Much discussion about networking local government – now how about the rest of civil society?

The story about closure of the Local Government Association’s Knowledge Hub – which I covered here – has gathered momentum over the past week, with various behind-the-scenes moves to keep it going or develop an alternative, and a gathering of some members of the former advisory group planned this week.

There has been extensive tweeting and blogging, and the Knowledge Hub team of online managers and facilitators have again shown the value of their role by summarising discussion so far on the value of the hub, how it makes a difference, the risks of closing, and importance for local government of enabling collaboration online. Here’s their gathering up of  ideas for the future action.

Suggestions for future action/use

  • Increase the market base for Knowledge Hub and “sell” it to other parts of the Public Sector: Health, Police / Criminal Justice, Civil Service, LEPs etc.
  • Reduce the cost by doing it more cheaply either by expecting the maintenance etc to be done more productively and / or reduce some of the functionality.  What are the most used parts?
  • Would there be some way of paying a subscription to try to keep it going or would we simply not be able to afford it?
  • I’m currently gauging the interest in having a F2F meeting with the original KHub Advisory Group in order to solicit ideas that can be consolidated into a more formal response.
  • Go back to CoP, alternative funding (e.g. Local Authorities contribute, advertising), alternative hosting/support (e.g. Google)…..
  • I would have thought that to let the Hub run without technical development would be an acceptable compromise
  • Look at the whole range of options both in terms of funding and alternative platforms and then get users to vote (not sure, can we use the ‘Ideas’ section for this?)

A week ago I think the Hub team were rather overtaken by events when news of the closure leaked, and initially there was no provision on site for discussion – hence the tweets and off-site blogging. There is now a discussion group on the hub about it’s future. I’ve captured some of last week’s Twitter discussion in a Storify here.

In writing about the Knowledge Hub closure I revisited the challenge of networking civil society … that is, how to help voluntary and community organisations, and volunteers, who are often working closely with local government, to share their experience and learn from each other.

The government’s Big Society policies rather depended on this to be effective, but in the event spending cuts led to the reduction rather than expansion of networking support. We don’t hear hear much of BS except as awards, and helpful though those are for groups they aren’t a substitute.

The Knowledge Hub is mainly limited to local government. If the aim locally is more cross-sector collaboration, shouldn’t this be reflected nationally?

I’m not necessarily suggesting that we need one big all-purpose  networking platform. In my earlier piece I also picked up on Steve Dale’s suggestions of a different sort of social ecology architecture that blends specialist platforms with Twitter, Google Plus and other networks. Steve is the original designer of the Knowledge Hub, and as he explains here and here that sort of integration was envisaged in the Hub before elements were cut by LGA.

Anyway, we are where we are: with everyone agreeing that knowledge sharing and collaboration is very important particularly in hard times, but government local or national failing to support the infrastructure needed to achieve that … or even facilitate a sensible discussion on what’s needed. Who might do that?

Last time I wrote:

Meanwhile I have been exploring alternatives to the knowledge hub model in recent posts, prompted by ideas for a sort of civic Facebook or similar system developed by the new Lobbi initiative. The original vision there has been for a system to connect politicians, officials and citizens to tackle local issues and revive local politics. I love the enthusiasm behind the idea … but if a big outfit like LGA can’t make a knowledge hub work with fairly digitally savvy professional users, with shared culture and practises, is it realistic to think it possible to do something big with a far more diverse set of users?

In any case, whether or not sustainable knowledge hubs can be maintained, they won’t do everything, and anyone aiming to use digital technology for social good will need a set of personal literacies and tools to do that: hence my exploration of Creating a whole kit (and caboodle) for community enablers and agents of change and What’s digital life like for a community enabler?

I did write in an earlier post that I thought whatever challenges Lobbi faced in developing a platform, it could have an important role in acting as a convenor and catalyst for a wider movement for social technology for social impact, linking politics and local social action. Maybe it’s time for a get-together around the new architectures, roles and skills needed to meet The Challenge of Networking Civil Society, as I wrote a year back. It’s not getting easier.

Unfortunately I can’t follow up with a report that Lobbi is likely to step in here. The Linkedin group for a Lobbi Squad of supporters is very quiet, and although I attended an advisory group a couple of weeks ago I don’t know whether our suggestions are being taken up. As I reported after that meeting, there was more support for enabling change agents than building a sort of civic Facebook … but a Lobbi platform may still be in favour. I’ll let you know if I hear more.

You’ll see from a second Storify that I created on Networking Civil Society revisited that quite a few people active and well connected in the field joined in discussion on Twitter … among them Dave Briggs, Shirley Ayres, John Popham, Catherine Howe, Cormac Russell and also Karl Wilding who I should congratulate on his appointment as NCVO director of public policy.

Karl and Megan Griffith Grey brought a group of us together in the early days of social media for some very creative discussions leading to a number of useful publications. I wonder if NCVO could offer a room for some more structured discussion on today’s challenges – perhaps with Community Development Foundation? That would help reflect the interests both large and smaller organisations, as well as the enthusiasm of the free agents and connectors.

Storifies of related tweets

Here previously

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