Knowledge 2.0 for local government

I’ve recently signed up to LocalGovCamp, an ‘unconference’ for local government. Taking place on 20 June 2009, at the Fazeley Studios in Birmingham.

If there is the time and the interest, I am hoping to run a session on a major new initiative to bring new thinking about how good/best practice is developed and shared across the local government sector. Tired and dusty knowledge repositories have had their day. The new breed of social networking and social media tools offer more opportunities for connecting with peers and experts, and provide more dynamic, fresh and relevant ways to share knowledge and information.

The working project title is the ‘Knowledge Hub’, and it is part of a  major programme of work being managed by the IDeA and funded by the CLG.

Sector Knowledge Hub

The project is still at a very early stage, but conceptually it will combine elements of Communities of Practice with the benefits of mass collaboration and  ‘peer review after publication’ offered by products such as Wikipedia.  The Wikipedia model has rapidly matured over the past three years, becoming more trusted and relevant than the traditional (and much slower) authoritative publishing channels. It also offers a  ‘lighter touch’ and less mediated option for dissemination of knowledge in an environment that is increasingly influenced by rapidly changing external events (the credit crunch and swine flu being two recent examples).

The project is seeking help and support from councils and social innovators who would be willing to participate in prototyping solutions and helping to ‘pump prime’ the content for a ‘wikipedia-like’ system. Funding is available.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who may have an interest in attending this session, or from local council representatives who might be willing to participate in the early prototyping work, or from anyone else who may have interest in helping to develop a new ‘Knowledge Ecology’ for local government.

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Can Government ever be agile?

Paul Canning writes about the changing and shifting priorities of central government in relation to ‘eDemocracy’, and specifically the possible demise of the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy (ICELE), which  is – or was – a government funded ‘National Project‘.  I believe Paul’s point is that this is not so much a case of government being particularly capricious in this instance as being devoid of any real understanding of what is happening in the egov world.  I’d agree with all this, and the execellent summary of why IT projects fail that Paul writes about in a separate blog.

But while government blunders about in ever-decreasing circles, with huge monolithic ‘e-projects’ that will take years to deliver any benefits, (and more likely be canned when costs get out of hand), there are surely some opportunities for the small/entrepenurial consultancies and individuals in the Web 2.0 space to fill the gaps with what may start out as tactical solutions but could ultimatley be part of core strategy.  I admire MySociety for taking this approach, and maybe this is an example for other practitioners in this space.

I just wish that Government would realise they don’t need to create enormously complex governance structures for what should be agile e-gov projects. But perhaps ‘agility’ and ‘government’ is after all an oxymoron!

See also comments on this debate from Dave Briggs .

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UKGovWeb barcamp event roundup.

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There’s probably not a lot more I can say about the excellent UKGovWeb barcamp event that took place at the Google offices on Saturday 26th January that hasn’t already been said by the raft of energetic bloggers that made up the majority of the delegates (or at least that was my impression). You can see a round-up of the day’s events at the Pageflakes site, catch up on the pre-and-post conversations at the Google Group, or check out the following blogs (with apologies to all I have missed out….can’t quite keep up with the blog-rate!). See Dave Briggs, Simon Dickson, David Wilcox, LLoyd Davis, Jeremy Gould, Tim Davies and Nick Booth, with photos on Flickr, websites tagged here and videos here.

It’s not really surprising that this one event has generated so much multimedia exposure, given the assembly of so many ‘Web 2.0 activists’, and I hope this will ensure some continued momentum for this particular self-organising group. I think Jeremy Gould summed this up quite well on his blog:

"We need to find ways to make partnership between those inside and those
around government easier – and promote it as as an alternative method
to trying to do everything ourselves. We don’t know all the answers
individually, but as a collective we can get closer to the ideal
solutions.

If we in government want to innovate more, we should also behave
more like innovators. The format and style of the barcamp was great and
encouraged collaboration and thinking differently.
"

Best keep an eye on Pageflakes for future developments!

   

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UKGovWeb barcamp event

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I’m looking forward to attending the UKGovWeb barcamp this coming Saturday 26th January – though  not quite sure what to expect, this being my first barcamp event. However, I’m encouraged by the fact that  the organisers (and primarily Jeremy Gould) have done this sort of thing before and have avoided getting bogged down with over-prescriptive planning at the expense of delivery. Judging from the list of  presenters and topics noted on the barcamp wiki and the very active forum discussions in the Google Group,  there is enough creative energy to carry the day and make it a worthwhile learning and sharing experience for everyone.

Time and scheduling permitting, I will be presenting and discussing the work I’ve been doing these past two years in introducing social networking and Web 2.0 technologies into local government in order to  improve inter-authority collaboration and provide learning and sharing opportunities. The ultimate objective being to improve council services through smarter ways of working. The following is a brief synopsis of what I will cover:

"Social tools and technologies are changing the
KM landscape, making it far easier to connect with peers and experts,
and facilitating far more effective knowledge sharing and
collaboration. We are moving beyond the factory model of ICT, which
focussed on centralisation, standardisation and storage to a more
diverse and less regulated environment.

For some, this provides the opportunity to break out of the silo
working practices so prevalent across the public sector, and encourages
a more productive and collaborative approach to online knowledge
sharing. Others see this as undermining the integrity and quality of
established (and centralised) knowledge repositories and best practice
procedures, and equate social networking with purely leisure and
entertainment activities.

Early in 2006 I set about persuading the Improvement and Development  Agency (www.idea.gov.uk) to develop a  social networking/social media platform for local government. This was eventually launched (www.communities.idea.gov.uk)in
September 2006. The underlying purpose was to see if Web 2.0
technologies and social media applications would encourage staff
working in local authorities to share ideas, best practice and policy
initiatives across the sector, without being inhibited or constrained
by geographical location or boundaries (e.g. the local council’s
boundary). Given that most councils were being squeezed by lower
budgets on the one side, and pressure to improve services on the other,
the only way many of them could drive through any further efficiencies
was through smarter ways of working – which is how this overall
initiative was promoted.

Despite some resistance from the more senior tiers in local
government, who are still wedded to the traditional ‘command and
control’ methods for managing staff and services, the overall strategy
has been remarkably successful. The platform was launched in September
2006, and membership has grown from nothing to over 7000
registered members – and still growing. There are over 200 active
communities on the platform (which is free to join for public sector
employees) with representation from nearly all the 400+ councils in
England and Wales.

The key challenges in developing the strategy (and still to be entirely overcome)  were:

1. moving from a culture of knowledge repositories
(people-to-information) to one of knowledge collaboration
(people-to-people),

2. introducing a sceptical and mature staff demographic to the
concept of virtual collaboration using social computing/Web 2.0
facilities and

3. creating, developing and growing effective communities of
practice in local government, where command and control systems are
prevalent." 

I would be interested in hearing from anyone at the barcamp who has tried a
similar approach for encouraging shared learning, or is considering
doing so in the environment they work in. I’m happy to share the
lessons I’ve learnt, and anxious to pick up any hints and tips from
those who have already trodden this rocky path.

I’m particularly interested in any anecdotes from delegates on how they have addressed the three points mentioned above.

I’m also interested in hearing views about how important the
technology is in encouraging communities of practice or interest to
develop.

You can follow the planning for this event (and presumably the outputs from the day) on the aggregated Pageflakes page that Dave Briggs – "the Web 2.0 dynamo" – has set up.

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