Tag Archives: empowerment

The appropriation of citizen empowerment

Kevin Harris offers a strong challenge to the approach RSA is adopting in it’s Citizen Power project in Peterborough, arguing it is the latest example from the empowerment industry of appropriating ideas of citizen action to wonkdom. Prestige launch at London HQ set the tone this month … citizens get their chance in May, when a more open style is promised. I’m hopeful.

Simon advises on digital empowerment

I’m delighted that my friend Simon Berry will be advising Government over the next few months on how to use new technologies and online tools for community empowerment.
Simon will be seconded to the Department of Community and Local Government, that is producing a community empowerment White Paper in the summer. As you can see here from Simon’s blog the job will involve:

working with policy colleagues to develop specific policy options that use new technologies and online tools to support communities in shaping their local place and services. This will include undertaking cost/benefit assessments for specific policy options

developing CLG’s role in using new technologies to promote community empowerment and building alliances across government with Ministry of Justice, DCMS, the Cabinet Office & other relevant government departments

using new technologies as part of the policy development process

advising on delivery models for the new technologies policies and identifying in particular how new policies would work with technologies and approaches already being tried

I can’t think of anyone better for the job, since Simon has a strong background in community development, uses social media personally with panache, and is chief exec of Ruralnet|UK that has just developed a great set of empowering online tools through an open innovation process.

True to form Simon has announced the appointment using Twitter and said he was open to ideas.

My first suggestion was to do some mapping of the landscape – who is who in the field in and out of government. Even better, get together a bunch of well-networked people together for a few hours and have them draw the maps. Then work out a process by which you help them all connect up, and do the advisory job for you.

My other suggestion would be to help the civil servants involved get some experience of what new technologies and online tools can actually do. The problem in my experience is that they have limited access at work to social media, and also limited time to experiment. That puts them at a big disadvantage in responding to ideas. No good talking about blogs and video if they aren’t allowed on the desktop.

Fortunately Jeremy Gould at Ministry of Justice is developing a strong Whitehall webby network following on from the UKGovwebBarcamp and was one of the first to offer Simon some connections. I suspect the challenge will lie in bridging the gap between the increasingly-sophisticated social media types in Government, and the policy people.

On that front, I think the potential trap lies in ended up as an increasingly frantic messenger trying to carry recommendations from one group to the other. The real break-through will come if Simon can convince his new colleagues of the virtues of open innovation by which people learn from each other. I think there is a lot of goodwill among the social media and other tech communities, and lots going on including the 4Good Festival on July 2-3 as I mentioned the other day. I should know more about that by the end of the week.

Costs of the BBC Action Network

BBC Action Network costs

As I wrote here, the BBC is shortly closing the Action Network, set up five years ago to support grassroots action. Tom Steinberg, founder of the mySociety, which produces tools for social action and e-democracy, has now established some of the costs of the BBC project through a freedom of information request – details. From the spreadsheet provided by the BBC looks as if it will be rather more than £1.3 million by the time it closes.

I should think that interest will now shift to whatever the BBC is planning next. The closure announcement said the BBC would:

… launch a new service which will give people access to all the BBC’s content across tv, radio and online on a range of topical issues. Many of these topic pages will reflect the same issues that have been central to Action Network, from healthcare and schools, to public transport and policing.
Each topic page will offer the latest news stories on an issue, including TV and radio programmes, while linking to the wider debate through people’s blogs, campaigns and websites.
Many of the Action Network guides and briefings will be moved across to the BBC News Online website and will be found in the new topic pages – and will continue to help people understand how political systems work and how to get involved.

It seems to me that the big question for the BBC – and BBC Trust who will have to approve the plans – is what sort of local online activity they can hope to see in future. As Charlie Beckett questioned recently in relation to citizen journalism – what happens if they don’t come? I hope the BBC, and the Trust, will feel it’s a good idea to co-design and prototype the new system with license-payer/citizens.