Archive for the ‘ egovernment ’ Category

Reminder: teacamp this Thursday (19th)

I don’t often post announcements about the teacamps here, but at the last event somebody asked me to do so.

Teacamp is an informal get together of people interested in government web and other online shenanigans. There’s no membership list, no agenda, no obligation to hang around (or even turn up). It’s simply an opportunity to meet other people working on (or interested in) government websites, intranets or other digital/web things. Its a great way to find an expert, discuss a problem or just meet others doing what you do.

If you’re interested, we meet in Cafe Zest, on the top floor of House of Fraser in Victoria Street between 2pm and 4pm. Pop in for half an hour, grab a coffee and chew the fat with us.

There are various websites and services we use to communicate information about the teacamps. One of them is here:

There is no obligation to sign up to attend, just roll up whenever it suits you.

Social media in government – can’t we lead by example please?

There’s been an amusing series of posts published over the past few days about the status of various pieces of government web guidance being developed by COI.

First Jack Pickard noticed that the Delivering Inclusive Websites guidance, for which he had valiantly led a response on behalf of the embryonic Public Sector Web Management Forum, had been published – after six months of radio silence from COI (though to be fair, they did take on board a fair number of Jack’s excellent points).

Then Emma noticed that some of the other guidance documents were ‘in consultation’ and mused how one could become involved in ‘consulting’ on the drafts.

Nick Booth pointed out the faint irony of describing something as being out for consultation, without indicating how any kind of conversation could take place (I’ll ignore the double irony that one of the documents in question is social media guidance aka participative online media).

So Nick put a call into COI’s press office asking how he could respond to the consultation.

Oh dear, today Emma checked the COI site again. Guess what? The documents in question are now simply marked as being ‘in preparation’.

It would be easy to laugh, cry, criticise or bitch about this situation. I’ll do none of them.

I will point out this: government webbies have been waiting a long time for these different sets of guidance to see the light of day. Some of us have been involved in helping to put them together even. But the pace of development has been tortuously slow (the previous guidance was published in 2003 if I remember correctly and work on their replacements has been going on for over a year). The fact that some of them are still ‘in preparation’ is very disappointing.

I’ve said this before to some closer to the work than I – and I repeat it here – why or why didn’t someone take the previous version of the guidance, upload it to a wiki, and invite anyone who wanted to contribute to producing a new version to do so (within reason, perhaps requiring them to register or even restrict it to those whose work would be subject to the guidelines).

I’ve been given a couple of answers:

  1. They want to have something produced that they can upload once they are complete.
  2. Various mutterings about developing cross-government social media platforms that could host this content.

Both of these answers seem a bit misguided to me. Take the second one first – Steve Dale nailed this the other day when building on a post from Euan Semple: there is no one technical ‘solution’ that will work for all requirements. The reason why there are a myriad of wiki and blog platforms is that they all have different functionality and ways of working that suit different needs. Waiting for the magic ‘enterprise’ solution is not only costly, but misguided and wasting time.

In terms of producing the guidance, then publishing it in some kind of controlled collaborative environment – isn’t this rather missing the point? One of the greatest benefits of the social media/web2.0 bandwagon is the ability to collaborate and draw on the ‘collective wisdom of the many’. Trying to backfill ‘collaboration’ onto something signed off and published doesn’t really send the right signal.

Here’s my two’pennth: before anyone drafts any more guidance, take out your credit card and head over to Wikispaces (or a similar hosted wiki service). $1000 (pretty reasonable given the current exchange rate) will buy you a nice hosted wiki which you can rebrand and give a dedicated sub-domain so its nice and official (about half a day’s work?). Upload the drafts as they are now and invite anyone who wants to to help make those guidelines as good as they possibly could be. There are plenty of people out there, right across Whitehall and further afield the wider public sector, who are itching to contribute for everyone’s benefit.

If us webbies in government cannot demonstrate the amazing benefits of social media by our own actions, its a bit rich of us to go round telling anyone who will listen how great the latest online innovations are. Please, lets demonstrate our competences by our behaviour.

See me at Web 2.0 Strategies 2008 this Thursday

Clearly there was either a case of mistaken identity, or perhaps someone pulled out at short notice…

Anyway, I will be appearing at the Web2.0 Strategies conference this Thursday in Covent Garden on a panel entitled ‘Innovators under the spotlight’. We apparently will be debating how we have /are pioneering web 2.0 developments in our
organisations (- my work colleagues think this is hysterical, lets hope they don’t grass me up and burst my bubble…. ;-).

Anyway, if you’re coming, please do say hello. It looks like a good line up. Not a big fan of speaking in public so please be gentle with me.

Equally, if you have any ideas what I should talk about, please leave a comment here. I’m thinking vaguely something about cross-government social media evangelism and community organising, whatever that is šŸ™‚

Hope to see you there (if you’re a public sector person thinking or attending, there’s a special rate on the price).

Teacamp this afternoon

Teacamp, aka UKGovWeb afternoon tea, is on this afternoon. I haven’t promoted it here for a while, but just in case you weren’t aware of it I’m letting you know.

Teacamp is simply an informal opportunity for people who work in and around government online to sit down, have a cuppa, and chew the fat.

We meet at CafeZest, in House of Frazer on Victoria Street from 2pm to 4pm.

If you’re in the area and have half an hour to spare, come along. We’d love to meet you.

Do we need to better explain what we do?

Last week I was presenting the results of some user testing and prototype design to a group of executives, including senior IT and marketing people.

The session went pretty well (it should have done, the work is robust and very high quality). At the end, the assembled group were pressed for comments. Two of them stuck in my craw:

“Can we be confident the site will work on my blackberry?”

– Hmm, multi-platform, multi-browser delivery of content. Well I’d never thought of that…..

“Is the site future proofed so it will do things like podcasts”.

– Aargh!

I left wondering, how much is it our responsibility to educate our colleagues about our role as webbies in understanding the various technologies, methods of delivery etc rather than just been seen as electronic publishers? And how much is it their responsibility to ensure they are up to date with changes in their working environment?

I’d love to invest a large chunk of my time in bringing people up to speed on the evolving world of digital communications, but I do have a day job too which makes this diffcult in a world of ever tightening budgets and pressures on headcount.

Is it wrong of me to expect others to invest their own time in improving their knowledge? After all, they have busy professional lives too. Methinks I need to divert some of my energies to some internal training….

Gadzooks! I missed my birthday :-)

As I’m going through one of my (reasonably regular) “neglecting the blog” phases at the moment I failed to recognise that somehow Whitehall Webby has made it to the ripe old age of one.

I started writing here on 29 April 2007, when I was helping the Cabinet Office to produce a report on government communicators’ use of social media. It was an experiment to demonstrate the opportunities of civil servants blogging (jury’s still out on that one I think…)

Since then I’ve published 91 pieces on the site, not bad considering I find it all so difficult, and had 336 comments (some of which, admittedly, are mine… ).

The most popular post over the last year has been the ‘about me‘ page, with over 1,100 views. However the posts I wrote on the civil serf affair got the most interest at the time (as most other government web related blogs experienced).

Over the last twelve months I’ve tried to to publicise examples of good government use of web, particularly innovative stuff. This includes the launch of the Ministry of Justice website, the Wales Office wordpress site, the Foreign Office’s social media big-bang, and more recently the excellent experimentation coming out of Number 10.

A common theme throughout my musings has been the role of webbies in government, and how we can organise ourselves into a group of experts who are recognised as such in Whitehall.

This thinking led to what has been my highlight of the last year – setting up the UKGovWeb Barcamp and bringing together civil servants, consultants, freelancers and others with the intention of encouraging the building of a community of committed people around government online.

So far thats bearing fruit. Many of us meet regularly at “teacamps” and colleagues in several departments are beginning to create self-organised groups in their organisations with the intention of working together to offer networking and training opportunities.

So, the future looks bright, and this blog has actually made it through a whote year – something I often thought wouldn’t happen.

End of term report completed, lets hope there’s another one next year.

All kudos to the Number 10 webbies

When Jimmy Leach left Downing Street last Autumn, after the changing of the guard, many people thought that the raft of innovation he had overseen (including the introduction of online petitions and webchats) would come to an end. I have to admit that I was one of those people.

But in recent weeks, coinciding with the arrival of Jimmy’s replacement – Mark Flanagan – the web team at Number 10 has been on a bit of a roll.

First, a neat little wordpress microsite build to support the Progressive Governance summit at the beginning of April. The project included a live video stream of the event and online chat between officials and viewers. Considering the event took place on a Saturday, and the subject matter, it got a pretty good audience.

Second, an even cleverer wordpress microsite to support the prime minister’s recent visit to the United States. As well as the goodies above, this project incorporated Google maps to track the progress of the visit across the country.

Third, the launch of a Downing Street Twitter feed a few weeks back. Initial suspicion that this would simply tweet links to official announcements on the Downing Street website were allayed as the team found their voice, using the tool to support announcements, events (such as the two described above) and engage in dialogue and banter with the geek ‘twitterarti’.

All this activity has attracted attention elsewhere. Last Friday, the Guardian published an article on their homepage, sorry frontpage, about Downing Street’s use of Twitter. Now that is some coverage and encouragement.

Downing Street’s innovation has always been of help to other government webbies to justify investing time and effort in using new tools and applications for communication and engagement.

This isn’t playing with technology for the sake of technology. Its about piloting new methods of engagement, at little or no cost, in an attempt to improve transparency and dialogue.

Please guys, keep it up for all our sakes.

Where do government webbies fit into e-government?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the group, or community, of people within government who manage websites, intranets, blogs, wikis and other digital communications channels.

There aren’t that many of us around considering what we actually do.

We’re also not very good at organising ourselves so consequently we don’t have the representation we need – we and our work are often overshadowed by other groups who have louder voices and / or are better organised.

Its one of the reasons why I set up the barcamp and, subsequently am trying to make the afternoon tea gatherings regular events (described by David today as ‘Teacamp’ – I quite like that) – so that we could get to know each other better and start to interact as a group of similar interests. Not just civil servants, but the people on the periphary or outside who can assist us in making what we do better.

This problem of relative obscurity has been highlighted to me over the last few days. Downing Street launched a twitter feed, a great idea and a good example of low cost piloting to test the value of an emerging digital channel.

But coverage has focused on the fact that ‘Gordon Brown is now on Twitter’ – he’s not its Downing Street that runs the feed, not the Prime Minister (in fact, he is sort of, but that is by the by).

This illustrates for me the problem of our role and profile in egovernment and the challenges that face us both day to day and in the longer term.

We’re not IT, we’re not e-democracy, and we’re not politics online. Each of these groups are important to us, and we need to work with them, but them we ain’t.

But some people do think that one or more of these are what we do – hence the confusion over the ownership of the Downing Street twitter feed.

The IT profession in government is a powerful group – they provide both the infrastructure and the applications that help us deliver procurement big contracts. They’re well organised (they did invent Prince 2 after all) and have senior representation in most government departments.

The e-democracy crowd are also quite a well self-organised group – academics, social hackers etc who have an important role in challenging government to do better in its interactions with citizens.

Then there’s politics online – the parties, representatives and the bloggers. They obviously make a lot of noise, and gain exposure for what they do.

We are none of them – not partisan or political, not technical, not edemocracy.

It strikes me we need a voice to represent us and plug us into these other groups somewhere closer to the top of the pyramid. Perhaps COI’s Digital People will draw us together. Perhaps Tom is that person?

Somehow we need to draw ourselves together – the people around government who are really passionate about improving the way government conducts itself online – and speak as a group.

Govweb afternoon tea Thursday 3rd April 2-4

I’ve been remiss in not publicising this event, partly because the last one fell away due to Maundy Thursday which put me out my ‘rhythm’.Ā  But anyway, is anybody up forĀ  a geeky cup of tea or coffee tomorrow afternoon?
I will be tiied in the quarterly Whitehall heads of ecommunications group from 2 (reporting back on the barcamp as it happens), so will be on a little later, but I will be thereĀ  but will pop along a little later. Hope to see some of you there (more details here)

Tom Watson on transformational government

Tom Watson, the MP blogger and cabinet office minister responsible for e-government, spoke at a conference yesterday about how technological change will redefine government’s relationship with the citizen. Its well worth a read.

Interesting to note his thoughts on the civil serf story – a very promising approach and much more measured than the scare headlines that have been knocking around in the press (have they learnt nothing from last time?)

Looks like there will be interesting times ahead for us working in and around government online.