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…

Another phrase that sends shivers down my spine in the office

It was remiss of me not to point to Tom Steinberg’s excellent piece on ‘one pagers’.

Barely a day goes by when i am not asked to produce one of these (often by someone who has already requested, and received, a paper on the same subject previously…).

Whilst I enjoy the discipline of containing an idea or proposition to one side of paper, the request to ‘do me a one pager’ invariably makes me feel quite ill – I generally feel like replying with a two worder.

On my (relative) silence, some good events, and upcoming speaking gigs

For regular readers I’m sorry that its been a bit quiet around here lately – especially as I embarked on a series of six posts about models of social media adoption but have only managed to write four of them so far (I promise I will do my best to get the final two completed in the next few days). Work colleagues (and my mother) would tell you this is nothing new.

There are several reasons why its all gone a bit tumbleweed:

  • My summer holiday – last year I also found it hard to get back into the groove of writing when I returned from my break (despite – this year as well as last – resolving to write prolifically whilst away).
  • Returning to a groaning intray – been trying to get a number of projects off the ground, and been thrown several new pieces of work – they all get in the way of thinking / posting time.
  • Another recent short weekend break – disrupted my attempts to get ‘back in the groove’.
  • Most importantly, suffering from social media overload – nothing I have read recently has inspired me or drawn me to do anything. In fact, there seems to have been an awful lot of social media navel gazing going on at the moment. Its not like I have nothing to say, but when all I hear is noise, I don’t really want to add to it (this despite the fact that there are plenty of things I want to write about. But if I’m not inspired, it doesn’t feel right to be broadcasting my thoughts either).

So, let’s hope I snap out of it soon. Not for your sake (necessarily) but for mine. If this all sounds a bit sorrowful, hey – it’s my party!

Anyway, whilst I remember there are three events taking place shortly that you should think about participating in (if you don’t know about them already).

Two are taking place this Saturday (27th September), both in London. First up is the UK Youth online, run by Tim Davies. Its being held at DIUS in Victoria Street. Second is Barcamp London 5 overspill, organised by Harry Metcalfe (a brilliant idea, might I add). Both of these events look like they are going to be cracking. I was hoping to go to both (don’t ask) but sadly family obligations have got in the way so I may only be able to pop in for a short time, if at all. But I recommend them both to you.

A little further away (both in time and in distance from London) is Scot Web 2, being held in Edinburgh on 30th October. Organised by the ever resourceful Alex Stobart from the Scottish Executive/Government. It’s a barcamp style type event focusing on social media in the public sector. I’m trying to work out how to get there myself.

Also, I’ve reluctantly (because I don’t really enjoy it) agreed to speak at a few upcoming events. If you’re planning to attend any of these, please do say hello and either settle my nerves before the event, or tell me I was fabulous afterwards (I hate to hear the truth..). These include:

  • Mashup* event – Government 2.0 on 7th October – not really sure what I am doing here as it looks quite ‘techie’ but I guess I will find out shortly.
  • Public Sector online on 21st October at Inmarsat – talking about ‘web2.0 and beyond’ with other speakers (so hoping this will be some kind of panel thing).
  • Online Information on 2nd December at Olympia, London. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion here about ‘web2.0 after the buzz’.

There, so i finally wrote something…. 🙂

Five words I hate at work


Stakeholders (grrrrr)




(disclaimer: I use these words often in the workplace, because sometimes jargon seems to suggest credibility…)

While we’re at it, haven’t got a lot of time for ‘vision’ at the moment (cue inevitable Mark O’Neill punchline…)

Six approaches for social media adoption – 4. converse

I’m back from holiday, relatively refreshed, and feeling bad with the realisation of how long I have been stringing this series out. This wasn’t deliberate on my part and I will try and bang the last three out in quick order (not easy for a blogger as lazy as I).

So, to ‘converse’, the fourth approach.

When I was pulling the approaches to social media paper together over eighteen months ago,  I imagined this to be the real meaty opportunity – devolving discretion to policy owners (thought leaders) and press officers to join existing conversations. To give them the opportunity to offer their thoughts or advice and correct any misconceptions or factual errors.

I say ‘devolving discretion’ (or should I say, said) rather than ’empower’ because then, as now, there was considerable nervousness higher up in the towers of Whitehall about completely letting go and signalling a free for all for civil servants to dive into participating. Devolving discretion in this context means a more measured approach – providing guidelines, setting operating parameters etc.

The strength in allowing civil servants to take part in conversations is obvious. Intervention to correct factual errors could prevent stories unreasonably gaining a life of their own. Its also a great opportunity to build relationships and trust with stakeholders by demonstrating transparency and honesty through conversations.

On the flip-side its important that this is not seen as an outlet for formal rebuttal. Attempts to use the tools for this purpose could seriously impact an organisation’s credibility. From a corporate perspective, its also important to recognise that many staff will need some kind of training or help to give them the skills for the job.

So, some great opportunities to ‘humanise ‘government, increase engagement, to crowdsource and develop early stage policy ideas – garnering opinions from activists and communities before narrowing down to formal policy options.

But there are dangers. Adopting an informal approach could backfire if the correct conversational and personal tone is not adopted and/or perceived to be insincere – especially around emotive and high profile issues. Identification of individuals or groups of civil servants online could also make them open to personal attack and flaming from those with malicious intent.

In terms of cost and resource, I think by this point some dedicated specialist resource is  essential to support, guide and mentor officials engaging in debate. Certainly people will probably require some support at set up and need to know someone is available to help them if they have concerns or problems.

So, that’s four down. Two to go.

Interview with Municipalist

Apologies for the light blogging, I’m away on holiday and desperately trying to avoid touching computers (and failing dismally to date, apart from blog posts..).

Anyway, if you follow Craig Colgan (aka Municipalist)’s excellent blog, you may have seen an he recently published an interview with me about my experiences of public sector blogging. For those Manchester United fans who ever read Whitehall Webby, I can only apologise in advance (that includes you Dad 😦  ).

Correction: Craig is Municipalist, not the Municipalist. These superheroes….