How we can all engage with the London Summit. Digitally, anyway

The London Summit in April, when Gordon Brown is joined by Barack Obama to host a gathering of world leaders, finance ministers and central bankers, attracts some cynical comments from the Telegraph, in depth coverage from the FT, and police warnings of protests in a summer of rage.
However, these days we don’t have to rely on mainstream media for news and interpretation. Steph Gray rightly applauds the efforts being made by the governmental hosts, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to provide a range of content from their own news, blogging, YouTube videos, and tagging of debate elsewhere. Steph says:

In the emerging field of digital engagement for policymaking, this seems to be doing a lot right: a hub for news, early planning, serious resource invested original content (but not much new money thrown at technology), partnerships with innovative forums for debate, a strategy for engagement designed to work at the level of professionals as well as the public, and measurement.

OK, Steph is a civil servant, but a pretty independent one in his views, and I certainly go along with his judgement. He points to the blog post by Stephen Hale, Head of Engagement, Digital Diplomacy, back in January, explaining the plans. Earlier he asked for ideas. Don’t just engage people, invite them to help you design the engagement … which means it is much more likely to be successful.
I really like the way that FCO has brought in Tim Hood and to give anyone interested the chance to propose questions for Gordon Brown, and Ministers including David Miliband, Peter Mandelson, Hazel Blears, James, Purnell, Douglas Alexander, Mark Malloch-Brown, and Caroline Flint. You can vote for the questions to be put, and rate the answers given in the filmed interviews. Other participants include Brendan Barber (General Secretary of the TUC), Theo Paphitis, Matthew Taylor (CEO of the RSA), John McCall MP (Chair of Treasury Select Committee), Barbara Stocking (CEO Oxfam).
Tim reckons it is “probably the largest collection of decision makers ever assembled for an online Q and A”. Yoosk has come a long way since I interviewed Tim just before 2gether08. They’ve been supported by Ministry of Justice’s Building Democracy Innovation Award.
I should declare a small personal interest, since I may get to do some interviewing with Yoosk for the London Summit. This is a start on some research.
At least as impressive, in a different way, is the we20 initiative, which aims to promote at least 10,000 meetings of 20 people around the world by the end of April. There’s a Facebook group, which explains:

You may have ideas to change your neighbourhood or ideas to change the world. Whatever change you want to create – it matters to we20. will act as a hub for we20 meetings, a place to organise your meeting, discuss your plans and vote on the issues that matter to you. we20 are not aligned with any particular interests and will try to help you implement ideas from your we20 meetings.

I’m with Johnnie Moore when he says:

My own hope about what may emerge from this crisis will be something based on a less hierarchical, excessively individualistic world view. It will come from a more peer-to-peer worldview.

… adding

The central idea is that around the world, folks like us gather in our groups of around 20 to talk about the state of the economy and how we, are ordinary citizens, might respond and what we’d like to see happen. We very likely won’t agree, but at least we’ll come together looking to each other for help and solutions, rather than to the TV or mainstream politicians. Perhaps in some small way this will contribute to what I hope becomes a better, more humane and collaborative way of managing our economies, and our planet, than what we’ve settled for these past years.

As well as the Facebook group, there’s a Twitter account, and a website coming soon. Signup by emailing

Over at NESTA Connect, Roland Harwood shares his enthusiasm, saying the idea cropped up at the Amplified08 event hosted by NESTA in November. At the time I said I wasn’t too sure how purposeful the great volume of networking was. Just proves you can’t know where good conversations will lead.

I think that the impressive digital engagement being organised in different ways in London owes a lot to the many meetups and networking events developed during 2008. People in government, nonprofits, social media agencies and other organisations are sharing a common commitment to doing things differently.

The Government will soon be appointing a Director of Digital Engagement, at a significant salary. Good news, if this shows further commitment to the sort of thing Stephen Hale and Steph Gray are doing. Not so good if the new man, or woman, decides that they need their own team and ways of doing things, shadowing out the  apparently unorganised developments of the past year or so. Engagement is about good conversations, relationships, and trust, as I’m glad to remember I wrote about here a couple of years back. It’s not about big budgets, fancy tools  … or even, perhaps, big salaries.

Update: Stephen Hale, who organised the official London Summit site (see above), has now given what seems to me a very honest personal assessment of how things went.

One comment

  • March 5, 2009 - 1:11 am | Permalink

    Very interesting article about the different layers of online activity taking place. Thanks David.

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