Knowledge Hub Closure: What have we learnt?

There has been quite a buzz of activity on the various blogs, Twitter streams and social networks following the recent press announcement about the pending closure of the LGA’s Knowledge Hub. Here are some of them:

Or just follow the Twitter hashtag #khub

It’s encouraging to see that there is fairly widespread concern about the potential impact of the cessation of this service, albeit with some valid points about how the service could be delivered more simply and cheaply. But more on this in a moment.

As the original design lead for the Knowledge Hub, and the IDeA Communities of Practice platform that preceded it, I might have a lot to say about all of this, and not all of it complimentary to the LGA, given the direction the development took the moment I was out of the door! Suffice to say, it doesn’t exactly meet the original vision, as described in one of my earlier posts: http://steve-dale.net/2009/09/21/knowledge-hub-part-1/

Original Positioning Statement

Knowledge Hub is an innovative new social business platform that will allow councillors, officers, policy makers, experts, regulators and practitioners across the public sector to take greater advantage of new media tools and techniques to support more effective knowledge sharing. It will provide access to new and emerging practice for public service improvement and innovation, and tools for developing and sharing open and linked data applications.

There is no doubt that compromises had to be made as various budget cuts kicked in, but one of the biggest mistakes – I think – was to collapse all design and development decisions into a very small and inward-looking LGA project team, removing the sector-wide governance structures that I had worked so hard to establish. At a stroke, the wider perspective and wise council of The Knowledge Hub Advisory Group was lost, and with it any vision or strategy to deliver a joined-up approach to using open data to derive actionable information and lead to better decision making. Thereafter, opportunities for innovation and knowledge sharing become lost or widely disaggregated across different channels and networks. Hence we’re still left with a separate ESD-Toolkit network, and an LGInform project that continues to plough its own furrow. The original vision was for both of these to be fully integrated into Knowledge Hub and thereby eliminating costs of having separate hosting and support infrastructures, as well as reducing overall complexity for the users.

But the cost of the technology is not the real issue here. Considerable time and effort has been put into the development and growth of the KHub, which is still the UK’s largest public sector membership network. With the private sector now investing heavily in enterprise collaboration and ‘social business’ to encourage innovation and deliver better services, it seems a paradox that a successful and established network operating across local government and the third sector is being closed because the value hasn’t yet been recognised.

When considering “value”, does anyone seriously think that Yahoo! is paying $1.1billion (£723m) for the technology that runs Tumblr? No! They’re paying for the 50million or so users of the network and what this means for advertising revenue. Clearly Knowledge Hub is not there for advertising revenue, but there are two important principles at play here:

  1. Users have an inherent value
  2. Building a network from a standing start is not a viable option – for anyone!

Looking at the announcement from LGA I can’t see any evidence that the value of the network of users has been given any thought at all. And in particular, scant regard for the fairly unique skills and experience of the small band of community managers and facilitators that really understand how to develop and nurture a collaborative community.

So, perhaps we should think of this announcement as an opportunity rather than a problem. The original concept was for a sustainable, sector driven cultural and technological environment in which collaborative knowledge generation, learning, sharing and problem-solving would be supported with minimal mediation by national bodies. The reality is that it is has become a closed and proprietary LGA network, with very little transparency about strategy and development priorities, and clearly now a growing burden to a cash-strapped organisation.

What I think is needed is:

  1. A new owning authority to be established, along the lines of a cooperative or member-owned, not-for-profit organisation. This organisation to take overall responsibility for future strategic development of Knowledge Hub. The Knowledge Hub will thereafter be owned and managed by its members.
  2. A new business model to be established around member/organisation subscription. Membership would guarantee privacy, security, persistent content ownership and no advertising (advertising could be considered as a revenue stream for freemium membership)
  3. Utilising the same technology (the Intelligus platform is capable of delivering everything that was in the original vision and specification), but available in a more open environment that would encourage entrepreneurial development.
  4. A new Knowledge Hub mandate is agreed setting out its purpose in providing a secure and trusted collaborative environment for use by any person or organisation working to improve public services, or delivering community services.
  5. Subject to consultation, members and content to be seamlessly migrated to the new open environment.

I appreciate there are many other factors that also deserve consideration, not least the possible loss of LGA staff that may have been instrumental in supporting the many KHub communities and who possess that unique blend of “community management” skills. I believe this discussion should be more formally part of the LGA consultation rather than speculate as part of this post.

I’m happy to receive views/comments on any of the points raised here.

 

 

 

About Steve Dale

Stephen Dale is both an evangelist and practitioner in the use of Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications to support personal development and knowledge sharing. He has a deep understanding of how systems and technology can be used to support learning and facilitate smarter working, where connections and conversations are the key to self-development and creativity within the organisation.
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2 Responses to Knowledge Hub Closure: What have we learnt?

  1. Hi Steve,
    I agree with the majority of what you say ( as usual) but I think you may be a little of the mark with some of your comments.

    1. To my knowledge LGA haven’t said that KHUB is closing – just that it is considering closure due to budget pressures. Bearing in mind the considerable support for the service I would hazard to say that closure of the KHUB service is very unlikely.
    2. The value of users, both in terms of quantity and quality, is a consideration which is being taken into account in trying to ensure the service continues by the current parties involved in delivering the service.
    3. You rightly say that the Intelligus platform is capable of delivering everything that was in the original vision and specification ( thank you), but what you fail to point out (probably because you are not aware) is that the platform is currently undergoing an upgrade to a Liferay 6.1 base specifically so that more external, entrepreneurial developments can be accommodated through the comprehensive API which will be available. Hats off to the existing LGA team for recognising this as the way forward!
    4. What makes you think the current business model is not established around network/organisation subscription?

    The LGA have had an excellent team at the helm of the programme and have brought elements of your (and the KHUB Advisory Groups) vision in being. I think it is a little unfair to criticise them for being opaque about the setting of development priorities as they have reached out to the KHUB user community for input.

    I have no doubt that in the coming days a secure future for KHUB will be announced and that those who participate in KHUB can continue to dictate its direction.

    Cheers
    Paul

  2. Steve Dale says:

    Hi Paul,

    thanks for the comments. On your first point, I think the press reports have added to the confusion. Local Gov Chronicle quoted an LGA source:

    “We are looking at whether it can be delivered in a different way. It’s great that people can have these conversations, but can that happen on other websites, such at Twitter or LinkedIn?”

    One might infer from this that KHub in its current form would cease to be. More worrying is that the quote betrays a level of misunderstanding as to what KHub is.

    On point 4, I didn’t mean to infer that a subscription model wasn’t already supported, but it’s not being used (with the possible exception of the Improvement Service). What is lacking, in my opinion, is someone with business skills who can be out there selling the product. A golden opportunity was lost when Ning decided to stop their freemium model. Lots of organisations (particularly third sector) were looking for an alternative platform.

    There are plenty of opportunities still out there, e.g. the health sector, but no-one at LGA with a business remit looking at how the platform could be self-funded.

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