Category Archives: innovation

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 »

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Beyond unconferencing

Daves Briggs reflects on the recent ukgovcamp unconference he organised, and the need to move beyond conversation: “What we seem to lack is an ecosystem of ideas in public services. Discussions about new ways of doing things, how to change the way things are, how ideas get progressed into prototypes and then into actual delivered services or ways of working”.

Is the Summer of Social Media Love a fading memory?

The prospect of doing some interviews at the seminar on Jemima Gibbons book, Monkeys With Typewriters, later today set me thinking on some gentle provocations to get things going … particularly ones that are a bit metaphorical.
Recent conversations and exchanges dispel any remaining simplistic enthusiasm for the possible benefits of social media. It isn’t a magic potion. We should pay far more attention to the context in which social media is used, for what purpose, by whom and so on. read more »

Social media for public services: how about an Open Innovation Exchange?

The Crowdsourced Council event earlier this week was for me interesting at three levels. First for the idea expressed in the name – that councils should use a variety of different methods to find out people’s opinions, engage with them, and improve performance in doing so. Secondly, for a useful demonstrations of tools showing how this might be done. And thirdly some insights into just how difficult it is to introduce these innovative new methods to councils, even when costs are low.

I came away with a new/old idea: that we need an open innovation exchange to help entrepreneurs, councils and customer/citizens collaborate to find new ways forward.

The event was organised by FutureGov in partnership with Capital Ambition, and we had demonstrations from  Uservoice, Best Before Media, YooskDebatewise, GovDelivery and Quiet Riots. Follow the links to see the goodies on offer. They provide a terrific range of ways in which people could discuss issues, vote on their preferences, create audio and video content, get updates and more.

In the four video interviews Dominic Campbell, of FutureGov, explains the thinking behind the event, and we hear from Tim Hood of Yoosk, Dave Worsell of GovDelivery, and also Shane McCracken of Gallomar. They just been award £200,000 from the Wellcome Trust for I’m A Scientist, Get me out of Here – explained here. (You’ll see the four videos in the frame once you start playing, or mouse-over).

As well as the cleverness of the tools in front of us, what really intruiged me was the background story I heard from those developing them: they were often prepared to make some of their offer free; they would collaborate to see how they could offer councils a menu of options and ways of making things work together; some were taking big personal risks to develop something of real social benefit. Yet whether big or small they found it difficult to get their products and services in front of the people who could make decisions, or find ways to test and evolve new tools with both citizens and councils.

A number of barriers emerged. The big one was procurement procedures, which could meant that if you weren’t on the approved list of suppliers you didn’t get a look in.  In theory councils would specify what they needed, and then go out to tender: but that doesn’t work well for innovative products. As one developer said: “If you don’t know what you want, because you haven’t seen it yet, how can you specify it?”

Another problem was that decisions usually involved a lot of people in the organisational hierarchy, and often in partner organisations. You couldn’t get them in the same room together. They didn’t even go to the same conferences: “The senior people will be at the old-style big ticket events, while those lower in the hierarchy who may know what’s needed are at the informal barcamps and unconferences.”

You might find one council officer prepared to take an interest, but they would change jobs. If you didn’t get everything lined up at the right time of year, you could lose six months because of holidays and other delays.

All this might be of little concern if it were just a bunch of profit-hungry corporations trying to sell products that councils could better develop in-house – or that tough competition would ensure a better deal for us all.  A few years ago it was perhaps the case that councils had to specify major development work through big suppliers. But these days there’s a vast array of social media tools – like those on show – that can be delpoyed rapidly, and at relatively low cost, provided councils can make fast and informed decisions. That means really getting to know what’s available and working collaboratively with suppliers and citizen-users.

Tim Hood summed it up: “People think private companies are just concerned with profit. That’s clearly not true. People risk their livelihoods to try and innovate for public good, and there’s no shame in trying to make some money out of it. There no shame in the decision makers and people in procurement being in the same room and talking through collectively how they can make the whole process work more efficiently”.

But that often isn’t happening. I heard that it can be just as tough for council officers. Unless you are passionate about social media it’s really difficult to see what’s available, and get your ideas adopted. Of course there are brilliant exceptions … officers and whole council departments around the country who are doing great work: Devon, Kent, Barnet, Barnsley keep getting mentions, and there are quite a others as I explored at another conference about knowledge management. It just doesn’t seem sensible to have such clunky systems when it’s desperately important to improve public services and reduce costs at the same time.

Is this a fair analysis? Or did I just happen on a group of people – developers and officers – who, by their interests and enthusiasms,  find the current system particularly frustrating and unproductive?

Let’s say the analysis is right at least in part. What might be done in a small, collaborative, organic, social media-ish sort of way? I’m really impressed by the work that Ingrid Koehler, Steve Dale and others are doing on the IDeA knowledge hub, which I’ve written about here. In the longer term the new system and associated development and training should help move all councils, not just a few, across into new ways of working.

But that’s going to take years. Meanwhile Amy Sample Ward and I have been talking to IDeA about ways in which we could use the Social by Social network as a space in which to pilot some ideas. There’s already some groups there. Out initial thinking was on three fronts: how to combine discussion and knowledge sharing, with a market place, linked to events. The aim would be to bring together people working in public bodies with social media developers and suppliers, and with those working in the hyperlocal programmes and third sector. And anyone else interested in how to use social tech for social impact … the substance of our book Social by Social (buy or download free here).

During the Crowdsourced Council event these ideas crystalised into thoughts of an Open Innovation Exchange. It’s not new: Simon Berry, I and others first proposed something like this back in 2007 for third sector organisations, in an open bid to Cabinet Office. We didn’t win, but generated a lot of interest as you can see on the original site here. My friends – and clients – at the Innovation Exchange are now doing a great job in taking forward the winning bid, but it’s focussed on third sector organisations, and social media is only a part of their business.

In essence we would create a complementary space into which anyone could pitch an idea, request, product or service … whether free or paid for. It would be up to IDeA and other public sector organisations – if interested – to promote the exchange to their sectors and interest groups. Similarly for the hyperlocal and third sector interests. We would run some associated workshops and turn up to events like Crowdsourced Council to do some social reporting, broker connections, and recruit people to the exchange.

When I floated the idea to a few developers at this week’s event they sounded seriously interested, and even said they might contribute some seed funding if public sector interests would come in.

That’s as a far as I’ve got with the idea. At this stage I just want to check out if it makes sense. If so, I’ll discuss further with our friends in IDeA, NESTA and other bodies. If they are interested I would suggest that we run an open workshop in January to co-design what’s needed, with the key interests. Let’s model the collaborative exchange process we propose.  At this stage I’m not suggesting that the current Social by Social platform would do what’s needed … but it could be a gathering space for those interested.

What do you think? Do drop a comment here, and I’ll also post across on

All posts innovation Organisations

One Click Orgs on the way

Even though the idea of “organising without organisations” is fashionable among social media enthusiasts, there may come a time when you have to get a bank account, pin down how decisions are made, and how to enter into contracts. You may have to incorporate.
One of the ideas pitched to Social Innovation Camp to take the pain out of deciding on the legal structure, and how to tailor it for your enterprise, was One Click Organisations. Although the team led by Charles Armstrong didn’t win, they are pressing ahead with the project:

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Join us for the social collaboration game at SHINE

If you want to find out how social technology can be used collaboratively to solve neighbourhood problems, do join me and colleagues for a lively session on May 16 in London at the SHINE unconference for social entrepreneurs. You’ll find

If you want to do it quickly, do it alone. If you want to do it well, do it together.” – African proverb.
Join the Social Collaboration Game on day two of SHINE. Everyone’s talking about the advantages of collaboration, open-source working and social technology to drive through social change. But how do you make it work in practice? Based on real life problems that SHINE participants are facing, get ready for a two hour game where you’ll have to crunch problems, make quick decisions and find ways to work together to get the job done. You will be doing that within the framework of an imagined but realistic neighbourhood where people are trying to tackle problems innovatively as recession bites. There’ll be competing interests to balance, barriers to getting what you need from partnerships,…

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Katie's digital engagement tips: make it simple, fun and really useful

The other day I was doing some social reporting at the World Entrepreneur Society Summit with Paul Henderson – as you can see here – and met up with Katie Ledger, communications coach and TV reporter for BBC Click.

Bearing in mind the work I’m doing on digital engagement I asked Katie what she thought it took to get people interested in technology. She was admirable succinct: keep it simple, make it fun … and focus on the benefits the technology offers. read more »

Sources for social technology propositions – please mix your own

The 45 propositions about using social technology for social benefit have generated some discussion on this blog, Andy Gibson’s, and Amy Sample Ward’s – including an interesting visualisation from Rob Allen. That prompted me to head over to Wordle and have a go myself. I’m glad it shows People featuring more strongly than Tools.

The propositions evolved over a couple of months, and were originally linked to sections in a chapter that offers a sort of development route map for a social technology project. I’ve posted an earlier version of the propostions, showing that, in a comment on Amy’s blog and also below. The book – Social by Social: a practical guide to using new technologies to deliver social impact – should be published and distributed by NESTA next month.

I should also give some credit to Roland Harwood, and the rest of the Connect team in another part of NESTA, for their earlier work on principles for open, collaborative innovation. They have no responsiblity for our propositions, but the framework they have evolved helped spark some ideas.

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Helping councils learn to share with social media

Last week I spent half a day in a workshop on local government knowledge management. Boring waste of time? Absolutely not, because it gave me some breakthough thoughts on collaboration within and between organisations, and may well make a big difference to how we can all help improve public services by volunteering our support.

We concluded that what councils need in order to share so-called “best practice” is not more consultancy, reports and databases, but video clips, conversations, and encouragement to tell bad stories as well a good. This focus on conversations is not new in the knowledge management field … what is different is see
ng some possibility that the ideas might actually be put into practice with help from people outside government, including interested public services users. Maybe I’m particularly enthusiastic because social reporting came into the mix too, about which more later.

The event was organised by Steve Dale, who works with IDeA on improving how our councils operate – in his case by developing communities of practice for knowledge sharing, with Michael Norton, as I reported here.

The challenge – as Steve outlines in the video -is how to do even more on the knowledge sharing front. At present councils compete for Beacon status on the basis of what they are doing, then get an award to share experience with others. It doesn’t work too well, so IDeA are working on a Knowledge Hub project. Except that, from our discussions, it probably won’t be a Hub (centralist, spokes, edges). It will involve tools like blogs and Twitter, and wikis which the rest of the world is using, but which are often blocked by official firewalls. It will be a knowledge ecosystem, as George Por – with us for the event – has been promoting for some years.

As Steve says:

There is a huge amount of information out there that people can learn from. The library as the tired repository has perhaps had its day. There may be occasions when people need to delve down into the historical artifacts of the stores,  but these days people are able to make more use and get more relevance from information that is flowing in real time.

We don’t need to build another piece of technological infrastructure because most of the technology is already out there or emerging. The biggest issue is the culture change – to help people realise in local government that  there are different ways of working – and that it has never been easier to connect and collaborate.

Steve has just blogged a more detailed explanation of the need to change from traditional electronic document and records managements systems to the world of Web 2.0.

I think the event worked for at least three reasons. First, Steve is part of the social media ecosystem of blogging, twittering and meetups by which people across different sectors exchange information and ideas and generally get to know each other. The “outsiders” trusted Steve not to waste our time. Second, the format was good – a mix of networking, cafe-style table discussions, problem solving around real scenarios, and general ideas forum. Thirdly, Steve clearly had top-level support from John Hayes and others in IDeA, and brought together a really interesting mix of people from local government and what he kindly called social innovators.

It was, in a small way, a demonstration of the sort of approach that is needed for the Knowledge Hub – or whatever it is eventually called.

During the interview I suggested to Steve that the next step might be to have some working sessions where people developed practical demonstrations of what’s possible. It could be like Social Innovation Camp – excect the focus would be more on human and organisational processes  than building new web sites. Steve agreed:

The old, tired way was to pay some consultants to sit in a room with us, then to go away and come up with some paper, and we then act on that paper. It is very much a closed, private discussion that takes place.

What we can do now with social innovation workshops is bring in people who have already got these ideas – and widen it out not just to consultants and freelances, but anyone who has the energy and desire to make a difference to their lives. I think most people out there are frustrated by how government or local government works, and to give them an opportunity to be able to make a change to their services would be welcome.

Fortunately Tim Davies has already provided some notes from the event that give us a starting brief. Tim first outlined how discussion on his table led to the idea of  ‘flipping the pyramid’ and switching from ‘Get an award and then share your practice’ – to ‘Share your practice, collaborate, encourage innovation replication – and then maybe get an award’.

  1. Someone nominates as ‘shining light’ story of innovation (using a web form. Could self nominate, nominate a whole LA, or nominate some little story from a local project).
  2. I&DeA send a social reporter to create a quick shared learning video clip (3 minutes maximum) or invite the authority to create it themselves (with small payment or free training available for DiY)
  3. Shining light reports shared online – and visitors to site invited to post questions for the person interviewed & to indicate which innovations sound of interest to them.
  4. Questions can be answered directly online by the people included in the video, or can be collated and a social reporter sent back to ask the questions a couple of months later.
  5. The answers are used to generate a case study / replication recipe.
  6. Interest in the ‘shining light’ story unlocks more cash resources for development of practice sharing.
  7. Citizens and expert panels collaborate on creating awards for the best cases – which may be individual awards, or collective awards.
  8. A toolkit of processes – “Knowledge Jam” or “Open Conference” – multiple small conversations for people to make sense of and develop the knowledge base around given themes.

Tim then moves on to summarise what elements might go into the new-style knowledge hub mixing bowl.

  • A serendipity engine;
  • Creating a culture where people feel confident to share – giving feedback to those who share knowledge to build their confidence.
  • An eco-system of networks: networks of people; networks of ideas; networks of practice – all based on a technological network.
  • A vantage point and visualisation tool – a heat map of emerging trends and tools;
  • A cultural change tool – encouraging people to be more open with their knowledge sharing – and to have confidence in their own work and learning as valid to be shared. (Many people do great research, write great documents etc. – but don’t feel confident to put it out there and share).
  • A brokerage for research and knowledge curating (e.g. jointly commission research & lead to efficiency savings). Where data quality is low then provide a mechanism for upping the quality (& providing a marketplace to commission that better).

That mix is just what’s needed in other fronts, which is why I’ll happily donate a bit more time if the call comes from Steve and IDeA to join in some collaborative problem solving. It’s a great learning opportunity and hugely energising to do that with like-minded people.

I’ll be watching the Twitter stream from #khub to see, in our own little knowledge ecosystem, what others at the event made of it.

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Grass roots inspiration from graduating social entrepreneurs

While the world’s media and 50 top bloggers of G20voice were covering the G20 talks in London, I was at a more modest gathering of people talking about ways to tackle the social problems of the world. I think the stories I heard at the graduation day for the School for Social Entrepreneurs may have been more interesting … apart perhaps from Simon Berry’s scoop with Bob Geldorf on the Pope, Condoms and Colalife.

I first asked Nick Temple for a quick run down on the event as you can hear, and then during the tea break talked to several of the 40 social entrepreneurs who had been making presentations.

Max Graef from David Wilcox on Vimeo.

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