When people say “be more like the private sector”, I want to cry

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A relatively short post for me…. :)

I’ve been having a range of conversations lately and some if not most of them include an odd reference to the public sector budget deficit and how the public sector should be doing more things like the private sector.

Now I’ve tolerated those statements for a while because I know the people saying them don’t mean that we should be more like the private sector generally but expand on this and suggest very specific things such as a particular approach to something or how they invested in X and managed to get a great return on that investment.

However in a general sense, the public sector can’t be like the private sector whilst we still have a vast number of statutory duties to meet (over 1200), equality impact assessments to complete on service changes, effective consultation and engagement activities to conduct and of course managing all of this with a rapidly shrinking budget and with no billionaire investors waiting in the wings to bail us out with no hidden agenda other than maintaining the outcomes – unless you are a person who see’s outsourcing/commissioning as the being the same “bailing out”…for the record I don’t.

I’m not for a second suggesting that we can’t learn from other sectors, nor should we stop trying to reduce inefficiencies where they exist and transform services to deliver better outcomes. That is simply a no brainer now…So a plea – please stop making broad statements like “be more like the private sector” instead be very specific about what it is someone else is doing which you think the public sector can learn from. It would be far more helpful and constructive.

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.

DCC Social Media Forum 4 – #DCCSMF

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At the moment, It feels like organising events are something I’m involved in quite a bit, which isn’t a problem when the events are Open Space South West and now the DCC Social Media Forum 4, although this time, I’m getting one of my team Russell to help out and take more of a lead.

I announced the tickets a couple of weeks ago and it has almost sold out which is reassuring to know but also demonstrates the increasing desire from colleagues across the council and our partners to learn and share learning around social and digital technologies. If you work in the public sector in Devon and want to come along get in touch via the comments and I’ll pass the details on. I’ve started to collect names of people who want to be on a distribution list for these kinds of things.

The development of the social media forum has been interesting and is something that has already become a critical way of maintaining an overview on the projects which are going on across the council.

It is through this event you start to get into the details of the projects you previously only heard about at a high level and thought “that sounds like a good idea, wonder how that will work”.

The pace of social projects means that you never really have to wait a long time to learn from the outcomes and experiences from the people who were involved, although some benefits and outcomes won’t be seen for some time.

The event is on Friday 13th July (lucky for us) and I’ll blog about the day and share any presentations and insights afterwards.

The previous events summary and presentations can be found here

Public Sector Meet-Up – The story of the Public Sector, Social Reporting + Gov2Radio

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I was contacted by Allison Hornery from Gov20 radio recently which led to me giving a short overview of what Devon has been doing around thinking and doing digital – the result of which will be available shortly on the Gov20 radio website as a podcast.

However in conversation with Allison she mentioned that she is coming to the UK shortly and wondered whether anyone in Devon or the south west would be interested in an informal meet-up to chat about how we can tell the story of the Public Sector, social reporting and opportunities around Gov2Radio.

We also spoke about Open Space South West and how this will hopefully encourage greater conversation across the region, therefore it might be nice to see this meet-up as a small lead up event to the main Open Space Event in September…well maybe not :)

Allison is available week beginning 2nd July and we are suggesting a couple of hours say 3pm – 5pm in Exeter.

So – can you let me know whether you are interested in a meet-up to talk about the public sector narrative, social reporting and opportunities and lessons from gov2radio – which days are good for you by completing the poll below – I’ll be going with the most popular day.

Some more information about Gov 20 Radio as taken directly from the website…

For more than three years, Gov 2.0 Radio has been where thought leaders and decision-makers, practitioners and civic innovators have come to tune in to important trends.

Voices for proactive innovation and change

We’re emerging as not just a podcast but a place where people can learn to find their voice on “connected government” in all its forms… e-gov, gov 2.0, open gov and more… as well as on shaping positive change through innovation in the public sphere.

We aspire to challenge thinking that’s become too stale and – while we aren’t a solutions provider – to provide signposts to where sustainable solutions may lie.

Our vision is that by being an effective, useful and respected channel, we can play a small role in accelerating positive change where it’s most needed.

Tech enabling cultural shifts

It’s no news that connective tech is one of the most powerful enablers within every public jurisdiction – both within the community of government as well as between government and its publics.

But the technology is only an enabler and, for us, Gov 2.0 and open gov are important cultural shifts in the way we all – that’s all of us – do government.

The vision of sound

We aim to broaden the podcast distribution as widely and equitably as possible. Video is funky, but we like audio because it’s easier, cheaper and faster to capture and showcase candid, emerging practice. Audio is also low bandwidth and has a lower barrier to entry for many people. This is key to making more Gov 2.0 Radio content more accessible – not only in those agencies with limited net access but, importantly, to practitioners in emerging economies as well.

We’re about amplifying the voices of connected government & public innovation.

In 2012 and onwards, our goal for the rebooted
Gov 2.0 Radio is to help a much wider community inside and outside government to “find their voice” around their passions and concerns for connected government.


Should the Public Sector pay for Content Management Systems?

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About 3-4 years ago I used to think that the requirements of a Local Authority or Public Sector Agencies around content management system (CMS) were pretty complex and could only really be supported by purchasing one of the many high end products out there in the market.

I must stress at this point that i am referring to Content Management or Web Content Management – This is not a post about Enterprise Content Management (ECM) which is at a higher level and includes a wider range of functions and features including:

•    Document management for check-in/check-out, version control, security and library services for business documents.
•    Document imaging for capturing, transforming, storing and managing scanned images of paper documents.
•    Records management for long-term archiving, automation of retention and compliance policies, and ensuring legal, regulatory and industry compliance.
•    Workflow for supporting business processes, document review and approval, routing content, assigning work tasks and states, and creating audit trails.
•    Web content management for controlling the content of a Website by using  specific management tools based on a core repository. It includes content creation functions, templating, workflow and change management, and content deployment to web servers.
•    Document-centric collaboration for document sharing and supporting project teams and discussion threads.

I do believe that the public sector and local authorities need to take ECM seriously and must consider how they provide the functions above, but i find it very difficult in a public sector role to justify the likely expenditure around a single ECM system, for which there are some big players. My view and i stress this is my view is that in the current climate the public sector needs to consider how it delivers the “value” these tools promise by taking advantage of the open source platforms which exist out there. If we had a public sector developer community around some of these technologies then we would in effect create a sustainable approach. If your organisation has already invested in the large providers of this functionality (IBM, Open Text, SAP and Microsoft) then i wish you luck in realising the benefits of that investment.

But i would suggest that you could actually achieve this architecture through open source products and a Web Oriented Architectural (WOA) approach. You will still need to consider the integration aspects but open source products are far more likely to integrate (openness is key) then the big supplier products (no motivation to integrate).

Since I have moved into ICT and started to look at the Architectural view of the infrastructure a lot more, it is now becoming clear to me that if any local authority or public sector agency thinks there CMS requirements can not be met by one of the open source products such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal doesn’t really understand how there Web Architecture can be utilised to deliver greater cost savings and value and increasing agility and flexibility.

This post is not going to be music to any vendor/supplier of web content management as i really don’t think the public sector can justify the expenditure on these products in the current climate – Unless there current technical architecture actually works against implementing a cost effective and open source product. If this is you – go and speak to your ICT colleagues about why you can’t at least consider these tools?

I’ve been doing a piece of work recently about reviewing the architecture around our Corporate Website and it is a very complex area – I have started to focus on what the requirements are for a CMS and what an effective Architecture would look like. This has led me to seriously think about the open source options around the CMS area, this doesn’t mean that we are proactively making decisions in the council at the moment as we need to get our wider web architecture right first – however my current view is that tools like WordPress and Joomla specifically could be key parts of our future web architecture.

The advantage of these products is that we are increasingly seeing people use these types of products outside of work or as a way to bypass the existing corporate platform because there is a lower skill level to entry and development. This approach coupled with the excellent developer communities that exist provide dynamic platforms for employees to publish content far quicker, more effectively and with less corporate ICT intervention. This for me is a critical aspect and is a major plus for these products. Like most local authority web development teams, they are often bombarded with requests for work from large scale application integration to minor template tweaks – with the ever growing pressure on resources we must start to devolve the responsibility into the business and to those people who are comfortable and capable to develop these tools. This would therefore allow the core team to focus on the larger scale products and deliver more value.

So this leads to me think, if these tools can provide value and meet all of our needs around CMS then why would or even how could any public sector body justify a large expenditure in this area in the current financial climate.