Tag Archives: social media

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.

Ruralnet shows how to do distributed communities


A few months back my friends at Ruralnetonline started an experiment in re-inventing their business in the open, through a co-design process online and in workshops.

The highlight of last week’s Collaborate|2008 event was a demonstration of the results: a very smart network of linked blog sites for communities tackling climate change, with any amount of feeds from bookmarks, other news sources, photos, videos, maps … and Twitter. You will find the site here, and as you’ll see it acts as a sort of dashboard for the rest of the carbon neutral network. It’s a forerunner or a much wider network of organisations and communities.

I have to confess that I missed the presentation by Ruralnet chief executive Simon Berry and Paul Henderson, because conversation in the cybercafe was equally gripping, and I was shooting some video on my phone to upload to Qik. Paul Webster, Paul H and I were feeding stuff from our Nokia phones to an event site, as you can see here. Anyway, I was pretty sure I could get a replay.

Simon has uploaded the presentation here explaining how Ruralnetonline has developed over the past ten years, and how the new developments are a reversal of their earlier strategy of a subscription-based walled garden.


Simon and Paul then gave me a quick recap of the presentation that they did. The big question, of course, is how to make this pay, since items like the newsletter and other content are free. Rualnetonline is to offer some premium charged-for services like the highly-successful Experts Online, and I think there will be substantial demand for custom developments.
What I think is exciting is the ability to build a system using free or low-cost tools; to put the emphasis on bottom-up content; to embrace the idea of distributed communities which I wrote about over here; to give users so many options on how to engage, and to do this in an open way that allows content to be linked to other sites.

I should declare an interest here: I’ve known Simon and the team pretty much since they started online, and they are partners in the Membership Project where we are exploring what social media may mean to membership organisations, and the notion of organising without organisations. However, I think I’m fairly dispassionate in believing that they are now ahead of the UK nonprofit/social enterprise field in the range of online services that they can provide. Or does anyone have other innovative examples? The good thing is, I know the people at Ruralnet would be glad to collaborate.

Oh yes, they do non-rural projects too through Networksonline. Technical note: the blogs are built using WordPress MU, with Drupal providing some other services.