We need to stop feeling so guilty and the birth of #twitternar

Yesterday evening I participated in a conversation with @LouLouK @kazwccsocialnet and @808Kate about how the #lgovsm Friday lunchtime discussion session could improve and develop and increase the opportunities for people as well as ensure variety.

Now I’m not going to talk about the future development here in this post as we are also going to chat more at #ukgc11 on Saturday and then more will no doubt be shared etc afterwards. Feel free to join us for a chat about this on Saturday if you are attending – I think we suggested an informal lunchtime chat (even more informal than the open plan aspect) – not sure where just find one of us and join in.

So two interesting things happened during the conversation, the first being the creation of the term #twitternar (by yours truly) – it is like a webinar but supported via twitter and possibly slideshare or a blog posts – the second being the more important one – whether participation in the discussion is considered work.

The discussion touched on the issue of whether people who participate feel like they can contribute more during a lunch period or whether this just contributes to the perceived view that twitter is merely social. A comment was made that you could perhaps feel guilty if you participated during work time.  I have a few issues with this but can more than understand why this is the case for the majority of people.

1) Would phoning another public sector organisation to ask them what they are doing or to share what you were doing around a particular subject or topic be considered work or something someone would do in their lunch break?

2) Would attending a meeting with another public sector organisation to ask them what they are doing or to share what you were doing around a particular subject or topic be considered work or something someone would do have to schedule during a lunch break?

I think it is fair to say that these are generally considered a core aspect for most people’s jobs – using twitter to do the same thing which is what #lgovsm is really trying to achieve in my view but at a much reduced cost is a great idea. However the benefit is that using twitter means that no one will have to travel, some can participate whilst on the go (mobile) and there is really no limit to who could participate or attend – surely a win – win situation.

This is a new approach and a more cost-effective and efficient method of doing this. The conversation accepted that perhaps twitter might not be the best platform but we also accepted that the #KHub would offer new opportunities on top for increased discussion after the initial #twitternar.

So all I would say to people is Stop feeling so guilty and try to see this as a cost-effective way of doing what you would do anyway.


Location, Location, Location

I’m fascinated by the increased conversation about Location based Social Networks as i personally find them really interesting.  Back in January this year i predicted they would be big in 2010 (albeit my rationale was deeply flawed and influenced by a particular phone!!).

However they do seem to be growing in value and more and more people are seeing business opportunities and benefits from working with them. It is also interesting to see Google and Facebook both supporting Location based features of varying levels that if they see value then i guess we won’t actually get much choice. Location will just be another feature of our interaction with our friends and colleagues.

I was thinking the other day – what would happen if all of the content from TripAdvisor (ratings, feedback, pricing etc) was integrated with a location-based network like Foursquare or Gowalla. In fact there is almost a duplication of content happening at some level anyway. The power of that information is already influencing people’s decision – but if you could see that someone who actually said they liked the place had “checked in” say 10-15 times, would you believe them more than someone who checked in only once?

This is where these tools are starting to move, if businesses are savvy, and want to manage their brand they will need to understand this stuff. I say understand as it is still early days and most of the benefits and new features are becoming useful because the companies themselves are adding value by linking with other sites or companies.

But there is a dark side – isn’t there always!

Privacy is something that a lot of people care about, most people were vocal about Facebook’s dealings of privacy – so we can assume that it is an important thing to get right – it is also an important thing an individual needs to get right so that it doesn’t back fire.

An example of how weird and creepy it can get can be found on Shea Sylvia’s blog. It is the type of story that people will use to say that these sites don’t offer value and that they will only lead to bad things – well i don’t agree with that….Shea’s situation and experience is not something i’d like to go through – i’m glad she shared the story, but it does offer us all a valuable lesson and one which made me think about how all this stuff fits together.

In Facebook i have quite tight privacy controls and only (as a rule) except friends who i have actually met in person – Facebook is a place where i share photos of my family and more personal events. So i’m happy to share this with people i consider to be friends in one form or another.

On twitter, i have a public profile (i don’t protect my tweets) but i generally use this as a professional tool and only occasionally use this in a personal capacity – i do however consider a good proportion of people i follow on twitter (those i have met and some i haven’t) as friends also.

Foursquare and Gowalla – These tools don’t really do privacy that well in my opinion or at least create an illusion on privacy, yes you can accept friends but when you check in somewhere it will share that with anyone who visits that location. I can see the value in this, but why can’t you restrict you check in information to only those people you accept as friends?

My point being that when you decide to share something, it should be based on your own understanding of how you have set your privacy settings – it can’t create loop holes for your information to leak out to anyone.

I will personally be revisiting all of my privacy settings and how they interact with each other so that i can be sure who has access to the information i post to the web.

Moving from Attention to Engagement to Participation – More World of GovCraft

Continuing my thinking on the World of GovCraft, I’ve started to think about what the real challenge is for government, various comments suggested that Government is so disconnected that it is unlikely that we will start to bridge the gap. But i’m starting to wonder whether this just an illusion and we are only creating this gap and reinforcing it by not doing anything practical about addressing it in ways which will reduce the gap and simply not patch it with sticky tape and string that will break after any sustained use.

When I hear people talking about using social software or social media to connect to communities or networks, there is often a focus on “grabbing attention” and “starting a conversation” and “building relationships”. These are all good things to focus on but we also need to actually figure out what we really want to get from these relationships and conversations. It simply isn’t good enough to just grab someones attention in these spaces, we actually need to have a plan on how we will encourage them to engage and participate.

It comes back to a recent post of mine where i started to question whether we actually focus enough on outcomes and creating value instead of thinking that Twitter or Facebook are cool and or sexy to use.

Jane McGonigal who is now a big influence on my thinking published back in 2008 Engagement Economy by the Institute of the Future, this publication – recommended reading by the way – states in the introduction:

The inability to turn members into active contributors is an important signal of a new kind of challenge facing any organization that seeks to reap the benefits of crowdsourcing, collective intelligence, massively scaled collaboration, or social networking. For these groups, they must do more than merely “grab eyeballs,” register members, or collect ratings. To effectively harness the wisdom of the crowds, and to successfully leverage the participation of the many, organizations will need to become effective players in an emerging economy of engagement.

In the economy of engagement, it is less and less important to compete for attention, and more and more important to compete for things like brain cycles and interactive bandwidth. Crowd-dependent projects must capture the mental energy and the active effort it takes to make individual contributions to a larger whole.

But how, exactly, do you turn attention into engagement? How do you convert a member of the crowd into a member of your team? To answer these questions, innovative organizations will have to grapple with the new challenge of harnessing “participation bandwidth.”

There will inevitably be increasing pressures to balance the amount of time someone has available with the number of “requests” someone might receive to “take action”. Clay Shirky mentions in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, “With many more possible groups competing for the average individual’s time, the speed with which a group can become unglued has also increased.”

The World of GovCraft idea is about tapping into the gaming culture and in creating elements of “fun” when participating and engaging with Government.  A question we really need to ask is how serious are we about bridging this gap and are we prepared to engage people outside of the government sector to help put the fun into Government. In the publication Jane states:

…organizations should look to hire researchers and interactive designers with backgrounds in online gaming and playful social network design. Any mass collab project, whether internal or public-facing, will require the strategic input of experienced “fun engineers” and “fun economists.” Whether as permanent IT staff or in key consulting positions, these individuals can help ensure that resources are being invested in projects that have a high likelihood of engaging crowds.

Organizational leaders should find out what kinds of communities are drawing the participation bandwidth of members, and create conversations about what employees get from their “fun work” that they may not get at their “real work.” This dialogue can provide valuable lessons about introducing fun flows into the organization’s primary business practices.

There are huge lessons here for Community Engagement, Internal Communications and Employee Engagement professionals in understanding the motives of people and how game design could help inform and shape engagement and participation activities.

The UK needs to start making progress and look at how we can involve people who are really passionate about social change, but also have knowledge of gaming. In the USA they have something called the Serious Games Initiative. It’s goal is:

to help usher in a new series of policy education, exploration, and management tools utilizing state of the art computer game designs, technologies, and development skills.

As part of that goal the Serious Games Initiative also plays a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world today.

Why do we not have something like this in the UK? Or do we? Who would actually drive this forward – Could Martha Lane Fox and the new Digital Public Services Unit play a role in creating or supporting this kind of initiative?

One comment made to me was that the game series “Sim City” is one example of a game where people make similar kinds of decisions to Government. However, I’m thinking we want to go further then just the traditional “Education” approach to what Government does to actually creating solutions that improve peoples lives directly.

Moving away from gaming, we need to also understand what presence we are creating and how this approach and decision will contribute to the overall outcomes we want to achieve, this should also be considered when thinking about whether you simply want to grab attention or want to develop and build a level of engagement or participation with people.

Scott Gould, has posted an excellent presentation about Social Media Presences which i think can help inform people who want to move from simply attention grabbing to engagement to full participation.

Is Voting really a measure of success

I watched the People’s Politician over the weekend via the BBC iPlayer and started to think about whether “Voting” was a real measure of success of whether people feel engaged or not?

In the episode we saw Ann Widdecombe Conservative MP for Maidstone get given a camera to do her first podcast and the question she asked was “Do you vote, if not why not?”. I think this is actually the wrong question to ask. I’ll come onto what question i think we should be asking and answering a little late in the post

In a later part of the episode you saw Richard Caborn Labour MP for Sheffield Central talking to a group of young lads about why they didn’t vote and Mr Caborn talks about the fact that we only get to vote once every 4-5 years. In between these times we might not understand or know what actually happens and what decisions are actually benefiting you or me or the wider community we belong to.

It was referred to at the start of the more and more people are engaging online and participating in online voting so why are we not engaged in politics. I for one believe that the BIG difference between the two is that if i were to participate or vote in a TV show (e.g. Big Brother, X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing etc) i get to see the outcome of that vote within days. However it also requires me to continue my involvement over a longer period of time and also requires me to vote more than once if i want to influence the end result. Plus and this is a major difference here i can vote as many times as i want to try and influence the outcome in my favour provided i am prepared to accept the conditions (additional cost, time to vote etc). In an Election or on a policy decision we only get One Vote.

So i guess only getting to vote once for one person every 4-5 years and for someone who i may not actually have met, or know very little about, or even only agree with a small percentage of what they say and someone who doesn’t actually know what my local issues are or my communities, does seem a BIG if not MASSIVE ask and if i dare say unrealistic. It is any wonder anyone votes at all given the above?

A major difference in this process to the TV shows is that they have excellent coverage of the contestants, websites with huge amounts of information about how they are and what they do, newspaper coverage of the TV show in general and a constant reminders to vote and stay engaged. if i want to find out information about who is on the show and what they are doing i can without any trouble. If i want to find out about my local candidates then that is a little bit more difficult.

I am not aware of this level of awareness or promotion around our future candidates for elections, i started to ask myself if this is SO important, why don’t we actually give it the time it deserves. Why is this the case? i think i know really one is about entertainment and generates cash and perhaps affects a large group of people who listen to music or who watch TV and the other is about social good and effects every single citizen.

Something also occurred to me – Why is the BBC Questiontime programme (which i happen to enjoy watching when i can) on so late in the evening and not on at prime time, when all the other TV shows that require participation and involvement are on when most people will watch and engage on. X-factor – Prime time, Big Brother – Prime time, Strictly – Prime time.  I think some people would say that Questiontime it is just boring, but you get someone down the pub to talk about local issues that affect them – it won’t seem boring then, in fact you are likely to see passion and conviction. We somehow need to connect that with the real process of democracy!

I think we need to really ask ourselves do we really want to open up democracy and give people a say in how services are run and how services are developed, if so this requires a much larger commitment from the public, the media and from Government then a single vote once every 4-5 years.

So a question i think we should try and answer this:  What do people want to have their say on?  and How do people want to say it? – A voting mechanism might be one option but other options might be more appropriate depending on the topic.

These questions should be considered in such a way so that we explore the gaming opportunity raised in my previous post about World of GovCraft.

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

If people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems?

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We may have to completely rethink what we actually want to do and whether our current processes are actually delivering what we want to see.

The World of GovCraft

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen.  In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “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

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.