital inclusion to write papers, do presentations, hold conferences – but it doesn’t mean much unless they get their hands dirty and actually join in.

Over on Voicebox Ben Brown confirms who will be doing what, if their bid succeeds. Citizens Online will be leading the Research and Mapping work stream, while Training and Toolkits will be led by two organisations: Ruralnet|uk and Opportunity Links.

Update: Helen has now added her reflections on the process over here on Voicebox. In summary:

  1. Partnership is a much better way to do things
  2. It takes loads of time to develop ideas in this kind of forum
  3. Social media helped me to put aside prejudices and listen to all comments with an open mind and a receptiveness to learn
  4. It’s really hard to balance open debate and to provide structure for a constructive discussion
  5. Not everyone likes using social media to develop bids
  6. The journey’s been fun but arriving will be better

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