The 2.0 club, future of local government and white board paper!

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On Tuesday I attended a meeting with colleagues at the Met Office and Gov 2.0 radio crew (John Wells and Allison Hornery).

It was a great opportunity to meet John and Allison face to face for the first time as well as have some interesting conversations and discussion. I really enjoyed listening to them and they reminded me of some simple truths as well as enlightening me with some insights.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Michael Saunby from the Met Office (a real geek as well, in a good way) – he was knowledgable, passionate and his enthusiasm was infectious. His attitude inspired me to be that bit more bold, bit more persistent and to continue nudging people across the council.

So what did I take from the session, well more than I expected really, so I’m going to take each thing in turn.

The power of story telling

Now working in communications you’d think story telling was something we did all the time, well I don’t think we tell stories in the way they need to be told in order to really create some social impact…in some cases we do, but on the whole we report council news, release political updates, report policy or issue statements. We are changing this and I’m almost being unfair on what my colleagues do, but I hope that this post will explain why I’m saying this.

Local government is considered the most efficient part of the public sector, it may not feel that way to some working in it, but Its approach to overheads, shared services, senior salaries and procurement put central government’s approach to shame.

It’s also considered the most trusted part of government. It is the most obvious place where genuine and meaningful democratic discussion and debate with citizens and users about how the wider public service offer can best be delivered. But this is in the context of severe budget pressures, modelled up to 2018/2019 where the sector is pretty much going to be in a position to only fund social care!!

One of the key challenges we have in addressing this future is by fundamentally rethinking how we deliver and ensure services are provided where they are needed.

This is where story telling comes in for me, the shift that will take place over he next few years will be radical, rapid and far-reaching and doesn’t just require a change in thinking about responsibilities and services from the public sector but also citizens, communities and individual people need to rethink their role in society. We need to find, share and tell the stories of our communities, of our services, of our people to influence a wider shift in society to even consider being able to address the future challenges.

When John was sharing his insights on story telling and gov2.0 in its broadest sense he reminded me of the 3 components of social impact driven out of the book “the tipping point” by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.) John pointed out that you need:

  • knowledge (mavens)
  • story tellers (salesmen)
  • networkers (connectors)

Without these three components (and the book cites many examples of this) effective large-scale social impact isn’t really achievable.

We need to decide what role we play in any given situation, sometimes we will be more than one, but my view is that as a sector we certainly can’t be all three. So we need to ensure that we connect with the right networks, understand where the local knowledge hubs in communities are and who the local story tellers are…So coming back to my comment about whether I’m being unfair on my colleagues, I know that they understand this wider context and challenge and we are changing the way we work so we can start to contribute to telling these stories. So it isn’t unfair, more of a healthy reminder to us all.

We underestimate the role of citizens and education in shaping the future of public services

I’m not one for staying focused on the doom and gloom of the future – where some may see a dire situation, I see opportunity.
I hear lots from people across the public sector referring to engaging with citizens, co-designing services and all of the other collaborative methods – but we don’t hear much about citizens designing services with themselves at the core of the delivery – I know there are many examples but the overall focus still seems to put local government and other public sector organisations in a default position as service provider – but with a new redesigned view of it.

Looking ahead however that simply isn’t going to cut it, local government can’t be considered the default service provider – citizens, communities and individuals will need to think long and hard about the real needs they have and how these can be met. Even commissioning isn’t going to go far enough in my view…the future will be very, VERY different.

The reason I also refer to education (schools) is that as a father of two young children, I started to think about what opportunities there were in education to create and foster a new level of social awareness and responsibility – I mean beyond the basic citizenship stuff you hear about – I mean developing core competences such as resilience, responsiveness, creativity and social entrepreneurial skills. I also have to think long and hard about my role as a parent and what behaviours I model. As Spiderman said “with great power comes great responsibility” :).

About 12 years ago I used to work as a sustainable development project officer and the majority of what people were saying then is what we should already be doing (the difference now is technology really isn’t a barrier any more), I just hope that as a society we actually make the right choices over the coming years and look at our own impact not just in environment terms but what impact we have in and on our communities.

A lick of paint simply isn’t enough

So two things have happened recently that have really confirmed this view in my eyes.

1) We recently put some white board paper up in the office as we weren’t allowed a white board…that single act of creating a visually creative space changed the way I viewed our space at work and has already reaped benefits which simply weren’t there before…there is something about having space to draw, doodle, share ideas and sometimes technology isn’t the answer as there are lots of online tools that could have done this for us.

2) During my trip to the met office we got to visit the Think Space room which basically was a boring meeting room refurbished into a truly creative space, comfy chairs, white boards, flip charts, mini pool table…the kind of place that invite and stimulate conversation, which it did, we only went to view, but spent nearly an hour having a reflective conversation as well as a really good discussion about innovation and change.
My point here is that we need to do more than simply paint an office – we need to also create the right environment to allow people to be creative, innovative and think differently. This is a challenge when the current thinking is we need to get as many people into our offices as possible to help us reduce the amount of properties we operate from, therefore saving money!!

As a school governor of a primary school I’ve been lucky enough to experience a school where each class has a role play area, not just the young kids (key stage 1) but throughout the whole school. The benefit of this is that children learn best through play, acting out experiences and making sense of the world around them. It truly is a wonderful thing to see and to hear about.

My point is that the physical environment is a key part of this and we shouldn’t underestimate the role this has in enabling people to discover and imagine a new future.

This also goes for our community spaces, not just the offices we work in…I sometimes wonder whether we have lost our natural desire to be explorers, innovators and community driven people. But maybe people simply feel disconnected to those things by the sterile nature of our streets, towns, villages and office spaces.

In a previous post I referred to a video of John Tolver (CTO of the City of Chicago) and the difference in his role where he takes a truly enterprise wide view of technology…it goes beyond his organisational barriers and into the wider community. His role and the people who created it, realise that fostering a new society as well as transforming the council go hand in hand.

 

#UKGC12 – Content Strategy WTF!

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A long overdue post…and I suspect it won’t add a great deal to this excellent summary by Sarah Lay, who co-hosted the session with me but I’ll share my perspective nonetheless.

The whole idea of the session came about because of Sarah and myself chatting and constructively challenging each other over what is and isn’t content strategy in local government.

We sort of agreed that it was an emerging area but most (we believed) was already happening in other councils. Some explicit in their approach (Liverpool) and other less so…so may not have even written any of this stuff down before…

So the Friday session was all about (from my point of view) asking and proposing what people thought Content Strategy was all about and why it was very different to traditional web strategies…

My thoughts on the session itself were that it felt like being the odd one out for a large part of the session…explaining that the previous 10 years of eGovernment had basically caused us to think in the wrong way about our websites and that in large parts Better Connected hasn’t really forced us to think differently either…I’m not going to get into a debate here about the merits or not of eGovernment or Better Connected…they served and still serve a purpose…

I captured some additional thoughts about content strategy on a previous post here, but include the specific comments about content strategy below:

Content strategy is a game changer – changing the thinking built up over the las 10 years since the start of the egovernment agenda – this triggered the anti-user approach in developing websites in my humble opinion…it essentially turned sites that were aimed at users into mediocre corporately assimilated content waste lands…lacking in any meaning as to how to build and manager a community and help move aspects of communications and service interaction into more efficient channels…but that is the past…we can learn from it, but we must first recognise the mistakes we made…not everyone made them but most did…this is all just my opinion of course but localgov as a community needs to think about how it develops its online and digital offering better – perhaps in a similar reboot approach taken by the GDS…it does not matter what you call it…but it does need to think about some key principles, for example one might be.. getting content to people and not people to websites…this then provides the drivers for your content in social spaces as opposed to having a specific focus on social media….this does not mean you shouldn’t develop specific channel standards, in fact this reinforces the need for standards within channels…but based on managing your content flow in it and how you might monitor or measure it.

Moving on….

The more we spoke the more I guess we sounded a bit like a local council version of the government digital service…and this was reinforced when hearing Mike Bracken and his presentation on the Government Digital Service which directly followed our session in the main auditorium…much of what he said was resonating with me and whether or not others thought the same but for me at least i actually felt like i shared the ambitions of central government when it comes to web…this is the first time since i started in local gov web back in 2003…so a major break through in my opinion.

The big challenge is accepting that we can’t all create the same content strategy, but we accepted that we could all contribute to some form of framework or an understanding as to what the core components are….An idea for a saturday “doing session”…

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Taken by iamadonut at UKGC12

The saturday session for me was not exactly what I had hoped for…this was mainly down to the fact that I had naively assumed that the people who were engaged and committed to helping on friday were in fact not there on the saturday…But that didn’t mean the session didn’t prove valuable nonetheless.

Ok, so we didn’t create a framework, we didn’t get to a comprehensive list of components…but what we did get to was as Sarah refers to her summary was that we should create a “Content Strategy Community”.

So yes, we are planning on pulling together a space for a community to come together…we are currently looking at a set of tools and how these might fit together to best suit the needs of a community as well as more formal and sustainable place for it to be hosted.

If you are in local government and work in and around digital content (web managers very much included here) then please leave a comment below or on sarah’s blog or just DM your contact details via twitter to either of us and we’d love for you to get involved…

Strategic Commissioning and Enterprise Architecture

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I suspect like many other local authorities in this financial climate, there will be a great deal more talk about commissioning services and the role of Strategic Commissioning in enabling councils to reduce costs but also ensure the needs of the communities we serve are  still being met.

So like any other curious person I started to read about Strategic Commissioning and how it differs from procurement and traditional purchasing. A colleague of mine sent me a link to a slideshare presentation which i found very useful in helping me understand the difference. Some slides are hard to read but the diagrams are what really helped me.

I also did what most people would do, I conducted a few google searches around “What is Strategic Commissioning” and this is where I found that it started to get really interesting, especially because some aspects of what Strategic Commissioning does is what Enterprise Architects do, well at least in the broad definition anyway. I am in no way saying that they are the same thing, but I’m sure both disciplines could benefit from understanding the methodologies of the other.

The results of my google search gave me the following:

Strategic Commissioning is the activity that ensures the vision and strategic objectives of the organisation are aligned and assessed against customer needs for the short and long-term.
It is the process of translating local people’s aspirations and needs through specifying and procuring services that deliver the best possible outcomes and makes best use of available resources.

Strategic Commissioning is a continuous cycle of:

  • Analysing the need for change through joint strategic needs assessments;
  • Planning the change;
  • Enabling and acting on the change;
  • Ongoing review of progress against required outcomes.

It is also worth acknowledging that Strategic Commissioning skills will be critical when trying to understand how the Big Society will work in your local area.

I know there are many, many local definitions of Enterprise Architecture and they are just as much organisational and context specific, but I suspect most people could agree that the above is pretty similar in strategic terms.

To illustrate my point I include a definition for Enterprise Architecture as defined in my Job Description here at the Council.

Translate business vision and strategy into effective change within the Council and its partners. To do this the Architect will need to understand the people, processes, information and technology of the Council, and their relationships to one another and to the external environment

Now one of the key fundamental differences that currently exists between the two roles is that Enterprise Architecture is still see very much as a discipline within IT.

Enterprise Business Architecture roles would in my view get more involved in shaping the strategic commissioning side of things, but in some ways why is this still seen as a separate function from Enterprise Architecture? Surely you can’t get any more strategic than “Enterprise”? Or maybe I have completely misunderstood the whole thing?

Methodologies that Enterprise Architects employ could well add a huge amount of value in the strategic commissioning field  – I don’t know enough to say whether or not they use these similar methodologies or not.

One good example of this would be Capability Modelling

Gartner analyst Mark McDonald posted on the Gartner blog: Capability is more powerful than Process and gives a nice explanation of capability thinking which i feel provides an example of how we in the public sector could think about and apply Business Capability Modelling to support Strategic Commissioning.

iTunes illustrates capability thinking.  First off, iTunes is build from a collection or resources: the Internet, digital rights management software, the store, the delivery vehicle (iPod) and a set of relationships with artists and record companies.  Sure there is a process in there, but the process of how you sell digital media is not the focus, the outcome is the focus that lead to assembling a range of resources – most of which Apple did not own or exclusively control.

Process advocates and devotees will say that I am mincing my words, but look at the relative value of the physical supply chain the music industry invested so much in and the business value flowing through the alternative capability.  There is an advantage in thinking broader and beyond processes.

The good news is that process thinking is an integral part of thinking about capabilities.  It is just that capability thinking opens the door to new combinations required to create outcomes, rather than to support process steps.

The interesting connection for me is that in the above scenario we could see ourselves as “Apple” as we require the capability of other stakeholders to drive forward a strategic set of outcomes that come from our Community Strategy. We have the Community Leadership Role, the question is are we really prepared to use it in this way to deliver the right outcomes for people.

What we need to understand better first is what capabilities we have and those of our Partners and stakeholders. We also need to truly understand what outcomes we are trying to deliver and the value they create.

Another aspect to this would be to ensure that we could explore what it would mean to model the capability of our communities and the civil sector in support of the Big Society.

All of this requires much more thought and I’d welcome feedback and thoughts from anyone on this.

What all of this make me think about is that the synergy points to the kind of skills and disciplines that CIO’s will need to become part of the strategic leadership of organisations and especially in Local and Central Government.

Location Based Social Networks

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I was asked earlier this month by a colleague “what do you think will be big in 2010?” An obvious question for the beginning of January really and one which I don’t normally have many views on but this time I did, I replied quickly with:

“Location Based Social Networks will be big in 2010″

I think the reason I thought this was not based in science or crystal ball gazing. I think I was slightly influenced by the fact that iPhone is now available on other networks and will increase its user base. Now I’m not saying that iPhone drives location-based networks but i suspect that a large proportion of users (not based on any stats) are using a location-based social network of some kind. Perhaps not the best method to form an opinion but on reflection i started to think that they may actually be big in 2010.

I saw this interesting post on location-based social networking platforms, in particular foursquare in Harvard University.

The service, which is accessible from smartphones and other mobile devices, enables students and visitors to explore the campus and surrounding neighborhoods while sharing information about their favorite places……

……..We believe that Harvard’s participation will allow our community to engage with friends, professors, and colleagues in new ways. We also hope visitors and neighbors will benefit from the platform as it grows through use.

via Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness after the Digital Explosion.

Essentially the opportunity for a University is huge as it could help new students settle in and understand their surrounding quicker if they connect on the network.

Now when i mean by  “big in 2010″, i don’t mean that we there will be a revolution of location-based social networks but more that people we start to see the potential in them and will start to engage with them more often.

It did get me thinking about the possible applications and benefits:

  • Moving House – the networks could give an easier way to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings, perhaps where local libraries are, local schools etc.
  • Mobile and flexible working – if we started identifying “wifi hotspots” more proactively, then people would be able to connect offline in local “hubs”. Perhaps as councils we “think we know” the best places for people to work but it might be that they prefer sitting in a café connecting to the network.
  • Mobile Libraries – this i thought could be something that could be interesting for libraries to explore as way of connecting with people locally, it might also allow for a more flexible approach to “stops”.
  • Emergencies – we could start to create and tag “emergency centres” so should people need to find one they could use their network and the GPS to easily find the centre.

I have only started playing with location-based social networks, one of the challenges i have is that you benefit more when you get out more and this i felt was a key difference in these networks as they encourage real life social interaction more than some of the traditional social networks. I feel more inclined to respond to people who say “social networks are causing people to stay in their homes and disconnect from their community” – Well location-based networks have the potential to really tackle that view-point.

Like most networks however they always work better when more people are in them. That is something i believe will happen during this year and we will start to see people blogging about their “positive experiences” with them in ways which signal that a critical mass has now been met.

I look forward to this year and hopefully get to connect to more of you face to face.

Building the “Local” website, not a council website

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I have been thinking about council websites, specifically around the issues of – whether we need them, what management of them should look like, how we structure them, and which audiences we are really trying to serve. Some of this was prompted by an excellent post by Sarah Lay from Derbyshire on “Do Councils need websites” and some by various conversations that have been happening recently and building on from a previous post of mine about social media points the way for corporate website development.

I started to wonder what council websites would look like and how they would have evolved, if we didn’t have the drive from eGovernment, to make all of our services (including information) 100% e-enabled.  I’m sure some would have developed into real community based websites and portals with a good blend of transactional service and online community. My key point here is, without any external pressure, would councils have taken a more community based approach to their websites instead of being forced to deliver services online that offered no value initially.

The Better Connected Review by SocITM has helped drive forward the development of sites in a consistent way, identifying good practice and leading councils, but i’m wondering whether the focus has been too much on “Council Service” and not enough on “Community Service”.

I think it might be good if i try and explain what i perceive to be the simple differences between “Council” and “Community” in a website context. I’m sure this is pretty obvious but i think it needs saying.

Council: A politically driven site, with information about all of the councils services and access to online transactions.

Community: an issue led, community driven site, with information about the local area, to share issues and to build community relationships.

Ok, they are crude and i’m sure most will agree that some councils websites are attempting to do both. But should they? and if so does it work under a “.gov.uk” domain?

My view is that we seem to be operating from a perspective that says “council websites must have a strong presence online in our local area”. I think this view is fundamentally flawed.

I live in a community, and my local councils (City and County) are only a part of that community – it includes other public sector bodies (Police, Fire, Health etc), other residents, other professionals, trades people, shop owners and all the other wonderful people who make up communities.

In a community site, local participation and dialogue makes more sense then it does on a council site. To be honest, who goes to the council offices for a casual meeting with their friends and starts talking about “stuff” that bothers them in their community. I don’t and i don’t know anyone who does, but i do know many people who converse in places they feel comfortable, community places, cafe’s, pubs, outside schools, in the street, online in social networks – everywhere except the council offices.

So starting from that viewpoint, a “local website” would need to include all of those factors and considering the pressures on Public Sector Budgets, why are Public Sector Web Professionals battling to do all of it and in most cases failing to deliver any of it. I’m certainly not undermining my web professional peers as i was Web Manager for 6 years and it was a bloody hard job and i never got the site how i would have wanted to see it for the people of Devon. This was due to the conflicting pressures of what people wanted, or we found out they wanted through surveys and consultations and what the council wanted to do in terms of political PR, communications and reputation management. I can see both sides and both are legitimate and in fact, it is sometimes possible to balance both views, but not all of the time.

Shouldn’t we take the same approach as we do in the “real” world and position our information and services as part of the community and not expect people (and i include myself here) to have to visit a local council website to access information or perform a transaction. I include another reference to a previous post about mashing up council websites altogether “social media points the way for corporate website development“. After all aren’t councils and public sector bodies just as much part of the community as everyone else?

Maybe, and i can’t really believe i am saying this but it tends to make more sense to me (if you disagree please tell me as i feel i’ve gone to the dark side with this one) why don’t we develop and support more than one site. I’ll explain how i would see this working and why i think it will be where we have to go but i’m also happy to be challenged. So i’ll start with a straw man and share my thinking.

The following breakdown does not assume that these are all physically separated in terms of content. They could all be hosted centrally, to enable data reuse etc.  However with search engines supporting and moving toward more of a federated approach and a search integration platform, as in linking information across systems, it doesn’t assume they are all in the same system either.

  1. Public Sector site : this would acknowledge that people are citizens and therefore need opportunities to participate, feedback and be part of service design and development across all public sector organisations. This would essentially be a “total place” view and would probably link to most Local Strategic Partnerships etc and provide information on the priorities, performance, meetings, minutes, webcasts etc.
  2. Community Site: this would provide all of the community information right down to the hyper local context. It would also include the transactions of all the public sector bodies so that people could access information and services as part of their normal routine and conversations. This element would also provide the links and integration with either public social networks such as twitter and Facebook as well as hosted community networks.

The challenge with the above is “who starts it all off”? Well some areas already have very well-developed community sites, and we ought to engage with those sites much more, very much like the approach people talk about with Social Media, we need to reach out to already existing networks and contribute in those instead of building empty places where no one wants to come. That leaves the council site, this would mean radically reducing the “huge amounts of content” that exists within the “.gov.uk” domain and pushing most of it into community sites either through mash-ups, RSS or other means. That way we could work with communities to take over the ownership of local content and Public Sector Web Professionals could focus on just the content that needs to be their from a public sector point of view.

I appreciate this is all very much “a dream” but i’m convinced that over the coming years the pervasive nature of social media, alongside the need to reduce costs, will mean that we will inevitably need to refocus what councils websites offer and why they are there and how we can ensure that what we do provide online is used and embraced by the local community.

So what does this mean for website management? – well in my opinion, we have an opportunity to bring together the expertise within a local area and provide a “shared” service or a “combined” service for public sector organisations. It will mean that we need to think more about aligning across organisations, focusing more on the actual communities we serve. Some councils are starting to do this internally around shared internal services such as HR, Finance etc. So we are already in the arena of shared intranets across multiple organisations – this is simply the next logical step.

This also gives greater emphasis in my opinion on the need to create and support the development of Public Sector Web Professionals across the board –  development, learning, competencies, networking etc.

All of the above will require strong leadership from across the public sector as well as third sector partners, if we want to deliver excellent opportunities,  services and information locally.  Directgov has shown that consolidation across a sector is possible (albeit painful) but it does deliver a better interface into Central Government. So there is hope.