November 2008


The team is going to get together in December in Brighton and apart from finding somewhere really good to take them to dinner I want to be clear on the objectives for the meeting:

  • There are as ever some EU project formalities which need to be gone over – not the least because we have a review meeting in January
  • We need to demo the first parts of the citizenscape websites as well presenting the functionality.  My hope is that will be the ‘container’ site for Bristol plus our multimedia discussion board with the Citizenscape UI.  I am concerned that this is a big ask for next week but we shall see at the sprint planning meeting on Monday.
  • We need to get to the bottom of why we have not yet had any stakeholder engagement meeting.  Is it a bad idea to do them or is there an underlying problem which is making these difficult to deliver
  • We need to have clarity around the stakeholder groups for each region and also confirm which widgets they want for their site launch in January
  • Try and get as many of them as possible to start a research diary

As a projext manager what I am really trying to do is to break the current inertia (mainly caused by the lack of development progress of course) and get some real work with citizens taking place and also to start to set people up to report on their progress and learning from the project so that this is embedded from early on.

Well – end of the first sprint and things have gone really well (and as I write I realise how rare it is to be able to say this!).  The agile process has given us much more focus and it is really good for giving a real sense of progress to a project.  We have also had good results with managing late coming critical tasks which were able to be factored in with a real understanding of their impact.  As someone managing the process it has been so much easier to have a much better feel for what is happening.  I also think the team has benefited from the clarity and also the fact that their workload was more transparent to the rest of the team – it seems to have reduced interuptions.

Still things to improve of course.  The main item would be in specification where we have really just been sketching functionality and then talking it through.  As a next step we need to be describing the test criteria but as we get into a new piece of work we will need to spend more time on the descriptive process.

We also need to think about the difficulties of getting people to plan and design the next piece of work while they are thinking about the current sprint – in the future we may need to mix planning work with tidy up tasks and small items rather than doing it in the middle of something complex – but that is something to thnk about for the future.

It has got me thinking about the role of the product manager or owner and how this is very central to this approach – which means that the person in that role really does need to be constantly available in order to avoid either holding up the team or having them go off in the wrong direction.  This will require more vigorous diary management to achieve!

I was at the Headstar edemocracy conference on Tuesday (link here) which was as ever a really good programme.  The keynote speaker was the head of News from the BBC (Helen Boaden) and she gave an excellent presentation – not the least because she made excellent use of the AV and put up images and clips to support her points rather than loads of words and then reading them back to us.  Mental note to make sure I start making more of an effort with powerpoint…

Anyway, her session was about the role of the citizen journalist and there were a couple of things that struck me that I wanted to note:

  • Firstly the fact that the idea of a citizen journalist I think needs teasing out.  There is an inherant tenson between the role of a citizen, which is to participate in the democracy, and the role of a journalist which is to observe and report.  I think media organisations need to be careful how they use these kinds of terms because the two purposes are at odds.
  • Helen also talked about how the news ‘market’ is getting more and more fragmented and that there is no longer the kind of shared viewing experience that used to exist.  I wondered whether this can be linked to drops in general participation as news becomes less mainstream and more of niche where you go to consume the type of news that you like.  Democracy thrives on debate and in a world where you seek out only the information that you are intersted in you are not feeding it.
  • She use the 7th July bombings and the huge effect that these had on the general acceptance of user generated content by the public.  Looking at that footage I have to ask how much of it was reporting and how much was morbid voyerism.  But thats a whole other post in its own right….

I went to some other excellent sessions as well – and chaired a panel with a pair of interesting presentations from Redbridge (who have launched a new web 2.0 site) and a researcher from Manchester called Paul Hepburn who is looking at ways in which sites connect up and link on specific campaigns.  He had some excellent visulisation software and it was fascintactig to see the web of the www really illustrated.

There was a panel with a number of MPs at the end of the session and I have to say this was very disappointing.  No real innovation and a lot of complacency all round.

We (at work) have been looking at introducing Agile as a devlopment process so I have been reading up. As ever wikipedia gives a good overview but I also liked this site which has a simple template for listing work

What I like about agile is the way that it integrates testing and specification into the build process – which is far more realistic with web development. I also think it helps deal efectively with the changing priorities of a small business with the constant process of re-loooking at the backlog.

For us the difficulty will be maintaining the discipline of the ‘timebox’ but at least this will give us a way of measuring the interuptions that we impose on the development team. Anyway – we shall see.

Also want to do some reading on the use of agile as a project management tool

As I write it occurs to me that I will be mentioning Citizenscape a great deal and so it will be useful to at least provide the basic overview of what it is.  Citizenscape is really three different things:

  • Its an EU funded project:  You can find out more at www.citizenscape.org.  The project involves teams in Bristol, Donegal, Genoa and Zilinia and the practical trials will be starting in January 2009
  • Its a project methodology that helps a host organisation to get citzens involved in a democratic debate.  Or more accurately this is what it aspires to be and the project and PHD are focused on finding out if there is an effective and repeatable approach to this kind of stakeholder engagement (though lets agree to try and avoid using the stakeholder word in the future)
  • Its a technology approach:  Though the main thrust of my research is around the emthodology and engagement process Citizenscape is also the product term being used for a new style of website.  I will post more on this at some point but at the moment think of it as a web .0 website approach will blends internal and exteral content and also frees content to travel to other websites while still trying to provide a link back to the citizenscape site.

And we shall see how much this definition changes over the next few months!

I found this useful sumamry of an action research diary (http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arr/arow/rdiary.html).  The first thing that struck me was the need for me to have more structure in my posts.  This suggests splitting posts under the following sections:

  • Reflection
  • Plan
  • Action
  • Observation

So I might give this a go.  I have at least added these as tags!

The data collection for the thesis is going to fall into two types:

  • Action research notes from the project team
  • Automated data collection from the CitizenScape websites

The only thing that is essential in addition to this is to capture the baseline information so we can see what change has been effected by the Citizenscape process.

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