Posts Tagged ‘participation’

Social Innovation Camp

June 24, 2009

Social Innovation Camp

We totally won!!!

When I last posted we were frantically trying to develop the site and pull together a presentation on our ideas, and fewer than 24 hours later it was all over and was declared the winning idea at Social Innovation Camp 2009.

There’s a sort of overview available on the blog we’ve set up and if you want to be kept updated on how the project progresses over the next few months you can sign up on the website.  Oh, and it’s @mypolice on Twitter.   Notwithstanding some technical hitches on the day, our presentation was ace as we had some video clips from some actual real Glaswegians talking about their attitudes towards the police.  When they’re ready I’ll link to them as they’re really worth a look/laugh.

The prize is some money, plus some free developer days, plus some business mentoring and a strong network of people who are in the know.  The idea is quite simple so I don’t think it will take huge amounts of energy to get it up and running nicely, it’s just the inevitable struggle of getting the police to dabble with the site that will need all our patience/tenacity.  Let me know if you know any friendly bobbys who might be interested in having a chat about it.

The limits of geography are annoying me – most of the others on the team are based in Glasgow so being down in London while meetings are going on is a bit frustrating.  Hopefully I’ll stay involved, perhaps working with the police down here as  I get the impression that the Met is a whole other kettle of coppers…

Mypolice team

12 Steps to changing the world

June 15, 2009

I have this addiction to trying to change things, as you can gather from this blog, and it’s a bane theme of my life that I find myself dissatisfied with The World and feel compelled to do something about it.  By ‘The World’ I probably mean social injustice.  Why can’t I be one of those people who just mind their own business?

Anyway, as part of this quest to make some sort of impact I went along to The School of Life‘s event How to Make a Difference last week with Dominic Campbell.  He tweeted from the event so you can check out some of his tweets here, here and here.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but the whole thing was brilliant.  I came away with a step-by-step practical guide on how to change the world, complete with theory and case studies.  Amazing.

Maurice Glasman spoke about the Alinsky approach to community organising and showed how slavishly following the 12 rules Alinsky set out can actually work.  How does he know?  because that’s exactly what Obama did.  And whatever you think of Obama, you can’t deny that his campaign worked.  Glasman also gave us some personal examples of how it works from his experience of working with the London Living Wage campaign.

There are a few hang-ups I have to get over before I can totally make this approach work – for one I’m rubbish at conflict and have a tendency to want everyone to play nicely.  This is completely unrealistic but undoubtedly a product of my upbringing.  I can think of worse hang-ups to have, but the fact is that social change requires conflict.  So from now on I’ll be saying: Suck it up, Nerd.

As long as you can get over the discomfort of conflict and accept that there needs to be a leader, I think these 12 rules will do very nicely.  Alinsky is my new hero:

Saul Alinsky (Wikipedia Photo)

The Rulez

  1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have
  2. Never go outside the expertise of your people
  3. Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of your enemy
  4. Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules
  5. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon
  6. A good tactic is one your people enjoy
  7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag
  8. Keep the pressure on.  Never let up.
  9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself
  10. If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive
  11. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative
  12. Pick the target, freeze it, personalise it and polarise it

Lots of these need more explanation than I’ve got space to give, but happily Alynski wrote a book called Rules for Radicals, which I’ve already ordered🙂 Social change: sorted.

VRM and the public sector

May 23, 2009

I spoke at VRM Hub this week about the implications of VRM on the public sector.  If you’re new to the idea of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) then you should check out this nifty explanation by Adriana Lukas.

I thought it would probably be best to start with trying to figure out what I mean by ‘the state’, since we could be talking about a variety of bits of the spaghetti of government.  In fact, the full list of all the different bits are on the Direct Gov website.  There’s a prize if you can find the weirdest bit of government.  I’m also thinking that in some cases charities or voluntary sector organisations could count as ‘the state’ since they are often grant funded by the government and therefore do their bidding.

The big question is why VRM matters for the state – there’s lots of good stuff about how it can help us transact with companies better but not much out there on how it can help us improve the balance in our relationship with government institutions.  I think it’s crucial.  For a start off, interaction with the state is complex and you can’t take control.  We have little choice over how our data is used or kept safe (missing memory stick, anyone?) and we never have a complete picture of all our interactions.

We can be residents, citizens, customers, clients, patients, victims, criminals, volunteers and donors to name just a few, and we can be all of those things simultaneously.  In some cases, lives are at stake.  If we could understand more about our interactions with the state then we’d become better citizens – more informed people can take better decisions and maybe even provide for themselves, easing pressure on an already burdened system.

I nearly typed ‘broken system’ then because just the thought of introducing the idea of VRM to the public sector is not for the fainthearted.  There are lots of hurdles, from the extreme risk aversion (AKA ‘blame aversion’) of officials (‘what if no one shares their data with us????!!’) through to worries about digital inclusion (‘we shouldn’t adopt new ways of engaging digitally when there are still some poor/old/disabled people who don’t have computers or broadband’).

      There is also the difficulty of going too fast.  I know – fast isn’t usually the problem with government.  But I’m very nervous about the rush to ‘scale’ VRM before any tools have been properly built or adopted.  We had some debate at the VRM Hub session about how you could authenticate your bits and bobs like your passport, birth certificate, driving licence and soforth in order to make it easier to transact with the government.

      While it’s obvious we will need a way to do this, I think it’s too soon to start trying to invent those ways now.  I’m more interested in people being able to tell their local council their preferences, ideas, suggestions, needs and views and for the council to really listen to what people are saying and then design services accordingly.  Maybe once the state is used to interacting with citizens on their own terms we will start to see entirely new ways of transacting, and only then will we be ready to design solutions to help this more balanced relationship to scale.

      While there are undoubtedly challenges to bringing VRM tools to bear on the state, there are also some open doors.  I think VRM will save state institutions money – possibly through having less of a need to store data (since we will be the source of our data); probably through deleting many of the pointless consultation teams that exist throughout local authorities and departments; but definitely through more accurate service design.

      Another opportunity is the increasing acceptance that the government might actually need to have a relationship of sorts with its citizens – most recently expressed through the delightful ‘duty to involve‘ placed upon councils, which makes talking to people a legal requirement.  I tend to think that if you have to rely on a law to make that happen then you’ve already lost the battle, but at least it’s bringing questions of how best to talk to people to the fore – make way for social media and of course, VRM.  And with faith in political institutions at an all time low, there’s never been a better opportunity to introduce a radical re-think of the relationship between people and state.

      If you’re interested in VRM and want to find out more, you should totally come along to the next VRM Hub meeting in June.  They usually happen on the last Thursday of the month in central London, and you will find details and sign-up here nearer the time.

      Twizzling a fork in the spaghetti of weirdness

      May 18, 2009

      Last week I went along to a workshop organised by the Carnegie UK Trust as part of their Inquiry into the future of civil society in the UK and Ireland.

      The session focused on how ‘the future’ will change civil society organisations and what the impact will be on their use of social media.  I found it a bit of a mind-bending vortex because it was about trying to predict the future, which made me wish for a Delorean car from Back to the Future


      In fact, our group found it much easier to think about what doesn’t change, rather than what will.  We talked about human nature and how contexts may change but patterns of behaviour endure.  That especially struck me because I’m reading a book about the 1920s at the moment, which makes clear the striking similarities between that era and our own.

      What I really liked about the Carnegie UK Trust’s research is that they have identified three ‘fault lines’ that cut across the inquiry.  They are:

      • The isolation of some groups
      • The erosion of areas for public debate
      • The marginalisation of dissent

      The last of these is particularly important because we’re increasingly seeing the criminalisation of forms of protest (e.g. the ridiculous bureaucracy of protesting on Parliament Square) and the erosion of free speech (e.g. the use of the pejorative label ‘climate change denier‘ for anyone who expresses doubt about the evidence or plans for addressing global warming).  Regardless of the views expressed, freedom to express them is so important but increasingly disregarded.

      The last thing we discussed in the session was what civil society organisations can do to prepare for the future.  My thoughts are that they can’t prepare for anything specific (after all, no one is Marty Mcfly)

      Marty Mcfly

      but they can change their models to become more agile and adaptable, so that they’re ready for anything.  Alas it’s easier said than done because the current funding models are constraining and often force charities to become mirrors of the lacklustre institutions that fund them.  Finding a way to be self-sustaining with less of a dependency on grants is one way to adapt (though a good point was made by Nathalie McDermott that there are dangers in charities trying to ‘productize’ their work) and there was an interesting suggestion of adopting a mutual model from Andy Gibson.

      We were also asked what the government can do from a policy or legal perspective to allow civil society organisations to adapt, which leads me to the title of this post.  The legal landscape around civil society organisations is so ridiculously complex that it’s not really worth bothering.  The structures and requirements are from a time gone by and to try to unpick the spaghetti of legislation and governnace would be futile.  Instead, let’s just get on with doing what we need to do to make these organisations adaptable – twizzle a fork in the spaghetti so to speak – if anyone challenges our actions then we can use it as an opportunity to have a public debate about the need to modernise.  If we start with that debate we’ll never get anything done.

      Spaghetti Fork

      There was plenty more discussion and it was a good mix of people (astonishingly more women than men in the room – not sure what cosmic forces were at play there).  Suw Charman-Anderson facilitated the session and has done an overview here; David Wilcox has blogged his thoughts here; and you can see some tweets from the day here.  I’m looking forward to reading the final report.

      Why participatory budgeting is like the Eurovision Song Contest

      May 12, 2009

      I just saw this link posted on Twitter about how American gargantuan chain store Target is using a Facebook application to get its customers to vote for which of 10 charities they would like Target to donate some of their profits to.

      The link came from a couple of public sector types I follow (like this dude and this fella) with the following question:  could we have a Facebook application like this for government (specifically local councils I imagine) to get people involved in ‘participatory budgeting’?  Presumably the idea being that the council puts forward a bunch of departments/initiatives (children, community safety, recession help, road repairs etc etc) and we all have a chance to say which of these we’d prefer them to spend our money on and in what proportion.  Democracy in action, right?

      Wrong.  Participatory budgeting is a complete sham, just like the Eurovision Song Contest.

      Bucks Fizz

      Here’s why:

      1. You don’t get to choose who represents the UK in Europe.  You think you do because they’ve got that rip-off tele-voting thing but actually you only get to choose between a few acts that have been pre-selected by the production company to spend your money on and they’re all crap.  Just like in participatory budgeting in which the council sets the policy areas you can choose to fund with your hard earned money – no space for innovation or alternative services and you have to just pick the least worst option all with the illusion of democracy.

      2. You don’t get to pick whether the UK sends an act to the contest or not and you’ll have the same conversation in your living room every year about how we shouldn’t bother taking part in the contest because it’s a fix anyway and what a waste of money it is. But there’s nothing you can do about it, just like you don’t get to pick whether you pay tax or not and you have the same conversation over and over about how your hard earned money is squandered by the government.  Thing is, if we were allowed a national debate about whether it’s worth putting some poor sucker up for Eurovision each year we might decide it is worth it because Eurovision is a beloved institution.  At least we would have made a positive choice.  If we could have an open debate about whether it’s worth paying tax and having a local authority coordinate some of the things we can’t be bothered to do I think a lot of people would decide that on balance it’s worth it, provided we get better value for money.

      3. You get blamed if we don’t win.  While we’re in our living rooms shouting at the TV about the tactical voting, the official Eurovision position is ‘well you selected your country’s song, so you’ve got no one to blame but yourselves if you picked a dud’.  While we’re all saying ‘but we didn’t pick it!  We were given a false choice between a bunch of rubbish options – this is not an expression of our collective will!’  So it is with participatory budgeting – say if you pick ‘Children’ as deserving of the larger proportion of your cash, it’s your fault that the pavement outside your house didn’t get fixed – after all they asked you what you wanted and you told them children were more important than pavements.  This, we are told, is a ‘policy trade-off’ and it needs to be explained to us that we can’t have our cake and eat it.

      Participatory budgeting makes the government feel better about its decisions.  It adds a perceived level of accountability and it educates people about the ‘tough choices’ that government has to make so we pity the hard job of councils.  Balancing a shrinking budget is undeniably hard, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to trade off essential services, it should be a challenge to introduce innovation.  Redesigning (and co-designing) services so that they meet the needs of the people who really need them, letting those who can fix problems themselves get on with it by freeing up data and removing bureaucracy, having an open debate about the value of public services, letting institutions become porous so that good ideas can easily be introduced, giving back individuals’ data so they can become better informed – these are all things the public sector can do today to make sure that we don’t end up with the policy equivalent of this:

      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…