LocalGovCamp changed my life

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As i mentioned in a previous post i attended LocalGovCamp and i believe it has changed my life, Why and how i hear you all cry?

Well here are my justifications for that statement.

Firstly – One of the first thing that Localgovcamp co-ordination man @Davebriggs said when it all kicked off was. People have arrived in Birmingham on a Saturday to talk about Local Government, we are all Sad Bast**ds. Well i had to agree with him, but was happy to be classified in that category as i actually wanted to be there and i really wanted to learn from others and share experiences.

What is bizarre about the whole thing (and it was much the same at the UKGovBarcamp in January) is that would you get the same level of commitment from a “traditional” conference set up. My experience is NO.

The general rule of thumb is “those who are there are the right people” and you have to accept that it could mean that you share more than you learn, but the more of these types of things you attend, it all balances out in the end.

I attended the UKGovBarcamp in January and didn’t feel like i contributed much, but felt i gained so much more. I felt this trend slightly reversed at LocalGovCamp and that made me feel better about the experience and more confident about the format.

Second – Now Why does this mean it changed my life. Well what it showed me and confirmed to me is that the more you participate the more you get back.  This i feel is the underlying theory of Social Networking and Social Media.

Third and final – It had a positive impact on me directly because of the session i gave on internal social networking and it made me realise that no matter where you work, there is likely to be something you are doing which others want to hear about regardless of how formal or informal it actually is. My advice to others is share your thoughts, ideas and failures so that we can all reach a better understanding quicker.

Ok, so it didn’t change my life as such, but it has changed my perspective on knowledge sharing and encouraging others to participate – either way – if you get a chance to attend a similar event DO.

Thoughts on BeLocal – Building and Engaging Local Communities using Digital Technologies

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On Thursday this week i went to the BeLocal workshop called Building and Engaging local Communities using Digital Technologies in London.

I didn’t think i was going to make the event because of the weather but all was well and the train was only delayed by 40 minutes due to frozen points near Frome.

On the way up and to help pass the time i was twittering and listening into the conversations that generally happen. A particular post asking for help avoiding the circle line sparked me to ask the same question as i had planned on using it for 2 stops and then join the central line. However a post back from @hadleybeeman suggested i walk from Paddington to Lancaster Gate and get straight on the central line. This was a good idea although i didn’t know the way. Hadley kindly posted the following tweet which contained a link to google maps local and showed me the directions. It was fortunate that my blackberry as well as my Nokia N95 could view the maps well enough to follow the directions.

@hadleybeeman posting google map link
@hadleybeeman posting google map link

What was also interesting about the conversations that were happening in twitter is that people were more keen to learn about the real picture from real people as opposed to official websites. One example of this was a post by Tim Davies who said

@timdavies tweet
@timdavies tweet

On to the event itself. There were about 20 people there, including the speakers which meant that there were good opportunities to network. When i first arrived i starting talking with Justin Griggs from the NALC. We had a general chat about what we did and what we were hoping to get out of the session.

First up on the agenda was John Sheridan, Head of eServices at OPSI (Office for Public Sector Information), who spoke about Unlocking our Data.

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John started by setting the picture and gave the context of the Wealth of Networks and that “everything is deeply intertwingled – Benkler 2006

The key challenges we have are about enabling others to use the information on our websites.

We currently take the closed door approach and we keep our arms closed in relation to information sharing. We need to stop “hugging data” and allow other people to have  access to it, who maybe better at presenting the information we own.

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Jeni Tennison’s Blog post “Your website is your API”, which was prepared for last Saturday’s UKGovBarcamp was highlighted and John raised some of the key points that Jeni raises and states within her blog post.

There are three fundamental things that we need to do:

  • identify the data that you control
  • represent that data in a way that people can use
  • expose the data to the wider world

Without re-posting Jeni’s thoughts here, i will include a further quote from her blog which John also referred to and one which is common sense and is almost too simple.

Every resource should have an identifier. A Uniform Resource Identifier. A URI. That URI tells us where we can find information about the resource. So your second step is to work out URIs for each of your resources.

The final and most important point from my point of view that John said was:

DO, TALK, EXPERIMENT and SHARE

This approach came through a lot at the Barcamp on Saturday and it will be one of the key challenges this year for local and central government.

Up next came Justin Griggs, Head of Policy from the NALC.

Justin gave a “reality check” in that he deals with town and parish councils and to be fair they are not all embracing digital technologies at teh same pace as the rest of government and rightly so, becuase of the size and culture within a given council.

Justin said that there were 80,000 Town and Parish councillors. This got me thinking what would the impact be if all of these councillors had a basic blog promoting what they do and enabling conversations with there local community?

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Justin also highlighted that Elected Representatives remain the indispensible link between the public and decison making  and the opportunities that exist around digital engagement and participative democracy will inform and enhance  representive democracy.

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The next speaker was William Perrin from the Cabinet Office.

William showed examples of where residents were engaging and supporting each other around central or local government service areas in online networks.

Examples included

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The interesting aspect to these examples was that the original posts contained what we in government would classify as sensitive data. However the individuals concerned were obviously keen to provide contextual information to enable others to provide the correct advice.

A simple action to take would be to do an online audit of groups that exist in online forums which are Devon based as Netmums for examples operates on a region basis. If the scale of online activity is high in the Devon area then we would need to ascertain what our role should and could be in these spaces, taking into consideration that the individuals who posted the original questions obviously felt more comfortable asking a group and potentially felt approaching local or central government awkward and less personal. We need to learn from this simple message and how we interact with people as organisations. The benefits of these groups is that they are personal and non judgmental. How personal do we act in our services.

An interesting point that was raised in when should we accept that other people are better at providing online services then we might be, an example could be planning.

Planning Alerts.com vs Planning Portal

You can make your own mind up in terms of usability and functionality, but just consider this when making your decision, Planning Alerts.com website was developed by some people who wanted to access the information better. I did notice that my authority is currently not supported and i suspect that may well have something to do with the way our information is provided. Something to look into.

One of the keys things we need to look at is our copyright statement. This is often one of the key barriers to others reusing our information. I have since checked our copyright statement and I think we could alter it to make it clearer what people can and can’t do. Although essentially our statement allows otehrs to use our content without permission providing it isn’t used in a derogatory way against the council.

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A few other examples of where innovation has happened despite the issues faced by social entrepreneurs is:

  • schoolmap.org.uk
    Information about the school’s location, oftseted report and other relevant information
  • schoolguruhertfordshire.co.uk
    You can find the best schools in your area, by using the School Selector. Then the Admission Calculator will tell you whether you would have got in, on allocation day, in recent years.

In order for us all to enable this innovation more, we need to adopt a new publishing model. Once which facilitates reuse directly and supports a more mash-up approach. This is exactly the approach i am incorporating into the new web strategy for my council, so i am pleased that this direction is now promoted from cabinet office.

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We then had a roundtable discussion which was very interesting and touched on all the thoughts and issues that were going around my brain.

Kent County Council spoke about their “pick and mix” project which is funded via the Innovate08 competition. They don’t know whether it will be successful but are prepared for any failure and will learn the lessons. That is the kind of thing we should all do more. I look forward to hearing more about their progress.

For me the main issues and stages for local councils are as follows

  • Reality check
    we need to first accept that the new model of engagement is already happening, it may not have reached the masses but there are significant numbers in online spaces for us not to ignore the opportunities
  • Acceptance
    once we accept that this is a practical opportunity, we need to promote and raise awareness of the issues and skills required to effectively use and engage with people in these spaces. We must not underestimate the skills required for online facilitation
  • Listening
    a simple but effective first step is to start listening to the conversations and gaining insights and knowledge, this can be done via either using the same tools, twitter, facebook etc and or searching for keywords and subscribing via RSS to broad our picture.
  • Advice
    This is a practical step and one which needs a dialogue with communities to position how this role could and should be supported. It maybe more practical to participate in a community and promote a practical “council surgery” in a separate forum or group. This will ensure that we are not perceived to be steamrolling in and taking over spaces.
  • Nurturing
    We have a role to encourage and stimulate the development of online communities and to recognise them as in our engagement and consultation strategies
  • Discussion and debate
    I believe that once we have done all the above we would be able to invite people to formal spaces which would be facilitated and managed effectively.

The key aspect to all of this is to start to open up and explore the new connections and to create an information and conversation flow between residents and councils (or council staff) and then creating and developing new opportunities to communicate out.

There is a huge potential to support these environments which also foster social capital. A great example of this is Harringayonline, which is not a council lead initiative and Kings Cross Environment.

It was then time for lunch and more chat and networking.

Up next was Kevin Byrne, Head of Policy, London Borough of Hillingdon.

Kevin spoke about the work Hillingdon are doing on engagement in general, which was very interesting and was based around face to face or traditional channels. Kevin spoke about 7 key challenges:

  1. Engagement or empowerment or both. and if, when, where and how?
  2. Incremental improvement or transformation change – perhaps we need to take a bigger step toward transformation.
  3. Ensuring when engagement happens – how do we validate whether people are actually local or just vocal?
  4. What is the role of members in promoting local democracy and participative democracy
  5. build on our successes and not be forced down a central government route if we know it doesn’t make sense.
  6. apathy – is it contentment or are people truly demotivated
  7. don’t underestimate the impact of the economic downturn

We then moved onto a game, which essentially got us to create a community with some neighbourhoods, create the conditions and the people and then try and then suggest and information product which could help resolve a particular issue.

I am not going to go into huge detail on the content of the game, but it was great to experience.

Some final thoughts at the end of the day:

If people are bothered and want to engage, where do they go? can they go online?  If they are not interested, then perhaps by going online and listening to the conversation there is likely to be greater potential for them to participate and engage.

I think for me, the key messages are, enabling communications and information flow so that people can listen to what is going on, providing simple and easy avenues and opportunities to feedback and then nurture that connection.

There is also a lot to be said in developing and encouraging internal cultures which mirror this approach so that as an organisation we reflect engagement and conversational strategies in what we do. Essentially leading by example.

On the whole a great day with more yet great connections.

Thoughts on UKGovBarcamp09

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On Saturday 31st January i attended the 2nd UKGovBarcamp in London and was quite simply blown away by the connections i made with the people and the ideas and thoughts.

My journey started on the Friday as traveling from Devon and staying overnight often makes for a fresher brain, however this was not the case this time round.

I had accommodation at the Civil Service Club, which was only arranged relatively last minute and through email and twitter via Jeremy Gould.

Jeremy was having his leaving do at the Civil Service Club and kindly allowed me to join him and his former team for a few beers and some conversation.  This proved to be a good decision and i managed to meet Jenny Brown, who is great, very refreshing to listen to and very knowledgeable about her stuff.  But to be honest and i know she will agree after a few beers the conversation become harder to remember although what i do remember was great stuff.  We did come to a conclusion i think?? that a key focus for 2009 around Social Media is in how we measure the value to organisations.

Then it went a bit blurring and fuzzy but here is a pictures of my room. I would recommend the Civil Service Club as a place to stay not just because of its convenient location and very affordable prices but it did have good English breakfast, although my only comment was it didn’t include baked beans….

For a selection of photos on this place check out their website

I do have a very short video clip on my phone of Jeremy Gould dancing and will be happy to post to you tube if enough people agree that it should be shared.


So on to the event itself. (you can trace the twitter conversations here Twitter #ukgc09)

This was my first ever barcamp event and I was grateful to be able to participate. The day is unlike any other event you’ll visit, the first main thing you noticed is the amount of PC’s, MAC’s and web books appearing and connecting to the wifi, which didn’t last long. I did take my laptop but decided to use my blackberry memo pad and the GPRS connection to twitter.

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The agenda is built and decided by everyone attending and the rules are you if you attend you must be prepared to contribute. Good rules i think.

So essentially you get a post it note, right down a topic and then stick it on the wall, it gets moved to a room and time if people agree it is a good session to have. Simple but yet so effective.

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I decided to try and see a variety of stuff during the day and started with a session on Directgov and Innovation

The following represent my notes and key points or questions i raised and do not necessarily reflect the session as a whole

Essentially i think Directgov are trying to provide leadership in a number of ways not just in central government but within the public sector as whole. They are suggesting that they move toward a beta programme and offer and develop API’s for others to use to make better use of information.

Paul Clarke from Directgov (strategy and Proposition) who was leading the session was keen to foster an environment and culture which saw failure as an asset and as a productive part of the innovation process.

They have created an innovate blog site to pull this together and i recommend checking it out

Since Saturday they have already responded to this and have developed agreat resource (beta) for school closures information. If this is the kind of thing that will happen then we  must all learn from this approach and look to move toward a public sector “beta” programme to gain greater customer insights and intelligence about what people really want.  I have much respect to the Innovation team in Directgov and we must support them doing this by promoting and geting involved where we can. We also need to encourage local councils and i will see what i can do here to adopt a similar approach. It is very transformational.

That was followed by a great demonstration and discussion about online media centres and how can they be created simply and cheap and yet be very effective. The majority of the challenges are with people and processes. In terms of my council greater awareness and promotion of what can be done is still required and i am going to see how that can happen through the social media forum

The rest of day was to be honest spent trying to connect with people and taking time out to reflect and think about how stuff can fit in my council.

Here are some more photos of the day

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The only other session i want to comment on is “effective facilitation for online communities and groups” that myself, Steve Dale , Ingrid Koehler and Hadley Beeman (pulled together) at the end of the day.

I think for me this holds the key to how we can really move forward with these tools in areas of engagement and participation because we have to ensure we get the right people who have the right skills and qualities to be able to manage and facilitate in online spaces.

In my research for the session i found Steve’s powerpoint slides perfect but we were keen to try and get a discussion going to avoided using them.

The other aspect for me was to get to a where we can start to identify some of the key tips and methods facilitators use online to help nurture communities and reinvigorate existing ones.

Here are my top tips and i apologise to anyone who was in the session who had to listen to be ramble on about this.

  1. I believe that facilitators are facilitators, there are some skills you can learn but it is a unique skill to have and is often rare, so ask yourself “am i a facilitator?”
  2. as a facilitator you also need to take a “project management” approach, in that you need to be clear what the scope of the community is, what the purpose is and what outcomes it is expected to deliver.
  3. promote simple benefits back to the community to spark further engagement and ideas – e.g. someone connects with a colleague through the community and learns some best practice – PROMOTE THIS and encourage others to make similar connections.
  4. Check back with the community to ensure you are still in scope, if not then either change of create a separate community for additional outcomes.
  5. When the community has reached it’s objectives, check to see if further actions are required or you may need to kill the community.

On reflection the whole day was one big realisation.

  1. That there is a momentum and we must now harness this and take opportunities when they arise and create new opportunities
  2. People are the key in all of this, the technology is not important at all
  3. Keep plugging away and raising awareness of the possibility
  4. Things are not as bad as they seem.

A kind of final thought and one which i eluded to in my earlier summary post, the best aspect of the day was the people so on that note here are some people i met in person who i had been following who i would recommend as people who know their stuff and who want to enable change.

In no particular order

People who I missed but would also recommend

Also recognition should also go to the following for making it happen Dave Briggs – twitter @davebriggs and Jeremy Gould – twitter @jeremygould

I believe the true outcomes of the event will start to show in a few weeks time when the connections that were made during the day start to come to fruition. That is what i am looking forward to next.

UKGovBarcamp thoughts – almost but not quite

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On saturday i attended the UKGovBarcamp event, i am aiming to put my thoughts together over the next couple of days and will share with you all.

It was such a great event for connections with people and ideas and my brain needs a little extra time than normal to pull this together into something i can understand.

In the meantime why not listen to the conversation or take part and contribute yourself online

What i will see is i found the connections with people who i have been following online for sometime now the best part of the day. It made the first introductions easier and the time we did have to chat far more productive.

If it happens next year, do make a note and put yourself down….

Will get back to writing my thoughts in full now.

Social Media – our journey so far…

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In some ways I am surprised by the amount of support and enthusiasm my colleagues  and peers in my council have shown in relation to social media and social networking, but at the same time i’m not surprised as i spent the best part of 8 months last year working and promoting the benefits to anyone who would listen and to many more who wouldn’t. But the hard work and determination has allowed other people’s creativity to flourish and i am starting to see lots of great ideas and innovative opportunities crop up within my council now and i am now looking forward to a year in which we will hopefully see some real change and transformation.

So i thought i would take stock and summarise the work and the areas my council has done or has started to work on in the areas of social media.

Corporate stuff

Policy review

Corporately we have taken a significant step forward by reviewing our internal internet usage policy and i have pulled together a draft policy for “social media and online participation”. This will facilitate staff to engage more with these tools and to understand their role and the responsibility whilst online.

Social Media Forum

To enable me to facilitate use of social media and to keep up to date with what was happening it was essential for me to set up an internal forum to share best practice, discuss new opportunities and to learn how to engage with the tools on a practical basis. We have a private facebook group with 18 members and the first meeting was focused on purpose, networking and promotion, the next meeting which will be the 3rd February will have practical demonstrations and how to use – twitter, rss and the IDeA’s Communities of Practice (slides and information provided by Steve Dale) and best practice examples from colleagues on current use. We have over 25 people due to attend the session in February and i am hoping this group will grow throughout the year.

Corporate Twitter Account

I set up a Devon County Council twitter account for the council which is fed by the rss feeds on our website. This is a simple step to take and one which easily demonstrates the publish once, use many concept. This has proved quite popular and as i write this we have 87 followers.

Staff Twitter accounts

To my current knowledge there are 14 staff in the council who have twitter accounts (listed below)I am in the process in researching if there are more, if i found out i will post them here.

DCC Twitterers (not all are constantly active)

  • Me
  • Sue Tylcoat – Solutions Development Manager @suety
  • Pete Morton – Enterprise Architect @podra
  • Sue Bicks – Enterprise Architect @subix
  • Russell Taylor – eComms @russ_t_uk
  • Martin Howitt – Enterprise Architect @mhowitt
  • Emma Jarvis ICT Programmes @emjarvis
  • Pip Tucker – Head of Strategic Intelligence @piptucker (private)
  • Richard Carter – Head of Business Transformation @rcarter (private)
  • Anna Matthews – National Management Trainee @localgovgrad
  • Lynda Bowler – Libraries Web Manager @lmbowler
  • Sarah Evans – Improvement Officer @sarahevans7
  • Katie Bacon – Youth Participation @katie_bacon
  • Shaun Carter  – Strategic Intelligence @Shaun32

In engaging with people either through presentations or just networking, i have promoted twitter, this is a tool which for a while i took a long time to get used to and didn’t really wonder how it could help, but after i started gaining followers and then followed more and more people, it started to prove its value and the networking and contacts i have gained through twitter and my blog are priceless and i look forward to meeting many of them at UKGovBarcamp09 in London and the end of January

Blue Kiwi Pilot

Last year we received a presentation from a company called blue kiwi who offer enterprise wide social software (there are of course others products available a google search will often provide many results). Anyway, once i saw the demo, i was hooked on the potential and was really keen to support a pilot. Fortunately my line manager (Sue Tylcoat – Solutions Development Manager @suety) was also keen and supported the idea. I contributed to a business case developed by a colleague (Sue Bicks – Enterprise Architect @subix) who also made the initial contact with Blue Kiwi and organised the demo, so i am grateful to them both in enabling this to come to the point where we are now in discussions to determine and agree the outcomes and deliverables of the pilot.

The potential of such a product is huge and is very difficult to measure and quantify making a business case difficult for all the things you know you want to see happen. However it does have real potential to reduce if not eliminate the need for internal email (over time that is) and really connect staff in ways they have never been able to with traditional intranet sites. The opportunity to see the knowledge grow and develop in front of your eyes in very exciting and i will be blogging on our experiences and lessons throughout the year

Youth Service – Youth Participation

This was really the starting point for all of the worek that has happened and will happen and recognition has to go to Katie Bacon – Youth Participation @katie_bacon for her tireless energy and enthusisam to get the social networking pilot off the ground. We had critical support from Tim Davies (who you must know by now). The work we have done in this area has led to us speaking at 2 conferences and i am involved in the LGIU Children’s Services Network – Action Learning Set.

We have also had visible and practical support from our Chief Executive (Phil Norrey) who did a 2 minute video about the importance of new technology in our engagement with young people.

Library Service

I blogged recently about our library service and how much they want to do, and if they achieve only half of what they are planning they will be leading the way in council in terms of innovative use of social media approaches and tools. I gave a presentation to their management team last year and there is now a half day session planned with about 15 key staff in libraries to develop a plan of action. Some of the areas of work i include below, but will blog more after the session.

  1. using Facebook or another Social Networking site to encourage and facilitate people getting folk involved with Exeter’s new library
  2. making better use of Flickr to share images in the Local Studies collection.
  3. subscribing to The Reading Agency’s GroupThing – Social Networking based creative writing/reading site for young people
  4. further developing People’s Network Enquire – by exploring real-time ‘Virtual Libarians’

All of the above has been incredible and the staff who are involved in these projects deserve huge credit themselves.