Category Archives: innovation

All posts innovation

Open Policy Making promises engagement as well as digital innovation

A couple of posts on the Open Policy Making blog this week provide insights into how digital technologies, network thinking, and new ways for government to operate may change the way we receive services, engage as citizens – and maybe develop our own community-level innovations.

We learn that civil servants are exploring the future with specialists in in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, sensors, applied programming interfaces, autonomous machines, and platforms.

Will this just lead to more top-down initiatives which will be tough for our elected representatives to understand and guide – let alone anyone else? Hopefully not, from the tone of the posts. Maybe it will help with joined-up communities for citizens too.

William Barker, Head of Technology Strategy and Digital Futures at the Department for Communities and Local Government, wrote yesterday:

Top down thinking and decision making no longer delivers the range of services that communities want. Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
DCLG’s “Grey Cells” Open Policy Making Initiative working with the Transformation Network has been joining-up the “grey cells” of user experience, innovation, new thinking and service transformation – using a people and places centred approach to explore how digital technology and approaches can make a positive difference.

As William explains, the Grey Cells model is focusing initially on digital inclusion, Better Services, Elders as Assets and Digitising Government.

As I wrote here, with more details of the model:

I think that the Grey Cells blueprint could provide us with a much-needed framework to connect policy and programmes with the reality of what’s happening on the ground – whether through local programmes, or people’s choices as consumers to acquire a new phone, tablet or (less and less) a computer.

Today Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data & Government Innovation in Cabinet Office, writes about how ideas like nudge, digital, wellbeing, social action, open data, social finance, user-centred design have moved in five to ten years from the fringes of how government could develop in the future to become more mainstream, and asks, what will be the new norm by 2020–25?

Paul links to this video from the Government Digital Service explaining the idea of Government as Platform:

However, development could be enabling at community level too:

Platforms are about providing a (digital) framework within which others abide by rules, using data and a payment and regulatory ecosystem to unleash invention at scale. Could this notion not be applied to the wider face-to-face operation of government? Think of developments where innovative services like Casserole Club would be able to provide its amazing service in not just a handful of local authorities, but have the opportunity to develop at scale as needed by users UK wide. Consider how NationBuilder has developed a platform to organise social campaigns, and if the same organising principles were built in to the fabric of government what this could mean for democracy – particularly among a generation that expect to collaborate and create content. This brings with it an opportunity to redefine the role of government, and even create a different relationship between state and public.

There’s more about a new operating model for government, and reference to a workshop with NESTA and the Open Policy Team where they’ll be talking with specialists in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence etc.

It is encouraging to get windows into latest government thinking from the Open Policy Making blog and other sources, including prototyping in the Policy Lab

What particularly interests me – together with Drew Mackie, and other colleagues – is how to help support similar open and creative thinking at community level about the impact of digital and the change it brings. We are experimenting with games and simulations evolved over the past 15 years, and well as explorations like our recent one into Ageing Well and Living Well in the Digital Age.

I’ll write more shortly about a workshop we are developing that aims to bring the Grey Cells model down to community level, with a scenario like this one.

We all need to understand a bit more about the implications of the terms and processes that Paul describes – and to do that we need creative, social spaces in communities to complement those in Policy Labs.

At last we have a shared framework for deep thinking about digital engagement

Any party or coalition that comes to power after the May election will have have to re-address the two main aspects of the government-social digital landscape.

One the one hand they’ll need to continue to use tech in transforming and improving services (and saving money), driven from the top. On the other they’ll have to continue to support ways to help more people get online to use the services, as well shopping, working, learning, socialising and doing all the other good stuff the Internet enables.

The landscape can be pretty confusing, with score of different programmes, agencies and organisations in the innovation, transformation and digital inclusion businesses.

Fortunately a small group in the Department of Communities and Local Government, led by William Barker, have done a great job of surveying and mapping, and come up with a draft blueprint that begins to show who’s who, who is doing what, and how they relate. Click to enlarge, or see the original here.

Grey Cells model

On the left side of the diagram is stuff that government has to get right, including access, affordability, usability, and standards – and on the right are the activities government wishes to support … and hopes other people will get right. These include health and well-being, community participation, quality of life, supporting learning, and economic and working choices.

Each of the “Grey Cells” has links to back up documents, and William explains on the Public Service Transformation Network blog how they developed the framework.

As I wrote earlier, the Grey Cells work evolved from an initial focus on digital connectivity for older people, and you’ll find in my post links to a really impressive database of local case studies and good practice, a resource pack, as well as results from a number of events. It’s a model of how other cells could be filled out from the policy-makers perspective.

I think that the Grey Cells blueprint could provide us with a much-needed framework to connect policy and programmes with the reality of what’s happening on the ground – whether through local programmes, or people’s choices as consumers to acquire a new phone, tablet or (less and less) a computer.

I’ll post more about different aspects of the framework. Among the major challenges, as I see them, are:

  • How to populate the right side of the blueprint with day-to-day stories, conversation and connections that complement the official reports and programmes. Unless everyone involved can talk about the issues and opportunities, little will change. There are some stories  and practical ideas there already, and I hope to help, with others, through the Ageing Better exploration. Earlier posts here.
  • How to enable people in public services to connect and collaborate online with anyone else. Civil servants can meet face to face, some can blog and maybe tweet, but many sites are blocked to their desktops and using anything as simple as Google docs or seems extremely difficult. They are digitally excluded.
  • How to make progress when many of the organisations don’t understand or use current digital tools – as John Popham says here – and there are additional cultural challenges.
  • And most importantly, how to enable personalised engagement. None of this works unless people, individually, decide to start to use digital tools and services, and connect with others.  Maybe a minimum personal technology assessment kit would help.

The good news is that we now have a framework within which to address the challenges, and come up with some ideas for moving forward. I just hope no politician decides to “weaponise” the digital divide in election campaigns. It’s more complicated than that, as Grey Cells shows us.

Update post on Grey Cells from William Barker at Open Policy Making






SEEFA symposium identifies challenges to innovation in Ageing Better – it’s culture as much as tech

Summary: a symposium on innovation, technology and later life provides confirmation that many of the challenges to making use of tech for ageing better are organisational and cultural as well as technical. We have plenty of tech – the issues are how to personalise and support use appropriate to people’s needs and situation. But ageing organisations can’t do that if they aren’t using social tech themselves.

I found the SEEFA symposium last week on ‘Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life’ most useful because it didn’t focus on innovative technology. It was more of a high-level distillation of the sort of day-to-day conversations people are having in the field. However, it could have been even more useful with some additions, including fairly standard social tech. More on that later.

SEEFA is the South East England Forum on Ageing, and the event was hosted in the Lords by Lord Filkin, who is chair of the Big Lottery Fund’s Centre for Ageing Better. Several score people, mainly in later life, were addressed by Baroness Sally Greengross and a good range of speakers with experience in industry, ageing, care and other fields.

I was one of a panel asked to make a contribution, and there was a lively Q and A. The symposium was facilitated with an informal-yet-informed touch by Guardian public services editor David Brindle so that, unusually for this sort of event, if felt like a big, sensible conversation.

I was particularly listening out for confirmation or otherwise of the ten provocations about innovation in Ageing Better that I posted recently, and the challenges I distilled from those for the Ageing Better exploration.

You can also review key points yourself from the symposium, because John Popham declared #itlater the event hashtag and dived in to lead some tweeting and then created a Storify.

Here’s my provocations, (enhanced with some comments I received). I’ve added points from the symposium discussion, and from people tweeting in response to the stream. See John’s Storify for attributions.

1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology – but you can choose how much you participate. (Technology has changed the world dramatically, and it will continue to change. What’s important is enabling people to choose how they engage).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Why isn’t technology transforming people’s lives as much as it might? Are people aware of the potential?
Technology is changing fast – you don’t have to be older to get out of date.
People can feel more in control of their lives with appropriate technology  – but tech makes things smaller and faster, which can be challenging.
Social connectedness is a key determinant of personal well-being.
Older people don’t want to be singled out – they want to be part of everything.
“Older people” is not an identity but a statistical category

2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online – but there are limits to what government can do. (People will engage with what’s interesting and useful to them, and use devices that most suit their needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Focus on the individual, their needs and interests.
Focus on what tech can do – not what it is.
There are distinct business benefits in connecting older people – however some businesses don’t want older customers who create problems.
Everyone needs a reason to change, and changes to services could be the catalyst.
Lack of basic education and literacy is still a barrier for many.

3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. (Cost is a barrier, and then personalisation is important).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The lack of rural connectivity continues to be a huge problem.
Confirmation at the symposium about cost – or perceived cost – as a barrier to adoption, and the need for personalisation of devices and use.
There is no such things as a typical older person
Be careful about language. “Older lady said she didn’t need “mobile banking” because her tablet never left the house”.
Need to build people’s confidence

4. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. (Tablets are much easier to use than computers for most purposes, and smart phones and smart TVs may also meet many people’s needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The digital skills needed for work are generally not the same as those needed for non-work entertainment, learning, communication.
People working in organisations have tech “done for them”. It’s a shock to retire and find you have to do-it-yourself.
Older people tend not to search Youtube for user guides. Printed manuals are still needed.

5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices – not just more functions. (Older people should be involved in design).

From the symposium and tweeters:
A lot of discussion about the need for co-design.
Why are there no big new products for older people at the Consumer Electronics Show?
A lot of support for “simpler”.
Some people were urging inclusion of older people as users of the latest tech, while others favoured more simple, low-cost options. It’s probably not either-or – it depends on the individual, their situation and preference. Personalisation – not general dumbing down.

6. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. (Using social technology should help enable greater greater cooperation).

From the symposium and tweeters:
If you aren’t using social technology you can’t understand it
Organisations in the field generally don’t provide staff with equipment, software and devices relevant to people’s personal non-work needs
If people in organisations don’t use social technologies, their ability to share knowledge is severely limited
“What does it say that only four people in the room at #itlater have tweeted during the event”

7. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. (There’s too much focus on the tech, and not enough on what it does, together with a lot of re-invention).

From the symposium and tweeters:
There is much potential for using tech to help people in care lead a good life and connect with friends and family. Why not adopted more?
Funders are supporting new developments, rather than encouraging adoption and adaptation of existing

8. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. (A lot of research is hidden and not transferred to practice. A culture of competitive tendering reduces people’s inclination to cooperate and use what’s already available).

From the symposium and tweeters:
“Not invented here” is a huge barrier to adoption. Partisan discussion of issues and solutions doesn’t help.
Need to break out of the silos.
Much research and other knowledge is in formats that are unusable by practitioners – we need new knowledge products.
In 2015 all digital events should be promoted vigorously with a hashtag inviting wider debate and be live streamed
“We’re sharing as much as we can on ! Plz suggest more & banish wheel reinvention”
The first step to change is securing the buy in – changing organisational culture to be more open to innovation and tech

9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers. (To which we can add, evolution of trusted technologies such as TVs. Bring the storytellers together).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The potential for using TV was one of the hot topics at the symposium, with recommendations for a number of devices.
Tablets are increasingly proving more attractive than computers – but again depends on the individual and activity.
We need to be better storytellers about how people are using technology
Don’t push people to use stuff they have never experienced. Start by letting them see how others use tech

10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.

I’ve mixed insights from the symposium into the exploration provocations partly for my own purposes, and partly to show how it is possible to build on existing knowledge. All of these points could be remixed into a different set of provocations – and you are welcome to do so.

What’s now important, I think, is focusing on key challenges and developing ideas tro meet them. I’m trying that on the site hosting the exploration into innovation Ageing Better.

When David Brindle called on me for a contribution at the symposium I said (expanded somewhat here) that when I was a mainstream reporter on the Evening Standard in the 1970s we had typewriters, hot metal type-setting and a cuttings-based library. Reporters were a crucial channel – if they did their job well – in transmitting what was new and innovative. Few people had access to a cuttings library. Newspapers and other publishers owned the technology.

I noted as a reporter then, that we would see, in any field, a cycle of forgetting. Faces would change as people moved jobs, but the same stories would resurface as “news” every three or four years, if you checked in the library. Most people wouldn’t have a cuttings library, and so couldn’t know whether it was new or not – which was fine for a lazy reporter.

But why is it that we see the same sort of thing today, when people have the means of research and publication on their smartphones? Why is so much publishing of newsletters and reports designed for the paper-based library, rather than a format that allows easy sharing? Why is research funded that duplicates past work?

At the symposium there was no reference to the work of organisations like Nominet Trust and NESTA in this field,  to sites like Connecting Care, or people like Shirley Ayres who do so much, often unpaid, to share experience in the field. I’ve gathered those and other references here.

I think that discussion at the symposium, and what I’ve gathered from the exploration, provides insights into the re-invention of wheels, lack of sharing, and silos:


  • Organisations operate in a highly competitive funding environment, so they are reluctant to share ideas that might be used by someone else in a bid
  • Funders and sponsors want organisations to demonstrate how their resources produced results. Collaboration could dilute that.
  • Organisations want to promote their work and profile.
  • There is comfort in staying within your professional silo
  • Managers want to control and deliver – not encourage innovation and exploration that might not meet targets
  • Government wants scale and it is easier to do that through one-size rather than personalisation
  • Senior people in London-based organisations are more easily able to go to events and network with policy people and funders than people outside London. There’s not much incentive for the London circle to share.
  • “Networking” is what you do to increase your knowledge and influence … not to help connect others with ideas and opportunities


  • While social technology does not on its own enable cooperation and sharing, it makes it far more possible, and among those who use it engenders a culture for that.
  • Most organisations, and their staff, in this field are trapped in old tech systems designed for a different age. Even if they want to use social tech they may not be able to.
  • Learning has to be done in people’s own time, often with their own devices
  • Where social media is used, it is mainly for broadcast and marketing, rather than sharing useful resources
  • Unless people are using social technology, they don’t know what’s possible

Of course there are lots of exceptions … but am I wrong? John Popham has recorded some heart-felt audio here on organisations and social tech.

As I’ve said in this piece, I found the symposium very useful and interesting, and I was glad of the opportunity to contribute. Big thanks to Peter Dale and Julia Pride. It was impressive.

However I don’t see how SEEFA – or any similar organisation – will be able to take their exploration into technology, innovation and older people to the next stage without more use of the technology themselves.

For example, in terms of this sort of event I would suggest a plan, as part of the logistics, to blend online and offline activity, including:

  • Social media accounts for the organisation – at least Twitter and a blog
  • Online research by staff to scope the field, and curate some resources relevant to the event to set the scene
  • Pre-event activity online to engage people who may follow the Twitter stream, contribute, and/or blog
  • Online registration – if places outside the organisation are available
  • An online landing page about the event which can then be referenced in tweets
  • Speaker bios and outline content so that contributions can be co-ordinated beforehand
  • Recruiting participants to tweet
  • An agreed hashtag
  • Video interviews, and ideally streaming
  • Curation of online content after the event

If John Popham hadn’t committed time and expense to come to the event, and then act as a social reporter to declare a hashtag, lead the tweeting, and Storify the tweets, we would have to wait some weeks for a report. It might then not be in bit-sized pieces that can be shared. (I do the same sort of thing, but John is a better live-tweeter. He does great video too). There wouldn’t have been much external participation without contributions from Paul Webster and Shirley Ayres, creating content and alerting their networks as well as John’s and mine.

So my friendly suggestion to SEEFA is this: before publishing a report of the symposium, no doubt including barriers to innovation, please start using the technology! SEEFA’s experience in doing that, together with some of members, would provide very valuable additional insights.

Update: SEEFA have kindly invited me to talk to their executive about the technology challenges facing organisations. I think this will be a great opportunity for me to share some ideas – and also learn about the realities of running an organisation with volunteers and limited resources, in a fast-changing world.



Businesses can be community hubs, says RSA report

Increasingly the “social bumping places”** where we might come across other local residents in our communities are stores and supermarkets … and the RSA believes that this could be turned to greater advantage for both shops and shoppers.

In a recent report called Community Footprint: Shared Value for Business and Communities, the RSA suggests that businesses “should act as ‘community hubs’, helping promote social interaction amongst their customers and developing local action plans to create happier, more resilient communities”.

When I was in the RSA recently, talking to Ben Dellot about social network analysis and local Changemakers, I also spoke to Emma Norris, who is associate director of the Connected Communities project.

Emma explained how they had worked with B&Q to research the relationship between their store in Sutton and local customers. They found 42 percent of customers had some interaction with other customers in the store and that 23 percent of customers asked other customers for DIY advice.

The report found that 70 percent of customers say they will remain loyal to a brand that demonstrates social value even in a recession, and suggests businesses should:

  • Identify a member of staff who will be leading on community work – if possible a local person whose role should include building local partnerships with third sector organisation and social landlords.
  • Give permission for staff to spend a certain amount of time (e.g. two hours) every week on community-relevant activities
  • Design and create a central community orientated in-store space that can be used for training and skills events, customer information sharing and innovation.

Emma said:

Businesses who are willing to be pioneering and give something back to customers and the community in concrete, tangible ways will feel the benefits. People will spend more in their stores and customers will stay loyal in hard times. What  more can businesses hope for than that?

The term Community Footprint refers to ways in which the project was able to measure the impact of a store in its community – both positive and negative. That means it should be possible to demonstrate quantifiable benefits … not just urge community engagement as a good thing. Social responsibility and ethical business can have a street-level focus.

Emma said that the approach could be extended to clusters of shops, encouraging networking and collective benefits for shops in High Streets and other areas. The RSA has a large membership of Fellows, who are increasing active in RSA projects. Emma said RSA staff would be particularly interested in talking to Fellows who might want to take up the Community Footprint approach in their area.

** For more about social bumping places, see this report of a workshop in Manchester on Asset Based Community Development.


All posts innovation

Visual Camp – or developing “Policy in Pics”

Earlier this week I spent an evening in the Treasury, Whitehall, talking not about the economy but about how visuals and other creative approaches may be used to develop and communicate policy.

Noel Hatch, who facilitate the event, explains here how it developed from a “Policy in Pics”  idea from Toby Blume, proposed in the Dotgovlabs Innovation Hub (registration required). The event signup here provides more background, and Phil Green has created an Our Society group. read more »

All posts innovation

Visual Camp – or developing "Policy in Pics"

Earlier this week I spent an evening in the Treasury, Whitehall, talking not about the economy but about how visuals and other creative approaches may be used to develop and communicate policy.

Noel Hatch, who facilitate the event, explains here how it developed from a “Policy in Pics”  idea from Toby Blume, proposed in the Dotgovlabs Innovation Hub (registration required). The event signup here provides more background, and Phil Green has created an Our Society group. read more »

All posts Big Society innovation

The Mindapples Big Treat: fruit cocktails create a Social App

Last night I dropped into a West End gallery, tripped lightly over freshly-laid turf towards a barful of delicious Courvoisier cocktails, greeted on the way by engaging young women (and men) with offers of cake, hugs, massage … and sex and intimacy conversations.
Just another PR event in the life of a socialreporter? No, it was promotion of the Mindapples mental health project … so let’s move from tab-style to (slightly) serious. read more »

All posts Big Society innovation

Building Big Society giving and doing by making it easier to listen

Update and summary: Lord Nat Wei, one of the authors of the Big Society idea and Network founder, will no longer blog about the vision. He will be working as unpaid advisor to Government. Meanwhile, many people are talking about Big Society, but finding it difficult to get to the core idea and connect with each other. The network could make a virtue of listening, and encouraging many voices.

There’s been lots of discussion around Big Society over the past couple of weeks, as you can see from my bookmarks, the Twitter stream, and this smart way of displaying content generated in many different places.

Using you can agree a hashtag (keyword with # before it) then ask people to post links (URLs) of blog items or other content in a tweet containing the hashtag. Set up to search for the tag, and it displays both the tweets and the original articles – creating your own news page refreshed daily (thanks @evangineer). read more »

All posts events innovation

How to run an event developing innovative projects

It is just two years since the first Social Innovation Camp, when a mix of social entrepreneurs, geeks and activists came together for a weekend to develop projects from a set of crowdsourced ideas, and pitched for a prize to help further development.

That and similar formats are now well developed and accepted, if not documented … so I’m delighted my colleague Amy Sample Ward has taken the trouble to create a wiki explaining what’s involved.

read more »

Amplified Individuals in the Cloud

Some social media discussions may be getting a bit tired and inward looking, as I wrote here. However, events and meetings over the past couple of weeks have given me a fresh boost of energy and optimism. At the heart of this is the very obvious idea of focussing on the individual, not the tools, and what people want to achieve. Why has it taken me so long to reconnect with that? Too many shiny toys and apps, perhaps. read more »