I’ve been meaning to write this since 2 rather busy weeks back in October which comprised of; the Solace Conference, CityCamp Coventry, a Creative Councils event down in Cornwall, facilitating an action learning group with Leicestershire Police and a learning week conference at the City of London as well as my first #innopints meeting in Devon. I met so many interesting people and its great sometimes to experience such a variety in a short period as you make different connections in your mind and I’ve been reflecting on those since then.

The underlying theme that has been stuck with me is the need to understand how to both connect and unlock networks. Beyond that I think we need to understand the cultural change that this confronts organisations with – how to truly adjust to the idea that network power is a huge asset if it can be integrated with some kind of structure. The companion to this is a renewed awareness of the need to look for networks internally and externally because to do things differently we need to be unconstrained by organisational boundaries.

Networked power operates in a very different way to hierarchical power (something that Mathew Taylor touched on in his keynote to Solace) and as the Public Sector is both pulled and pushed towards becoming more reliant on networks and networked power the cultural impacts of this are central to understanding how we actively rather passively make this change happen. For me this is about making the cultural shift that is beyond a standalone social media strategy.

The work we are doing with Leicestershire Police is a good example of this. The Force is making excellent use of Social Media but wants to push this forward in order to move out of high quality communications and into more operational impacts from its use of Digital. It’s a process and cultural change problem not a skills or training issue. To help them address this we’ve been working with them to create an internal action learning group who are looking at big strategic questions around identity, risk and process redesign.

The first step of the work with LeicsPolice is helping them to rethink their use of social media in terms of the groups that they want to connect with and influence – rather than as a straightforward communications exercise. This is causing the team we are working with to think very differently about external actors and to understand where the power sits in their networks in a very different way.

This external kind of external power was at the heart of the CityCamp Coventry (and other CityCamp like ours in Brighton of course) – a brilliant couple of days with Sasha Taylor and crew talking about virtual orchards, mapping the ring road, using empty shops and creating Coventry ambassadors. The fact that Martin Reeves as CEX of Coventry took the time to be there on both days and that the Council staff are part of the organising team for CityCamp Coventry showed their understanding of the fact that we need to remove organisational boundaries if we are going to unlock the ability of communities and citizens to innovate.

The urgency of making this kind of systematic change was very clear at Solace. This year at the Summit I felt a sense of a much greater acceptance of the need for substantive change in the face of financial and social pressures – but for many people no clear consensus or plan as to what that means. The point is that though we may or may not be at the point of the greatest level of change but it doesn’t matter – the inertia is largely broken and we are on the move. For many people the problem is that the early movers are deep in the depths of innovation and they are not sharing their experience enough.

These early movers are largely remarkable people who can’t spend enough time finding out what other people are doing and as a result feel isolated – and they are surrounded by people who want to learn but don’t know who to learn from. Dealing with the uncertainty of not yet knowing what works in the new landscape we are operating within means that we need to learn how to learn and make decisions as we are doing so. To make this work we need to connect and network these individuals and small groups and we need to do this on a larger scale than is currently happening. This could be a role for more established, and more hierarchal, organisations like Solace but only if they are able to make this cultural shift themselves – which is a different but still substantial challenge.

When we talk about co-production the focus is often on the relationship with the Community. Here the power shift is clear; from the State to the Citizen. The real challenge of co-production or at least greater levels of collaboration is between more formally structured organisations where the power negotiations are going to be much more complex as they rebalance resources. We need larger organisations to be active brokers in this process and they can only do this if they are transforming themselves and becoming more agile and networked.

In making change small practical actions are vital – but we need a bigger vision or at least a set of values as a lodestar to help filter this in some way or at least build the confidence that we need to make astonishing things happen. If we are going to build this vision then we need to do so at the same time as looking at the culture and structure of the organisation who is going to deliver it and create networks of people at all levels and beyond levels in wide networks to make this happen. Again larger organisations can help to build and support this bigger vision – but they have to be part of the change themselves to be credible and effective.

We need leaders in this new world and I have written elsewhere about the qualities that those leaders might have but we also need connectors and collaborators who are going to bring groups and networks together in order to build something bigger than any group can manage on their own.

I met so many brilliant people in those two weeks and I saw so many interesting and potentially transformative ideas but I also saw people reinventing and repeating ideas and learning. I also saw the passion of the entrepreneur or innovator being at odds with a collaborative way of working – not within their own project but with other organisations. I also felt the urgency around the transformation agenda that is now in Local Government.

I believe in radical evolution of what we have rather than a complete restart but we have to get on with it and this means really addressing organisational change not just experimenting on projects – or perhaps doing the two things in parallel not sequence.  I am left with four questions:

How do we make sure that we are open, really open, to new ideas?
How do we become better organisational collaborators?
How can we identify the skills that are needed to work effectively in new ways?
How will we create the bigger vision?

We may need more than 140 characters to answer these.

We’ve been having a look at the results from the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – not uniquely I add and I would recommend the analysis on the Guardian Data Blog as well as Sam Chapman’s writing over at http://topofthecops.com/.

The success of the independent candidates is perhaps the most interesting outcome once we look past the turnout figures.

We all know the top line figure:  39% of the new PCCs are Conservative, 32% are Labour and 29% are Independent.  If we look at who they won against those second place candidates breakdown 39% Conservative, 42% Labour, 17% Independent and 2% English Democrat.  However when we look at all of the areas we can see that 55% of the final results were between Conservative and Labour and 45% saw the mainstream party being beaten into third place and an independent being in the running.

Sam Chapman has an excellent post here about what this might mean with respect to the Conservative vote and makes the very valid point that many of these ‘independents’ were in fact local conservative candidates who failed in a seemingly flawed process for choosing local candidates.  However it shows a very different picture to anything we would experience at a General or Local election at this point – this is the first time we have seen anything like this level of success for independent candidates.

The intriguing question is what, if any, effect will this influx of independent politicians have on Local politics and how much more difficult will this make it to integrate PCCs into the National democratic conversation which relies on party politics to function?

Part of the answer to this question lies in how effective the new PCCs are at creating effective relationships not only with the Chief Constable and partner organisations but also with the public.  I wrote last week about the urgency with which the PCCs needs to address their relationship with the public and for independent candidates this is going to be even more important as they have to expect that the mainstream parties will take these elections far more seriously next time.

It’s possible to link the number of Independents with the low level of voter turnout – the lack of even name, let alone policy, recognition being a reason why people didn’t vote – and to suggest that this is a one-off result which will not be repeated once the PCC position has a higher profile with the public. It’s also possible to link it to a general protest against the post itself or a protest from people who wanted to show their dissatisfaction with mainstream parties.  We can finally link it to the fact that many people truly believe that politics has no place in Policing.

However, the fact remains that having a large group of independent politicians represented in the ‘tribe’ of Police and Crime Commissioners reinforces the opportunity that PCCs offer to do politics in a different way.  If we want our politicians to be open, digital, networked and agile then perhaps Independents who are not hindered by having to update a party machine will be able bring these principles to bear quickly.  The political party structure brings with it support, expertise and resources – but it also brings with it the negative connotations of ‘traditional’ politics.  It will be interesting to see how these tensions play out over the next few months – and whether we see any related impact at the next Local Elections in May 2013.

Even without the final results it’s not too early to say that the turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioners has been horribly horribly low. Just a few examples: 16:09% in Nottinghamshire, 19.58% in Avon & Somerset, 19:48% in Humberside but these levels also mask areas of even lower engagement in some places: 11% in Coventry, 10.3% in Epping, 15.65% in Hull, 15% in North Devon. The list does and will go on.

The Electoral Reform Society predicted levels like this earlier in the year but could not sway the Government with respect to either their funding of information or timing of the election – a decision which I personally think shows very little respect for our democratic process.

I’ll be interested to hear whether the Lancashire or South Yorkshire numbers are better given the real commitment of both these Police Authority teams made to get the vote out but in turnout terms no-one can be happy with the degree of voter engagement.

The reasons for this will be complex. Overall we are seeing a general decline in democratic participation and engagement with politics. More acutely for this election the public clearly feel uninformed about both the post and the candidate choices. The mainstream media have been more preoccupied with the US election than this one. Local media has shrunk in many places to the point of irrelevance, which has not helped raise the level of debate about the electoral process. Online the discussion is still fragmented and no candidate ran a really strong social media campaign – though many at least made good efforts. I think there has been a real rejection of party politics and a desire to see independent candidates (making the setting of the deposit at £5000 rather than £500 perverse at best). There is another factor I think in play here which is that the little that people have heard about this election over time has been concentrated on resistance to the post from the Police themselves – who would you rather trust a Policeman or a Politician?

People have been asked to vote for something they didn’t want and for people who they don’t know – can we really be surprised at the turnout? The question is what are we going to do about?

Our choices: We can do an old style political party based post game chat amongst the traditional media – perhaps with some braying in the House of Commons – or we can try and use this as an opportunity to really address the issue.

I believe that if we are going to ‘fix’ politics then we need to start to build a radically different relationship between Citizen and State; one which is more open, networked, agile and digital. Not direct democracy but direct representation – where we can feel a connection to the people representing us and as a result take more responsibility for what happens in our communities.

Police and Crime Commissioners need to make their first priority in post the creation of a meaningful democratic relationship with their constituents. Not one which is mediated through consultation, engagement and PR but one which transforms these functions into something that makes them and this post real to the public.

I have met many of the PCC candidates and Officers who will be supporting them over the last year and there is a huge appetite amongst them to serve their communities in the best possible way. However it will take real courage to seize the opportunity to break with the political pattern and go back to their electorate and really introduce themselves. Arranged marriages can and do work – but it takes effort, respect and patience on both sides. I really hope the new PCCs prioritise this relationship building and start by owning and acknowledging the low turnout and the signal that the public has sent them.

The alternative is that we continue as we are and as @demsoc says we miss the opportunity for democratic reform for the next 10 years. Do we really think we can or should wait that long to fix this?

This is a really quick post to share the background stats and my presentation from CityCamp Brighton yesterday.  The day focused on the massive issue of Digital Inclusion and what the CityCamp network can do to help play a part in reducing it.  Lots of ideas and pledges came through and I can’t wait to see the next stage of this when we work through them – see you all at the next third thursday meet-up.  Good to see the issues of how to connect older people to social networks in parallel with discussions about wider engagement and a more esoteric debate about the future of local media and democracy – lots to talk about.

However debate goes better with facts so here are  just four links to provide the start of the evidence base:

If you really like this stuff then I have more data on the Fact Glorious Facts page.  Please get in touch if you have any questions.

I sometimes wonder where digital evangelism stops and a moral imperative to help people get connected online starts and I think this is an open question.  However the evidence is very clearly there to show that everyone should have an equal opportunity to join the network society – whether or not they decide to continue to participate in it.

Open Spaces South West

This is a short write up from #OpenSSW event last week. I will be using the famous @danslee 10 points format but first here is a link to the presentation I would have given if I could have made the tech work.

Instead I just talked and though the main points were covered apologies if this doesn’t seem to have much resemblance to what I actually said!! What I wanted to get over was the sense that we are living through a period of social change and that though we need to be mindful of the technology its equally important that we learn to appreciate the emergent social values and behaviours and learn to adjust to them. I chose to focus of the quality of openness which I think is central to the digital culture and tried to explore this in terms of open practice and behaviours not just about data and information. I also touched on my personal passion for digital civic spaces and ran a session on this afterwards – will blog that separately.

I also went on a fair amount about what disintermediation might mean for democracy – more on that here.

I hugely enjoyed the event and I think one of the things I noticed was the fact that though we were talking about general issues there was a #properjob West Country feel to the event. I think this is down to our host @carlhaggerty which did a brilliant job. It was also helped by the finest public sector sandwich lunch I have ever had – it even had tiny tiny scones with clotted cream #legend.

Anyway…my 10 points to remember are:

1. I really enjoyed meeting @Georgejulian and I took loads away from her work on connecting research and practice – can’t wait to talk more to her on all this
2. I love the way that Carrie Bishop’s mind works – she bring s fresh and human perspective to the potential of technology to solve problems for real people and I always learn something
3. The ShapedbyUs work in Cornwall presented by @designcomedy is fascinating and shows massive potential for whole system innovation – well worth checking out
4. @Carlhaggerty ‘s session on isolation within organisations was really interesting – I think we can all ask if we are giving people the opportunity to connect to the people who can help/challenge/support them
5. Part of this is helping people find their point of entry to this whole agenda and by implication into this social change. We are past the point were we can be exclusive about it and we have to find simple ways to help people find their equilibrium with a rapidly changing world
6. The issue of how we create Civic Space online is interesting to people who aren’t me! phew
7. Politicians are in very different places with respect to how we might create a more digital democracy – we cannot afford not to have them in the debate.
8. We are in a state and process of cultural change where we have to learn to learn – digtial culture is still really malleable and we perhaps have to think about how we help shape it
9. On that note – do we talk enough about our values? We won’t build trust unless we do and we won’t create places we will want to inhabit online without understanding how we feel
10. Are we able to create networks? Do we have the skills and the self-efficacy to think about power in terms of influence and relevance rather than hierarchy?
One final thought – when we helped Carl cook up this event the idea was that we wanted to offer an unconference to people as a mainstream event. To blend speakers who would get you thinking with the chance for the participants to create part of the agenda. I think from the buzz in the room that this blended approach went down well and also managed to appeal to people at different stages of immersion in this new way of working. I’d be interested to hear what other people thought of this but personally I think the format is really worth repeating.

By co-incidence we did something similar yesterday with a CityCamp Brighton event on digital inclusion which I know @demsoc is going to write up but once again the flexible one day format worked well so one to consider if you are planning an event.

I was at the excellent Digital Futures event  in Shropshire on Monday and spoke about Community Engagement – here is the presentation from the event if you are interested:

It was an excellent day and hats off to @ashroplad for his curation of the day.  Lots of great presentations but the standouts for me were Carrie Bishop talking about digital by design not default and minimal use of technology and Alison from Pesky People who with humour and determination hammered home the point that technology has no excuse not to be accessible.  I also enjoyed hearing @loulouk sharing some of the highs and lows of GDS’s work with social media – great to see a high profile group being prepared to share their less than brilliant experiences as well as the stuff that goes well.

I was talking about the way in which networked technologies cause ‘disintermediation’  – removing intermediaries from processes and relationships – and what this pressure might mean for Citizen / Government relationships which are often mediated by the Community Engagement process.  My experience is from the digital democracy world – but my point is that the offline process needs to respond the change being driven online.

We have been doing a lot of work on Community Engagement over the last year both on our own and with our partners Demsoc and OCSI (we don’t just talk networks – we work in them!).  The work has spanned the CRIF project in Cambridgeshire, the NESTA Funded We Live Here project in Brighton and at the moment as part of the advisory and research work we are doing with the APCC and APACE around the new Police and Crime Commissioner roles.  Having these new roles to think about really opens up the debate and has started to develop into some principles which we are applying to projects:

  • Digital by Default – not just taking digital as your main channel but by taking the behaviours that we find online and applying them to the offline relationship
  • Open by Default – Putting the emphasis on an open, shared and public evidence base that can be used and contributed to by all participants as well as a creating a process which allows new ideas and agenda items to come from Citizens as well as the process manager
  • Networked – Connecting and creating ‘networks of networks’ which can maintain themselves (because they already are) but contribute to a wider more representative discussion
  • Agile – reacting to new evidence and ideas in a controlled but responsive way

That first one is now back on the drawing board as I think that Carrie is right to talk about digital by design however I also want it to reflect the fact that its about being culturally not just technically digital – might try our digitally native instead – views please!

We are influenced by the Asset Based Community Development approach of people like Jim Diers and our starting point for any project is to go and find the people in the community who are already talking as they are the starting point for your network – we use our social media audit process to do this.  By running and open and agile process from the start, and by making good use of both digital channels and offline events, we have a developed a new approach to Community Engagement.  We also put a shared, robust and OPEN evidence base central to what we do.

Up to this point we have strong evidence and experience which shows that this a highly effective – and cost-effective way of approaching community engagement which leaves you with a reusable asset in terms of a platform and a network of ‘willing localists’.

We think that this can go further however and so within these principles we embed an objective to create more co-productive outcomes – the final stage of community engagement should be a co-productive and self-managing network of local participants.  Over time the investment in creating these networks should reduce the costs of community engagement but more importantly strengthen the ability of communities to help themselves.

Community Engagement should be about creating the right kind of relationship between Citizens and Government and as such it should integrate communication, consultation and the democratic process – which means that reimaging Community Engagement means reimaging the role of the representative within it.  If we are going to ask more of our communities, and I think the financial picture if nothing else means that we are, then it is vital that we renegotiate this relationship.

This is one of those posts that my PHD supervisor charmingly refers to as throat clearing – its the piece you have to write before you can write the piece you want to write.

I have been doing a lot of internal mulling about the nature of collaboration and leadership in networked organisations. This is all mixed in with more thinking around how we create open practice in our organisation. I have written a bit about this here.

I think at the centre of these threads is a discussion about what data you should share about your organisation when the shareholders are private individuals rather than taxpayers and where accountability is delivered via the board room not the ballot box.

“Should” – as ever there is a mix here of moral imperative and practical necessity. As I’ve said before I know that my own belief in the importance of open practice is partly an ethical one but I also think that its the way in which we will make business fit for purpose as we start to operate in a more digital and networked environment.

I am impatient for the open data discussion to start addressing the cultural effects of a more open environment as I think that only by looking at this are we going to unlock the really transformative potential of open data and also how we will put more pressure on corporates to open up the data which will form an important part of the overall picture and ultimately the business case.

However there is something in this discussion of information sharing which also relates to how you go about working in a more networked and collaborative way.

At Public-i we are starting to properly work in networked collaboration with a couple of other organisations (more on that later) and this is working because we have a lot of trust, respect and openness with each other. We are all small organisations and so it is possible to form working relationships throughout all three organisations to make sure that this works. Its really exciting actually doing this networked organisation thing and not just talking about it.

Open data should be the basis on which Government organisations are able to collaborate more effectively but if we want this to extend this to more effective collaboration with the private sector (ad I think we do) then there needs to be some reciprocity in this openness.

The elephant in the room here may be a conversation about acceptable levels of value exchange and profit but I will keep my mind open on this point. Wrapped within this is the a need for an increase in levels of balance sheet literacy in the audience in the same way that participatory budgeting requires an increase in budget literacy. We know from the debacle of so many outsourcing arrangements that if you get this wrong you get terrible services and terrible value – a more open conversation and agreement of what’s acceptable may help avoid this in the future.

At this stage I am just trying to form good questions to help find good answers. I think the questions I need to ask are around understanding the levels of reciprocity in terms of openness that is needed to effect strong working relationships between the public and private sector – and how do we make these robust enough to create organisational rather than individual trust. I’ll be asking these questions of some of our clients and discussing it internally – as well as with collaborators – and I will also need to talk to shareholders about this as its important not to forget that they are a vital part of this discussion. As ever though I would really value comments here as well – so let me know what you think if you have time.