Tag Archives: digitalengagement

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 Quip.com 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






10 messages in planning digital engagement with young people

Below are 10 messages to consider in planning any project using digital technology to engage young people and address the key challenges they face. I think most are relevant to any digital engagement process.

The messages have been summarised by Tim Davies from the event we ran last week with Nominet Trust as part of the exploration I reported here. The exploration will help frame a major funding challenge programme. Tim writes at socialreporters.net:

This Thursday we brought together a fantastic crowd of 25 thinkers, social entrepreneurs, funders, youth workers and young people at the RSA in London to explore some of the messages that had been emerging so far in our Young People and Digital Technology exploration.

In a packed two hour session we took some headline challenges faced by young people (youth unemployment; lack of youth influence of local decision making), and dug a bit deeper into them to find underlying challenges and unmet needs. With that as our context, we looked at the messages identified so far, which had been printed out as cards, and discussed them in groups to see how they might be relevant to the challenges.

Here’s the top ten messages, with links to the document where we have been crowdsourcing ideas:

19. Blend online and offline

Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

6. Use games to engage
Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

7. Address the innovation gaps in the back-office
Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.

17. Support young people to be creators, not consumers
Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

3. Encourage co-design/co-design with young people
The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.

4. Consider the livelihoods of the future
Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

18. Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

24. Use technology to personalise services
Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

30. Be network literate and create new connections
Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

30. Recognise the diversity of youth
Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

As Tim says, the next steps are:

  • Iteratively refine the top 10 messages, drawing on ideas from the other messages
  • Identify key questions and issues to explore for the top messages
  • Find social media resources that can provide insights into the content of the messages
  • Pursue other emerging storylines and issues with blog posts, video interviews, shared slides and storifys
  • Start weaving this all together into an online resource and write-up

I’m excited both by the quality of ideas generated so far, and the potential for this sort of exploration that blends online and face-to-face discussion. Fortunately we are following the number one message in our process. If you have further ideas, please do contribute through the crowdsourcing document, or get in touch directly.

Link summary


How Twitter brought an event organiser to offer free tickets

A few months back I wrote Is your event worth the price of the ticket? and explored how far event organisers would be able to charge high prices when there was an increasing move to free, self-organised unconferences. I quoted the organiser of one £300 two-day event as saying “Next year we are going to have to make it free”.

Well, it’s happened faster than that. Last week Ten Alpsco-founded by Bob Geldorf – staged  Digital Engagement – Empower Citizens and Government through Digital Innovation. Top ticket prices for corporates were £895, and people were reporting being asked to pay up to £15,000 to speak on a programme including Martha Lane Fox. The public sector rate was £195, and people were also being called with offers of £95 … so it wasn’t all top priced.

Even so the costs went down badly with some folk who actually work at grass roots in digital engagement, and who were put out to see government departments and other agencies that promote inclusion lending their logos and support to what seemed a rather exclusive do. There were also complaints about the sales techniques as Anke Holst reports.

At this point Twitter-power came into play, and after some fast and furious exchanges people were being offered free tickets. Paul Clarke documents the whole thing here and follows up with an assessment of the day itself. They are excellent posts, prompting well-balanced discussion about the style and content of the day as well as the cost. The managing director of organisers Ten Alps Publishing, Stuart Brown, joined in too. In my view he was a little off-track, saying:

The event was simply the start of what we feel should be an ongoing and changing debate, and whilst some people may feel our event was not what they wanted or expected, I am pleased that we took the step, and committed to the expense, of doing something. We felt the subject was not out there enough and if we have achieved anything then we have certainly started a healthy debate, with some excellent contributions as many of you have kindly recognised.

… rather ignoring many other events including the fourth annual Digital Inclusion conference of a couple of months before, well documented here (disclosure, I worked on the social reporting there).

I was at last week’s even for free, because with Amy Sample Ward I was helping the Media Trust Community Voices project launch their programme at a seminar. I confess I couldn’t face the Powerpoint-heavy early presentations, but I heard good reports of sessions later in the day.

In my earlier post I tried to tease out  some of the issues around events involving social media (planned or otherwise), including how far they are open or closed, with a pre-planned agenda or  collaborative agenda setting process. The price people pay will depend on the value that each setup offers, in any particular context. High-value exclusive content will command a price. The difficulty Ten Alps faced was that they were pitching into a space where there is an increasing expectation of a gift economy around digital engagement content and activities.

Quite a few people made a comparison with the free unconference organised the previous Saturday in Stoke on Trent by the Talk About Local team led by Will Perrin. As I reported here it was friendly, passionate, without Powerpoint, and full of extraordinarily interesting people. That’s what engagement is all about … and you don’t have to do it in #thatlondon.

All posts asides

Digital engagement Minister to step down?

Simon Dickson follows up a Sunday Times story that e-government/Digital Engagement Minister Tom Watson will step down from the post after the reshuffle expected within a couple of weeks. Intruiging, but no confirmation of the ST line: “Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister wrongly accused of involvement
in the Damian McBride smear e-mails, will return to the back benches.
He has told friends he is exhausted by government and wants to see more
of his two children.”

10 approaches to digital inclusion

Tim Davies has produced an excellent analysis here of themes from the recent Digital Inclusion and Social Capital seminar at the RSA, that I mentioned the other day. read more »

Launch of a digital engagement manifesto

Helen Milner and the team at UK online centres are disappointed but undismayed at losing the Digital Mentor bid … they have just soft-launched discussion around the idea of a digital engagement manifesto.
The aim is to create a discussion space, and probably an online community, to pull together a set of principles and how-tos that would be helpful across a range of issues from inclusion and adoption of technology, to e-participation and e-democracy.
It should be of interest to anyone looking at how we can use social technology for social benefit.
Together with Dave Briggs, who writes about it here and here, I’ve been working on the idea with Helen and Anne Faulkner. We’ll be developing the digitalengagement.org blog in the run up to the National Digital Inclusion Conference on April 27-28, and at the event reporting on discussion about manifesto themes.
We are also looking at the idea of an online community, using Ning.
Introducing the project on the blog, Helen writes:

Welcome to digitalengagement.org,
I hope you find this site useful as a place to come and discuss and debate everything to do with digital engagement. The aim isn’t that this is owned by any one person or any one voice, but it’s a space for
anyone interested to come and get involved.

By digital engagement we mean the use of social technologies for social good. What do you think we should do on digitalengagment.org? In the immediate future, we want to use this site to create a digital manifesto, what more could we all do, and do together to get more people online and engage in the right tools for them to help them in their lives.

Do you want to take part?

The get involved reference links to a range of ways that people can contribute.

In order to start discussion we’ll give some examples of the sort of principles we are thinking about, gather existing resources, do some interviews … and also ask people the most useful directions to take.

Discussion on this blog and the digitalmentors blog, following the digital mentor announcement, showed that people are keen to find a common space for discussion, so it seemed sensible to get the digitalengagement site up as soon as possible.

If you have ideas for the way a manifesto should develop, do join in over on the new site. I’m off holiday for a week, but will be diving in after that.