Thoughts on Public Sector Online 2008


Yesterday i attended Public Sector Online 2008, this time though as a speaker, which was exciting and challenging even to me, who can talk for days on end about anything really (given the chance).

However, whilst the conference was great and very valuable, i found the previous nights conversation over a few beers near Piccadilly Circus with Jeremy Gould (Whitehall Webby) personally more beneficial. I say this because whilst the conference gave lots of varied perspectives and information, a one to one conversation for about 3 and bit hours was naturally better and more free flowing….anyway on to the conference itself. Not being a formal delegate did mean that i could float around a bit, not sure if that was what they wanted me to do but it was great to go where the conversations were leading me.

The agenda as like most was speakers for most of the morning with a couple of breakout sessions before lunch and then more breakout sessions after lunch (mine was at this time) and then final speakers and closing remarks….nothing different there then…

The chair for the day was David Dinsdale, Director for This was a really interesting opening session not just because of what he was saying about increasing customer satisfaction but looking at my notes i have clearly written in big bold letter “HEINZ IS THE BENCHMARK FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION”.

This was because David was explaining that in the USA Heinz was the highest rated company for customer satisfaction over and above Amazon and other big players like eBay.

Personally i have never been dis-satisfied with a tin of baked beans or any other Heinz product. The lessons are that how do they achieve that and how can we in the public sector evolve and perhaps shift our thinking to increase the satisfaction ratings and in particular online?

Another note which stands out is “IF CARLSBERG DID WEBSITES”….one to think about i guess, the concept not the beer itself.

Next up was Sharon Cooper, Director, Proposition Strategy and Product Design –

My first thought was, I love the job titles and the level of importance they place on the web channel, i think we need to raise the level of corporate web managers or at least responsibility within local government to ensure that it is at least 2nd or 3rd tier management. Something to think about anyway.

The most significant thing for me hearing Sharon was probably something, she hadn’t intended to be a key point but it really struck home and i believe can help shift local government websites into a more service focus. Sharon stated “DirectGov is a Service Website and not a Political Website”. This is the reason i believe directgov works for many people, it only has services and things to actually do on it.  It isn’t cluttered up with pages and pages of political information, which is important but not something you are interested in when wanting to report a pothole or pay school meals. Contrast that with the huge list of expectations put on a local authority website and in particular the homepage.

Perhaps what we need to do in local government is to separate our websites or main navigation options and provide one which is clearly about the organisation and the political aspects, decision making, democracy, participation etc. The other would focus only on transactional services for audience types. I’m not sure how this would work in practice, but it could help drive take-up if people could easily find and use these services.

We were now on a bit of a roll and it was the turn of Robin Christopherson, Head of Accessibility Services, AbilityNet. Now i’m not sure what to say about this bit, because it was so visually powerful watching Robin, who is vision impaired, demonstrate websites and some web 2.0 functionality using the Jaws screen reader.  If you get a chance to speak to Robin i would recommend it. In the spirit of what Robin demonstrated i have managed to locate some videos on youtube that go some way to demonstrating Robins simple but powerful points. We ALL need to take accessibility more seriously.

Caroline talks about her experience of using a computer – abilitynet

A screen reader user on equal access to the web – abilitynet

Web Accessibility – through the “eyes” of a screen reader – designforusers

Web Accessibility – a world denied – abilitynet

Up next next was Vicky Sargent – Socitm

Vicky spoke about the work that socitm have done in measuring take-up and satisfaction of local authority websites. Interesting stuff and one comment in particular again struck a chord. This is my summary – the web channel should be managed by the head of customer services to ensure that all channels are managed and co-ordinated together. Customer Service Centres can provide opportunities to feed the website design and to support the overall strategy to reduce avoidable contact.

Mid morning arrived and tea/coffee was very much in demand.

On to the first of the breakout groups, i decided to choose the workshop “Delivering value through web 2.0 technology and Communities of Practice (CoP)“, mainly because i met Steve Dale, who leads on the CoP for the IDeA and he was running the workshop.

Steve gave an introduction to what CoP was and that it was free for people to register providing they were in the public sector. After all we already pay for it through the top sliced funding to the IDea anyway – Steve also highlighted some key components of a what makes a “community”

  • People
  • Domain of interest
  • Place to meet
  • Someone to Facilitate (i believe not all communities require this aspect, but it does help to keep things going)

The best thing for me to do here is to say go and check it out – IDea Community of Practice

This session was then repeated but i decided to prepare for my session. So i sat down with Jeremy and we chatted about what we both might say later.

After lunch it was my turn, my session was entitled “Implementing Social Networking”, the interesting aspect to this was that the organisers decided to record the speakers so that they could be accessed by all after the event. More to come on this once i find out if i can share the login details via this blog.

My presentation is below and the video clip of Phil Norrey Chief Executive of Devon County Council talking about our use and progress is available below as well

Implementing Social Networking

Phil Norrey, Chief Executive Devon County Council – Video clip

On a personal note, i really enjoyed the session, i hope that the people who attended managed to gain some insights and learning from what we are doing, it is hard to try and pitch a presentation which can be broad enough for anyone in the public sector as well as being specific enough for those in local government to take stuff away. I hope i succeeded.

The last session of the day contained 2 sets of speakers, first up was Stephen Dodson, National Director DC10Plus.

I was a bit late to this session due to conversations about the presentation i did.

a few keys points i made a note of.

lost opportunity to provide a connected digital provision when set top boxes were not installed with a 2 way connection

pay your car tax online cost 38million pounds?? still it is probably one of the best online services around, we recently did this ourselves and i must admit, it was excellent and the tax disc arrived in the post 2 days later… I wonder whether the expectation is so high because before it was soooo painful and time consuming!!

The last bit which was interesting was a 3 c’s concept – connectivity, capability and content. ok i suppose but where would community fit with this.

The last session was a panel made up of Willie Paul – Scottish Government, Jeremy GouldMinistry of Justice and Henry Scowcroft – Cancer Research UK

Willie was up first and was explaining what “new” means and how this fits with “new” web 2.0 technology stuff.

Jeremy did a traditional speaker role and had no slides and talked about people, community and participation and not about technology, web 2.0 and solutions. This was a great contrast to most of the day and one which i thought summed up how for most people, there seems to be a seduction by new technologies for new technologies sake. What Jeremy was saying was focus on the people and the problems and use what is appropriate. Try these new tools for yourself before you tell other people to use them, know what it means to blog, twitter, flickr etc.

Henry talked about the Cancer research science blog they have set up. It is great to see such positive use of blogging tools and one which for me seems to play an important role for those who have questions around cancer. I can’t recommend this blog enough, go and visit it and see how it helps and complements their work and other websites.

As part of the closing remarks it was mentioned that Kable the event organisers will set up a Community of Practice, where the discussions started at teh event can continue. why don’t you sign up and contribute as well…

Thoughts on Social Networking and Youth Participation event

On Friday I attended with some colleagues from Youth Service and Youth participation here in Devon, a great event hosted by the Children’s Services Network in London entitled “Social Networking Sites and Youth Participation”

We were going because we were also invited to speak at the event which was actually a very enjoyable experience.

The programme was actually quite short as it was to be followed by the launch of the National Youth Agency research project where Tim Davies and Pete Cranston went through the findings.

The day started well, we had already begun to network with people, what was great about the event, was that the topic was specific enough to encourage good networking with people from all over the public sector.

Here are my thoughts and notes – they may not reflect accurately what people said, this is my interpretation along with additional thoughts that occurred at the time.

Andy Sawford – Chief Executive of the LGIU welcomed everyone.

  • Highlighted key challenges
  • Breadth – can we use such tools to reach far enough out to also include the vulnerable and those who might be excluded
  • Depth – can we engage deep enough that we are affecting change and contributing and participating on real issues.
  • What works – we need to continually evaluate and learn from what people are doing.

Ian Johnson – Secretariat of the Youth Citizenship Commission

  • Gave some personal experiences of dealing and interacting with Social Networking
  • Posed some questions to stimulate debate and discussion throughout the day
  • Tried to get everyone to think differently and outside of their normal “box” by not assuming what we know is correct in these online spaces

Tim DaviesPractical Participation and convenor of

  • Tim gave a great “intro to Social networking sites” for anyone who hadn’t actually seen or understood what they can do
  • asked people what words came into their minds when he said the word “participation”
    • change
    • dialogue
    • influence
    • involvement
  • SNS and participation, what can it do?
    • messenging
    • rating services or consultation – developing a continual feedback cycle
    • embed other media and quick to publish functions
    • spread activities through networks, viral nature of SNS
  • Transformation
    • traditional structures still exist, but this is a direct challenge to that approach
    • moving towards a networked structure organisation

Liam Webber and Therri Brown – Young Advisors to the Young Mayor of Lewisham

  • It was great to hear directly from young people and there talk was perhaps quite controversial because they stated “we don’t think engaging with facebook etc will work because they are personal spaces”
  • This caused a great Q&A session and stimulated some great thought and responses from Liam and Therri.
  • the main reason for there views was that in my opinion, they didn’t want “the government” or even “the council” to become a friend as it would find out a lot more about them and they were not happy with that.
  • They did raise issues of exclusion which were valid
  • My view is that Social networking sites are only an additional method in the toolbox and if youth workers can use it then they can. The key is to build on existing contacts to manage the participation and not open up SNS to all staff to engage with anyone.
  • A young person still has a choice to refuse contact just like they would in face to face youth work.

Dr Julia Glidden – Managing Director 21c Consultancy

  • This was a great presentation and although it was by far broader than the previous speakers for me it gave an excellent overview and context to what we are all trying to do which is “try and keep up with society as best possible”
  • She raised some excellent points about we are on the edge, pushing boundaries. We need to be supported to enable this initial work to succeed for others to follow.
  • on the whole a very inspiring presentation.

Tom Gaskin – Norfolk BlurbNorfolk County Council

  • Tom was accompanied by a young person from Norfolk but i didn’t seem to make a note of her name.
  • A practical demo of how they use social networking with some deliberate mistakes for audience participation. this was good and made the points perfectly about not using personal profiles when engaging
  • Some Q&A which was great and followed the days questions perfectly.
  • Finished with some do’s and don’ts

Then came our presentation.

  • here is our presentation via slideshow – the video clip will be included as a separate post to follow this one.

Jasmine Ali – Head of Children’s Services Network

  • feedback from a survey on “how many local authorities are using SNS? – why and why not?
  • launched a facebook group to develop the ideas and work done through the day and to facilitate collaboration.

This was in effect the end of the main day. There was a short break, which was taken up with some great conversations with people who are keen to do similar things but need some extra support.

Then came the NYA research launch…… But that is another post.

On the Saturday there was a unconference called “UK Youth Online -= Towards Youth Work 2.0“, if you get a chance to read about it i recommend it, i was unable to attend but kept up to speed via twitter and the various comments/blogs.

We also did some post event networking, whilst enjoying a refreshment in a local pub, I always find this is where the best connection are made after events and some of the best conversations.

One particular conversation focused on the benefits of Youth Workers in SNS and i suggested that the presence of Youth Workers in SNS may actually reassure some parents about the perceived dangers that are reported. Youth Work could make a real positive contribution to the way in which SNS is looked upon. How this will be received by young people will be interesting, however there is no difference between a youth worker trying to make contact on a street or in a SNS.

Finally I do hope that we can start to hear some really positive stories about SNS and in particular youth work being done successfully in these new spaces as well. It is a valuable service and one which i have developed more respect for since doing this project.

Back to work and feeling refreshed

I am now just finishing my 2nd day back to work after 3 weeks off.  I actually missed writing my blog on a regular basis, something i didn’t think i would do, but i have found it to be quite relaxing and it helps me clarify my thoughts as well as getting the excellent comments or signposts from people reading.

Now before i get on to work related stuff, i want to Thank Everyone who did comment and send best wishes to me and my family over the last 3 weeks, it means a lot. Some of you i have not even met in person and yet it feels like you are friends.  I just hope that i can get to met you all in person over the coming months and years.

Back to work stuff

There is always so much to catch up on and so many emails to read and action, but i have found that i now have even more to read via rss, blogs, twitter and the like.  But it is worth it because there is so much information out there and i know i am only connected to a small amount of it.

I have been working with a couple of colleagues this afternoon putting together the final touches on our collective presentation for a conference on Friday run by the LGIU called Social Networking Sites and Youth Participation, it looks like it will be a great event and i am looking forward to listening as well as speaking.

I am hoping that tomorrow we can finalise a film of our Chief Executive talking about the benefits of Social Networking for a 3 minute video clip which i want to include into the presentation for Friday’s conference.

I will also seek approval to include via this blog as well.