Media Trust wins digital mentor bid

Over on the digitalmentor blog Dave Briggs breaks the news that the contract for the Government’s £900,000 Digital Mentor programme has gone to the Media Trust.
I’m personally disappointed it didn’t go to the Voicebox consortium who – as I wrote here – went to great efforts to run an open process to involve as many people as possible with expertise in the field in developing their bid … but then I don’t know what the Media Trust proposed.
The Trust has a great track record of working with mainstream media to bring professional expertise to nonprofits, and last year had an Improving Reach programme “to provide free communications support for small volunteer organisations working with Black and Minority Ethnic, Migrant and or Refugee, Isolated Rural and Faith groups”.
They have an “Engaging Hard-to-Reach Communities” conference next week, with a panel chaired by Esther Rantzen CBE.
From discussions during the bidding process, I would expect one of the big concerns among groups already delivering support and mentoring is that their expertise in working in local communities is recognised and used. That’s not just a “give us the job” reaction – it’s a reflection of the fact that the digital and media part of the mentoring is not necessarily the most important. It’s about what’s likely to work in the poorer communities targeted by the programme, understanding and working with people’s needs, developing their confidence … and only then looking to tools and techniques.
The invitation to bid, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, said:

Through increasing skills in using websites, podcasts, digital photography, online publishing tools and local broadcast media, Communities and Local Government wish to:
* empower individuals and communities by giving those citizens who feel ‘voiceless’ or ‘unheard’ new tools to express their views and collaborate on issues of relevance to them
* provide informal and formal learning opportunities and assist people into employment, particularly in the creative industries
* improve access to public and other services

The problem with these sorts of statements is that what Govenment means by empowerment is not necessarily what people in deprived communities hope for. I suspect that the digital mentor programme will help tease that out.
Over on the digitalmentor blog Dave poses a question:

This is, I think, an appropriate moment to ask people who visit this blog what they see as being the continuing role of the site? Should we scrutinise the actions taken by MediaTrust, or just leave them to get on with it?

Or should we continue to highlight all the good work going on in the digital mentoring field and share knowledge and experience on how it was done?

Keep it going, Dave, there or elsewhere. There’s plenty to do.

Update: over on the Voicebox blog Helen Milner, managing director of UK online centres, says she is reeling from the disappoinment of losing, but offers generous congratulations to the Media Trust, and promises to continue with open development of policy and practice:

The successful bidder was Media Trust, and so I’d like to congratulate their team who also worked really hard to develop the winning bid.

As you’ve read from the Voicebox blog so far, we’ve come such a long way since last autumn in terms of the understanding how an open and collaborative approach to developing bids can work, and so this wont be the last time we will use this approach to develop other opportunities that come our way!

A big ‘THANK YOU’ to all of you that contributed to the Voicebox blog. I’ve learned a great deal from you all and hopefully, some great contacts too.  I’m sure these links wont be lost!


  • March 18, 2009 - 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help but feel disappointed for the UK online guys. They didn’t just put a bid together, they put themselves through the organisational agony of trying to do it openly, collaboratively and innovatively.

    Luckily it hasn’t put them off the process, as Helen explains.

  • March 18, 2009 - 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks to everyone for such supportive messages. We are delighted to confirm that Media Trust has been awarded the contract to deliver Digital Mentors on behalf of the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG). We have been asked not to give out details of the bid until the Minister is ready to formally launch the scheme, however we are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in working with us. If you’d like to get involved, please email – marking the subject of the email Digital Mentors and we’ll keep you in touch with progress!

  • March 18, 2009 - 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Its disappointing – approaching it this way helped to get people involved and feeling a sense of ownership over the process which equally means a common sense of ‘failure’ now.

    Hopefully they’ll get some good honest feedback which will be interesting to hear. The real shame is that had the voicebox collaboration been succesful there would have been considerable online activity sharing developments, ideas, failures and successes and it seems unlikely that will be the case now unless of course the media trust has its own plans to invite collaboration in the process of delivery. We’ll just have to wait and see, which no doubt many will do with interest.

  • Anon
    March 18, 2009 - 9:27 pm | Permalink

    First of all congratulations to the Media Trust. You won!

    However, this is a real blow for those who believe in open innovation. To my knowledge, this is the second time this approach has been tried when bidding for a Government ‘contract’ and this time it was done REALLY well.

    The first time I saw this tried was with the bid for the innovation exchange ( The enthusiasm, energy and creativity that seemed to be generated around this doesn’t appear to have been matched by the implementation of the project itself. There are posts on the homepage dated Oct/Nov 2007! See This could be totally unfair and there is undoubtably lots going on that we cannot see.

    I’d like there to be an analysis done here. Not to reverse the decision, or anything of the sort, but just to understand what happened.

    It *is* surprising that the Media Trust won if you believe that two heads are better than one and therefore that many heads are better than one.

    We know that government departments are risk adverse. Are bids developed in such a high profile way just too ‘untraditional’ to be acceptable? Were the Voicebox group complacent? Was the Media Trust just simpler and easier to ‘put in a box’?

    We need to know the answers to these questions. Let’s have an open analysis of what happened.

    In the meantime let’s wish the Media Trust the very best. People in the most deprived parts of England need this project to work. And there will be lots of people (who do what needs to done in this project, day in day out) watching you. Use them. Don’t lock them out.

  • March 18, 2009 - 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Gavin – thanks for the comment, and I understand the Minister wants the glory … However, I think it would be a great demonstration of your commitment to using the sort of empowering tools apparently envisaged in the programme if the Trust would set up a blog and join the Twitterverse:-) Otherwise it looks like the old-style broadcast-feedback model.

  • Lee Bryant
    March 19, 2009 - 7:43 am | Permalink

    @Anon: “This could be totally unfair and there is undoubtably lots going on that we cannot see.”

    Err… yes it is.

    Hopefully, the Innovation Exchange system will see the light of day soon. The initial blog site is not the main output of the project.

  • March 19, 2009 - 10:05 am | Permalink

    @anon (whoever you are) I agree about the open process being done really well by UK online centres – as I wrote here. Dave Briggs, Simon Berry and I encouraged Helen Milner and Anne Faulkner to adopt an open process, based on Simon and my experience with Open Innovation Exchange … though Helen, Anne and their team did all the co-ordinating work with some tech assistance from Dave. I’m relieved Helen stills feels the approach was worthwhile.
    The Innovation Exchange bid did indeed release a lot of energy, and certainly made me (and I think Simon) realise what’s possible through this sort of collaboration, whether competitive or not. I’m delighted Simon’s very open and collaborative Colalife campaign gets recognition in the Guardian yesterday.
    There’s a lot of learning from failure … well, more than learning in this case, because open approaches also build relationships that are the basis for other innovations.
    Meanwhile I can personally confirm that there’s lots happening at the up-and-running Innovation Exchange, as I reported here from one of their creative workshops. I guess another example that if you are open, it all joins up in the end …

  • March 19, 2009 - 3:24 pm | Permalink


    “We have been asked not to give out details of the bid until the Minister is ready to formally launch the scheme”

    So I guess they’d have really appreciated the open collaborative approach used by the voicebox bid then!!!! DOH!

  • Ian Cuddy
    March 19, 2009 - 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m just really surprised to learn the Innovation Exchange hasn’t materialised yet.

    The contract was awarded at the end of July 2007.

    I understand – correct me if I’m wrong – this was a ‘three year’ pilot, so I wonder where those three years begin?

  • March 19, 2009 - 8:58 pm | Permalink

    @Ian – I’m guessing the problem with Innovation Exchange isn’t so much that nothing is happening, just that not much of what has and is happening is updated online. I went to a review/feedback session for them in November to look back at the first events they ran last year and explore new ideas and a fairly hefty book of suggestions was created from that. Which of these will actually get implemented I’ve no idea but I understood at the time they were already working on a new website, its possible though that some of that feedback has added in some additional development which has slowed that down a bit (?)

    For both the Digital Mentors and Innovation Exchange programmes I think its fair to say had they used an open collaboration approach much more would be known about this sort of thing because by nature such things would be open and also I think there would be a greater degree of accountability in keeping those who are normally out of the loop informed & updated.

    2 years into a 3 year pilot is a long time though, you’d expect most stuff to be pretty well developed by now I agree.

  • Alastair Clark
    March 19, 2009 - 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I think, as many have said, the Media Trust rightly deserve applause for their success but beyond their team there has been a lot of energy and enthusiasm now stacked up behind the ‘Digital Mentor’ concept from members of all the tendering consortia

    The trick at this point I think is to see that this energy does not now get dissipated!

    There is too much work to be done! There are voices waiting to be heard with growing impatience –

    Gavin’s invitation to other bidders to be kept informed is a very welcome step. On the ‘more heads are better than one’ theory there has to be way of harnessing the skills and contributions of all bidders in taking Digital Mentors beyond a mere government tender to become a ‘movement’

    Alastair Clark (NIACE)

  • March 19, 2009 - 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alastair – your idea of a movement that’s bigger than the immediate digital mentor programme is really interesting. I too sense there’s a hunger for this across different fields. Let’s invite our various friends to join up … by all means by commenting here, but then perhaps in another space.

  • Helen Milner
    March 20, 2009 - 10:18 am | Permalink

    Hello Everyone. Congrats again to Media Trust for digital mentors. Thank you to everyone on here who have said nice things about the way the team produced the Voicebox bid. I really don’t believe it was the process that was wrong, at the end of the day the Media Trust bid just scored higher than we did. And we’ll offer our support to making it successful. Digital mentors is going be to very important, however, it’s just part of the picture. If you’re following the debate on take-up and digital skills around Digital Britain, you’ll see that senior people in Government really get that more needs to be done to help those still excluded to get involved. What was great about the process we went through for Voicebox was that so many people got involved and to that end we’ve created an online space to debate all of the topics to do with digital engagement for those most excluded. We want to talk about policy and practice (ideas about what should be done as well as ideas about was is being done). Watch this space as we’ll be opening this space for business very soon, and then we can all work together to help more people to get digitally engaged sooner. Together we can make more happen, more quickly.

  • March 20, 2009 - 5:53 pm | Permalink

    The space that Helen mentions in her comment is now open. Come and join in the digtial engagement debate!

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