If you believe in open collaboration, support Voicebox

The deadline is nearing for submission of bids to Government  to run the Digital Mentor network throughout the UK. I’ve no doubt who I think should win – the Voicebox consortium headed by UK online centres.
It’s partly that they have a lot of the necessary skills – but even more because of the way that they have put their bid together, by doing the whole thing in the open.
You can see the latest summary of the bid on the Voicebox blog, set up by WordPress wizard Dave Briggs, including this diagram showing their delivery model.

The work packages have been developed with partners through a process of meetings and online discussion, open for anyone to add their ideas or comments.
It is an extraordinarily innovative approach from an “official” body that supports 6000 centres around the country, and something of an act of faith by managing director Helen Milner. She’s clearly had terrific support from staff Anne Faulkner and Ben Brown in managing the process. Not a normal 9-5 effort.
What I’m hearing from those involved is that the process offers three benefits:

  • Great ideas that would would not have emerged from a small closed consortium approach
  • Development of a strong partnership, with a sense of trust created by the process
  • Spin-off projects already developing from the networking so far.

The open approach extends to Helen’s presence on Twitter, where you can expect commentary and interaction on anything from the weather and state of the trains to Clay Shirky and Digital Britain. A very modern sort of managing director.
If you approve, do drop in to Voicebox and offer some support.
(Disclosure: the Voicebox open approach was inspired in part by the Open Innovation Exchange process Simon Berry, I and others developed in 2007. It’s wonderful what happens when you give ideas away.)


  • February 2, 2009 - 8:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s great to see this unfold and unfold so beautifully. Well done to all those involved.
    Best of luck with the submission.

  • February 2, 2009 - 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi David – It’s really gratifying to have your support. Yes, it has been a lengthy process – but that’s largely because of the tremendous amount of goodwill and positive comments from a range of contributors that have honed the bid over the course of the last few weeks.

    We’re really excited about the prospect of leading this project – with all the support we’ve got already, it’s sure to be a project we can *all* be proud to say we had a hand in….

  • February 2, 2009 - 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Simon, Ben – not everyone agrees. I’m getting some criticism on Twitter, for example from dominiccampbell “a slighty naughty blog post.do u even know who the others are & what their proposals include?& looking to influence assessment?” and “I guess what I’m uncomfortable with is the “there is only one way to be and that is our way therefore we win” mentality”
    My reply: “I didn’t say open was the only way- just set out benefits and personal preference. Others can advance counters”
    Welcome to have some challenges – what do other think?

  • February 3, 2009 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    Just to say, the organisation I work for, NAVCA is also bidding for this work – something we have been open about from the very start.
    I am backing my bid (!) – but I am also backing Voicebox too, indeed I will be backing the other three bidders if they are aiming for the same as me – openly discovering and encouraging digital innovations to be products fit for replication in communities the length and bredth of the country.
    The bidding process for this has been interesting and a little unpredictable at times – a feeling I’m sure Ben, Anne and Helen will share too.
    However, we are where we are and as the closing date looms, I’m a little confused about how readers of this blog can support one bid or another? Does it mean that as our bid (and the other three) have not set-up a public website they are less credible because they don’t have this public support?
    I also want to share what I have proposed and win or lose I hope to be able to do that – the bidding process is just a stage we all have to go through.
    If anything it shows that the selection process is flawed – a lot of heartache and late nights will have gone into all five bids – something that may have been spared if collaboration was specified from the outset.

  • February 3, 2009 - 10:15 am | Permalink

    Thanks Paul – and Dominic via Twitter – for the questioning.
    My main point is that I believe that the process of collaboratively developing a bid – or a project – in the open can lead to a qualitatively different proposal or project.
    Ideas, potential partners and collaborators emerge who might not otherwise have been involved; the challenge of developing proposals in the open builds trust; the proposals have had some “market testing” so are more likely to “right”; strong relationships are in place to carry plans forward.
    I think all of this is particularly important where the aim of the programme is to support bottom up development work. There’s always a danger in these situations that the national team gets the money on the basis of great promises (to the funders) of working, for example, with local groups, but somehow this doesn’t get fully implemented. I’m not suggesting this would happen with NAVCA, of course:-). However, if the proposals for bottom-up support etc have been aired openly, then there is some leverage if things don’t go as planned.
    What I was saying in my post is simply this: if you agree with this philosophy, then show your support for a consortium that is putting it into practice.
    NESTA are developing a model for open innovation that makes some of these points in a corporate as well as public/notprofit setting
    I’m sure there are counter arguments – so let’s have them!

  • February 3, 2009 - 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Another comment last night by Dominic struck a chord with me. I’ll quote him, hope that’s OK:

    “procurement process in government is screwed. forces this nonsense.”

    Seriously, what’s *with* that?

  • February 3, 2009 - 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Pauls sentiment that whoever gets the bid it will be a positive thing, but it is the open development that really caught my interest. Not least of course because you then have an opportunity to contribute/be involved, but also because it sets a very clear foundation for how they intend to run the programme itself and for this particular programme at this time this seems by far the most appropriate way to go about it.

    It should also be said that when Dave first created a blog and a wiki there was an open invitation for anyone to use that space to consult, share ideas or collaborate in the open. Only one consortium took advantage of that.

    In fairness I think the space slightly lost its neutrality once Dave joined with the UK Online Centres consortium so I can see perhaps why others maybe didn’t want to do so, but he was very up front about that and made it clear that the space was to remain there for others to use and would be neutral from voicebox.com

    It would have been very interesting had there been another open collaboration to see how that would have panned out – is competitiveness is the open better than closed bids? (I’d have thought so) hopefully we’ll get to see that happen eventually

  • February 4, 2009 - 11:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks Mike … just to clarify that the Dave you refer to is Dave Briggs, who very ably created http://digitalmentor.org/ and then the Voicebox site. I’m not formally associated with the Voicebox bid, though I did – with others – encourage the open approach, as I’ve said before. Love to join in if they win – or with anyone else with an open style 🙂

  • February 4, 2009 - 11:53 pm | Permalink

    lol yep sorry for any confusion – I was thinking of you as ‘David’ and Dave as, well ‘Dave’! 🙂

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