Helping councils learn to share with social media

Last week I spent half a day in a workshop on local government knowledge management. Boring waste of time? Absolutely not, because it gave me some breakthough thoughts on collaboration within and between organisations, and may well make a big difference to how we can all help improve public services by volunteering our support.

We concluded that what councils need in order to share so-called “best practice” is not more consultancy, reports and databases, but video clips, conversations, and encouragement to tell bad stories as well a good. This focus on conversations is not new in the knowledge management field … what is different is see
ng some possibility that the ideas might actually be put into practice with help from people outside government, including interested public services users. Maybe I’m particularly enthusiastic because social reporting came into the mix too, about which more later.

The event was organised by Steve Dale, who works with IDeA on improving how our councils operate – in his case by developing communities of practice for knowledge sharing, with Michael Norton, as I reported here.

The challenge – as Steve outlines in the video -is how to do even more on the knowledge sharing front. At present councils compete for Beacon status on the basis of what they are doing, then get an award to share experience with others. It doesn’t work too well, so IDeA are working on a Knowledge Hub project. Except that, from our discussions, it probably won’t be a Hub (centralist, spokes, edges). It will involve tools like blogs and Twitter, and wikis which the rest of the world is using, but which are often blocked by official firewalls. It will be a knowledge ecosystem, as George Por – with us for the event – has been promoting for some years.

As Steve says:

There is a huge amount of information out there that people can learn from. The library as the tired repository has perhaps had its day. There may be occasions when people need to delve down into the historical artifacts of the stores,  but these days people are able to make more use and get more relevance from information that is flowing in real time.

We don’t need to build another piece of technological infrastructure because most of the technology is already out there or emerging. The biggest issue is the culture change – to help people realise in local government that  there are different ways of working – and that it has never been easier to connect and collaborate.

Steve has just blogged a more detailed explanation of the need to change from traditional electronic document and records managements systems to the world of Web 2.0.

I think the event worked for at least three reasons. First, Steve is part of the social media ecosystem of blogging, twittering and meetups by which people across different sectors exchange information and ideas and generally get to know each other. The “outsiders” trusted Steve not to waste our time. Second, the format was good – a mix of networking, cafe-style table discussions, problem solving around real scenarios, and general ideas forum. Thirdly, Steve clearly had top-level support from John Hayes and others in IDeA, and brought together a really interesting mix of people from local government and what he kindly called social innovators.

It was, in a small way, a demonstration of the sort of approach that is needed for the Knowledge Hub – or whatever it is eventually called.

During the interview I suggested to Steve that the next step might be to have some working sessions where people developed practical demonstrations of what’s possible. It could be like Social Innovation Camp – excect the focus would be more on human and organisational processes  than building new web sites. Steve agreed:

The old, tired way was to pay some consultants to sit in a room with us, then to go away and come up with some paper, and we then act on that paper. It is very much a closed, private discussion that takes place.

What we can do now with social innovation workshops is bring in people who have already got these ideas – and widen it out not just to consultants and freelances, but anyone who has the energy and desire to make a difference to their lives. I think most people out there are frustrated by how government or local government works, and to give them an opportunity to be able to make a change to their services would be welcome.

Fortunately Tim Davies has already provided some notes from the event that give us a starting brief. Tim first outlined how discussion on his table led to the idea of  ‘flipping the pyramid’ and switching from ‘Get an award and then share your practice’ – to ‘Share your practice, collaborate, encourage innovation replication – and then maybe get an award’.

  1. Someone nominates as ‘shining light’ story of innovation (using a web form. Could self nominate, nominate a whole LA, or nominate some little story from a local project).
  2. I&DeA send a social reporter to create a quick shared learning video clip (3 minutes maximum) or invite the authority to create it themselves (with small payment or free training available for DiY)
  3. Shining light reports shared online – and visitors to site invited to post questions for the person interviewed & to indicate which innovations sound of interest to them.
  4. Questions can be answered directly online by the people included in the video, or can be collated and a social reporter sent back to ask the questions a couple of months later.
  5. The answers are used to generate a case study / replication recipe.
  6. Interest in the ‘shining light’ story unlocks more cash resources for development of practice sharing.
  7. Citizens and expert panels collaborate on creating awards for the best cases – which may be individual awards, or collective awards.
  8. A toolkit of processes – “Knowledge Jam” or “Open Conference” – multiple small conversations for people to make sense of and develop the knowledge base around given themes.

Tim then moves on to summarise what elements might go into the new-style knowledge hub mixing bowl.

  • A serendipity engine;
  • Creating a culture where people feel confident to share – giving feedback to those who share knowledge to build their confidence.
  • An eco-system of networks: networks of people; networks of ideas; networks of practice – all based on a technological network.
  • A vantage point and visualisation tool – a heat map of emerging trends and tools;
  • A cultural change tool – encouraging people to be more open with their knowledge sharing – and to have confidence in their own work and learning as valid to be shared. (Many people do great research, write great documents etc. – but don’t feel confident to put it out there and share).
  • A brokerage for research and knowledge curating (e.g. jointly commission research & lead to efficiency savings). Where data quality is low then provide a mechanism for upping the quality (& providing a marketplace to commission that better).

That mix is just what’s needed in other fronts, which is why I’ll happily donate a bit more time if the call comes from Steve and IDeA to join in some collaborative problem solving. It’s a great learning opportunity and hugely energising to do that with like-minded people.

I’ll be watching the Twitter stream from #khub to see, in our own little knowledge ecosystem, what others at the event made of it.

6 Comments

  • L. Dale
    April 5, 2009 - 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Well done!! I am impressed!! You did very well, and I am proud of you!!

  • April 5, 2009 - 5:40 pm | Permalink

    This is a really interesting read David – I’m taking part in the Councillors Connected online conference tomorrow, talking about just this subject, it would be great to continue the discussion over there http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=9487744

  • Ceri Hughes
    April 5, 2009 - 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Interested to hear that learning from bad experiences as well as better practices emanating from good experiences being encouraged. This requires an element of personal and organisational bravery, at least to kick off. Sounds like an excellent event and fascinating discussions.

  • April 5, 2009 - 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Louise – see you there

  • April 9, 2009 - 9:41 pm | Permalink

    For local council staff to experiment, share ideas, bring in new thoughts from outside – all the good things Steve Dale talks about, they need an organisation and culture where:
    * People listen to one another
    * People respect ‘Who knows’ and not just ‘who’s who’
    * Staff are not bullied and blamed and finger-wagged and
    * It’s understood that experiment entails risk and possible failure or partial failure – which can also be a valuable way to learn
    * People are not required to lie and spin to achieve ‘targets’ and outcomes and ‘stars’ which skew the entire organisations work
    * There’s a dialogue with users of the services based on mutual respect
    * There’s respect for learning and building of knowledge and judgement over time; yes, even including learning from fuddy-duddy cobweb-covered ‘repositories’ of what was learned ten years, ten months or ten days ago. Starting from year zero is denial of history; of professionalism, and of experience. It’s a recipe for repeating mistakes as farce and then as high comedy, and then as tragedy again.

  • April 10, 2009 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Alan – another great reminder that context is often more important than methods or even enterprising people. Do sharing tools help change the culture?

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