Archive for November, 2007

Ross Ferguson is back! (sort of, virtually…)

For those of you who can’t quite place the name, Ross was until recently the director of edemocracy at the Hansard Society. Amongst other things, he was responsible for the excellent digital dialogues initiative which explored online ways of engaging citizens with the democratic system (disclaimer: funded by my department, though not out of my budget or in my influence).

Unfortunately, the lure of north of the border was too much for Ross and he has returned to Scotland, now working as a senior development manager at Dog Digital. He’s also just started blogging. I look forward to reading what he has to say, and suspect we haven’t seen the last of him in Whitehall.


Quick heads up for the Connected Republic

Paul Johnson dropped me a line a while back. He’s a former civil servant, now working for Cisco, and interested in (and working on) public sector transformation.

Paul’s ‘bit’ of Cisco recently launched a community space called the Connected Republic and are hoping that similarly minded people will use the space, participate and share their thoughts and experience. Some interesting questions already being debated in the forum, but it needs more people and their views.

I said I’d pass the message on about the site, but completely forgot. Sorry Paul!

Might be worth a quick look?

What can I do at the barcamp?

The initial reaction to my announcement of the government web barcamp has been great, and not so great – 56 people signed up to date, but I can only identify around a quarter of them as being government webbies 😦

Whilst its excellent that so many experts in our field have indicated support for the event, it won’t really work unless more people ‘on the inside’ contribute – it would be a real wasted opportunity if we all put the government web world to rights but the people that actually do this stuff aren’t there to influence it! In case anyone is unsure, the barcamp is being organised with the approval and support of the transformational government team. If you are interested in the future of government web, you should be there….

Several people have contacted me saying that they’d like to come, but they don’t know what to offer. A few that have signed up have realised in conversation that they misunderstood what they might be doing. So let me offer a few thoughts about how I think the event might work, and what you might be able to do.

  • I’m trying to finalise the location for the event, so that we can announce it shortly. If it takes place where I think it will happen, we will have multiple rooms (off the top of my head, around 9 + a breakout/coffee area) which means that multiple sessions can  take place simultaneously. So its unlikely that you will be ‘presenting’ to an assembled throng of people in a conference environment. More likely that you will be leading/facilitating a small group around a table
  • Sessions could last two minutes or two hours – depends what you want to share and how long it might take to share it
  • We’ll agree the running order on the day, and it will be changable, so that as much as possible everybody can take part in the bits that interest them. This might mean that we need to run some sessions more than once if they prove popular
  • Plenty of people seem to be offering to lead sessions on web strategy – its important for many government webbies that we gain some consensus about what organisational and government web strategy should look like, but thats not the only thing –
  • Some contributors have suggested to me that there’s an awful lot of piloting / proof of concept work going on across government with social media tools / collaborative workspaces / social networks etc
  • Equally its clear that there’s an awful lot of expertise between us about how to make use of those tools, and other specialisms like search engine optimisation, web metrics etc
  • It would be great if some of the people leading these pilots could share what they have done, learnt etc. This could include:
    • How you persuaded the powers that be of the value of doing what you did (or bypassed them… 😉     )
    • How long it took
    • The barriers to getting the project going
    • How you supported the business to implement a social media project – guidance, training etc
    • How they measure and evaluate the relative value of the pilots
  • Those with expertise in using social media tools could assist by:
    • demonstrating how to set up a blog on a hosted service, taking people through the process
    • show how to create a Flickr account, upload photos and embed them into a blog feed
    • similarly, create/edit video content, upload it to YouTube and embed into a blog
    • record, edit and create podcasts
    • etc etc

Feeding back experiences of doing this stuff, and demonstrating how to do it, are as much an important part of the barcamp as defining good practice in web strategy. My team is certainly experiencing an increase in demand for using these tools, and creating opportunities for online engagement internally and externally. Personally speaking, I want to learn from others who have got through the pain barrier that I am currently feeling as I try and work out how to do all this stuff.

I’m probably not best placed to do this, but I am happy to demonstrate how to set up a blog on WordPress if that is of interest to anybody. I’m not an expert, but having done it a few times I can point out some simple tips that have helped me.

If you’re still toying with the idea of coming in January, and you work in the government web world, please sign up. A few people have contacted me because they are not sure what they can contribute. There’s plenty of time to think about that, and hopefully we can start a dialogue on the associated Google Group about what others are doing – that might give you some inspiration.

If you’re reading this and you’ve already signed up, but haven’t subscribed to the Google Group, please do so – especially if you have offered to help organise the event. We need to start talking. I’ll try and contact everyone who has offered support in the next few days, but I don’t have everybody’s email address – so please drop me a line and sign up to the group.

If you’re still undecided, I recommend reading the background information about barcamps at and wikipedia, as well as searching for the phrase ‘barcamp’ on Flickr, YouTube and Google video. Together these should give you a good idea of the nature of the event. These are friendly, flexible, knowledge sharing events, not intimidating conferences.

Want to see social media tools in action? – ask COI

With all the excitement of announcing the barcamp, I forgot to mention the fun I had at a recent event run by COI on behalf of the Government Communication Network.

Entitled ‘Social networking – can Facebook or YouTube help me? And what are they anyway?’ – the event was an opportunity to see some of the main social media tools and networks in action and talk to some of COI digital‘s experts about how they are being adopted across government.

Off the top of my head, there were demonstrations of social tagging, photo sharing, wikis, data mash-ups, and social networks such as Bebo and MySpace. Everyone had the ability to test them out, ask questions and develop ideas.

Around the room being used were a number of really useful wall displays explaining – in neat simple language – the technologies,  uses, potential etc. Hopefully COI will make these available to government communicators because they look like an excellent resource.

The workshop was run as part of the GCN Live series of events designed to help communicators across government build their knowledge and skills. I don’t know whether they plan to run more of this session but if you are at all curious at all about ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’, work in government and want to know more its got to be worth asking. Maybe COI would run a session for your team/ department too if you asked nicely.

Announcing UKGovweb barcamp

Those of you who read this blog regularly, or get cornered by me in the real world, will know there are two things in particular that I am particularly passionate about

  • clarity around government online strategy, and
  • how to innovate online, especially piloting the use of social media tools

I think these are important issues for government webbies (and by government, I don’t just mean Whitehall but right across the public sector). Talking to colleagues I know that these issues important to them too.

I’ve been talking for a while with colleagues in the transformational government team (they who are driving the website rationalisation / convergence, and other related, initiatives) about how we can harness the collective knowledge and intelligence of all those with an interest in improving how government does all this web stuff. Its becoming more important as we start to explore the possibilities and opportunities of government online beyond our corporate websites and intranets.

My proposal was to run a barcamp event, where those who want to participate in  developing ideas, sharing their expertise and swapping tips can come together as a community. For those not familiar with the barcamp concept, check out the wikipedia page. The key point is that you come if you have something to offer and you participate, rather than simply observe.

I’m delighted to report that they agree, so I’m pleased to seed the message here that we aim to have the event run across the last week of January 2008 (Saturday 26th/ Sunday 27th). I say ‘aim to have the event run’ because it will only work with the input, energy and enthusiasm of the participants. We have suggested a proposition and date, we’re hoping that enough people will want to be part of this to come along and also to help organise the event.

A page has been set up on the website. Please visit it, and sign up if you want to be part of this event.

If you know others who might be interested, let them know about it. In particular, if you blog then please point your readers to the page on the barcamp website.

I really do hope that together we can work together to get a common sense of purpose, and share some innovative ideas about government’s approach to all things online.