Archive for October, 2008

Free legal web project barcamp

I seem to be permanently in a state of writing about things a week or so after they have happened at the moment and trying to play catchup.

This is a case in point. A week last Saturday (18th October) I went along to the Free Legal Web barcamp. The event was set up (and part sponsored) by Nick Holmes to bring together those intersested in creating an online service that pulls together legal texts (primary, secondary, rules. procedures, judgements etc) and commentary.

Its a brilliant idea. A small, but perfectly formed, group of 24 met at the RSA. It was a room of real enthusiasts – lawyers, hackers, civil servants – all more or less geeks with an interest in improving the availability and quality of legal information online.

I went along because my employer publishes a fair amount of information online that might be of interest to this project. But to be honest, much of what was discussed was over my head so I didn’t stay until the end.

However, it looks to me like the beginnings of an excellent and worthy project. With enough goodwill generated on the day to agree to meet again in mid-January.

You can find out more about the barcamp on the project blog, the email list, and the wiki if you want to follow its development or be part of it.

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Tom Reynolds – public sector blogging pioneer

I went along to the TALK Innovation and Transformation event at the Natural History Museum last week. Three speakers talking about their experiences of social media in the public sector, then a brief sales pitch about a Confluence platform tweaked for local government use, followed by a rather nice lunch and conversation.

One of the speakers was Tom Reynolds, ambulance driver and author of Random Acts of Reality. I was quite excited about hearing him as I’ve been reading his blog almost since he started it five and a half years ago. I think that probably makes him the first public sector blogger in the UK.

I wasn’t disappointed. Tom was tired, having come straight from a night shift (and slugged back Red Bull whilst he talked to keep himself awake) and although he wasn’t as eloquent as he might have been after a long night’s sleep, his earnestness and enthusiasm for the subject shone through.

I wrote a few notes which are almost impossible for me to read so what follows is a precis of my memory of the event. But even this is enough to contain some genuine nuggets of goodness about the power of blogging in the public sector:

  • Bloggers are enthusiasts who care about their jobs and do it in their own time because they have a genuine desire to improve the organisations they work for.
  • Individuals are generally considered to be more trustworthy than faceless organisations and readers of blogs invest in the writers. The personal neature of the relationships that develop as a result of this bypass the corporate PR ‘filter’.
  • The value of blogging about your job for the public is that Individuals can tell great stories that humanise faceless organisations (who shouldn’t worry about bloggers on their workforce, their passion for the job is itself generally enough to prevent them saying things that would bring the organisation into disrepute).
  • The value of blogging about your job for the organisation is that they can find out way more about what employees think than annual staff surveys (Tom told an excellent anecdote about ambulance workers whinging on an unofficial forum a few years back during a heatwave about not having time to stop to buy drinks when on shift. Two days later the management delivered pallets of bottles of water to the depot. The impact on staff morale was immediate because management had listened, and demonstrated that they had listened).
  • The value to an organisation of senior managers blogging is that they can easily and quickly debunk rumours from the top of the organisation right to the bottom without layers of chinese whispers.
  • Work blogging is the ultimate in transparency and openness, it needs to be embraced by more organisations. Bloggers are the best advocates and advertisements for their employers. They are evangelisers for their employers. Their reputation is their currency and bloggers will generally fact check each other.

Thanks Tom, really enjoyed the talk (and without the aid of the dreaded powerpoint). Hope you got some sleep after.

Happy birthday My Society

My Society celebrated their 5th birthday party in style on Tuesday night at The Hub in Kings Cross. There was a fantastic turnout of familiar faces there to support and congratulate the team of, mainly, volunteers who have produced such great online democratic tools as They Work For You and Fix My Street (to name but a few).

Tom Steinberg, My Society’s director, gave a short talk looking back on their achievements and ahead at the challenges facing both My Society and government online (you can read a summary of it here). It felt a bit like an end of term report, and was none the worse for that.

Tom expressed some frustration that things have not moved as quickly as they had wished and that their influence on change in government was not as strong as they wished. I think he overplayed the negative. My Society’s influence is immense and can only grow larger. For those us working on the inside of government working on web stuff they provide inspiration and a sanity check on some of our more outlandish ideas.

Frankly, I was quite surprised that they’ve only been going for five years given the impact they have made. They are certainly controversial – and probably liked and loathed in equal measure by those inside government whose work they impact on the most. But what you cannot deny is the brilliance and simplicity of the projects they have produced. No doubt they have more in the pipeline.

Happy birthday My Society. Roll on double figures.

Julia wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention it, so…

I’m well behind the curve on this, but if you haven’t seen it yet you should check out the wonderful new DFID blogging initiative.

Drawing on the experience of the Foreign Office’s collective blogging, but with more web2.0 goodness, its an excellent example of utlising the technology, without it being about the technology.

Some of the usual suspects have been involved in its gestation. Usual suspects not because they have some kind of monopoly over government social media projects (far from it), but usual because they are all very good at what they do. So well done to them (again).

Neil has an excellent write up of the project, and also a round up of other coverage. So rather than repeat what he said, I shall point you there, here.

(P.s. if you don’t know who Julia is, she’s the top web bod at DFID and deserves lots of credit for getting this project off the ground).

Six approaches for social media adoption – 6. Embed

And finally… the end of a torturously drawn out (for you and for me) series concerning different approaches to adopting social media. Even though I had most of the thinking complete when I embarked upon this series, its taken me much longer, and its been much harder, than envisaged. If I ever hint about writing a series of posts again, please make sure that I have written them all before publishing them (or shoot me)…

If you recall, the series is based on a piece of thinking I developed during and after my work on the cabinet office review of social media in early 2007.

I set out six different approaches to using or deploying social media techniques; be that for a particular tool, channel, business need, or whole organisational approach. It is not meant to be prescriptive, but details options under three broad headings. These are:

  • Observation: Do nothing or Listen
  • Interaction: Reflect or Converse
  • Initiation: Experiment or Embed

So, without further ado, lets finish this with ’embed’.

What do I mean by embed? I mean investing in self-hosted applications and tools to allow officials to use social media tools in a corporate environment.

The advantages of this approach are that the applications selected are owned, maintained and approved by the organisation. Any niggling IT security issues are resolved and the robustness of the service pretty much guaranteed (within reason).

On the downside, its likely that the speed of implementation and deployment of a tool will be very slow and expensive compared to using a web or third party hosted tool.

But once the hosting platform is in place it will be fairly simple to deploy multiple instances of tools on a trusted platform. It also sends message to staff that the organisation takes online engagment and collaboration seriously.

One of the big threats to this approach that I have seen is that many of the ‘enterprise’ social media platforms that often become chosen in these situations are fairly inflexible in their functionality and may only be partially fit for purpose. Investment in the platform can divert funding from what I think is more important (given the free and low cost tools available via other methods) – the education and training of staff which arguably is more crucial than the technology. Its also possible that investing in tools that are available elsewhere at low cost or for free could attract criticism.

The costs of investing in self-hosted tools are significant compared to the other models. Hosting platforms from suppliers of existing government web platforms are generally high cost and may also require complex and expensive procurement exercises.

Choosing this route will likely require significant project management and IT implementation resource on top of the resources identified in previous models.

Phew, thats it. The last one. Finished. Thoughts?

Teacamp tomorrow

In case you are reading this before Thursday 2nd October 2 – 4pm, its Teacamp tomorrow. Usual place (search this blog if you have no idea what I am talking about).

Hope to see you there.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 5. Experiment

Shame on me for taking almost a month to follow up the last instalment of this short series. September was possibly the worst month for blogging I have had and I apologise for stringing you along for such a long time, really.

Anyway, this is the penultimate post on the six approach  and I’ll do my best (without promising, you notice) to finish the series as soon as possible/

So, experiment. What does that mean, and why is it a good idea?

In my mind, when I was putting together this model, it meant making use of free and/or low cost online tools to assess value of social media for engagement and, perhaps, to build the rationale for wider investment in, and deployment of, online engagement tools (so called ‘enterprise solutions’).

Government faces all sorts of barriers in trying to implement these tools on existing IT platforms, and even if it could, the speed of implementation could well be slow. By adopting best of breed hosted tools, many of the drawbacks can be mitigated. There will undoubtedly be nervousness about using hosted solutions outside the corporate firewall, but they can be positioned as pilots – testing the value of the tools and minimising exposure to mistakes or reputational hits.

Using hosted tools (such as WordPress.com) gives organisations the ability to engage and interact on a wide scale at little or no cost and test software on a hosting platform away from the primary infrastructure.

Some of the drawbacks of this option include questions about supplier reliability, the stability and scalability for new online tools, security/ownership of data,  and uptime  / availability of service could be less reliable than hosting it yourself.

If you decide to pursue this option, you will undo need some dedicated resource to set up and support , either in house or outsourced.  You need to think about building, ongoing support, moderation / facilitation, and online marketing. These are significant human resource costs.

Five down, one to go…