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As the Knowledge Hub faces closure, might a creative Twitter mob help with re-invention?

One of the main ways in which people in local government can share “what works” in these hard times of cuts and service reorganisation is likely to close – as I have written here. Or it may be that the Knowledge Hub may survive but without much staffing to facilitate conversations. Or it may be outsourced from current managers, the Local Government Association. Or there may be some other solutions in the wings.

Unfortunately there’s no framework to explore what might be possible – and that is making a creative solution really difficult, not just for local government, but anyone interested in sharing innovation at local level.

Maybe we need the equivalent of the Facebook and Twitter-based clean-up organising that followed riots in 2011 – but this time before the event. A sort of creative Twitter mob. More below on that … first the situation as I understand it.

What’s certain is that there is no structured consultation with the 150,000 or so people registered in the Knowledge Hub system, which seems rather strange when the practice of “consulting the residents” is fairly well established in local councils if big changes are in prospect.

Residents’ views may not always make much difference, but there is general recognition that their input can lead to better solutions, and at least avoid outright protest. The more innovative councils aim to co-design or even co-produce services with citizen and other organisations to share knowledge, a sense of ownership, and maybe contributions in kind. I know that things have moved on a lot since I wrote a Guide to Effective Participation back in 1994. For example, Lambeth is becoming the country’s first cooperative council.

That means in future the council will do things with local people instead of doing things to them. We believe that when you give residents more power, together with appropriate support, services from housing to street cleaning to care for the elderly will improve and our community will become stronger.

But what about the online world of local government? Is it doing with … or still doing to?

Yesterday I attended a meeting** of people formerly involved, like me, in the advisory group set up a few years back when the Hub was being designed as a successor to the successful Communities of Practice platform. I wrote then: Local Government knowledge hub – much interesting than it sounds. There were high hopes in 2009 that it would integrate with other social media, and also enable conversations with wider publics. In the event the vision and functionality were severely curtailed by LGA, when they took over the Hub, and the advisory group abandoned.

While we all did our best yesterday to come up with some helpful insights into how Knowledge Hub might be improved, repositioned, repurposed etc it was difficult without basic information on usage, costs and options under consideration.

At which point it occurred to me that this could be a great chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity.

One of the catalysts to organising in any locality is a threat or other challenge to life as usual: it may be redevelopment, closure of services, community safety. As the clean-ups after the riots a couple of years ago showed it is possible to do that through social media – and then turn the experience into a new set of tools for organising. More here on the work of Dan Thompson and others on the innovative We Will Gather.

So the threatened closure of the Knowledge Hub could provide a great opportunity to draw on the collective expertise of users – and others – to think not just about how to tweak the platform and business plan, but what place all-purpose “platforms” have in knowledge sharing when there are so many other networking opportunities. See earlier reference to social ecologies and links below to posts on the topic from Steve Dale, original lead designer of the Communities of Practice and Knowledge Hub.

As discussion yesterday showed, there is a need for closed, secure spaces for sharing some knowledge and data, and there is also a need for the online management of spaces, as provided by Hub staff.

However, the online field is moving incredibly fast, and it may be that we need to put more emphasis on mini-Hubs and connecting different Hubs and networks. It doesn’t make sense to have a local government-only space nationally when locally the reality is lots of different partnerships and networks across sectors, and with citizens, on the lines Lambeth and others are developing.

In practice what has happened with the Knowledge Hub is that there was a press leak about closure, followed by an invitation to send an email about what you think. There was then some off-site blogging and discussion on Twitter, a piece in the Guardian, and Hub staff stepped in to set up an on-site group for discussing the future. They helpfully summarised discussions so far, and created space for ideas.

While welcome – and an excellent demonstration of the importance of facilitators – there are two problems. First, it is clear that the formal consultation is about staff redundancies, and discussion is a feed into that, not an independent exercise. Secondly, there has been no invitation to Hub users to participate … and it isn’t possible on-site to instigate that if you are not a manager. There are currently only 89 members of the group.

If we turn to that classic model for citizen participation, Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation, the LGA stance looks rather like Placation. That’s when the Consultation gets a bit grumpy, but you don’t want to move up to Partnership. Offer the opportunity to contribute, without any clarity about the context or whether your views will make any difference.

The point here is not that any party is behaving badly. I’m sure that there all sorts of protocols dictating how LGA management and staff should operate, and they are responsible to the politicians who govern LGA. Everyone is following established procedures – and so I guess any change is ultimately a political decision about where cuts should be made, and in what way. I have great respect for those faced with such tough choices – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t suggest some other ways of doing things, while reducing costs.

The likely result of the current approach is that the Knowledge Hub will just close, or drift into some further iteration that will be less satisfactory than the current setup.

If organising the immediate riot clean-ups had to go through council committees it would have taken weeks. Of course, the substantial work that followed did require systematic organising … but citizens were also able to work with public agencies.

OK, clean-ups are a rather limited analogy, but they did show what’s possible with social media … and how that can subsequently be refined with development of new light-weight apps. There are score of other examples of innovative development by people like Futuregov.

As a freelance social reporter it is much easier for me to throw in a few provocations than it is for local government employees (though all credit to those who are on Twitter #khub or blogging as well as contributing to the on-site forum).

In that provocative spirit, I’m tempted to suggest that the most creative route for discussions might not be “How can we save the Knowledge Hub” but “How can we do without the Knowledge Hub” inspired by self-organising initiatives like We Will Gather.

If Knowledge Hub doesn’t close this time, it may well do so in future.  As Steve Dale, Harold Jarche and others argue, in future digital literacy will involved the ability to seek, sense and share content across many spaces. We have to become network literate, and not rely too much on others to do that for us.

Alternatively, perhaps the politicians who control LGA will give staff there more opportunity to follow the “cooperative council” model and involve the resident users of Knowledge Hub, and others.

As Carl Haggerty, writing as a local government officer, says in #KHub’s potential closure an analogy for #Localgov, in these tough times it is appropriate to review continuing operation of services. He uses another analogy for innovative change – Futuregov work on Casserole Club.

After all as a local government community we will all be questioning what on the face of it will be sensible solutions and sensible services but when budgets are being cut your only choice is to completely rethink how the same outcomes can be met.

So with that in mind, I actually think the LGA’s decision to question the continuation of the Knowledge as a centrally funded platform is a sensible one and actually shows real leadership when in the face of everyone else it may not appear a good decision.

I would like to think that more of these types of decisions can start to be made…after all as an analogy this is the kind of thing that FutureGov’s casserole project is counting on and rightly so…we need to question and rethink how meals of wheels are provided and if you maintain the same existing platform it becomes financially challenging so a different model needs to be engaged and this might not be how people originally thought the service should be provided but the same outcomes for a large majority of people would be unaffected.

The one issue I do have with the LGA’s approach with this is that in order to close down the Knowledge Hub, they need to play an active part in the decommissioning of it and allowing something else to emerge in its place so that the sector as a whole doesn’t suffer.

I hope what I’ve written here is see as a constructive contribution. It is a sensitive situation with the jobs of people at stake who everyone applauds for their work on the Hub. However, as Carl says, hard times may require a change of approach.

If you keep on doing the same old things in the same old ways you get the same old results. Can we change creatively without a riot? What’s the constructive online equivalent?

I wonder what would happen if only a few hundred Hub users took a #khub campaign forward on Twitter and blogs – since they can’t engage others widely in the Hub. That creative and well-intentioned Twitter mob could both drive discussion into the Future of Knowledge Hub group, and also start to explore how to operate without the Hub in its present form, but with a wider range of interests. That might require a pop up Community of Practice on the lines Dave Briggs mentioned in a comment, since there are restrictions on who can join the Knowledge Hub,

Just off to see if We Will Gather might be a way to get started …

** I should add that these are my own ideas, and while sparked by excellent discussion yesterday, are in no way a summary of our considerations.

Update: as one Knowledge Hub user points out in response to my re-post of this over there, he’s not allowed to use Twitter at work. So we have Twitter users who might like to share with local government people but can’t use Knowledge Hub, and vice-versa. That confirms my belief we need to look at the why and who … to achieve what … before tweaking the how.

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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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Re-visiting the challenge of networking civil society as Khub closes

News that the Local Government Association is closing its Knowledge Hub as part of a £2 million savings plan provides a reminder of how difficult it is to maintain big one-stop-shop knowledge-sharing systems. And smaller ones too.

Dave Briggs has launched a rescue bid, and I’m sure Dave has the skills and helpers to develop a lighter version if he can persuade the LGA (and users) to collaborate in a handover, and can develop a new business model. There’s the rub.

It may be the Knowledge Hub, with 18,500 users (correction – apparently 150,000 registered but not clear how many active) could have continued if LGA hadn’t faced a big cut in support from Government, but I suspect there is more to it than that. Knowledge hubs take a lot of work not just to manage the technical system, but also to continue to recruit users and facilitate interactions. I know that Michael Norton and others at khub have been excellent in doing that, and have attracted many compliments amidst the news of closure. But it is a skilled business, and it costs. You can recruit some volunteers for different groups, but they need support too.

Steve Dale, who designed the Communities of Practice predecessor to Khub, and then conceived the new design, has recently been writing about Social Ecologies as a a different sort of architecture to tackle “the key challenges and opportunities for anyone who wants to survive and thrive in this emergent social ecosystem”:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

Steve and I have discussed this a lot, and I drew on that for a paper with Nick Wilding last year for the Carnegie UK Trust, about the future for rural networking. Part of the challenge was how to develop new business models for smaller Communities of Practice, like the Ning-based Fiery Spirits system that had been supported by the Trust. Because of a change of emphasis in their work, they were looking for a new home for the system.

My conclusion was fairly blunt: it is difficult to see how that sort of system can be maintained independently without a lot of funding, or volunteer effort. I know the latter is difficult to maintain from my own experience with similar systems. The alternative, I suggested, is that it can be part of a bigger system of online networking associated with an organisation, if they are going down the route of becoming a Networked Nonprofit on the lines described so well by Beth Kanter and her co-authors.

The Plunkett Foundation has now taken on Fiery Spirits and I hope they are able to integrate it with their other ambitious developments. That would be a good demonstration of migration from old to a new organisation-based model.

I don’t know what model Dave in mind, but do know of his past work in online learning, where people are prepared to pay fees, so perhaps there’s an option for blending free and paid for.

I’m interested in looking at things from the other end – that of helping people become their own knowledge hubs within the wider knowledge ecologies Steve Dale explores in an excellent second post on the topic. As well as developing personal digital literacies, in the social ecology we’ll need digital curators to help make sense and join up conversations and people: what I’m calling social reporting. Digital curators are working “in the wild” rather than as online community managers on knowledge hubs, which of course raises another business model challenge. How do we earn a living? And how do the curators cooperate within a field to make things as easy as possible for others? That’s for another post.

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.

Update: I’ve just come across a post by Steve Dale, initially the lead consultant and architect on knowledge hub, setting out what it was meant to be. It looks a if cut-backs during development removed integration with other social media, and led to poor user experience.

Update 2 Steve Dale provides more background and a vision of what a user-controlled knowledge hub might be like here

Socialreporter resolutions: Make Sense, Be Positive, Help Out

I came up with the term social reporter a couple of years back to bundle up my experiences in journalism, community engagement, partnerships, and social media. But what’s the essence? A neat little iphone mindmapping app (via Neill Williams) helped me distill three social reporting principles, as you can see here. Given the time of year they could be resolutions: Make Sense, Be Positive, Help Out. 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 SocialbySocial.net.

Local government knowledge hub – much more interesting than it sounds

Yesterday I went along to a meeting that, on the face of it, was about how UK local government and public agencies might share knowledge in future. Limited interest? No, because it generated a discussion touching on how far all citizens might have access to much “official” information; the impact this could have on local democracy and traditional participation; and the role of social reporters in telling (helpful) stories across sectors.

The event was a meeting of the IDeA Knowledge Hub Advisory Group – a project that I’ve written about before with enthusiasm – led by Ingrid Koehler and Steve Dale

I shot some video, and last night the traditional reporter in me thought: get blogging, get your video up there. Then the social reporter took over, and when I saw Ingrid tweet that she was just finishing a blog post, I tweeted back the link to my video in YouTube, which Ingrid then embedded in her post with fulsome tribute. Ta!

Carl Haggerty made some really interesting contributions  to the discussion, so I was hopeful he would blog about it, and he has. Steve Dale has said he will follow up later.

So I’m holding back a bit, in the hope that Dave Briggs may add to his earlier thoughts and Carrie Bishop will expand at Futuregov. I’m thinking: mainstream reporter – be first, be exclusive. Social reporter – be a thoughtful second or third, and distributed.

Meanwhile the links above will get you to the slides Ingrid and Steve presented, my video, and some really helpful perspectives on the event. Find more through Friendfeed.  I’ll be thinking through some expanded/additional storylines to post about a bit later, including:

  • If the knowledge hub is – as discussed – partly open to the public, using conversational, story-telling social media, how far will local government officers be comfortable in that environment?
  • Will the hub conversations be mined by journalists looking for negative stories … thereby making it riskier for council staff to contribute? But if there’s nothing about what doesn’t work, how useful will it be?
  • Could councillors play a bigger part, being prepared to take the heat of any dissent/bad news, and use the hub to engage more fully with local and national interests?
  • What could all this do to help fertilise the local digital garden (or knowledge ecosystem to give it a proper description) that I wrote about here?
  • Does this provide lots of job opportunities for social reporters, as I first envisaged here? (Certainly hope so:-)

Ingrid and, I hope, Steve and Dave, are coming to our local communities workshop on Monday, and that should give us a chance to follow these and other lines of enquiry.

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.