Archive for April, 2009

It’s traditionally cotton, isn’t it?

April 30, 2009

Today is my 2 year anniversary on Twitter.  Yes, you read that right.  READ IT AND WEEP YOU TWITTER-COME-LATELYS.  For the first time in my life I was actually into something before it became cool (complete accident of course).

In a pub in Hackney a man called James Governor introduced Dominic Campbell and me to this crazy new web tool called Twitter.  He sort of generally Tiggered on about it for a bit until we were sold.  I signed up the next day.  Twitter has quite literally changed my life.  I don’t want to get all emotional about it, but it’s hard to understate the impact of Twitter.

It took me a while to get into it – I was working for a local council which had strict rules about that sort of thing, so what was I supposed to tweet about?  Well, my first tweet read: ‘watching Location Location Location’.  Oh dear – that’s wrong on many levels, isn’t it?  I’m pleased to say things have improved since then – mostly I use it to reinforce the face-to-face contacts I’ve made and I love how it adds a layer of depth to those relationships.

The most significant thing Twitter has done for me was to keep me connected to a world I wanted to be part of while I was working in boring jobs.  It showed me that there were people out there doing the kind of stuff I wanted to do, and just knowing that and being able to participate eventually gave me the confidence to quit my boring job and join in.  Of course there were some people who supported me too, but Twitter definitley played a part.

I know there’s more I can get out of Twitter – according to Klout I’m a bit of a casual user – and I’m sure it will only become more integrated into my life.  So thanks Twitter – you rule, no matter what the haters say.

Open Gov (?)

April 25, 2009

I”ve just got round to processing my thoughts on the OpenGov Event which happened on Wednesday.  Here’s my synopsis, but the #opengov Twitter feed is worth a read, as are some other write-ups here, here and eventually here.

The keynote was Alex Butler, Director of Transformational Strategy at the Central Office of Information, whose main point was that they movers and shakers in government still don’t get ‘It’ (i.e. the web as a tool for citizen participation).  She suggested less talk about technology and more talk about participation to get the big-wigs on board.  She also revealed that the COI has set up an R&D budget to be more experimental, meaning more freedom to work with smaller suppliers, news which sent the audience a-twittering.

Stand-out clangers of the day were mostly dropped by Paul Evans, who said ‘active citizens’ (i.e. those that readily participate) are usually wealthy, obsessive and time rich.  They are, in Paul’s view, not as useful as passive citizens and their opinions should be disregarded, an opinion which I think is elitist, bureaucratic and a bit dangerous.  Paul’s other gem of wisdom was that eavesdropping on people is a good idea so you can find out what people are thinking.  Another bit of lunacy there – no one likes being eavesdropped upon.  It’s creepy.  If you want to know what people are thinking, go to where they’re hanging out online, let them know you’re there and you’d just like to hear their opinions, shut up and listen to them, and participate when it feels right to or you’re invited to comment.

Luckily, other speakers had some useful things to say.

Dave Briggs made the very good point that the perceived ‘digital divide’ is too often used by government to avoid engaging at all.  Just because there is a minority of citizens that aren’t on the web, it doesn’t mean the majority should be denied the opportunity online.

I might be Tim Davies‘s newest fan – he made some brilliant points, like reminding us that most people in local authorities can’t access the web tools for citizen participation at work and they don’t have a policy that encourages them to experiment (he’s actually done a big long list of hurdles for local government in this area).  He also talked about the need to use creative methods internally as a way to encourage staff to be more creative when engaging externally.  I absolutely agree with that as I think role-modelling behaviour is one of the most powerful tools we have (it can also be translated as ‘get your own house in order before you start bossing citizens around’).  Another great comment was that officers fear that citizens won’t participate online.  Tim pointed out that government has often failed to engage offline (take the woefully small numbers of citizens who go to local area forum meetings) Tim’s point:  It’s not new to fail but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Paul Clarke reckoned that the IBMs and KPMGs of this world should be participating in the debate since they’ve got most of the government contracts (there was one attendee from IBM to be fair…)  He then incurred the wrath of the back-channel by collectively describing those of us that did attend as ‘fringe’.  Maybe that was a bit insensitive but I can see his point.  Having worked at one of said big players in the government market until recently, I can say the reason they weren’t at the conference is because THEY DON’T GET IT.  What’s more, we don’t need them to get it – we need them to get out of our way.

One of the coolest comments of the day came from Jonathan Akwue, who gave us a lesson in being ‘street’ and reminded us that the development of the web is a bit like the development of hip hop.  I’m not as cool as that, but much to my surprise I did seem to get some retweeting of this comment.

One final thought, on a theme I’ll return to in the future.  It was once again a mostly male audience at the event, with women making up about 20% of the crowd (notwithstanding the female keynote at this particular event).  Women have so much to offer this industry (or whatever we’re calling the social/government/innovation/web ‘space’ these days) but they’re rarely involved and I’ve no idea why.  In fact it seems like no one really knows.  I went to the London Girl Geek Dinner for the first time this week and joined Silicon Stilettos (which anyone who’s ever seen my trainer collection will find hilarious) so let’s just say I’m investigating and I’ll post my findings on this here blog…

Ladies and gentlemen: My Mum

April 11, 2009

From the young to the ‘more experienced’ in little over a week.

At the moment I’m doing some work on an online campaign for a travel card that lets people over 60 get certain benefits on some public transport.  Not being au fait with the over 60s (nothing against my elders, I just don’t happen to know many) I’ve been trying to figure out where the older and wiser hang out on the web.  Who better to ask than the only grown-up I know – my mum.  (I should point out for legal reasons that she’s not actually over 60, but she would be ticking the right age bracket in a survey).

Anyway, as ever she came up trumps with some great comments about her web use which entertained me so much I thought I’d share them with the whole internet.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… my mum

Now, about this travel card, which couldn’t be closer to my heart. The kind of websites I go on are often work related, so today I’ve gone on City & Guilds, OCR, LLUK, Edexcel, Companies House.  Others yesterday were Privy Council, QAA and QCA. So in other words you would capture me and a million other women teachers, particularly if you extended to DIUS and OfQual. Then if you assume that all women of my age are rock chics at heart, any sites that cover musicians and concerts of that period, museums, art galleries, shopping at Harrods, Fortnums, Selfridges, Harvey Nics etc, Chelsea, Hampton Court (? too far), Sloane Square Antiques Fair, any exhibitions like Grand Designs, the Ideal Home Show, Boat Show, International Homes Show, special exhibitions like Klimt, Egyptian Art, etc. And of course the great shop and drop sites like Tesco, Waitrose and M & S and retail outlets like Bicester Shopping Village, Ikea and Habitat. GARDEN CENTRES !! JOHN LEWIS!! And assuming people have a little money, some of the airlines. Am I being a bit of a stereotype though? What about those poor women stuck in council flats who probably don’t have access to a computer at all? They should surely have an opportunity to have a card, so are you doing a separate marketing campaign for folk like that?

Note the studious use of caps for ‘garden centres’ and ‘John Lewis’, and as if caps didn’t emphasise it enough, the use of double exclamation marks.  My mum REALLY!!!! likes garden centres and John Lewis.  I also told her about a possible idea I had to get some designers to do some specially commissioned travel card holders and give some away to the first 100 people to register for the travel card.   My mum should totally have gone into marketing – check out her creative suggestions.  I especially love how she’s happy to open the idea out to students, which is definitely better than my original suggestion of Libertys.

So far as designers are concerned, it would be difficult to press the buttons of such diverse socio-economic groups in one hit, so what about a series of images rather like ranges of stamps? That way you could have Cliff on one, Mick on another and maybe Alan Titchmarsh on another ! Or London sights, gardens, objets like chandeliers and vases, transport like boats and red buses….. Liberty’s sounds v expensive for design work, but you could open it out to London School of Fashion, or Goldsmiths as an award for best design, save money and help some budding artist? I would certainly want a travel card, but most certainly wouldn’t want to feel like an old lady, so no mention of age should be obvious and they should signify fun !!  and any forthcoming event would prompt me to apply for one.

In case you’re wondering, she’s referring there to those bastions of British culture Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Mick Jagger and, er, Alan Titchmarsh.  Really Mum??  Alan Titchmarsh??  And finally, her very topical and frankly hilarous sign-off:

Eggcetera ….love mum

If you would like to hire my mum to mastermind your next online marketing campaign you will have to come through me.  Trust me, she is eggcellent…

Baby steps

April 10, 2009

I came across this cool site ages ago, which is about getting people to do small things that would make a big change if enough people did the same.

Not sure I’m convinced that sites like this can ever catch on in a big way – you might end up spending more time trying to convince people to take part than actually making any real change – but I am totally in favour of starting small and embodying the behaviours you’d like to see in others.

It sort of got me thinking about government, and how men and women who work hard as public servants somehow get caught up in the bureaucracy.  When you take people outside of their work context and ask them what kind of service they would like to see as a voter and taxpayer, they suddenly realise that they’ve become the thing they hate in their own public services.

I was wondering what kind of small changes could each public servant make that might make a small difference.  Here’s my starting list, some of which I wish I had done more of when I worked in a local council:

  1. Book meetings in half-hour slots as the default, rather than hour slots
  2. Don’t call things a strategy when they’re really a plan
  3. Any time you spend any of your budget, calculate how much council tax that is for a resident and whether you’d be happy to see your hard-earned tax money go on that purchase
  4. If you normally work in the back office spend one day working in a registrars office/library/reception
  5. Set up a colleague with an RSS reader and show them how to use it to save time
  6. Thank people when they’ve done a good job and cc their boss
  7. Ask ‘why?’
  8. Do something on time for someone, or better still ahead of the deadline
  9. Have a discussion with people about whether you think the plan you’re writing/implementing will really do the job. If it won’t do the job, change it so it will.
  10. Measure fewer performance indicators and trust your instinct more

Let’s get rid of schools

April 3, 2009

I was totally excited to read this post on ‘Hacking Education’, which I found referenced on Johnnie Moore’s blog while I was catching up with my out-of-control Google Reader subscriptions.

People who know me have heard me rant about education for a while.  In summary, I hated school and it wasn’t the right place for me to learn.  I did OK at it, but it wasn’t because of school, it was in spite of it.  I mean does this look like an inspiring place to learn?


The world of social care is going through some pretty fundamental shifts – one of the coolest things is the idea of personal budgets which allow people to have a bit more control over what care they get.  In my view it doesn’t go far enough, but that’s for another day.

What does this have to do with schools?  Well, nothing at the moment.  But imagine if, instead of being shoved in a school, you had a personal education budget that would give you more control over how you learned.  Instead of sitting in maths lessons (my personal nadir) I would have used a bit of cash to go travelling.

That might sound like a bit of a doss but think about the far more useful skills I could have gained at a younger age:  Languages and communication skills, resourcefulness, confidence, general knowledge, budgeting – the list goes on.

Backpacking round Europe wouldn’t be for everyone, but the sheer wealth of ways there are to learn should be opened up to young people.  Of course, some people love school; it provides structure, routine, discipline, social interaction and much more, so maybe the title of this post is a little bit sensationalist :)  Perhaps it would be better to say that everyone should be entitled to the freedom to learn in the way that best suits them.

Sure, the implementation would need a bit of thinking about, but in principle that would be how I would hack education.


April 1, 2009

Check out these dead nice trainers I saw on mashKULTURE today

Nike Dunk Hi Nylon Premium

Nike Dunk Hi Nylon Premium

Pretty sweet, huh?  I’ve moved away from white trainers for a while, but I like the purity of these beauties.  Remember to compliment me on my footwear when you next see me🙂

Actual Real People

April 1, 2009

Last week I had a super cool couple of days working with a bunch of nurses, service users and mangers from a Department of Health project called the Family Nurse Partnership.

In summary the programme supports young mums-to-be through pregnancy and childbirth, right through until their kids are toddlers.  The idea comes from the USA, where they’ve had some good results (though I gather that anything would be an improvement over there) and initially I was sceptical – was this just another way for the government to seep into people’s lives and spy on them? It turns out that this occurred to some of the young women we spoke to as well.

The reality, though, seems to be quite different. After their initial misgivings, the programme participants were giving some amazing feedback – ‘my nurse is like a member of my family’- was one of the comments we heard. Instead of feeling spied-on, most of them felt supported and like they had someone who was on their side – their nurses were there just when they needed them.

I can’t express how impressed I was with the young women we met. They were all 18-19 years old, each with a child from 9 – 18 months old and far from being the social stereotype of Vicky Pollard, they were bright, articulate and ambitious. Talk after our workshop was of returning to college, getting a job and a place to live.

Blimey, all that AND a small child needing constant care and attention. Sometimes I can’t even look after myself, never mind another tiny human being.

Attitudes to the web were fascinating as well. The programme leaders and managers we spoke to were all about the information and knowledge-sharing – they needed access to the latest research to inform policy decisions. The nurses were much more into sharing experience and talking to peers. The mums were the most web-savvy bunch – they mostly sorted their social lives through Facebook which they used on their phones while on the go. Across the board SMS was the preferred way to communicate, and the most frequent web use was for shopping.

Quite a challenge for those of us who spend our time trying to solve social problems by using the web. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone knows/cares about the latest energy efficiency social network or the newest donate-a-hug to Africa site. It’s only when you meet up with people outside your immediate circle that you realise most of this stuff is completely off the radar. That doesn’t mean it’s not important (though maybe it’s a sort of litmus test) but I think it means we need to widen out to make sure that what we’re doing will be useful and relevant. Hmmm. This is something I need to keep thinking about…