Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction

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Back in December the LGiU published an interesting document looking at how local government might look in 2043 to coincide with their 30 year anniversary titled “The Future Town Hall“. It is full of very interesting predictions, hopes and aspirations for the future and I’d recommend reading it.

I thought I would write my very own prediction here as a virtual contributor to the publication.

In 2043 I’ll be 67 and most likely still working, probably still sharing random nonsense and I’ll probably have some kind of internet connection built into my body or at least on my body, integrated into my clothing providing me with up to the second information about my health, wellbeing, finances, activity, my appointments, work, and my friends and family’s activities.

My kids already grow impatient when the playstation, Wii, or laptop shows a “loading” sign…the ever increasing expectations, always on, multi-device, multi-connected world we already inhabit is likely to change the way we live, work and see ourselves to such a point that we will have to revisit what it means to receive and fund local services

If the demands and expectations of my kids are anything to go by, then these predictions are not far fetched or even radical enough to meet the potential demands in the future, when I was a kid I grew up waiting over 90 minutes for manic miner to load on a ZX spectrum and was in awe of the 8bit world even though it didn’t always load or work – As a citizen of 2014 I simply want something that works and is reliable…in 2043 I will demand more (rightly or wrongly), I’ll want something very personalised, very responsive and always on…I will want to decide when I switch off and most of all I will want ownership of my data.

I say this because all these things will have a profound impact on local services and local governance as the one thing I will say is that if local government is to have a future it needs to stay connected with local people and local places to stay relevant, even if this means reinventing itself.

First and foremost I see the purpose of local government being about one thing and one thing only. The Health and Wellbeing of people in its communities. Everything else is secondary and an added value.

I’m going to consider the future in relation to the following three areas of local government as I see it.
1) local government (local services and commissioning)
2) local authority (planning and strategic influence)
3) local council (accountability and decision making)

1) When it comes to local government and local public services, the data that I’m collecting will be mine and available only to those I choose. I will give permission to local providers of services to access relevant data sets to help me make informed choices around the services to ensure I stay active, healthy and in work. I will see the service providers as partners, enabling and supporting me and my family.

2) In relation to strategic influence and planning in the local area I live and the communities of interest I participate and belong to. The local authority will have a key role in ensuring that key infrastructure projects are pushed forward, that the area I live is championed on a National, European and Global scale, however I don’t see the same structures existing, I suspect and hope that this will be a mix of hyper local and sub regional activity as local places redefine their strengths and explore the global potential of the social capital that exists to support health and Wellbeing.

3) From a local council and a democratic perspective the ever connected citizen will demand more and more openness and transparency and will want more of a say on a range of issues. This would likely be facilitated through some kind of online micro participation / engagement platform where I connect my identity and choose to associate a range of personas and identities to allow me to vote, contribute or debate Local, National, European or International issues.

Half Baked Idea – Citizen Data Transfer Protocol – cdtp://carlhaggerty

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I make no apologies but this post is most certainly one of those half-baked ideas :)

For a while now I’ve been thinking about what civic architecture means, what it might look like, how it might be built and who might actually do that as well as why would we actually require something else.

Below are a few of the posts and thinking which has led me to where I am now

Martin Howitt’s Overview of the Localgov platform

Catherine Howe’s two posts on Civic Architecture

A post i wrote whilst working at Public-i called Playing games with local participation

A couple of my previous posts on this blog

So let me begin by saying that I personally believe that the internet itself is the platform for the digital civic architecture and that pretty much all of the components that are required are already there, but perhaps just not distributed evenly.

So for me after a conversation with Martin over lunch on Monday, I finally found a bit of clarity and realised that in order for a civic architecture to manifest, it needs a protocol to ensure that appropriate data and content related to civic conversations, decisions, people etc is able to be transferred across the internet.

Some people may well argue that this happens already but I’d like to suggest that what we need to create is a Citizen Data Transfer Protocol (CDTP)which facilitates the civic content and maintains key components along the way including identify.

In the same way that “http” facilitates the internet – see definition from wikipedia:

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web.

Hypertext is a multi-linear set of objects, building a network by using logical links (the so-called hyperlinks) between the nodes (e.g. text or words). HTTP is the protocol to exchange or transfer hypertext.

I’d go as far to suggest that the CDTP would be a protocol for distributed, collaborative, hyperlocal people, networks and communities. This has the potential to be the foundation worldwide civic architecture, which builds upon the internet.

This clearly requires a lot more thinking and development, especially the data model that would sit behind it.  Also the request methods would need to be defined, however this requires a wider conversation about how we would want a civic society to operate and therefore which methods would be included (to give an example using http the methods include get, post, put, delete etc).

It is also likely that a mark-up language might need to be adapted in order to ensure specific civic data or content is presented consistently. We might require a CDPL (Citizen Data Presentation Language), but this isn’t really in my thinking right now.

Another key element is how the CDTP would interact, connect and integrate with standard http sites and content. My thinking at this point in time is that it would use thinking and standards around linked data to help create and facilitate the environment.

So what would it actually do?

You may have noticed in the title that I included an address cdtp://carlhaggerty – my thinking here is that this address is my civic persona and identity.

This address allows me to create a civic presence away from my general social presence which is often confusing and pretty much about general stuff, my family and sometimes utter nonsense. It most certainly isn’t a civic persona.

What I imagine is this containing a living history of my civic involvement, contributions and actions. Coupled with some kind of gamification  layer that shows and displays my civic actions and persona within my neighbourhood, community, town/village, city, county and beyond. As well as my communities or networks of interest.

For me a key element to any civic architecture is that it isn’t a social network itself but is a platform that connect people – for some time I struggled to see how this could have been achieved but for me the CDTP allows this to happen and it can be open to everyone.

Like all my half-baked ideas, this is about as far I have come with my thinking right now, although it has certainly provided some much-needed focus to my future thinking.

Exploring the Citizenscape

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Earlier this week Public-i launched a new brand and a lovely new design for their product suite . I’m not going to get into the details of relaunch as Catherine has already provided a post on that.

In my role at Public-i I’m focused on the product Citizenscape, It has got a bit of a facelift, which I personally feel brings it to a stage where the design will start to match the capability it provides. If you aren’t aware of what Citizenscape is or does the product webpage states:

We see Citizenscape as a new way to work with your users, citizens or stakeholders – harnessing the power of the social web. In the world of the social web, where everyone has the means to publish themselves, the days when you could build a website and expect people to visit and to use it are gone. Instead, Citizenscape is a dynamic online engagement platform that enables you to connect with your citizens, stakeholders and partners in a way that supports the work you are already doing together and is in keeping with the way they are already communicating. With Citizenscape you can build shared civic spaces and networks that support, encourage and enable the people you want to connect with to find new ways of collaborating and co-creating.

Now what I think is hard to get across is the actual power this product has in connecting people and networks…The technology underneath is actually really clever but it isn’t really that which creates the value. Obviously it is valuable and does what is required at the moment but let me explain what I mean a bit further.

I read with great interest this blog post from TEDGlobal 12 about Rachel Botsman where it talks about trust in strangers and reputation and provides examples of websites and platforms which facilitate connection between people and also help validate aspects of that trust through sharing others experiences. The examples referenced in the post are TaskRabbit and Airbnb, which are good examples of how trust develops and can be fostered. Rachel says:

The amazing thing, is how fast our ability to trust online has evolved. But with her optimism, there is a note of caution about how this will work in practice: “How do we mimic the way trust is built face-to-face online?

When I think about Citizenscape as a platform, it is aiming to address the heart of these issues, in the projects where it is used, it is really about fostering empowerment within communities and networks online and offline. Rachel also refers to empowerment as a key outcome of platforms like TaskRabbit and Airbnb - I’d almost go as far to say that her description of them matches my view of  Citizenscape, she says:

At its core, it’s about empowerment. Empowering people to make meaningful connections, connections that are enabling us to rediscover a humanness we’ve lost along the way.

So when you consider this and then what Citizenscape states its value is, the value isn’t directly in the technology itself (although without it, it would be pretty empty) but in the connections, the networks, the communities that are now able to come together and share learning, to reconnect at a civic level to address local issues and problems. The key role for the platform (Citizenscape) is to facilitate those connections, without it those networks may not get the chance to reconnect.

When I look back and reflect on how I thought this role would develop, how I thought the product would develop and find its place, how it would differentiate itself from the free social media monitor tools out there. This is what I said back in February:

The CitizenScape pages  state a set of assumptions which I feel are a good starting point to focus my thinking around the product – are these assumptions still correct for example.

“The assumptions behind Citizenscape are simple:

Council’s should not be building social networking sites themselves – there is already a lot of activity online. Local Authorities need to connect to that rather than starting from scratch

You need tools that reach out and exist on the sites that people are already visiting – not waste your time trying to get them to visit you

The social web encourages co-creation and participation – this makes it the right place to start to engage people in democratic debate”

…On the whole they are still valid..but how does this actually translate into real life…

It is important for me to state up front that the product doesn’t quite work yet, I mean it does work technically, but in terms of the real opportunities I think it has some way to go.

The current version does make me think whether or not I could achieve perhaps 70-80% of the output within some free products like pageflakes or netvibes…that isn’t to say the existing product is poorly made or developed because it isn’t but the challenge is trying to build or create something that is actually still hard to articulate and explain even with the assumptions listed above.

Now whilst the redesign provides opportunities to simply make it look more engaging and to ensure that the responsive design allows it to be delivered across multiple devices. It has now come to a point where the value is easier to understand and communicate. The challenge is no longer about “what the product is” but do public services understand and recognise the value of providing spaces, opportunities and platforms for networks to come together and reconnect online and offline.

My take on this is that some are and some already do in various ways but the future of public services pretty much requires it. It will be at the core of the re-imagining and re-designing of public services. It won’t be an easy journey for many people as the budgetary situation in local government will only get worse and the past few years don’t even represent the real reductions in budgets across local government…so the only option has to be to open up to a more co-operative and collaborative future with networks and networks of networks being at the core and heart of local change.

The Big Society isn’t really for everyone

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It’s true the Government does understand the principles of social media and the principles of reuse as Big Society is relaunched yesterday (was the the 3rd time, i personally lost interest and count during the election).

Anyway yesterday the twitterverse was awash with a variety of views on what is and what isn’t Big Society and how risky it could be and whether capacity exists in communities to do what essentially paid employees do now – but for free. Also without any money how will this actually happen, which services, how it will turn government on its head and transform society and bring us all together like one happy family…it really was a fascinating discussion you can check it all out here.

I have thought about this quite a bit since i first heard about Big Society, well actually since i started thinking about digital participation and engagement (to be honest i can’t even remember when now, but it was definitely before yesterday!!) and have wondered how inclusive it really is and who actually will be part of this Big Society.

It is worth saying that i think the concept of the Big Society is a good one, it is afterall already happening in many parts of the country right now. It will be a difficult challenge, but i fear unless we really appreciate the impacts, effort and commitment required we will end up creating poor quality replacements that could put people’s lives at risk. We need to be clear about the risks and mitigate and manage these.

People do this all of the time, but these people are few and far between, the following comments are generally concerned with a wider adoption by society of this and my at time somewhat cynical view. BUT i am trying to be optimistic about this, after all it will happen – we need to shape how good is actually is.

I did like reading Shane McCracken’s post about how he saw the Big Society developing and emerging (even though it isn’t a new idea – just new branding – Shane points to an asset transfer scheme which is almost identical)

One thing that did occur to me though after reading Shane’s post and it joined the dots in my head about this also is that the Big Society isn’t really for everyone.

The Big Society will *really* test people and communities and their tolerances around the quality and variety of services available to them. As Shane points out in his post the Big Society is already here and is well established across communities up and down the country – what the government wants to more of it so that the impact of cutting or stopping services is reduced by the willingness of active and committed people.

I spot Flaw number 1 – Active and Committed people….Hmmm, well when i look around my community now i do see active and committed people, some are only temporarily active and are based on issues but on the whole there is a good few people – notice the use of *few*.

I was also thinking about what type of services people – the active and committed kind – might be tempted to run – well this to me seems like and endless possibility really as there are already groups that exist that manage quite complex services and are accountable (this is a key aspect which we must not lose sight of) an example being School Governors. They really do an excellent job and it isn’t something you would do because you felt like it, you would need to be passionate about the school and the education of the children in it. You would be a committed and active person. This is why not everybody becomes a school governor nor actually wants to – for some it just sounds like *a bit too much like hard work* and for what return? Flaw number 2 – Motivation.

However society isn’t made up of active and committed people – i very much see these people like i see the high value contributors in social media spaces. They generate most of the content and develop the conversations for others to engage in and consume – The sad truth is that the majority of society are in fact *lurkers* and they are happy to consume and participate in a low-cost way – providing it doesn’t take up too much time.  Here comes Flaw Number 3 – *Time* – Now i agree with Shane in that those people who are passionate will find the time, but i suspect that these people are *already busy* and more than likely using all of their available *participation bandwidth* supporting services which the government has already decided not to support or simply wouldn’t exist without their input.

One of the  biggest challenges to Big Society for me is not identifying which services a community might decide is too important to lose but how the community itself – the people in the communities who are already active and committed – can tap into and access the people on the edges, the people with *participation bandwidth* and provide the sustainable connections to maintain the service.

In my post the World of GovCraft it refers to  “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

There are clearly lessons in there about how we can all tackle the issues facing us and how those active and committed people can support a new kind of active citizen, one who has being doing epic problem solving and giving huge amounts of time willingly for the sake of a wider community.

Perhaps the challenge is about defining community and associating stuff to it for people so they see value in helping to keep it alive.

I think i’ll need to blog again on this at some point as there is of course the models by which communities and groups can organise themselves to manage and provide services, which will provide better opportunities to bring communities together – Social Enterprise anyone!!

The Future of Local Government…

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I have been thinking a lot recently about the future of local government not just because I work in local government but because I am really interested in how we (all local government people) are going to tackle the pressures and financial constraints put upon us. In some ways I am relishing the challenges ahead as it will only lead to radical thought and eventually transformation across the sector.

Earlier this week I met up with Steve Dale and Hadley Beeman for a couple of drinks as I was in London for a Knowledge Hub meeting. In the conversation I referred to a model that I had been thinking about which was that the Future of Local Government is purely a conceptual layer of Government.

So let me try to explain this in a bit more detail and why I think we are already moving towards this future.

The Drivers

Huge pressures on Local Government to join up, deliver shared services and this isn’t just neighbouring councils, we are really pushing towards regional shared service providers as well as joining up with 3rd sector agencies to provide and deliver public services.

The cloud is having an impact on ICT services in councils – it is clear that the level of transformation required will require additional investment in ICT but it is unlikely that a single council could justify the spend on its own, so would need to look at a shared arrangement for cloud services or even a public sector cloud – The Government Cloud is obviously driving people’s thinking here and will have a huge impact.

Financial pressure will make councils seriously consider what services they can afford and see as priorities for their specific local areas – Total Place will drive an approach which will inevitably bring 3rd sector and communities themselves to the table as service providers in some instances.

Central Government’s success with Directgov could be seen as a model for local government to drive out efficiencies and cost savings for local government transactional services – either through an enhanced LocalDirectgov portal or directly offered through Directgov.

The drive for open data will allow a greater level of local innovation by social innovators and entrepreneurs and in some instances delivering council services directly and in a more usable and useful way (FixMyStreet etc).

A greater push for more local involvement in decision-making and greater transparency to enable citizens to provide scrutiny and shape services directly.

The  Impact

In my view what all of the above essentially does and could lead to will be the complete breaking down of local government as individual organisations unconnected, uncoordinated and duplicating functions.

So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking)  -  I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.

To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion  would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.

I could of course be wrong about this :o)

Read The Future of Local Government Part 2  – Social Enterprise Council here.